Alex Berry has other things to deal with, but those don’t keep body image issues from weighing on his mind.
Berry, 18, has cerebral palsy caused by a stroke before birth. While that presents its own challenges – the left side of his body is smaller and weaker than the right and he sometimes has to rely on a cane – he still avoids looking in mirrors because they are “a visual reminder that I do not move as fluidly as able-bodied people.”
But a Facebook group started by an Edmonton man is helping Berry and many others come to terms with their bodies. The page, dubbed This Is My Skin (TIMS), has participants – both women and men – stripping down to their underwear and posing for photos to spark conversations about body image.
“I was just sick of the delusions society creates around body acceptance and ‘what you should look like’ mentality,” says 22-year-old Patrick Sullivan, creator of the group.
Sullivan – who is five-foot-11 with an average build – admits that his own issues were more about others’ bodies than his own. He confesses that he used to “unconsciously rank people” based on appearance.
“It’s something I am pretty ashamed of, but with the help of TIMS, I have learned to find the substance and character of a person away from their physical appearance,” he says.
Sullivan is not only the creator of TIMS, but also the photographer for the group. He interviews each participant, ensuring he or she is over 18 years of age.
“I ask them about their struggles with body acceptance and constantly ask if they are comfortable with me taking their photo. Their consent and comfort are very important to the process.”
As of July, TIMS had close to 5,000 followers on Facebook and more than 100 on Twitter. But it has been criticized as a place that promotes self-harm, as some contributors talk about struggling with that alongside body acceptance in their posts.
Sullivan doesn’t take that criticism lightly, saying that he’s constantly trying to improve the page.
“We don’t want to trivialize anything any of our community faces,” he says.
For Berry, TIMS is a reminder that it is “fine to be proud of the body you have.”
“I will never recover from my disability; it will not go away,” he says. “TIMS let me express my acceptance of that fact and the way I felt about my body, as well as put those feelings into words.”