Boss Babes Tuesday: Talking Business, Photography, and Self Love with Emily Tebbetts

photo credit: Emily Tebbetts

Sitting on my best friend's couch, I was shown gorgeous photos of a random bride and groom. She was showing me the portfolio of her perspective wedding photographer, Emily Tebbetts, and we were chatting about how excited she was to be booking her. I was later blown away by the stunning work she had done on my best friends wedding. The photos were nothing short of enchanting! Her style was very different than other wedding work I had seen in the past and I couldn't help but sneak a peek at her Instagram feed as my friend tagged her in photo credits. Most recently, her current work caught my eye as I was scrolling through my feed one afternoon. She has brought body positivity into the forefront of her work and bravely shares her own journey. I think this subject is so important- Everyone should love themselves, but it is not always the easiest thing to do. I would like to extend a huge thank you to Emily for chatting and sharing!

How did you initially discover your passion for photography? Was this the field you always thought you would end up in?

My story starts out pretty typical - I LOVED taking photos as a kid, and was always asking for camera equipment (I still remember my first 3.2 megapixel digital camera!). My dad was the family documenter, and I think I inherited the love of it from him.

I started to get more serious about it in high school. I was inspired by other young artists on DeviantArt and Flickr, and it quickly became my biggest passion, and at the time, I wanted to pursue fashion photography. After a few years, I realized that what I was doing what really more portraiture. At that point, I wrote a career in photography off as wishful thinking - I fully bought into the whole “starving artist” trope, and had this idea that if I hadn’t made it as some sort of teenage prodigy, it was never going to happen.

It wasn’t til I won a nationwide photography contest to photograph and star in a national Sony commercial with Taylor Swift that I began to reconsider. I felt like I had been given an opportunity that I shouldn’t waste, and though that contest didn’t really lead to any work directly, it did lead me to taking a chance and trying out wedding photography. It’s pretty wild to look at my business now and realize that I was so close to not even pursuing it!

 If you could give one piece of advice to someone setting up their own photography business, what would that be? 

Use the wisdom of others to your advantage. So many of us have done this successfully, and learning from successful business owners can help you avoid costly or soul-sucking mistakes while growing your business much faster than you could on your own. There are so many great online courses, workshops, blog posts, podcasts, and more out there for you - not to mention 1:1 mentoring. Take advantage of it! I have a bunch of free resources on my website for photographers who are still growing (or just starting!) their businesses if you need a place to start. 

 I absolutely LOVE that you have taken this route of personal discovery and used your voice and photography to empower others. What was the turning point for you that started you on your journey? 

Thank you! Honestly? I had what I can only really call a breakdown last Fall. On the outside, pretty much everything was going well, but internally, I was falling apart. I had been thinking about going to therapy for a while at that point, but the thought of finding someone and telling them everything was so overwhelming that I kept putting it off. It wasn’t until this breakdown - where I was feeling passively suicidal, felt like I had lost my entire identity and couldn’t even recognize my internal self anymore, and was experiencing anxiety so extreme that it felt like torture that I finally knew I had to go see someone ASAP.

Fortunately, I found an amazing therapist. After she helped me through the initial ‘state of emergency’, we started delving into everything else. Something that was big for me was my extreme struggles with my relationship with food, disordered eating, and body image. I thought I was going to her so I could solve some unknown thing that had made me eat this way so that I could finally actually lose weight. I had no idea that I was about to enter into this incredibly transformative, painful, beautiful, difficult journey filled with non-stop work, research, learning, and a scary amount of trust and compassion instead. It led to a place where I now have no desire to try to manipulate my body shape or size, where I have the healthiest relationship with food that I’ve probably ever had, and to a place where it feels safe to be.

If I tried to explain it properly, I’d end up writing an actual book, so to keep it short - when you experience that level of transformation, when you reach this place that you never even knew could possibly exist, I think it’s impossible not to desperately want to bring the people you care about, strangers or friends, with you. I can only speak from my own experience and from the sources I’ve learned from, but I want to do everything I can to help be a part of that transformation for someone else. 

Self love is such an important thing, what does it personally mean to you? What do you think is one of the greatest hurdles women face today in regard to accepting and loving their bodies?

To me, it’s TRULY accepting and loving yourself without judgement or need to try to control yourself. That was the scariest thing in the world to me at first. If I wasn’t controlling myself, if I wasn’t self-disciplining and self-criticizing etc, wouldn’t I just spiral out of control? What if I just became some sort of evil person? What if I never worked or did the things I needed to do to live again? 

Weirdly, letting go of that control, being completely non-judgmental toward myself (even when I “slip up” and judge myself - I try to practice non-judgement toward that!), and learning to trust myself and my body has led to me becoming a much more compassionate, much more whole feeling person. I’ve begun to truly internalize that my worth lays simply in that I am a living being, and that it is unshakeable. When you feel that with conviction, it changes everything.

I think the greatest hurdle women (or anyone) faces today in regard to loving or accepting their body (when talking about size/shape) is hands down diet culture. I recently read something about the way that self-care has become commercialized in this weird way where it’s almost blaming people for not loving themselves. As if the problem was just in their heads, and we were weak/stupid enough to believe it, and we just have to fix that. It’s insulting and ridiculous, because the messages of diet culture are force-fed to us in a million subtle and blatant ways every single day, from every single direction. It has seeped into every part of our culture, and it DOES have a real negative effect on how we treat anyone who does not fit diet culture’s ideal.

When it comes to bodies in general, I’d like to add racism, ableism, homo- and transphobia, etc to that list, for reasons along the same lines as diet culture above. When traits of someone’s body affects how they are treated and valued by society (which, it’s important to remember, also includes personal relationships in our lives), it is a very real and valid hurdle in loving oneself. 

This is why true body positivity, which is a political movement - not a term for feeling positive about your body (a common mistake I’ve made myself!), is such an incredibly important movement. This is also why body positivity/justice must be intersectional. It doesn’t begin and end with body size/shape only, if that makes sense.

There is also a major lack of education around weight, health, fat, obesity, etc. If you’re looking for a place to start learning about what I’m talking about, I’d highly recommend reading the book Health at Every Size, Intuitive Eating, and listening to podcasts like Food Psych.

You are an entrepreneur, an artist, and now you are helping create a dialogue for women to love themselves...What do you see next for yourself in this next year, are there any special projects we can expect soon? 

To be honest, I have a million projects I’m working on right now! The most immediate thing is that I’m working on is passing along the knowledge I’ve gained over the past several years as a successful 6 figure wedding photographer to a new generation of photographers. I have a lot of great free resources on my website, a shop with super useful templates, guides, and presets, and I’m working on a couple of really awesome online courses right now!

I also get messages from people asking for advice on how I’ve gotten to this place of truly loving and feeling at peace with myself pretty much daily. It’s such a complex topic, and there isn’t just one thing - it’s really been a complex mix of many things. I have SO much I want to share, but it’s hard to do in an Instagram message. I’ve been thinking about creating a 6 week online course on learning to be compassionate toward yourself, learning to trust and feel confident in yourself, and learning to bring that inner compassion outward toward others in an actionable way. That way there’s time to truly build community (real, deep, TRUE connection and community is something I’m so freaking passionate about right now - it is SO important!), to read some of the essential materials to form a solid base to start from, to repeatedly practice all the actionable steps that make a difference, to find a therapist if you desire to, etc. This idea just came to me recently after feeling frustrated by the difficulties of serving others the way I want to via Instagram DMs, so I’m not sure what the final form will be or when it will be ready, but I’d like to think I’ll have something available for people who need it by the end of the year!

Lastly, my husband and I bought a chalet in the White Mountains of NH last Fall that we’ve turned into a super successful Airbnb! I love real estate and have become really passionate about diversifying your income with passive or semi-passive income streams, so I might end up teaching something about that, or at least offering guides and templates for people who want to start their own Airbnb too! 

Clearly teaching is the core of where this new phase of my life and career lays! I think I’m really in a time of my life where I’m eager to connect, grow, and share knowledge with others. It’s a little scary changing lanes after having such a solid business that’s felt safe and secure to me, but it’s also exhilarating to step into something that feels deeply connected to my purpose in this world right now.


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