About a month ago, a post celebrating self-love was circulated on Facebook by New Jersey photographer Jess Fielder. She included this quote by author Erin McKean:
“You Don’t Have to Be Pretty. You don’t owe prettiness to anyone. Not to your boyfriend/spouse/partner, not to your co-workers, especially not to random men on the street. You don’t owe it to your mother. You don’t owe it to your children. You don’t owe it to civilization in general. Prettiness is not a rent you pay for occupying a space marked female.”
The project and the quote struck a chord with me, and many others. I received an email asking if I would consider doing a similar project. A few weeks later, I found myself on a Comox Valley beach with a group of brave and enthusiastic women, many of us meeting for the first time. We ate chocolate, drank some wine, and made two signs each. One, a false self-definition we carry or something negative someone said to us. The other, a statement we know to be true of ourselves. There were tears and laughter, tons of it.
When we left, we were stronger. We were connected and inspired. We were a little angry, at the things we should be angry about, and a little more full of love; self-love and love for the power of sisterhood and strength in sharing.
I bow down to the women who joined me. Being able to capture your honesty was very powerful, and seeing you leave walking taller and light with laughter was a highlight of my summer. We did this shoot for us, but additionally, if just one teen girl sees these photos, and gains from seeing that this is what real women look like, or if one woman now feels less alone in their insecurity, we have done a good thing here.
“I can’t let other people’s words or actions set me off balance. Life is hard enough just navigating through all the self doubt I like to pour on myself in heaps and mounds. What I came to realize through this joyous experience is that I need to be, NO WAIT, I am my best friend! I look at my photos and immediately judge. I see things that I don’t want others to see but I also feel proud and strong. I remind myself all that I have accomplished with this body. (Two births, three major surgeries, multiple sports scars, deep sadness dealing with loss, mountains my feet have climbed and multiple broken hearts.) I ask you to look at all these pictures of beautifully brave strangers with kindness. We are Comox Valley women who came together to embrace one thing. LOVE. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Far from perfection I am but the woman I see is perfect for me.”
“It felt like a place of encouragement, acceptance, and kindness. I wish we could all bottle it and hand it out to other women. It was the safest place to be exposed.”
“This experience for me was nothing short of amazing. It filled me up. I felt as though my cup was empty, or nearing empty. And it gave me the top up I needed to see myself, my beauty, my body in a new light. To embrace who I am. To be ok with it. Being surrounded by all those beautiful women… in our underwear! It was a feeling that is hard to explain. It was a powerful, loving energy. And I will admit when I first looked at my photos I looked at all the “bad”, all the parts I didn’t like, that I wished I could change. But when I stepped away and came back and looked at them with that same loving energy that surrounded me that night on the beach, I embraced who I am. I saw love. I saw ME! Cancer survivor and feisty fighter!”
“This shoot made me feel grateful. Grateful that people like Karen exist and bring so much positivity to our community; grateful that we have such beautiful places to choose from around here; grateful to my partner for wanting to do kooky things with me. And I’m really grateful to the roller derby community, because honestly, as cool as the shoot was and as much as I support the movement, being in a truly body-positive environment was not new or unusual for me. I’ve spent years soaked in a culture that values all bodies for their strength and achievements, and almost aggressively celebrates self-love. I was worried at first that something was missing for me, that I wasn’t as moved by the experience as others seemed to be. But it was just that women being strong and vulnerable and supportive together is what I’m used to. I’m very lucky, and very grateful to see this attitude flourishing at home too.”
“I am exhausted by the tie between self-worth and some bullsh*t definition of pretty. One lousy comment in my teens, someone telling me “I was nice, but not pretty enough,” took a chunk out of me, preyed on an insecurity that society had stamped on me way before I was even aware of it. I carried it until my mid-30’s, and it sneaks back up now and then. That’s crazy right? Not so much. It’s all too common. I photograph women and I hear the same too often. – I can’t stand my rolls, look how fat my face looks, my left boob is lower, my butt jiggles, can you hide my wrinkles, and the one that crushes me the most – “When I lose the weight – I will finally deserve a session.” Wait, what?! “When I lose the weight, I will deserve… ” think about it!! We equate if we deserve, not only the love of others, but self-love, with how much we weigh? So how do we make the shift? There isn’t one simple answer, but a place to start is in our communities. Let’s start by sharing, it takes power away from negatively. Let’s stop feeling shy to celebrate ourselves, let’s practice self love together. I have a sisterhood of strong, creative, honest brilliant women in my life, and daughters, they inspire me to treat myself with love as I so strongly desire for them to see all the amazing that they are, and not have it buried under some irrelevant bullsh*t definition of value. “
Gratitude to Jess, and the women in her session, for the inspiration – we might just make it a regular thing here in the Comox Valley.