from abusing her body to embracing it, how one photographer’s perception of beauty changed in recovery
Alice Joiner suffered with mental illness critically for five years; photography became a way for her to discover beauty.
For the majority of her life, British photographer Alice Joiner never felt beautiful. After years of starving herself and abusing her body she entered into recovery. During this period she began photographing herself and the world around her, and eventually her perception of beauty began to change. Here, she shares her story.
"For the majority of my life, until I entered recovery, I felt deeply uncomfortable and confused in my own body. I never felt beautiful. Eating disorders are usually a result of internalised trauma, my inability to process my life experiences lead me to obsess over and attack my physical and emotional self. I starved and abused my body in many destructive ways as a result of my trauma, all because I felt that I wasn't good enough or beautiful enough.
I chose to pick up the camera as an act of acknowledging myself and as a way of understanding what I was experiencing -- I felt like a complete stranger to myself. Through the lens, I was teaching myself that I had something far greater to offer the world than my physical appearance.
Self-portraiture was always a very secretive medium that I relied on to express myself. I didn't necessarily need anybody to see the images that I was taking, but I needed was my own self-acceptance. Photography fulfilled me when I had nothing else to give myself and it taught me that I was, in fact, beautiful, even though my illness was not about being beautiful or thin. I found my own beauty elsewhere.
Photography offered me an opportunity to see myself in a different light; I was given a chance to start again every single time I picked up the camera. I could create a new image that represented what I was feeling at the time, and this is still the same today.
Photography gave birth to a sudden appreciation for the love and light in my life. My work was no longer just dark; it also consisted of bold, healing light. I would photograph the people around me and I can now see that I was documenting this light in my life through them. The light you see in others is always a reflection of the light you have in yourself. The beauty I found in this was far more powerful than any desire to look a certain way, and as a result I felt far more beautiful than ever.
The people in my life who I find the most beautiful exude a sense of freedom and self-acceptance. This freedom is what I have discovered in myself through my photography. This is what beauty is to me, being truly free from your own ego and self-loathing. It is being with people you love. It is being of service to others, but above all it is being kind to yourself and to those around you -- if you want to feel more beautiful, start being kinder.
You will appear your most beautiful to those around you when you feel harmony and love within. You will energetically attract the right people, places and experiences through feeling good and positive. Invest in spending time with people who nurture and elevate you. When you feel good within, you will find a balance without. It has nothing to do with what you weigh, what you are wearing or how you look.
Photography taught me this. It has nothing to do with whether the subject is aesthetically pleasing, it is about documenting their comfort or discomfort in front of the camera, my relationship with them and ultimately the relationship I have with myself. Being human means that we see aspects of ourselves in others, and photography enables me to record this.
The time in my life when I felt the least beautiful was when I was deeply unhappy, unwell and invested in hating myself and harming myself every single day. As a result, I attracted negative and harmful experiences and people to me, all because of what I believed in at the time. I am thankful to say that today my self-worth and self-esteem has nothing to do with others judgments or perceptions of how beautiful I am."
If feel like you might be suffering from mental health issues, charities such as Mind can offer support and advice. For urgent help, find their helplines and services listed on their website.
Text and photography Alice Joiner