Friends. Photography. Adventure.

Category: Comment (Page 2 of 2)

Behind the Camera

My Twitter profile describes this as a “body positive photography adventure for friends of all shapes & sizes. Some behind the camera, some in front, some provide ideas.” Completely unprompted, this has just arrived in my inbox. I am blown away. But for the record, I disagree with the first bit…
Let’s get the sob-story stuff out of the way first.
I’ve always known I wasn’t pretty. A school photographer implied it when I was 13 and my mother confirmed it for me not long after that by telling people at a family gathering that my older sister had been a beautiful baby. When I asked if I’d been beautiful, she told me I’d been ‘funny-looking’.
Never fish for compliments, boys and girls, you might just find an old boot on the end of your line.
Anyway. As a result of trying to be more pretty I’ve experimented over the years with a selection of unwise make-up products, awful clothes, and no-sane-person-would-willingly-choose-this hairstyles. My clothes size over the years has fluctuated between a size 22 and a size 14 (the black coffee and cigarette years). I’ve got weird teeth. Honestly, I could sit and tell you every single thing that’s wrong with my body and my face and I could probably also tell you every fat-shaming comment that’s been directed my way. Some of them are even in French, ooh la la.
But that’s as far as the poor me diatribe goes.
What I don’t have in looks, I more than make up for in personality. I have a brain. I have a wicked sense of humour. And I am creative.
As soon as C told us about Exposing 40 I started thinking of photographic concepts. For other people rather than for myself, although I did have an ill-advised attempt at some selfies in a pair of spike-heeled sex-shoes. I’ve been reading the blog avidly and am marveling at how stunning all the photos look, and the precious stories behind them.
I’m not planning my own naked photo yet. I don’t feel comfortable yet with the idea of being a) photographed and b) judged. But this weekend I’ll be up at 6am to art direct what is sure to be a gorgeous shot. I have sketches aplenty and more ideas than you can shake a stick at.
I may not be a beauty, but I’m a fucking goddess when it comes to creating something beautiful.

Versions of Ourselves

When Maria posted her beautiful photograph last week there was so much I wanted to say but I held back, not wanting to hijack her blog with an unwieldy comment. The days passed and rather than settling on something suitably pithy I actually just refined the long response in my head.

As an image plain and simple it was wonderful; the muted colours, the relaxation of the body, the fact you could imagine the contemplation on her face without needing to see it. But it was the words that really struck a chord with me. Within a few lines Maria had touched on many thoughts that had been tripping through my mind.
July 2014 AnonymousShe spoke of closely cropped versions. Oh, the crop! I have pondered the integrity of a body positivity project in which I so often work hard to manage out the bits I don’t like. I bloody love my legs, but my Stepping Out post is very exactly edited to just lose the belly overhang at the top. I really don’t like my breasts, yet I happily and frequently return to this photo (which I first posted anonymously a year ago), mainly because here they really don’t look like mine! Am I being body positive because I choose to celebrate and post photos that make the best of me, or am I being negative because I choose to hide the truth?

For me, the leap of faith came with Andromeda where my belly hung out and my tits are at opposite sides of the room like quarrelling siblings. I understand Maria’s instinct to regard herself with disdain. I am proud I posted my full body shot, and I will do more of them I am sure, but it doesn’t mean I am completely comfortable with everything I see.

Am I allowed a gratuitous Dirty Dancing quote here? Damn right I am. “If you love me, you have to love all the things about me.” And I do love my body. It copes pretty well with the distances I make it fly, the alcohol I put in it, the lack of sleep I subject it to when I can’t say no to another work project, and it’ll shrug and get on with it when I decide to shuffle it 13 or 26 miles round a city. It is also home to my spirit. So I am sorry belly and boobs that I am not always very nice about you, but I am learning to love you.

For me the most powerful point Maria made was this: “One of the most lovely and helpful things about the Sinful Sunday community (for me) is thinking about how my image will look through other people’s eyes rather than just through the filter of my own baggage.”
Tomorrow I am photographing one of my oldest, dearest, friends for this project. She wants me to focus on her caesarean scar. Next weekend I am photographing Honey for an amazing new project in which she is withdrawing her right to self-edit and giving other people complete freedom to choose how they photograph her. One of these women I have known for half my life, the other I have met just once. I am humbled and honoured by the trust both are putting in me and my camera.

And trust is really at the heart of all of this: my Andromeda, Maria’s Undo, Honey’s project, my friend’s excitement about participating in Exposing 40. By sharing our self-portraits or by allowing others to photograph us we trust them to help us face our vulnerabilities, celebrate our good bits, and see ourselves with kinder eyes.

And Maria, feeling (or being) large is an undeniable fact for many of us, but there is absolutely nothing ungainly about you. I see only elegance in your words, photography and body.

A New Perspective 

I have a job that frequently shocks me, regularly inspires me, and usually ensures I keep a reasonable perspective about the things that bother me in my own life.
Yesterday I was working in a community that would casually be called the “poorest of the poor” by policy-makers, the media and charities alike. It’s on the outskirts of a bustling city and exists to collect and hand sort the rubbish the city and its growing middle class produces. As cars race past on a gleaming highway a few hundred metres away the rubbish arrives by horse and cart.
I spent the day at a community library that gives children who don’t go to school the chance to read, learn, and play. A group of friends were identified to feature in the short film I am making. Two interviews down we beckoned the third girl towards the camera. A cocky, confident, and funny nine-year-old, she’d been enjoying herself while we filmed the group activities, but as her moment in front of the camera arrived she shrunk back from us and her shoulders hunched.
“Are you ok?” my translator gently asked.
She shook her head.
“What’s the matter?”
The translator’s face fell.
“Because I am fat and I am not beautiful,” she’d whispered back.
There was a sharp intake of breath from the whole team. This week we’ve interviewed migrant workers who haven’t seen their children in 15 years, visited sweatshops where people sit at sewing machines for 18 hours a day, and filmed illegal night markets that provide some people with their only source of income. Somehow this little girl’s insecurities shocked all of us more than any of that. We’d been expecting the rest and knew it would be bad. We hadn’t expected this.
We would have been saddened to hear those words from a nine-year-old anywhere in the world, but somehow it seemed even more shocking to hear them in this community. But why? Just because she is poor and living a life we find hard to comprehend, it doesn’t mean she doesn’t have the same worries about how she looks or isn’t vulnerable to the same images as nine-year-olds at home are.
I can’t say I had previously assumed people in the communities like this one didn’t care about their body image because until yesterday I hadn’t actually given it any thought. But if asked I would probably have muttered something along the lines of ‘more important things to think about’. That seems patronising now.
But there are more important things to think about. A little girl born into poverty and unable to go to school shouldn’t be worrying about how she looks on camera. No more than a nine-year-old in a nice family home in a richer community should be taking pictures with a ‘slimming selfie app’. We live in a world where body image is a primary concern for little girls, whatever their circumstances.
The growing body positivity movement is heartening and thankfully it’s not just restricted to women. Projects like Kate Parker’s Strong is the New Pretty and the great A Mighty Girl initiative are helping adults think about how they support girls to think differently about themselves. I wonder if these responses will cut as deep as the images that make girls think poorly of themselves have?

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