Saturday, March 31, 2012

Love Yourself

I have spoken to a few people this week who have told me their stories of self-esteem struggles. I had one person speak of her struggles being "too skinny". I've known her my whole life and she has always been that way. Here is what she wrote: 

I have always had the opposite problem of what most women have. I’m "too" skinny. That has always been an issue for me. I've actually had people ask if I was anorexic, if I eat, etc. People look at me and Brady (my son) and say "How do you lift him?!" and I'm sure later on in life, maybe he wont forget those comments were also directed toward him for being my "solid" boy ( who I wouldn't change for the world, know matter how many struggles I have to deal with for him). For my experience, its the same as an overweight person. In my opinion, I would always ask myself, “Would people say things to me if I was pushing about 400 pounds?” I doubt it. To this day, I still worry about how I look to other people. I’m trying to change that, but I guess it takes time. I put on an act to the people with their comments but they don't realize it hurts inside just as much as any other negative comment to any other person.

This shows how there are two ends of the spectrum. We need to be aware that it's not just people who are overweight that struggle. 

I also spoke with a woman who had severe eating disorders and was even hospitalized at one point. She is open about it now and has worked hard to adopt a healthy lifestyle. I will be sharing her story in a future blog. The third person I spoke to had self esteem issues that were related to weight but also to feeling bad about her abilities, her life, and other issues. She turned to drugs for a long time. She now lives a healthy lifestyle and has become happy with herself. I can't wait to share some of these stories in detail with you all. 

This brings me to a quote I found and love. 

"Love yourself first and everything else falls into line. You really have to love yourself to get anything done in this world." - Lucille Ball

These words are so true and powerful. You cannot fully love others or love what you do unless you love yourself.

Loving yourself is easy for some and difficult for others. It was a lot of work for me to learn to love myself because I had spent so long unhappy with who I was. It is important to teach young girls how to love themselves from an early age. I was speaking to a woman yesterday and she was saying how the idea of perfection starts so early. She has two daughters and we talked about how girls become obsessed with princesses and fairy tales. I do not think that there is anything wrong with fairy tales or princesses because they help foster imagination, but I do think girls should be taught that these characters are not realistic. We, as a society, need to show girls and women to stop striving to be someone else and start accepting and being happy with who they are.

Like I said in a former post, happiness is crucial. I had someone call me over at an event last night. It is someone I have known my entire life. She said she called me over to tell me I’m beautiful. I’ll admit, I have a hard time when someone says that to me because I still do not feel that way. I get uncomfortable and say thank you. I am definitely better at accepting compliments now than I ever was. With my work, it’s easy because I feel confident about it, but when it’s about my appearance, it’s still a work in progress. This woman then said to me that she also thinks that what adds to my beauty is that I’m always happy. I really am happy the majority of the time and people have definitely noticed. I don’t let things get me down or people bother me. I don’t take things people say in a negative way. I don’t let myself be around negative people or drama. I told this woman that I worked very hard at being happy, but it is so unbelievably worth it.

I came across this great article the other day. The title is “50 Ways to Nurture your Happiness”. It is an amazing list of things everyone should do in their daily lives to be happy. I do almost all of them and am working on the others. The ones that I’m still working on are:

15. Slow down. When work gets busy and I commit to community projects, I tend to go at top speed. I stay up late and get up early. I started to do this over the past few weeks and it all caught up with me the other day. I realized I needed some down time. It’s so important for balance.

17. Disconnect from the world. I go through times when I am good at disconnecting by shutting off the computer and silencing my phone. However, when I’m busy, I do not do it enough. I love to be disconnected though. When I travel to places that I cannot use my phone, I love not having it. I am going to Italy in May and can’t wait to not have the phone ring or be constantly checking texts, emails, twitter, etc. I need to do that more here as well.

29. Get enough sleep. I do not do this and need to. I’ve been a bad sleeper for a long time, but am going to go back to using meditation to get more sleep.

The other 47 ideas are things I practice. Most, I practice daily. Some I may need to practice more, but I do incorporate them. Print this list and start doing it. You’ll be amazed at how much it helps your outlook on your life and yourself.

You are all beautiful inside and out,


Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Have Faith in Who You Are

"One of the most courageous things in the world;
Is to have the Faith to be who you are;
When the rest of the world is trying;
To make you into everyone else."

This quote is perfect for this campaign. Self esteem comes from having faith in yourself. It comes from refusing to believe any negative things that are said to or about you. Self Esteem comes from being your own person. We are unique. We all have strengths and weaknesses. Again, perfection does not exist.

While I was in my 20s, I was lost. I didn’t know what I really wanted to do. I always knew I wanted to work with children and I wanted to be my own boss, but figuring out how to get there was difficult. I was pulled in many directions and told what I “should be doing”. It wouldn’t matter what I did for work, I wasn’t really happy. I felt like I wasn’t accomplishing anything. It made me feel worse about myself and about my abilities.

Then, I bought a better camera because of my love of photography. I had taken many photography classes and I had dated a photographer for years. I was the person who took pictures constantly. So, I started taking pictures everywhere I went. I would take them at football games when I was coaching cheerleading, I would take them at family get togethers, and I would go out and just walk, snapping away. At the same time, I decided to go back and get my degree in Elementary Education, which I had originally started years ago. I added on photography classes specific to what I wanted to do. People would ask why I didn’t do it for a job and I said, “Not yet” while I honed my skills. I finally decided to take the plunge in 2009.

Now for the first time in my life, I feel I am doing what I “should be doing”. I combined all of the things I love into one career. I used to regret all of the time I was “wasting” getting here. I used to struggle with getting closer to 30 without knowing what exactly I wanted to do for the rest of my life. Now, I regret nothing. Everything that happened before got me to where I am now. Don’t ever regret anything. Regret is another negative word. Instead of regretting, look back and learn from your past. Realize it has made you the person you are today. My past made me strong, independent, responsible, knowledgeable, and successful. I didn’t think this then, but see it now. I wish I had known it before. I would have ridden that roller coaster with less anxiety and fear.

For those who feel they aren’t happy with what they are doing, find something you love and believe you can do it. There’s no better feeling than doing something you truly love. I still have a second job that I am giving up this summer, but two jobs were needed to get me started. It’s hard work to do what you love. You may have to make sacrifices, but it is worth it.

For those who are young and have no idea what you want to do, there is nothing wrong with that. If you’re just starting college, take classes on all different subjects you enjoy. Figure out what your passions are. The sky is the limit. I know many people who knew exactly what they wanted to do when they went to college and they got that degree, but are now working in completely different fields. It is better to generalize and figure out what you want than to feel pressure at the beginning.

For those young people who are done with school or who never went to college, you also need to find your passions. What will make you want to jump out of bed in the morning? What do you feel you are truly good at or could be with some training/schooling/practice? Whatever it is, figure out how to do it and get there.

Lastly, do not put yourself on a time crunch. I always used the phrase, “by the time I’m 30.” It’s one thing to have a goal, but make sure you are already know what that goal is. For me, it was vague, “I want to be doing something successful….. by the time I’m 30”.  I was already causing defeat. Once I started photography (at 29), I began to say, “I will be successful at this and have a great business within 3 years.” This was a focused goal, which was achievable. That brings us to now. I’m about to turn 32 and business is great. I love it and believe I’m doing what I was meant to do.

I’ll leave you with a song today. Listen to all of the words. I’ve always loved this song and it is perfect for this campaign. 
you're beautiful like a flower
More valuable than a diamond
You are powerful like a fire
You can heal the world with your mind"

We're all beautiful inside and out,

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Never Quit

I have to say that the more people contact me about being involved in this campaign or respond to reading my first post, the more excited and inspired I get. People are sharing their personal stories with me about their struggles with their own self esteem and hopefully, many will let me share those stories here once the project gets going. I have even been surprised by some of the stories I've received. I have had women who I consider beautiful tell me how much they struggle daily with their physical appearance. It's a good example of how anyone can find fault with themselves, no matter how much you think they are together and confident.

This campaign has caused me to reflect on many things. One is how much of an impact positive self esteem has on one's happiness. A few years ago, I let go and moved on from negatives in my life. I started a wonderful business and was happy. However, I knew I wasn't 100% happy. I'm still not, but i'd say i'm about 95% at this point. This personal struggle is what is holding me back. I would say that in the past few months, that percentage has definitely gone up, and I am working on getting to that 100.

Like I said in my last post, I believe that people should figure out a goal and make small changes (or big if you can handle it) to get there. I have a goal to be a certain size, but it isn't about the size. It's about how, at that size, I was the healthiest, strongest, and most energetic that i've been as an adult. I work hard at it. I'm not going to lie and say it's easy. It's work. But, it feels amazing. Every time I leave the gym, I feel great. For me, it's all about music. I love music thanks to my grandmother and mother always having it on. On my iphone, I have mixes for everything, even house cleaning. I have a few mixes I use at the gym and they keep me going, but the other thing that keeps me going is telling myself to never quit. Literally, that is what I do. If I feel myself slowing down or i'm tired from life, I just tell myself to keep going.

"Never Quit" is my cousin Matt's motto. Any of you that know me, know that Matt is paralyzed from a hockey accident two years ago. He is the most inspiring and determined person I know. I would say that I wear a Matt Brown shirt 90% of the time I work out. It is Matt, others in my life that inspire me, and my own determination that make me work hard to be healthy and happy.

I have to be honest, when people started to respond to my first post, I had mini anxiety attacks. It was like I realized over and over that people were reading something very personal to me. At the same time, I felt great to have gotten it out there. It's freeing and I hope everyone involved will share their story and feel that weight lifted off their shoulders.

I also have found that a few people have been surprised about my lack of confidence. I am a person who will talk to pretty much anyone. I am outgoing and social and can easily laugh at myself. However, there are many situations in which I feel completely self conscious. I just don't show it. I can't wait to actually feel that complete confidence though!

I spoke about Positively Positive in my last post. It is a blog I follow through Facebook. I wanted to just share this post.

I look forward to helping women and teaching young girls and teens how to feel good about themselves. I will leave you with this Dr. Seuss quote which is one of my favorites.

"Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind." ~Dr. Seuss


Saturday, March 17, 2012

My Project, My Story

My name is Nicole O'Neil and I am a photographer based in Charlestown, Massachusetts. I have decided to start a new project for a cause that is near and dear to me.  The project is a Female Self Esteem Campaign. It will be a series of photos of girls and women of all ages, sizes, shapes, ethnicities, etc that will debut at a photo show i'll have in June. The response has been amazing. In less than a week, it has gone from a little idea to something I believe will reach more than this one square mile of Charlestown. As a photographer, I hear a lot of people pointing out things they don't like about themselves. I have clients whose children I photograph who don't want to get in pictures because they "need to lose weight" or "don't look good in pictures". It amazes me every time I photograph a  beautiful person, that person looks at a picture and picks out one or two things that they don't like about their appearance. It may be the way their teeth or nose looks. I, too, do not like to be in front of the camera, so I get it. However, this is not the way any of us should feel. We should see ourselves in a positive way and not pick out and critique the small imperfections.

 I realized when people started asking me about promoting this project, that I would have to discuss why this topic is so important to me. I would have to share "my story".
Anyone who knows me knows that I am an open book. I can talk about anything I've been through in life with no problem. I've worked very hard to deal with anything negative that happened in life, move on from it, and learn how to manage my own energy. So, yes, I can talk about anything to anyone...well, almost. The way I’ve felt about myself is the one issue I only discuss with a select few. However, now, I know I must share it with all of you. So, here goes.
I have had a negative view of myself for most of my life. I am now about to turn 32 and over the past few years, have started learning how to be happy with who I am.  I was a little overweight once I reached 4th grade and always felt bad about it. I was NOT treated poorly because of it or made fun of, but inside, I beat myself up. I don't exactly remember where that came from. Like I said, I wasn't someone who was tormented because of my weight. It's just the way I felt.
As a teen, I had major eating issues. I would take diet pills and hide them. I remember my mother finding them one time and being extremely upset. I promised to never take them again, but I did at times. I would also go weeks at a time eating only salad and maybe a granola bar here and there. I would barely eat. Even still, I never got really skinny, which would bother me even more. Instead of realizing that my body type was not that of a tiny girl, I would get more aggravated. I would then go back to eating more food and gain weight. I went back and forth over and over again, never being happy. And, every time I gained weight, it would be a little bit more than the last time. I would wear clothes that were big on me to "hide" and would NEVER wear just a bathing suit. I always needed shorts and/or a shirt when at a pool or beach, no matter if it was just family or friends. It wasn't until I looked back at photos in my mid twenties that I finally realized that even at my biggest weight in high school, I looked totally healthy and fine.

It wasn't just my weight that I felt badly about growing up. I never felt like I really belonged or that I was good enough, whether it is with friends, groups I was a part of, or even my own family at times. By the time I was in high school, I would keep a wall up so I never really stayed 100% connected to any one group of friends. I would convince myself that I wasn't good enough to be part of the group or that they didn't want me to be. It was 10+ years later that I realized how this was all in my own head. In general, I never thought I was good enough for anyone or anything. I didn't realize I belonged right where I was.
I continued to have these issues through my twenties. My weight would fluctuate and I'd go from being in great shape to being overweight again. I went through a lot of things that caused stress, which did not help. I did not have the tools to deal with stress and make sure it did not affect my health. However, I was always looking for something. I knew there was a key to being happy and moving on from the negative times in my past, but I couldn't figure it out. I finally found it in a class I took taught by a friend. It involved meditation and "forgiving" the past. It changed my life. I felt more at ease and happier. I started to gain more confidence in social situations, in my abilities at my job, and overall in life.
No matter how much I felt better socially and about my abilities, I still struggled with how I felt about myself physically. I was working on it for the past few years and went back and forth between being happy with myself and hating myself. Then, last fall, after a very personally difficult 2 years, I reached the highest weight I had ever been. Life got extremely busy and I had no time to sleep more than 5 hours a night let alone work out. I ate on the go or would skip meals and I was too busy to even notice. That is, until things slowed down.
I woke up one day the week life slowed down and decided I needed to deal with this one issue that was keeping me from being 100% happy. I made time to work out 5 days a week and decided I needed to go back to eating healthy, quality food and not to skip meals. In a few months, I have lost 2 pant sizes, but it is not the weight loss that I keep track of. I never even step on a scale. I always felt that it was more harmful for me to do so. The numbers would terrify me and make me feel worse. What I pay attention to is the way I feel about myself and how my clothes fit. I feel strong and healthy and that is the most important thing. I have no goal of being a size 4 because I have never in my life been a size 4. I only want to be healthy and feel good. I do still struggle daily with this issue and know many others who do as well, but I feel better than I have in my entire life. I use a few techniques that help me love myself the way I am that I will share below.
The following are ways I help myself. 
1. Mindfulness. Mindfulness is defined in Psychology Today, as "a state of active, open attention on the present. When you're mindful, you observe your thoughts and feelings from a distance, without judging them good or bad. Instead of letting your life pass you by, mindfulness means living in the moment and awakening to experience." I try to remain present and pay attention to my thoughts including positive and negative thoughts. When I have a negative thought about myself, I acknowledge it, without getting mad for thinking it.
2. Meditation and Affirmations. This may sound silly to people, but I use meditation and positive affirmations. I find something about myself that I do love and say it either to myself or out loud. I had a difficult time doing this at first, but it is amazing how much it helps. Everyone has things they can pick out about themselves that they don't like. I have seen this first hand as a photographer. People are constantly critiquing their photos and picking them apart. It could be the way their teeth look, the belief that their nose is too big, or even that they hate the way their forehead looks. Don't focus on those things. Put your focus on features you do like and slowly change the way you feel about the ones you don't like. 
3. Live Healthy. There are people who are stick thin but cannot even walk up stairs without getting winded, so do not think you need to be a size 0 to be healthy. If you eat well, surround yourself with happy and positive people, and do some sort of workout at least 3 times a week, you can be healthy. Start easy with simple lifestyle changes. I took the plunge because it's in my personality to do so. I immediately started drinking spinach smoothies and eliminating all white flour, most dairy, and many other things from my diet. I drink mostly green tea and water now and tons of fruits and veggies. Many people cannot do this as suddenly, so start where you can. And NEVER get mad at yourself for slip-ups. Just forgive it and move on to the next day. I, personally never weigh myself. I go by how I feel and how my clothes fit. I only know my weight loss due to using my sister's Wii Fit, which tracks your BMI and weight loss without having to see actual weight.
4. "Spring Clean" your Life. Get rid of negativity and drama in your life. These things and people drain you of your energy and cause stress. I either eliminated or reduced my time with negative people and began to spend a lot more time with positive and happy people in my life. It was huge. I even cleaned out other things in my life. I was lucky to have moved so I was able to clean out my "stuff" in the process. All of this together was freeing. It was like starting off as a new person.
5. Realize. Realize that there is no such thing as perfect. Seriously. There is NO such thing as perfect. "Imperfections" are what make everyone unique. Realize you are amazing no matter what you look like. Take a look at your life and make a choice about how you want it to be. If you are overweight, don't make a choice to lose weight for the sake of losing weight. Instead, focus on things like wanting more energy, completing a goal like running a 5K, or simply feeling strong and healthy. Realize your full potential. You can feel good about yourself whether you are a size 4 or a size 14. Realize that everyone's body is different. A size four may be fine for one person, but completely unhealthy for another person. On the other end of it, do not feel bad if you feel you are "too thin". If you are, find healthy ways to gain weight and muscle. 
6. Read Positive. I follow different blogs and websites that focus on positivity. One I read daily is Positively Positive. There are writers of all ages who post blog on topics such as feeling good about yourself and how to do it in simple lifestyle changes. They are always helpful. Find a website or blog that works for you and that is relatable. Whatever you read, it should be wording you understand and use. When you read it, you should feel good about the topic or techniques.
I have wanted to do a project like this for a while but it finally came together in my head on how I wanted to make it happen. I hope that my own story and that of others who are participating will help females of all ages be more comfortable with who they are. This is an important issue that needs to be addressed. Girls and women should not hate themselves. I did for so long and realize now how detrimental that is to overall health and happiness. We need to love ourselves for everything we are and if we don't like something, we need to make changes without beating ourselves up. We need to teach this to young girls who are growing up in society that puts more emphasis on being skinny than being strong, smart, and beautiful as you are. 

I hope you all will join me in this campaign. I will be taking photos of girls and women of all ages throughout April and the photos will debut at a photo show I will have the first weekend in June. I am looking for people to participate and have a photo taken (you must also give written permission for the photo to be used). The cost of printing all of the photos and posters will be large so I am also looking for sponsors. Please contact me at if you are interested.
So, that is my story and what I do now to accept who I am. As I said, I still struggle daily, but I never lose sight of what I'm working toward: Complete acceptance and happiness with myself. 
This campaign is near and dear to my heart. I look forward to sharing stories of the many participants and helping girls and women reach happiness with themselves.

Follow my Facebook page and this blog to keep updated on this campaign.