Sunday, January 14, 2018


Last spring, the very talented photographer, Jaana Honkanen, and I worked on a photography project together. In the beginning, I wrote that:

"For me it is a journey towards acceptance, compassion and love for myself just the way I am."

For five months, we documented all sides of what it was like for me to be an elite athlete: the sunny and the somber. I wanted to show the joy that training and competing gave me, but also the struggles that I was facing as my own expectations became higher and tougher to reach, including depression and bulimia.

As the project came to a close during the summer, we took this celebratory photo together as a way to  show the progress that we had made while still coming full circle.

The first photo of the series, taken in March 2017.
The last photo, taken in July 2017. And this time we
enjoyed the heck out of that ice cream!

Through this project, I had been able to face certain parts of myself that, previously, I had just tried to push down: the weight of expectations as well as body image and struggling against the power of an eating disorder. More importantly though, I was better able to see the good parts of me that shone through. I was able to see my smile as it was captured in a moment of joy, I was able to see that I am beautiful and I was able to see that I am strong.

I will be forever grateful to Janna for the opportunity to grow and to learn in this way. She helped me feel so comfortable while being in the focus of a camera lens and has been a loving support through all the ups and downs of the competition season.

Being able to love myself didn't happen overnight, however, and I have continued on this journey since then. I had pushed myself so hard and so far to be able to race at the World Championships that I was completely and utterly exhausted by August. Physically, I was injured, and emotionally, I was falling back into the old unhealthy eating behaviours just to try to cope from the stress and negative feelings in my body.

Despite feeling like I was failing time and time again, with the help of many, many caring people around me, I kept trudging forward on my quest to find self-love.

It came little by slowly.

One day it was having the thought:

"I don't want this eating disorder to affect my health negatively so that I can't be active and do the sports I love. I don't want to hurt myself anymore."

Another day, it while practising yoga when I came into a pose and actually smiled. I smiled because I could feel my body move, my muscles contracting and stretching, and my chest expanding as I inhaled deeply. I smiled because I felt good and because I had found a connection within myself that had previously been blocked off by a wall of toxic thinking.

And finally, it came over time when I reintroduced myself to Little Emily.

Little Emily
I have her taped on the wall next to my bedroom mirror so that every time I look at myself, I see that small, mischievous face as well. I make sure to tell her that I love her and that I would never hurt her. I tell her that she is absolutely adorable and that she doesn't have to be afraid. I tell her:

"I will take care of you."

The more I say those words to her, the more I am able to say them to myself, 20 years older but with the same smiling dimples and big ears.

Over time, I have been able to learn enough healthy coping behaviours that bulimia has become only thoughts as opposed to actions. I take it one day at a time but, when I look back over the last few months, I feel hope where there used to be none. It may sometimes feel like a long and gruelling journey, but when I am able to look within and feel love for who I am, then I know that it has all been for the best.

To see more of Jaana's photographs, visit her webpage and to see the photo documentary along with my written interpretations, visit my Instagram or the Emily project.