“I shouldn’t be, but I’m always surpsised at how empowering it is when someone poses for the camera, especially if this is a new experience for them. They can always pretend to be someone else. But hopefully they will be true to who they are – and reveal themselves, open, honest and raw – especially if it can help them grow or better appreciate their inner self.
When I met Paris I was immediately disarmed by her openness and I knew that our photos would be true to who she is. When you look at this series I hope that you won’t just see the physical, but also glimpse the inner beauty that is Paris’ sharp intelligence, humour, generosity and kindness.” tells us photographer Steve McKee about his collaboration with gorgeous Paris Lees.
Paris Lees explains: “I overthink most things. I think about the ins and outs, the ups and downs. I am my own worst critic. Some people wouldn’t see that, but a lot would. Perfectionism and contradictions are everywhere in society. You must do this: don’t do that. Be better: don’t be so good. Be confident but not too confident.
A big thing for me this year was learning to do things for me, while not worrying about other people’s thoughts or how they may perceive something. People are always going to have something to say, whether it be good or bad; people will talk. I suppose as long as you are being spoken about, you are in their thoughts and you have some kind of power over them. So let’s give them something to talk about. Embrace yourself, embrace your body, and who you are. And that means feeling comfortable while sometimes also feeling uncomfortable.
This is me doing just that, knowing that people will have something to say. I loved doing this shoot, I love who I have become, and I love my body. This is me embracing who I am.”
We wanted to delve deeper into the life of Paris, a student of psychology, and discussed her battle with perfectionism, her educational journey towards self-acceptance, and her professional insights on the importance of nurturing one’s mental health.
Paris, in your writing, you mention struggling with perfectionism and contradictions in society. Can you share a specific experience or moment that made you realize the impact of these pressures on your life?
Growing up, I grappled with societal expectations and the pressure to please others. I was hyper-aware of people’s moods and behavior from a young age, trying to act accordingly. However, I reached a breaking point when I rebelled against this constant need for approval, finding it less painful than always striving to meet others’ standards. Tragedy struck at 22 when my mother passed away, and I lost my support system. This loss pushed me further into people-pleasing, mirroring behavior to gain acceptance. I learned that sharing my true emotions was met with discomfort, so I bottled them up. This cycle left me burnt out, overthinking, and oversharing to try and make people understand me but only becoming more misunderstood. Now at 32, I have nearly completed an undergraduate degree in psychology and have done significant therapy. I’m working on becoming the person I needed in my youth. While I still grapple with perfectionism, I recognize that true strength lies in self-acceptance and understanding that life isn’t perfect. These realizations empower me to embrace my imperfections and cultivate healthier relationships.
You speak about learning to do things for yourself and not worrying about others’ thoughts. Could you tell us how you achieved this mindset shift, and what advice you might offer to others trying to do the same?
In my journey towards shifting my mindset to prioritize my well-being and desires, I’ve learned valuable lessons. When my mother passed away at 22, I took on the responsibility of caring for three horses, two dogs, and a cat. They became my support system, providing a connection to my mother and a sense of purpose. While many suggested selling them and moving on, I trusted my intuition and took the time I needed. It took me 10 years, but I finally made the decision to move the horses to my uncle’s farm, pack up my life, put it into storage, and move to Sydney to finish my degree face-to-face. The advice I offer to others is to believe in themselves, trust their instincts, and take the time they need. Do not succumb to external pressures, practice daily self-care, be compassionate to yourself, and understand that it’s never too late to pursue your dreams. Your well-being is worth prioritizing, and your journey is a valuable one.
“Understanding the complexities of the brain could unravel the mysteries of life, making it simpler.”
Why did you decide to pursue a degree in psychology, and what inspired your interest in this field?
From a young age, I found myself drawn to understanding the mind. I couldn’t comprehend certain situations and behaviors around me, and this curiosity led me to believe that if we could understand the complexities of the brain, we could unravel the mysteries of life, making it simpler. The greatest challenge of my life arrived when I began grieving the loss of my mother. The pain was unlike anything I had ever experienced, and it seemed to continually weigh down my heart. I found it intriguing to observe how others coped with grief. I realized that the profound sorrow people felt would forever be a part of them. It might fade with time, but the waves of sadness would return unexpectedly, as fresh as ever. Grief truly felt like riding a wave. At the age of 31, I received a diagnosis of ADHD, which offered me valuable insights into why I was the way I was. Understanding this condition enabled me to cultivate self-compassion, fostering my personal growth and well-being, which also inspired me more in my quest for understanding the brain. As I continued the journey of healing and sought a brighter future for myself, I recognized the need for change. I decided to relocate the horses to my uncle’s farm, stored my belongings, and moved to Sydney. This transition allowed me to continue my degree face-to-face, build new friendships, and embrace a fresh start.
Embracing oneself and feeling comfortable in one’s skin while also dealing with the discomfort of judgment can be challenging. What strategies have you found effective in maintaining your self-confidence in such situations?
Embracing oneself and maintaining self-confidence in the face of judgment can indeed be challenging. I’ve discovered effective strategies for navigating such situations: First, I’ve realized that judgment is a part of human nature, and at some point in our lives, everyone faces it. Understanding that people are primarily preoccupied with their own lives and concerns has been immensely comforting. They’re not thinking about us as much as we might imagine. Second, I remind myself that I am my lifelong companion. Just as I would support and speak kindly to my friends, I’ve learned to extend the same kindness and love to myself. This shift in self-talk has allowed me to rewire thought processes that once fueled self-doubt and negativity. These strategies have been instrumental in strengthening my self-confidence … and helping me to feel comfortable in my own skin, even when faced with judgment.
“Exercise… for the essential mental health benefits it provides through the release of endorphins.”
You express love for your body and who you have become. Can you share some specific ways you cultivate self-love and body positivity in your daily life?
In my journey towards self-love and body positivity, I’ve learned to appreciate myself and my body, recognizing that without it, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I’ve transitioned from a focus on dieting to mindful eating, nourishing my body with foods that support my overall health. Exercise has become a daily practice, not only for physical fitness but also for the essential mental health benefits it provides through the release of endorphins, helping me maintain a positive outlook and manage stress and anxiety. Positive affirmations have become a part of my daily routine, reinforcing my self-worth and unique qualities. I’ve intentionally surrounded myself with people and influences that promote body positivity and self-love, fostering a supportive environment for my journey. Prioritizing self-care, whether through relaxation, meditation, or engaging in joyful activities, is crucial for my mental and emotional well-being. Celebrating personal achievements and milestones, no matter how small, is another way I reinforce self-love and positivity. If needed, I seek guidance from mental health professionals who provide strategies and tools to navigate challenges related to self-esteem and body image. Though self-love and body positivity may be a continuous journey with occasional self-doubt, I’m committed to embracing and appreciating my body for its role as an incredible vessel, allowing me to experience life to its fullest.
Are there specific areas within psychology that you’re particularly passionate about?
The areas of psychology I am passionate about are mental disorders, childhood trauma, and neuropsychology.
“Celebrating personal achievements and milestones, no matter how small, is another way I reinforce self-love and positivity.”
“The Body Keeps the Score” by Bessel Van Der Kolk, and the Harry Potter series.
“Pulp Fiction” and the Harry Potter series.
Night or Day Person?
Day person, but I do love the night.
What is home for you?
Home is with my horses; they make me feel close to my mum. It’s also with my godfather David, my brothers, and my aunt and uncle. Home is where I feel loved.
Where do you see yourself in the future?
I see myself happy and content and helping people.
PHOTOPGRAPHER: Steve McKee www.instagram.com/steve.j.mckee
MODEL: Paris Lees www.instagram.com/parislees