When I was talking with my sister about this self-portrait series and what I hoped to accomplish with it, she jokingly suggested that I pose nude. Um, no. Nude was out of the question but it got me thinking. One of my primary goals with this project is to explore aspects of myself that I have not completely revealed in the past or that make me feel uncomfortable. So I thought maybe I should push myself a bit and pose in a way that, for me, is more scantily clad because I’ve always had a poor body image. I knew I’d have to psych myself up for it.
Body image is one of those things that shouldn’t even be an issue. But we, women especially, start to receive messages telling us to improve everything about our physical selves at a pretty young age. From the unrealistic Barbie dolls of my childhood to the stick-thin Twiggy models that populated the teen magazines of my adolescence, the messages were constant. From make-up to hair color to removing body hair to maintaining a weight that suited current fashions, the refrain was a simple one. You’re not good enough as you are so go forth and do stuff to make yourself better. And things haven’t changed all that much over the years. Except now I’m being told to make all those horrible wrinkles go away, too. Looking in the mirror has always been an experience of looking at someone who doesn’t quite measure up physically. I know I’m not the only woman who has been conditioned into feeling that way.
Things are starting to change though. We’re seeing more body types and ages now in advertising instead of only skinny, young things whose clothing size is a negative number. Gray hair is actually trendy. There are lots more clothing options out there, from androgynous to ultra feminine. But we have a long way to go before each of us can simply accept and appreciate our natural selves. Bras are still pretty much a mandatory thing in public no matter how uncomfortable they may be. And god forbid we should display a naked breast anywhere. They are devil spawn and must be covered. All you have to do is turn on the TV, pay attention to the commercials and start counting how many are still telling women to improve their bodies. Exercise equipment. Weight loss products. Anti-aging products. Tooth whiteners. Make-up. And on and on and on.
I hope one day girls will grow up accepting their bodies. I hope some day a woman will not feel the need to expend any effort on trying to improve a body that is perfectly fine in its natural state. But for now, this self-portrait is my attempt to celebrate my own body a bit more. Though it may not seem like much in terms of stepping out of my comfort zone, believe me when I say it took some internal coaxing to get it done. And then I simply couldn’t manage the maturely sultry expression that I thought I should have. Trying not to laugh was the best I could do.
One final note on this topic. When the title for this self-portrait, The Beauty in the Body, first popped into my head, I rejected it and spent a fair amount of time trying to come up with something else. Why? Because I felt uncomfortable and self-conscious about using the word beauty in connection with my own image. It didn’t (doesn’t) seem to apply to me. That body image conditioning dies hard.
(Vanity note to self: next time find a way to show off those cute white boy-shorts you were wearing. LOL)
You can see the first self-portrait in the series here: Never Too Late