Published On: May 30, 2024By
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Teri Hofford is a body image educator, photographer, speaker and author, who encourages people to change their beliefs about themselves so that they can live more authentically within their bodies.

In 2022, she published The Geode Theory, which encourages readers to slowly chip away at the negative views the negative views they may have about their bodies so that they can reveal the sparkle that lies beneath. “We blame our bodies for a lot of the things that we don’t like about ourselves,” Teri says. “Once we realize that our body is just a body, there’s a lot more under the surface. That needs to be where the acceptance comes in.” Autobiographical non-fiction is so much more personal than fiction, but Teri didn’t have any difficulty tapping into her past experiences in order to bring the book to life. “It might because I wrote it down when I was younger.”

Teri has been journaling since age six. “Revisiting the stories for that book wasn’t as hard as this current book that I’m getting published right now because I had already gone through it and come out the other side.” Reflective writing began as a refuge for Hofford, who noted that journaling was a safe place to express herself whenever she became a target of bullying and since then, it’s become a useful point of grounding. “I noticed that the times when I would turn on my body is when I got away from journaling. Our bodies become a scapegoat for all the things we hate about ourselves. It’s like, this is the physical representation of all my shame, pain and blame so let’s attack that instead.”

Recently, Hofford spoke at Camp Rover, a conference for entrepreneurs who are also creators, where she confessed that she had temporarily replaced toxic diet culture and hustle culture. ”I just moved my worthiness from my body onto my achievements,” she says. She felt a pressure to produce a certain amount of output and work to standards that weren’t right for her or her body. “I wasn’t listening to my body. I was talking about body positivity or body acceptance, but I would still ignore my body’s request to get a drink of water or have a nap after a really emotional photoshoot. I wasn’t listening to my body’s needs and that’s the exact same thing that diet culture does.” It can be easy to fall into the trap of separating your mind from your body, which creates a dangerous disconnect when you seek to satisfy one over the other. “I can assure you that our bodies have been around a lot longer than our prefrontal cortexes. I think our bodies know how to be humans better than our brains.”

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“We are always looking outside of ourselves for validation,” she says. “Whether it’s how we look or how much we’re producing for other people.” Hofford says we need only look back to the pandemic to see how willing people were to abandon their beauty routines when they realized no one else was going to see results of such an effort. We also found it much easier to separate ourselves from work when it wasn’t available to us, instead returning to abandoned hobbies or acquiring new ones. “They started making bread, crocheting, painting, and being creative and innovative. It shouldn’t take a global catastrophe for people to recognize that their worth is outside of being a producer and being a consumer.”

While it can be hard to separate your worth from the work you do, it’s important to realize that your worth is inherent to your purpose and not based on your external output. “I tied myself closely to the identity of what I do, and not why I do it. That was the big mistake. When it came time for me to realize I can impact people beyond just taking photos of them, it was really hard for me to separate myself from being Teri the Photographer, because that’s how a lot of people know me. There was a lot of validation in there.” But it wasn’t the kind of validation Teri was looking for. “That’s why now in my bio I reorganize the words to say is that I’m a body image educator first. And that’s not for anybody else, that is for me to remind myself why I’m doing photography, why I’m doing speaking, why I’m doing all these things. It’s because I’m an educator first.”

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Failing to prioritize why you work above the work you are doing rarely ends well. “I fell into doing things the way everybody else does, and I had gotten really far away from why I started in the first place.” Having strayed from her purpose, Teri found herself needing to make a change. “I had to untangle a lot of that part of it and say, my medium is less important than my mission. And to understand that I can role model what I stand for every day. I always start with body image education. But it’s not about the body. This, as I already mentioned, is the same thing as working through your relationship to hustle culture, your relationship to money, the relationship to everything, it’s all the same,” Teri says. “We’re looking outside of ourselves. I like to educate people on how to move through. What are we making things mean? And how can we get to the heart of what we actually want?”

Asking questions is at the core of what Teri does. “If we can get our brain to shift to curiosity, it shifts us out of judgment,” she says. “Because usually when we have a thought, we go straight to judgment. The body positivity movement is a great example because you are going to have a negative thought about your body, you’ve had it your whole life. But now with body positivity what happens is we have a negative thought about our bodies, and then we’re like, ‘Oh, I’ve had a negative thought about my body, I’m the worst.’ And that is a double whammy of shame. That’s not helpful. Instead, what I say is, ‘Why did I have that thought about my body? I wonder where that’s coming from. Who taught me that?’ And again, it allows you to become the viewer of the thought instead of the believer. Once I started to see how that worked, I started applying it to everything, and now I just asked a lot of questions all the time.“

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Teri’s view of success has also changed when she began thinking of what it really meant to her. While a calendar full of work used to make her feel successful, today it’s about being open to opportunities to spread her message and spend time with the people she loves. This mentality also fits into her desire for flexibility and her willingness to leave behind things that aren’t for her, a trait that’s earned her the nickname Teri-Two-Years. Her most recent major shift was choosing to step away from her photography studio.

“This last one was the hardest,” she says, “because that’s where I’ve gotten a lot of validation, a lot of recognition, and I was making a shit ton of money. I was successful on paper, but I hated it. I hated everything. And a big part of that was because I wasn’t ready for it. But also, I stayed longer than I should have.” When she realized she wanted to move more toward education, coaching and speaking she had to work on setting photography aside because it was getting in the way of her purpose. “That’s the most recent one, but throughout my whole life, relationships, jobs, I’m like, the first year is always the honeymoon period, the second year is do I want to do this forever, and usually, the answer was no. I still have my husband,” she muses. “He’s surpassed the Teri-Two-Years. He’s the anomaly.”

While many of us struggle with imposter syndrome, Teri has managed to avoid it by embracing the idea that she is doing what she’s meant to be doing. “If I didn’t belong here, I wouldn’t be here. It’s as simple as that.” But when that mantra isn’t enough, she’s got some other tricks up her sleeve. “I remind myself that I’m not there for me anyways, I’m there to make people feel good. That is my gift, to make people feel seen and welcome.” She also points out the power of representation, and how the mere act of showing up authentically can encourage those who relate to you. “If I don’t show up as myself, then who’s going to miss out on this? Who is going to miss out on needing to see somebody with my body, with this sense of style, with curly hair? Who’s going to miss out on that if I don’t show up as myself? And that’s kind of what gets me going.”

That doesn’t mean that it’s always easy. Like most of us, there are times when negative emotions creep in. “Whenever I am feeling—I call it squidgy—where your chest gets,” she tightens, a gesture of intensity. “Whenever I feel that, I’m like, ‘Oh, there’s something to learn here, we can use this to help other people. So, let’s lean into that feeling even though it’s uncomfortable.’ That’s part of being an educator, too, is saying, how can I use this really uncomfortable situation. It gives it a purpose.”

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Hofford identifies as a neurodivergent creative and still puts effort into accepting this part of herself. “I’m definitely learning more about the way my brain works,” Teri says. “If I have to do things in a weird or unconventional way, awesome, do it. Don’t think it has to be done a very specific way, just because that’s the way neurotypical people do it.” Teri also uses stimming, or self-stimulation, which often involves repeated gestures or movements that can self-sooth or help express emotion. “I stim out my anxiety because otherwise it catches here,” she gestures to her throat, “and then I speak really fast. Or I pace a lot or move back and forth.” Hofford notes that freelance work offers her freedom that a more corporate environment might not provide. “I can make my own rules about what I want to do and how I want to do things. That’s a very freeing part of it. The physical movement of energy sometimes is almost like a reset. Sometimes I’ll be thinking of something, and I’ll make a noise out loud because I just need to reset.”

Like many neurodivergent people, Teri spent much of her life attempting to mask these movements. “I spent a large chunk of my life trying to not do those things, so I don’t look weird,” she says. It took her seven years to realize it was just a part of who she was. “If I don’t actually express the energy, it just becomes exhaustion or fatigue and then I can’t focus on things.” This lack of focus would lead to frustration instead of solutions. “I used to feel so unproductive, and I would be judgmental instead of being curious.” She encourages those who might be feeling this way to ask themselves questions about why they might be feeling disconnected. “How did we sleep? Have you eaten? What are you doing?” While finding the source of the feeling might not lead to immediate relief, it can help you avoid similar situations in the future.

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Teri has been able to find success working in industries that are often unfairly categorized as hobbies, but she’s been able to thrive by looking to those who have succeeded before her. “If they’re doing it, then I can do it,” Hofford says. “Growing up on a farm in a very small town, the only evidence I had was why it couldn’t work.” She was surrounded by people who didn’t believe she could sustain herself as a creative, and when those are the only voices you hear, you might start thinking they’re right. “I believed them, because I didn’t have any other evidence.” Until she realized that she should concentrate more on those who had succeeded than worrying about who might have failed. “Where you put your focus is what you’re going to find. So suddenly, I found other photographers, writers, people making a living out of their creative jobs. If they can do it, then obviously I can do it. That was the biggest thing to be honest.”

If you’re getting started as a creative, Teri says it’s integral to understand the cost of running your own business. While it’s not fun to think about when you’re starting out, it’s important to understand what you’ll need to stay open and ultimately, how you’d like to see your work end. “Plan your exit strategy when you’re building your business. Because I didn’t do that. And so, when it came time for me to leave photography I was like, where do I go now? What happens now? I didn’t have a plan.” It’s important to know what you’re working towards and understand not only what you wish to leave behind, but what you will be leaving for. As for not getting lost on your journey? “Invest as much in your self-development as you do in your equipment whatever you’re doing. I always say there’s nothing like running a business to bring your bullshit to the surface.” Teri says. “You have to be going down the self-development path in some capacity in order to be able to continue to create and run a sustainable business, it’s non-negotiable.”

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Lest we leave out answers to some of our favourite questions, you can find Teri on the dancefloor whenever the DJ plays ‘Yeah’ by Usher or anything by Ludicrous. She was able to choose three words to describe herself faster than anyone else we’ve spoken to, identifying as passionate, curious and authentic. ”When you’re just being yourself, I think it makes it easy to know how you show up daily. Every day I show up with intention,” she says. “This is how I’m going to show up today. I don’t have to pretend to be something that I’m not if I just allow myself to be myself. It’s so much easier.”

You can catch Teri on her upcoming tour this summer, hyping up her release of her next book “Homecoming: Tales of Travel, Discovery & Self Acceptance”. Join her for a few hours of confidence building fun time – tickets are on sale now!