Overcoming Imposter Syndrome

Imposter Syndrome. It’s a thing. No, really, it is. Here’s the definition:

Imposter syndrome (also known as imposter phenomenon or fraud syndrome) is a concept describing high-achieving individuals who are marked by an inability to internalize their accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as a “fraud”.

It was identified by researchers at Georgia State University in 1978 when they noted that successful women had a tendency towards high levels of self-doubt. Since then, more recent studies in Belgium have shown that it is common across different career types from “white collar” jobs to scientists. Men feel it too (although possibly to a lesser extent) and sometimes it’s joined by it’s unwelcome friends – anxiety, depression, low self-esteem and guilt. As you can probably tell, it’s not really a charming guest.

For me, it’s an overwhelming feeling that I really don’t know what I’m doing. Like everything I’ve achieved has been through luck and is a fluke. Like I’m just pretending I know what I’m talking about and if pushed, I’ll flake out and be discovered for not really having a clue.

It’s a fairly regular anvil of self-doubt that hangs over my head and threatens to come crashing down with little notice. If you look for it, you can see it through the facade. The unwillingness to make a big deal of things that others would be singing and dancing about. The hesitation to sell myself and recognise the work that I’ve done and things I’ve achieved. The avoidance of talking about my work and myself for fear that I’ll let something slip that “shows me up”. The second guessing myself and wanting to “double check” everything when I do talk about my work. The never feeling quite ready to do things and being able to find a million reasons not to try.

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The trouble is, I tend to compare myself to everyone else’s highlight reel. Thanks to a mix of social media where we only really see the extremes of life (cause let’s face it, posting “hey I got out of bed today, had a shower and then sat for 10 hours working at my computer” isn’t really InstaWorthy) and knowing some super confident people who seem to do nothing but talk about all they’ve achieved. I have nothing against the latter, it’s just foreign to me and adds to the feeling that I don’t know what I’m talking about.

It wasn’t until I was talking in a recent interview about my meandering career path that I realised I have a lot of experience and different skills. Even writing that now makes me very uncomfortable.

I’ve been running my own business for almost three years now and sometimes I forget that in terms of a small business, it’s still early days. I hold myself to extremely high standards and get frustrated when I’m not exactly where I feel like I should be. It’s very easy for me to pattern spot and give much higher value to the things I’m not happy about and to dismiss the success I’ve had a long the way.

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Recently, I’ve been doing well. OK I’m not bringing in the money I’d like (but who is?) and I’ve got a list of ideas for improvement longer than a Mo Farah run, but when I consider the direction my work is taking, a lot of great things are happening. From being asked to deliver a photography class for Skillshare to having my #RealGirlsRealBeauty images up as part of the Visible Women Festival. From starting new collaborations for my wildlife work to finding more time to connect with my wildlife and nature photohttps://www.meiphotography.co.uk/overcoming-imposter-syndrome/ ‎graphy. It’s really all very positive.

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So why do I wake up some days and think I’m just playing “make believe” at all of it? Without reading all the research (and thus being able to thoroughly back-up my opinion without horrendous self doubt…), I guess I won’t really know. I just have to keep pushing through it and finding ways to work around it.

It seems that speaking up about it is part of that journey. Putting my hand up and saying that I often don’t feel like I’ve got a clue what I’m doing. Confessing that most days feel like “fake it til you make it” days.  Coming clean about this and finding other tortured souls helps. It’s why I’m writing this blog.

Other ways of tackling it are keeping track of the successes. Reminding myself of the victories I’ve had, how far I’ve come and accepting praise when something great happens instead of getting cagey and awkward about it.

Sometimes, through the midst of all this, there are perfectly timed moments that give me a much needed confidence boost. Like today, when I felt the sensation of that anvil getting ever closer to landing squarely on my head, this blog popped up in my feed. A review of a photoshoot I did last year.

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It made my day.

And that cheeky toddler face from one of my favourite photo sessions of 2016 reminded me that sometimes we just need to stick our tongues out at Impostor Syndrome and keep on doing the best we can. x

 

#RealGirlsRealBeauty in the Press

Well, in an exciting start to 2016, I received an email from Heather Greenaway at the Sunday Mail late in the day on Monday last week. She’d been visiting my website and my #RealGirlsRealBeauty project and wanted to know it would be possible to run a feature on it.

Naturally I said yes.

Some lovely emails, phone conversations and late messages to the girls and Heather resulted in this piece in Sunday’s paper.

What a great start to the New Year!  I can’t wait for the shoots I’ve got lined up and to meet my next #RealBeauties!

Book your session and be part of the project!xx

Real Girls, Real Beauty Press WR

Real Girls, Real Beauty: A new photography project

A few years ago I was on the subway in Glasgow and spotted a young teenager on her way to school.  She must have been about 14 but looked years older.  Full face of make-up, hair straightened with extensions in, false eyelashes and perfect nails.  This seems to be the norm but that was the first time I’d really thought about how much effort had gone in to getting ready for school.

A few months ago I overheard a conversation where a girl, aged 13, was planning her next eyebrow wax appointment.  This seemingly simple task had been complicated with a swimming block at school PE.  You can’t go in chlorine the day after a wax… but fear not, a solution was at hand.  Her appointment would time perfectly with a party in three week’s time.  She was getting her hair done so her mum was writing a note to excuse her from class.  She wouldn’t be swimming the next day anyway.  Problem solved.

How on Earth did this happen?  Why at 13 years old is it more important to have your hair done than to learn to swim?  When did this become acceptable to parents?   I often think that there’s no way I would survive school now.  Not with that kind of pressure to look good every morning. I barely started wearing make-up in secondary and didn’t have straighteners.  As for hair extensions?  They’re for weddings and Christmas party nights… no?

At the Grand Canyon with my other half

Selfies are so much more than showing off your holiday destination.

And then there are selfies. And not selfies as I think of them.  Not “look where we are, aren’t you jealous” holiday snap selfies.  Children, girls especially, at 10 years old (and younger) feeling the pressure to spend their time putting on make-up and taking pouting pictures of themselves in attempt to get as many social media likes as they can. Some are even so instasavvy that they know what time of day is best for posting said photos to get the biggest response.

The peer pressure is enormous. And it seems to be amplifying the feelings of self-hatred and low self-esteem in children and teenagers.  From a very young age they are aware of body image and body shaming to a degree that none of us had to think about.  The images we had on TV and in magazines were bad enough, they have the constant barrage of the internet and all the joys that social media brings with very little time to switch off and get away from it all.

2015-05-01-010-Mei-Photography-Hannah-Paton-Real-Beauty-Portraits WRLast month, I was given the opportunity to work with a family member who, at 12 years old, often feels the pressure to take selfies like the ones mentioned earlier. We were keen to show her a different way to see beauty and find the beauty within herself so we planned a shoot that involved her talents and strengths. She’s funny, intelligent, caring, thoughtful and her wonderfully curious mind means she asks a lot of great questions. She’s also a talented musician, playing both violin and piano and working towards her exams.

We had a great afternoon. She was asked to wear something simple and comfortable and to have her favourite items ready as props.  Things that were important to her like her instruments, favourite books and childhood toy. We did some posed shots and some natural ones, candid captures of her enjoying her hobbies and interests. I showed her some images where the subjects weren’t trying to look beautiful but simply were beautiful because they were happy and doing the things they loved.

Blog Collage 1During the shoot we spoke a little about what she thought about the pressure and how it made her feel unsure of herself. About how she saw being different as both a good and a bad thing. About how she felt like boys were far more confident than any of the girls she knew.

It’s so important for us to think carefully about the messages and lessons we are teaching young people.  Girls in particular struggle with self image and we often forget that by telling them they’re pretty and beautiful before telling them they’re clever or hard working or kind that we’re reinforcing the idea that the former are more important than the latter.  Add to that things like the “thigh gap challenge” or the “bellybutton challenge” taking over social media, both designed to shame people in to starving themselves in attempt to be thinner and somehow more socially acceptable, and you’ve got a recipe for even more generations of girls who see their self-worth in what they look like instead of who they are.  And it seems to be starting at a much younger age.Blog Collage 2

I’ve been thinking about this for a long time and as a photographer, I’m keenly aware of how people tend to look for their flaws and seek out what’s wrong with any photograph they are in. It’s never sat well with me.  I’ve felt uncomfortable with the concept of dictating what is beautiful and being asked to pose people accordingly or edit out apparent imperfections.  Of course, it’s my job to make people feel beautiful but instead of using makeovers and photoshop, I find myself looking for ways to make my clients feel more comfortable and happy so they would feel more confident with their natural shots.

And so the Real Girls, Real Beauty project has been born.  It’s in an embryonic stage at the moment but I’m working with girls and women to help them see the real beauty in themselves and to celebrate it.  Showing that a photograph which captures their loves, strengths and talents is more beautiful than any photograph purely based on poses and make-up.  That we should encourage people, both women and men to have more confidence in who they are instead of purely what they look like.

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Watch this space for more exciting updates as I meet and photograph the wonderful people involved in the project.

x

What’s Wrong with this Picture?

I was at a photo shoot the other week. Except this time I was on the other side of the lens.  I did it for two reasons.  To learn how another photographer directs their subject but more importantly to learn how it feels to be the subject.  It’s an important feeling to get used to and even just one shoot has helped me think more carefully about how to instill confidence in my clients.  A photo shoot can be a daunting thing.

For many though, the really daunting part is seeing the results.  We become hyper-critical and search each image for flaws and problems.  Things we don’t like and wish weren’t on the screen in front of us. Our insecurities displayed in high definition. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve taken a photo and thought it beautifully captured the person in a fun and natural moment to find that they look at it and see a “double chin”, “bad skin”, “bags under their eyes”, “a crooked smile”, “a dimple that’s too deep”, “frizzy hair”, “fat rolls”, “chubby cheeks”, “a squint”, “a big nose”… it seems there is an endless list of flaws to find in a photo of ourselves. We are trained to look for and beat ourselves up about things we perceive as imperfections.

Image by Premier Photography

Image by Premier Photography

And I found myself doing it.  Analysing all the photos.  Quickly dismissing ones where I didn’t like my smile, my stomach, my hair.  Instantly looking for flaws and images where I could see things that I worry about every day.

As photographers, we’re taught to shoot from certain angles to make people look thinner or taller.  Shown how to make sure people don’t have double chins,  to make men look dominant and “masculine” and women look submissive and “feminine”.   We’re asked to erase “flaws” and smooth skin.  Make people look skinnier in post processing and get rid of wayward hairs.

Ten months in to my photography career and I’m finding that this doesn’t sit right with me. I can’t help but think about our bigger issue with the concept of “beauty” and what we’ll accept as attractive.  The photo above isn’t really me.  It is me with an hour’s worth of hair and make-up and some clever editing.  It looks good.  The photographer has done an excellent job and it’s fun to transform in to a magazine cover girl version of myself.  But it’s not me.  And images on magazines push young people to believing that this is beauty.  Beauty is so much more than a superficial image.  It’s your talents and thoughts, your hopes and dreams. It’s who you are and how you feel about yourself.

If I’m honest, I prefer this shot from a family portrait taken over a decade ago.

Image by Finelines Photography

Image by Finelines Photography

Yes, I’ve got my hair straightened and they’ve applied a sepia filter but that’s not why I love it.  I love this shot because it captures the moment when the photographer was trying to convince us to do “serious faces” and I failed.  As soon as you ask me to keep a straight face I’ll do the opposite.  I have done since I was a small child and I still laugh today. It’s a blessing and a curse. In this photo my mouth is so wide I look like I’m trying to eat my sister.  My eyes are almost closed and my hair is out of place.  But it’s natural.  It tells a story.  It’s me.

We need to change what we see when we look at photos of ourselves.  Change what we think.  Instead of asking “What’s wrong with this picture?” we should try asking “what’s right?”.  Life can be pretty tough when someone is being mean to you all the time.  Especially if that someone is you.