Rebecca Tolk: “How to learn to finally love yourself”

…So my movement would be focused on bringing this approach and philosophy to all aspects of our society to change and improve our culture. Can you imagine the difference and impact that would have on generations of children and adults, how we would treat each other? The end goal, as with my work, is to […]

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…So my movement would be focused on bringing this approach and philosophy to all aspects of our society to change and improve our culture. Can you imagine the difference and impact that would have on generations of children and adults, how we would treat each other? The end goal, as with my work, is to embrace our radiant inner beauty within ourselves that spreads to others, because we really are all inherently beautiful reflections of the human experience, and we just need to be shown that…

As part of my interview series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Rebecca Tolk. For over 25 years, fine art photographer Rebecca Tolk has created sensitive and exquisite photography experiences to achieve the quality results she is known for. Featured internationally, Rebecca has captured a range of clients from Hollywood actors to Congressional candidates, though her true passion is to explore our relationships with ourselves and with the natural world. Her work is featured in the permanent collection of several renowned institutions including the Ritz-Carlton and The Atlantis Resort.

Thank you so much for joining us! I’d love to begin by asking you to give us the backstory as to what brought you to this specific career path.

Hi there, I’m happy to be here! So my professional backstory started in 1995 when I launched my photography business with portraits of adults, children, and weddings. But my journey really began in Fairfax, Virginia where I grew up. Like so many artists, I later found myself in New York City as a young adult at the age of 19, just trying to figure out the next step in my life. Not doing well in NYC, I found myself back in Virginia after one year to start my photography career. Then at age 30 I moved to Asheville, North Carolina to pursue my fine art photography. That was a beautiful town and it was there that I really took the time to explore nature in my art, which was one of many turning points. In ’09 I became very sick and everything in my life and career basically stopped. For the first time in my life, I was forced to slow down completely, focus on the basics, and sort out what was important to me in the Big Picture. Most importantly, I was able to rebound from that to rediscover my passions and get to where I am today.

Finally, two years ago I moved to St. Petersburg — a major arts hub of Central Florida — for love. Now, with COVID changing our world in so many ways, I have made the best of this situation and still find myself trying new things in my career. My latest exciting exploration has been going virtual with my Remote Portrait Sessions. This whole chapter began with the concept of making the most of this situation by using modern technology and my unique aesthetic to create artistic portraits that help elevate my client’s quarantine experience in a safe way. It has been such a fulfilling process that has actually opened more doors and allows me to connect with anyone around the globe and create something timeless.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you hope that they might help people along their path to self-understanding or a better sense of wellbeing in their relationships?

Yes! My latest new photography service is “Remote Portrait Sessions.” These sessions are geared towards women (and those who identify with the feminine) and couples. They’re totally unique from anything I’ve done in 25 years. It started out of necessity after the COVID quarantine began, but it has become an incredibly creative, collaborative, healing, and fun experience. I have always been drawn to the healing power of photography, which is why I consider myself someone who photographs how you feel, from the inside out.

I capture my client’s inner light and reveal it in images, so with these sessions I’ve crafted an entire experience to help journey inward in a safe and remote way. This includes working with embodiment guides, coaches, healers, and sacred sexuality facilitators to create collaborative packages and collections that bring celebratory images to my client’s healing journey.

So, in short, the challenges of COVID have helped me develop the most dynamic and rewarding photography experience of my career, and it’s available to anyone globally that has strong wifi and good daylight in their home during my working hours (9–5 EST).

Do you have a personal story that you can share with our readers about your struggles or successes along your journey of self-understanding and self-love? Was there ever a tipping point that triggered a change regarding your feelings of self acceptance?

I did struggle with my thoughts about appearance early in life and had a negative self-image. It got in the way of my life and career, so I learned to love and embrace myself slowly over time. That can definitely be one of those “easier said than done” types of things, and I know it’s not like flipping a switch, but every step is an important step and it’s absolutely worth it. Since it is a work in progress, I do still occasionally struggle. But I feel that I have greatly overcome self-image and self-esteem issues, and I feel so grateful and renewed every day for it. I’m still working on self-confidence as the last piece of the puzzle.

My business and esteem coach, Rita Hovakimian, helped me consciously transform and reassert the basic fact that I am allowed to exist fully expressed and follow my dream, just like anyone else. Other healers and transformational modalities along the way have also been of great help. I love energy healing, hypnotherapy, NLP and repatterning techniques. Basically, I’ve done a lot of inner work throughout my life and it has been transformational in every part of my life, for the better. I always recommend that others journey inward to heal and explore their own depths, it really is so important, especially during this time of massive change and uncertainty. This inner work has brought me to a place in my life that allows me to create healing and celebratory artwork to help spread joy and freedom to others, which is a magical and beautiful experience.

According to a recent study cited in Cosmopolitan, in the US, only about 28 percent of men and 26 percent of women are “very satisfied with their appearance.” Could you talk about what some of the causes might be, as well as the consequences?

As a photographer, I do see this and I understand where this comes from. I think there are a lot of reasons for this. Since childhood, many of us have been told we’re not good enough by society, our parents, and their parents before them , even if they don’t mean to. At times they are unconscious messages passed on from others. Society reinforces that you have to look a certain way to be beautiful, normal, to be worthy, to be loved — and many or most of us don’t feel we look that way, so that gets internalized. But, I truly believe the old cliche that beauty is in the eye of the beholder and we all get to decide what is beautiful, both inside and out. And, by that same token, do we really lose anything by being open to all forms of beauty? That’s always been my approach.

As cheesy as it might sound to truly understand and “love yourself,” can you share with our readers a few reasons why it’s so important?

Simply put Peace of mind. I honestly believe it’s as important as breathing. It’s essential to life and can change everything if you embrace all of who you are. Give it a try and see how things open up for you from there… It’s wonderfully liberating.

Why do you think people stay in mediocre relationships? What advice would you give to our readers regarding this?

Well, first of all, I’ve been there, so I empathize. I think the reason is that it’s safe and we don’t feel worthy of having what we really want. There’s also an element of not being ready to deal with and heal our deeper issues just yet. Underneath it all, I think this is tied to feeling worthy. Once that’s addressed, all kinds of boundaries, limitations, and false beliefs get lifted and then unlimited new possibilities arise. We have to remember that the world meets us where we are, and our outlook, as well as our inner beliefs, play a big role in shaping that. But it also means we have all the answers and tools we need already inside us!

When I talk about self-love and understanding I don’t necessarily mean blindly loving and accepting ourselves the way we are. Many times self-understanding requires us to reflect and ask ourselves the tough questions, to realize perhaps where we need to make changes in ourselves to be better not only for ourselves but our relationships. What are some of those tough questions that will cut through the safe space of comfort we like to maintain, that our readers might want to ask themselves? Can you share an example of a time that you had to reflect and realize how you needed to make changes?

One step that has been helpful to me is to set grand intentions and goals that challenge my idea of comfort. Then, to get more specific, I ask myself “What do I want that I’m not getting? Where am I not being true to myself? Where am I not fully giving or sharing my gifts with the world? Why am I not being who I want to be in the world?”

These kinds of reflective questions help me get to the core of what’s really going on for me so that I can face my limiting beliefs and heal them.

A personal example for me is actually what I’m going through right now. I’ve had to look at myself and do the work to clear limiting beliefs so that I can provide this new exceptional service that is worthy of presenting during this time. I have always known I can do this, and I have now been called by my higher self to go on a healing journey to transform the last few limiting beliefs of self-doubt so that I can bring this healing work to others.

So many don’t really know how to be alone, or are afraid of it. How important is it for us to have, and practice, that capacity to truly be with ourselves and be alone (literally or metaphorically)?

Very! That’s where we get to know who we are, hear our inner voice, inner passions, inner needs, and inner guidance to see and feel where we want to go in our lives. I often pause to check in with myself, in fact, it adds clarity every time.

How does achieving a certain level of self-understanding and self-love then affect your ability to connect with and deepen your relationships with others?

Well, it allows you to know yourself, your boundaries, and what you want to give and to receive. It also allows you to be more in charge of yourself and be more autonomous so you can be more present with others.

In your experience, what should a) individuals and b) society, do to help people better understand themselves and accept themselves?

First, go within. It’s important to quiet your mind and do things that help you connect with yourself. This can include going on walks, being with nature, drinking tea, breathing meditating, taking a bath, etc. See what comes up when you do these things, then make choices based on the messages you get, that’s your intuition talking to you! It’s important to trust yourself and your inner knowing of what you most need. The goal of all of this is to find, connect to, and ultimately work through and nurture these inner parts of yourself that need acceptance.

On the whole, I think society needs to work on practicing kindness, acknowledging others, and letting go of judgment. This can be done by each of us in a conscious way by smiling more at others and doing more random acts of kindness. In my experience, things like these that support those values and intentions become infectious and make a real difference in ways we often don’t realize.

What are 5 strategies that you implement to maintain your connection with and love for yourself, that our readers might learn from? Could you please give a story or example for each?

This subject is actually very important to me and I encourage my clients to do the same. Here are five favorite routines:

  1. Morning walks on my own to clear my thoughts and set intentions
  2. Talk to/hug trees, they hold deep wisdom
  3. Dance by myself to feel my own sensuality and love
  4. Hammock time outdoors for rest and creative pondering
  5. Drinking herbal tea for grounding and connecting to earth energies

These are all things that not only help me connect with myself but that I do because I love myself. I have found them each while on my journey of self-love. Some are reflective, some are playful. I strongly recommend for others to ask themselves, what would make you feel that you love yourself. Reject nothing at first and just allow the process to reveal what the answers may be — you may surprise yourself!

What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources for self-psychology, intimacy, or relationships? What do you love about each one and how does it resonate with you?

Right now my partner and I are reading David Deida’s books and taking his online course to deepen our intimacy. He’s a wonderful resource for awakened relationships. We’ve also been listening to John Wineland, relationship coach, who’s advice makes total sense to us. And we recently found Jaiya, creator of the Erotic Blueprint, which has been really helpful for deepening our intimacy.

Most of all, what I’ve learned along the way has come from personal conversations with healers, coaches, my partner, and people I look up to that I know practice what they preach. Personal connections and direct life experience are very important to me.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? Maybe we’ll inspire our readers to start it…

I consider my career and life philosophy to be about sharing beauty, helping people fall in love with themselves, and, by extension, self-love. This process includes finding beauty in our imperfections and embracing them because I believe there’s really no such thing as imperfections, just a range of truths. Of course, a lot of this is in contrast to the messages that are often put out in society around images. That’s why I consider shooting to be from the inside out. It isn’t surface-oriented or superficial at all. Instead, I encourage embracing inner acceptance and love. To do this my images are centered around and reflect affirmations like “I am worthy, I am enough as I am, I make no apologies for who I am.”

So my movement would be focused on bringing this approach and philosophy to all aspects of our society to change and improve our culture. Can you imagine the difference and impact that would have on generations of children and adults, how we would treat each other? The end goal, as with my work, is to embrace our radiant inner beauty within ourselves that spreads to others, because we really are all inherently beautiful reflections of the human experience, and we just need to be shown that…

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote” that you use to guide yourself by? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life and how our readers might learn to live by it in theirs?

Actually, I have three! First, the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have others do to you. Second: it never hurts to ask. And last but certainly not least: This too shall pass.

Each has been relevant, helpful, and poignant during different periods of my life and helped my work through situations to improve and grow. The last one, for example, was an especially powerful mantra that helped me during times of sickness several years back.

Each of these lines has helped me find peace and I think they’re also helpful to just about anyone. I encourage readers to sit with these and take from them what they most resonate with and best applies to their own circumstances. Their versatility is part of their timeless beauty.

What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?

My business is connected on Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn and we love to share updates, blog posts, and archival images through our social media. We’re currently most active on Facebook. I also keep an active email that sends out 1–2 newsletters a month. You can sign up on my website at the bottom of any page

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