How A Street Style Photoshoot Taught Me To Fight My Social Anxiety
Do you ever walk down the street, and experience that sinking feeling that the whole world has eyes on you? Have you ever felt that knot in your stomach, and tightness in your chest, accompanied by that little voice in your head which tells you to look down, to shrink yourself, to disappear? More often than not, no matter where I am, when I walk down the street that is what I feel.
Laughter between friends should be a happy sound, but to me it sounds cruel and oppressive, because my mind tells me it is me they are laughing at. When someone happens to look my way, I automatically tug at my clothes to make sure they are sitting correctly, or try and straighten out my hair, and even dab at my face to make sure my makeup hasn’t smudged. Cover yourself. Look presentable. Keep low. Keep small. Be invisible. That is the almost silent mantra that plays over and over again in my head on loop whenever I set foot outside of my front door. And let me tell you something:
It. Is. Exhausting.
I mean for goodness sake, why do I do it to myself? Why do any of us do it? Why do we care so much what other people think of us? If that woman at the bus stop keeps looking at me and smirking at my size, why do I automatically need to suck in my stomach and pull my skirt down so it covers more of me? What am I trying to achieve? She’ll still have her own opinions of me: whether I am dressed head to toe in black and avoid direct sunlight, or I’m prancing about naked on stage under a full beam of light, that same woman is going to look at me and think, OMG isn’t she fat?!
Because that’s the thing: I am fat!
Whether I cover my stomach and hide that VBO as best as I can, or let it all hang out like a pair of balls at a nudist beach, at the end of the day, my size doesn’t change just because I try and hide who I am and what I look like. And damn it, I am so tired of trying to change how I look in some warped attempt to make other people happy!
It was this train of thought that made me decide to test myself. I wanted to find out if it would really be that awful to stop clinging to my safe zone, and come out of my shell a little. So, the other day I went on a photoshoot (photos from which you can see below), and I purposely chose two outfits for it which I was less than comfortable in, but which I loved. The first was a simple blue tartan dress, which falls just above my knees, but doesn't give me any extra material to hide under.
I travelled up to London in that dress, and as soon as I stepped off the train, I instantly felt mortified. People are looking, was all I kept thinking, and I started to tug at the bottom of the dress as if I could somehow magically make it grow longer. But, when no one immediately threw eggs at me and start booing, and after I caught sight of my reflection, I decided that I actually looked pretty good. I carried on with my journey to meet the photographer.
The shoot was out on the streets of Waterloo, and though I was initially nervous, I have to admit that I love to pose, so I was soon getting into the swing of things. However, when the time came for me to change into my second outfit, there was a moment when I truly hated myself. Whilst in a brave state of mind – something which is easy to conjure when you are safe within the walls of your home – I had decided to choose a two-piece outfit, which left no room for hiding, as my second wardrobe choice. And the worst thing? The cropped top showed my stomach (I know - shock horror, right?!). Having no other choice, I begrudgingly changed into it, but it took me a good five minutes to find the courage to leave the bathroom, because I could hear voices outside.
As we walked around to different areas to take pictures, my hand kept automatically going to cover my stomach. At first, I pulled at my skirt to lower it as much as I could, but then I changed my tactics and hitched it up higher to try and hide as much as of my stomach as I could. As I was doing this, a couple of guys walked past and gave me a once over. It wasn’t a particularly rude look - I think they were just taking notice of the camera and wondering what was going on – but it was when I caught eyes with one of them that I realised something: I didn’t know them. I didn’t know any of the people I had passed in the street that had given me funny looks, or smirked at my appearance. So if I didn’t know them, why did I feel the need to validate their opinions by trying to change myself?
So I stopped. For just five minutes, I challenged myself to hold my hands firmly at my sides as a I walked. I would not fidget. I would not squirm. I would not hide. I kept my eyes firmly ahead of me, and I forced myself not to look at the floor when I felt eyes on me. And as I walked, I felt this fierce determination build up inside me, and the walking became easier. I met glances that came my way, and I realised that only a very small percentage of the looks people gave me held any form of spite. Some were curious, most were indifferent, and a few even gave me a look that told me I looked pretty damn fine!
In that moment, I was less afraid of the world, and in return, the world seemed less judgmental of me. I’m not saying that I’m anywhere near ready to go skinny dipping (it’s on my bucket list though), or prance around the streets in hot pants and a crop top. I’m also not telling you that there won’t be times when people try and bring you down, because there are always people who have something cruel to say. But what I am telling you is this: people will always whisper whether you hide or put yourself on display, so you might as well be proud of what they are gossiping about.
For me, that will mean turning those five minutes of not caring, into ten. Then building that ten up to 20, until I can go through as much of my day as I can without being so scared of how people see me. Because I refuse to spend the rest of my life hiding in the shadows, when I know I deserve to live in the light.
So my advice to you is to do whatever it takes to make yourself happy! Go out there, and be bold. Be brilliant. Be you. Because that is all you can do, and it’s all you need to do.