WINNIPEG — Lara Rae always knew who she was but it took her decades to truly be herself.
After transitioning from a man to a woman, she started to notice the body image pressures that came along with her new gender.
“When you transition as I did at the age of 51, it’s very hard to do… there’s a notion of how you want to look, there’s established patterns and expectations of femininity,” Rae said.
“Dangerous things like women need to be a certain weight or certain shape, they need to wear makeup or their hair has to be long.”
Rae said she believes body acceptance is a losing battle because all of us are in a constant state of change.
“You can’t maintain a perfect image because you are chasing a shimmer,” Rae said. “There’s no finale.”
WATCH: Bonnie Bieganski shares her story of helping others with body image
Bonnie Bieganski lives with a disability so she decided to study counselling at the University of Manitoba, to help people overcome obstacles they face with their bodies.
“It motivated me to start my own practice,” Beiganski said.
“I feel very passionate about helping others with their own self discoveries, a big part of that tends to be body image.”
She now counsels people from home at her own practice, Healing Axis, which she often does through Skype or email.
One of the main problems people come to her for help with is their weight.
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“My main advice is to practice actually telling yourself that I love who I see in the mirror and to focus on the part you despise, and just give it the attention,” Bieganski said.
“What helped me is imaging myself as a little girl and would I want that little girl to hate herself? No, I wouldn’t.”
“I wouldn’t want my niece, my daughter, or my sister to hate their body as a child, so I kind of envisioned my body as a little girl and so, you’re perfect the way you are,” Bieganski said.
Winnipegger, Kathleen Gabriele has also struggled with body image throughout her life. She still remembers when she was in grade six, asking her mom to get a spray tan on her legs.
“I had bad circulation so they would turn kind of purely and I was really self conscious about it,” Gabriele said. “As I entered into teenage years, the bad circulation turned into varicose veins… other girls would be wearing skirts and shorts, even if it was like 30 above, I always had pants on.”
It hurts Gabriele to thinks about the possibility of her daughters feeling the same way about their bodies one day.
“Stuff seeps in and with social media now, that’s the things that scares me the most because people can be so mean because they’re not right in front of you.”
This is one of the reasons local photographer and boudoir specialist, Teri Hofford started a photography business. She hopes to help people overcome their daily struggle of dealing with their bodies and what they see in advertisements.
“Every woman that sits in front of me, regardless of if she’s a size two or a size 24, tells me she needs to lose weight before doing a session, and that tells me that’s not the problem at all… it’s the way we think of ourselves.”
Hofford recently introduced a six week long boot camp to help people feel better about their body image.
“It’s going to be designed to really inspire people,” she said.
WATCH: Manitobans reveal their body insecurities during boudoir shoot
Hofford is also in the process of training a man to join the team, who is a photographer, because she receives many inquiries from men.
“For me as a woman, I will never understand body image from a man’s perspective, so I didn’t think it was fair of me to do that,” Hofford said.
One of the men Hofford photographed is Kelly Hughes, who knows how important it is for men to talk about their bodies. He once struggled with gynecomastia, which is swelling of the breast tissue in boys or men.
“I didn’t talk to anybody about that until I talked to my doctor, not a soul,” Hughes said.
“Boys probably don’t talk about things as much as women do and I wish that I had talked about it with somebody.”
“If I’d talked to someone about that before, even if it was something I couldn’t have done anything about, somebody else could have told me that it was fine and that it didn’t matter and really it shouldn’t matter,” Hughes said.