Rachel

Rachel – USA

“Be big.”

That’s something I said to a close friend recently, who weighs just under 100 pounds, and who struggles with worrying that if she eats too much, she will become unattractive.

“Be big” is some advice that I could listen to myself.

Life is in the little details. All of them. Not just the positive, empowering details of our best moments when we feel full and confident, but in the ones that remind us how fragile we are. I have discovered that true empowerment for me comes from acknowledging the moments of doubt, the insecurities, the raw vulnerability, and from sharing them. Ninety-five percent of the time, I am a bold, self-confident whirlwind of a woman, but lately it is my brief moments of fear that have brought me closer to who I want to be. So rather than write about how empowered and explosive and strong and brave I felt swinging through the crisp autumn air and flinging myself off this rope swing into frigid water, I want to talk about the vulnerability that inspired me to act.

I am afraid of being too big. I’m scared of being too heavy. I’m terrified of being more than someone wants. My insecure moments descend on me when the weight of little words builds up, before I remember to throw up defenses. Passing comments of “wow, you’re tall for a woman,” or “can I try this acrobatic move with your smaller friend first?” or “I usually couldn’t do aerials with someone as big as you, but I’m glad this dance gives us momentum to do it!”…These often unintentional words seep their way into my normally resilient skin, because, after all, no human is perfectly waterproof.

I often catch myself slouching so that I’ll appear just a couple inches shorter.

Women are taught to take up as little space as possible. We celebrate our gorgeous curves and tell ourselves that real women have some meat, yet every time I sit on someone’s lap, I’m terrified that I’m too much. “Please, ladies, have a bodacious, womanly figure, but just try to keep it under 115 pounds…”

I am not petite. That’s taken me many years to accept.

So let this photo shoot be about sharing my vulnerability rather than insisting on my confidence, because just as we need to see the joy and possibility of empowerment, showing our fears is infinitely harder.

Through this photo I want to share with you…

my instinct to physically shrink and appear small “enough”

my fear of heights,

my terror that admitting my insecurities will make me seem weak and unattractive

my doubt of my physical strength,

my reluctance to stretch up and out and fill space

my worry that I am simultaneously not enough and too much

I am a beautiful, capable woman, and let me emphasize how big and strong my heart and body are by sharing with you that…

I am vulnerable.

Esjay

Esjay – USA

Cold hard metal against my shaking hands, the tip-toeing dancing pads of my feet. I was excited and happy. Thankfully, I had the warm rush I was counting on. Teeny tiny vibrations. Everywhere. Like bounciness at the atomic level. I imagined the billions of electrons in and around me buzzing and bumping around, greeting each other excitedly to create warmth.

I was distracted by my quivering jaw, the twisting and tightening cold against my skin, all surfaces of my body exposed to the elements. I had a strong and sensible desire to be warm again. But I wouldn’t dare let this moment be stolen by the weather. No, this was too special a time for my thoughts to be occupied by such predictable and familiar sensations…I wanted to dig deeper to discover what was hiding beneath it. So I focused. Focused on emitting that happy hot excitement to the surface of my skin to rise as steam and beam from my eyes.

Tingling all over, I pushed past the cold and saw the beauty of my setting. Rust and red. Bare iron and the remains of its red paint shield. Function and form. One day, this wheel scooping water, the water pushing the wheel. My wheel, rotating still, on this old relic of energy capture. Still doing its trick, it pulled me right in.

I felt honest. Before, during, now. Why share in this bold manner if it isn’t honest? But how to honestly convey all that I am in one frozen image, one interview, one essay? I’m relying on trust. Trust that what I’m sharing is relatable. Though I find moments of ecstasy experiencing what I believe to be my uniqueness, I find comfort and connection, something like “a reason for it all” by discovering my similarities.

What a gift. To be open and honest and have others relate to that honesty; to feel connected to another’s spinning, twirling, radiating insides. Giving of yourself plainly so you can be plainly received. Not expected, but a pleasant surprise. Like life. I never could have imagined what an amazing experience it is to be alive.

I was smiling, not just for the camera, but inside. Looking around, a flock of birds in the sky, tangled vines in the trees, water rushing behind me. Focusing on bark and branches, the grubby surface of the worn metal, specs of green, whisps of clouds, craggy boulders…and then letting my gaze go fuzzy, seeing nothing more than my inward smile. Smiling now with the sheer joy that I can see. And be seen.

Seeing my image captured, I felt immediate acceptance. Like what I imagine a mother might feel upon first inspection of her newly born child. Instantaneous love and compassion for this being, though they’ve just laid eyes on each other. I didn’t see what I had imagined I’d see. I appeared different than the me I dress in the mirror, the private me. I thought of the Odalisque, not an image I ever associated myself with; the softness, the classic femininity of a past era. But in a single moment all is unchangeable. All is as it is. Frozen. There would be no changing form before we continued on. No way of transforming into the image I recognized in my minds eye. No, I wasn’t going to see anything different in the end than what I was seeing right then. I accepted that. Quicker than self acceptance has ever come to me. This instantaneous feeling was the biggest lasting impression of the embody experience. My utter acceptance of me. My physical form made of my vibrating cells, my spinning thoughts and pulsing energy giving shape to this body; revealed on a red wheel.

Grace

Grace – USA

I’ve been disconnected.

I spent my first 25 (or more) years completely out of touch with myself and my body. I had no confidence, but I can’t really say I had poor self esteem or a poor body image. I had no sense of myself at all, and essentially no awareness of my body.

I wasn’t witnessed by my parents. They didn’t see me because they couldn’t. My mother’s severe depression and insecurity coupled with my father’s continuous anger and clinical narcissism demanded that I fill the role they needed for their apparent well-being. My role was to be perfect and well adjusted, and to focus on them. I needed to ignore and hide all my needs and emotions so that they could function. Since they couldn’t witness me, they weren’t able to reflect back to me the beautiful, imperfect, complete person that I was. I hid, and I lied, and I replaced the truth of my humanity with the appearance that I had a well-rounded grasp of every aspect of my life. Unfortunately, I hid all that I was from myself as well. I was unbelievably disconnected, unable to witness myself internally and completely disassociated from my body.

I grew up in South Florida so there was a lot of skin visible pretty much everywhere. I viewed it as vain and shallow, and while I was completely ignoring my body I was also priding myself on the fact that I was well adjusted enough not to participate in the objectification of women. I knew that societies’ standards of beauty were an unrealistic joke. However, I foolishly thought that even recognizing my body would somehow mimic the shallowness I wanted to avoid. I felt completely separate from my body. I sometimes found myself staring with confusion in a mirror, not really knowing who I was looking at. There was a sadness and longing there that I didn’t recognize as I just told myself that I was evolved enough to know that my real self had nothing to do with my body. Again, I wasn’t witnessing myself as human.

And then I met my husband. He taught me to love by seeing me… loving me… and allowing me the space to commit errors and be the complete, imperfect person that I am. Slowly (very slowly) I’ve learned that I’m human. Yes, my essence (our essence – the essence) is flawless love, but, I am also human. I am imperfect. I have flaws. I make mistakes all the time. I’m selfish and I hurt other people. And that’s amazing. It means I’m alive and I can understand other people. And while I’m alive as this imperfect, beautiful human – I have a body. As I’ve become more aware of myself, and my human nature, I’ve become more aware of my body. My senses are more alive. I see myself as beautiful and sexy, and sometimes as ugly and worn. I notice my physical imperfections and they feel normal. I feel like my body is mine. I’m beginning to see my image, and regardless of my assessment of that image, think “Yes, I am her. That body is me. I am that person.”

I am starting to connect.

Erica

Erica – USA

My Embody Project shoot came up quickly, and I didn’t have much time to prepare, mentally or physically. I felt a little nervous about it beforehand. I wondered how Rian was going to capture me in the photos, and I wondered how my thoughts would come across in the interview. The idea was to shoot me editing Embody Project images on my computer, working the way I do every day. Turns out I found it easy to be photographed naked while engaged with my work. I almost forgot about Rian and the camera a few times as I sang along with my favorite songs. I definitely forgot to think about my body, my nakedness, and that was a surprise. After the shoot, I found myself feeling grateful, grounded, energized, and open.

My lifelong struggle to accept my body as valuable and beautiful, with all its “flaws,” in our idealized culture, has taken me to the very depth of my shadow and to the razor’s edge of my capacity to grow. Through the years it’s carried a lot of weight inside me. But I’m thankful for all the mineshafts and mirrors along the way — which have shown me my “beauty,” my “ugly,” and everything in between — because each one has forced me, by baby steps and giant leaps, to question my assumption that the reflections were true. I’ve come to see that all reflections are relative truths: when someone finds me beautiful it is not about me but them; their thoughts, their opinions, their preferences. For every person who finds me attractive there is another who will find flaws. I’m still me, but the reflection constantly changes.

What’s left for me now is that how I experience myself in the vast dynamic scope of all that I am, both as human animal and divine spark, is all that’s important. It begins, and ends, with me owning and loving me as I am now, right here, and letting go of however it is that you might see me. Over time, it’s felt like that weight has slowly been lifting from my soul. And during this shoot, it fell away completely and revealed something wonderful and simple and already present: Freedom to be.

Working on this Project, I’ve been moved to tears during shoots by watching something inside someone release into total self-acceptance. It’s joyful. It’s brilliant. It’s palpable. That’s what this whole Embody Project is about, and that is my life’s work, to continue to experience for myself and to keep sharing with others.

Brad-Leaf

Brad-Leaf – USA

Healing Ritual Space is where I spend about half of my time. The so-called “altered state of consciousness” is a place where I go regularly, on my own accord. Daily, nightly, I pass back and forth between the world of dreams, and the world of form, and I watch how one becomes the other.

As we did this photo shoot, my grandmother was dying. She lay in a hospital bed 170 miles away, struggling to find her way through to the Spirit World. She needed my help, and so…I set out with her to find the way through to the other side. The lens of the camera became our portal.

BIRTH
the lens is the birth canal
Is it me, looking for the way through,
or is it my Mamaw?
The Voice says, “It is both. Go through. You’re up!”
Right now, I am her, and she is me.
We are dying
and we are being born
through this portal
into a new place…

And so here we go…through the portal, only…
I don’t know whether I’m going out…or in…
Is this the beginning, or is this the end?

Blessed be the return of the light.
Blessed be
the two-way street
where the ends called “birth” and “death”
loop back
to meet again.

I am ALIVE!
This life is FOREVER!
Blessed Be
the FIRE in ME
which always burns!
Blessed Be.
So motit Be.
Amen.

The sound of pen touching page is the only sound, as the latest rays of this day’s sun filter through the frosted windows of the funeral chapel where I sit, with the lifeless body of my grandmother. She is not here. She has gone to fly. How do I know? I went with her, and I came back here to tell it.

SHAMANISM: “To know the realms of life and death; to cross freely back and forth between the two, until you can no longer tell the difference.”

Connell

Connell – USA

Soar over and past the mountains. Embrace the wind’s dance. Become the Dragon.
Fill the bag and give good pressure.
Tune into the hum of the drones. Become the pipe. Transform your world into a land of pastures and forests.
Feel yourself getting ripped back into a past that once was present.

A time and place where the largest city would be considered a quaint hamlet by today’s standards.
When the world was still merely untouched, unmolested…unspoiled.
When language was primitive, and customs brutish and organic.
We are no more incredible than the people of that time.

We hide from ourselves.

Anything from eyeliner to cosmetic surgery will do the trick.
Designer clothes or a piece of plastic will be enough.
Anything that we can wrap around our bodies to become, in our culture, modest.

Consider the Dragon.

Her hide of seemingly roiling bronze and gold reflects the rays from an ancient sun
As she speeds along, carried by the wind. She is the queen of her domain.
She is flawless and powerful.
She is immortal.

Consider the Piper

A man standing atop a grassy knoll, playing an ancient instrument
Reflecting on the ancient music that is now soaring with the wind.
He is in control yet he is flawed and fragile.
He is mortal.

Do you see them? Do you feel the presence of an ancient, unadorned spirit?
It lies in the music and it blows overhead. Invisible but not unsensed.
We must all reach out for that ancient, unadorned spirit. It resides inside us all,
Somewhere in the recesses of our archaic beings.
We must all walk in this beauty of unadorned joy and jubilation.
Celebrate the gift that is your life and enjoy and bask in the ancient sun.
Let the sunlight glint off of your roiling body as you let your mind get swept away with even the slightest breeze.
Let the ancient music dance and live inside of you.
The time of this music is not over yet. It hasn’t even begun for most.
All you have to do is become the Dragon Piper.
Let your scales flash, let your roar be heard.
Tune yourself and let the wind and the sun carry your ancient song.

Cecily

Cecily – USA

I didn’t feel as though I had any major concerns or issues to overcome in connection with being nude for the camera. It is curious to respond that way, as I still had reservations and concerns about doing it in a place where people other than my family and Erica, the photographer and my dear friend, could see us.  I think I am comforted by being naked with my own family – and having posed nude for Erica before, it was not that big of a deal for me to do it again.

The intricacies arise when there are strangers, or worse, people that we know but are not close to us might see us. Given that we shot this on our own property, in the creek next to the road that is frequented by neighbors and other people on foot, there was a good chance we were going to be spotted by someone we know before long.  For that reason we were quick and stealth and full of giggles for the naughtiness of it all.

Why is that?  Why that spectrum of being OK with the people closest to me – and those farthest from me, but not with those in between?  Perhaps it is because I am conscious of social norms and expectations.  In our society it is expected and “proper” – socially expected – that we are clothed in public. It is how I was raised and the way I have always known.  I know it is OK to be in the nude with my immediate family and closest friends… and I don’t really care about the consequences of being seen by a complete stranger as I will never see the viewer again…. It is the seeing the mother of our son’s preschool friend… or the new neighbor…. or the mailman – people who will wonder and encounter me and my fumbling embarrassment in the future, that I want to avoid.  Interesting.

I have enjoyed nudity in a range of  “public” contexts since my late teens.  When I was nineteen, a girlfriend and I frequented a nude beach up in Lake Tahoe many times over a summer. We would make the three hour drive just to get to that roadside, trek down the rocky hill, and onto a beach where it was expected that all present were nude.  We never spoke with anybody – in fact – we were careful to avoid inviting eye contact or conversation of any kind.  The anonymity was a critical part of the experience and the draw for us.  It felt at the time like we were conquering a fear, rebelling against a norm (perhaps our parents too), and connecting with our bodies and nature in a new and liberating way.

Similarly, I have been to numerous retreats in the last decade or so where nudity was a completely natural and expected part of the day – typically bathing in quasi-public areas.  One retreat in particular was all about the nudity. People spent the entire day in the buff – swimming, eating, drinking, playing games.  It was amusing and fun to be part of this experience outside of the social norm.

I remember hearing from a friend of the “horror” he experienced at this same retreat when he bumped into a co-worker, naked!  Odd how we can spend two days tromping around naked with a couple of hundred strangers, but the minute we see someone we know – an acquaintance, co-worker or neighbor unexpectedly and fully “exposed” the entire experience quickly evolves into one of embarrassment and fear.  How do you say hi?  Do you hug?  What if your parts touch without clothes in between?  Will they tell others?  Will they think I am crazy?  Compounding the oddity of this particular story, they were BOTH naked and BOTH feeling equally vulnerable… yet this did nothing to neutralize the impact.

We have been asked to select one or both of the two best pictures that came of our creek side shoot at our home.  One is of us standing with full frontal head to toe exposure, one captures a moment when my husband and I crouched down in an effort to hide knowing that a pedestrian was crossing the bridge just overhead.  Our expressions and matching postures show our giddy concern for being spotted while our precious son, unaware of social norms and expectations, continues to splash in the water with a stick.

I am comfortable with my body – I love my body!  She has carried me thus far through a remarkable life… tree climbs and ocean dives… travels across dozens of countries to breathe the air and enjoy the gifts of many lands and people. She has experienced, with me, love and loss… comfort and challenge… sickness and health… she has trekked atop mountains and swam in rivers and lakes… she miraculously helped to form and nurture our beautiful son to birth… made it possible for me to nurse him for a year into his precious young life….and just days after these photos were taken, yet again miraculously played a role in conceiving a to-be-born young sibling for our son.  Why hide her?  I am not shy of her imperfections… it is that nudity is associated with intimacy and vulnerability to me.

This experience, though initially seemingly benign and inconsequential, and having to work through my feelings about the photos and being seen in the nude during or as a result of the shoot, has made me more aware, more conscious, of this sense of intimacy and vulnerability in myself.  I don’t think I was consciously aware of it until this moment, actually.  Even more profound for me is the realization that it is not something to conquer, but something to know, to accept, and in my case, to honor.

I am a strong and accomplished woman in many ways.  My delicacies and vulnerabilities are more like treasures to honor than weaknesses to overcome.  They make me human, and feminine in a way.  I honor them as I would honor any other trait in a fellow human.  It is the many nooks and crannies along the tapestries of our own lives… the vulnerabilities and tenderness that exist in each of us that makes us whole, complete, beautiful.

So, in honor of that realization, I honor my own and know that this awareness and consciousness will continue to shape me as a mother, a wife, a friend, a daughter, a sister, a teacher, and a subject.   It is my hope that this awakening and the single photo we are comfortable sharing is the type of magic and opening that you strive to achieve with your great work in bringing The Body Project to fruition.

Julia

Julia – USA

I am remembering the moment that a dear friend and I were bellydancing with a group of women, many of whom were experiencing the first time ever moving their hips in a clockwise circle. We were there to help guide them. She and I laughed afterwards at how incredibly sexual and alive we felt, almost a bit ‘too much’ especially surrounded by women most all of whom were at least 15 years older than us. I said to her ‘I feel a bit bad, like…maybe I shouldn’t be doing it so well…especially in front of these elder women.’

Then I thought, hold on.

When did my mind get to have a say in how natural I felt in my body? Where and when was I taught to doubt? By what force of creation was I influenced to try and subdue the power? Who told me I need to suppress my sexuality, for others or for myself?

Was it my great aunt who refused to talk about anything below the waist? Who taught my mother, directly and indirectly about sex? Where did she learn this? Who encouraged her and how do I hold a place for the voice that says NO to this message without feeling like I might be disrespecting my elders?

And still I know and I hold the truth of the power that lives within my body and the gifts that lie therein.

So what to do now? I believe the answer is in the heart, it is unconditional love.

I am completely in love with this, my body.

And I honor this, perhaps temporary, perhaps permanent place, humbly. Not only is she strong and powerful, can lift and move and bend with the wind, but she holds soul, wisdom, inherited and learned, gathered and gleaned. She has been places, fairytale places… has felt the soft breeze off the ocean, the sweat and sand and dirt hiking in the desert. And she has breathed it in through her powerful lungs, she has laughed in every cell for the joy of being alive.

She is beautiful because of her form, her magic, all she knows, without needing to be told. She knows, even better than I do, how she is like the trees, like the water, the rocks, the leaves~ she was made of the same magic, form and substance as these Things. This is unchangeable.

Joyous love for my body: that is what I have found. Almost 28 years of living in this body, I have loved her, used her, adored her, been adored because of her gifts. I feel almost no regret for the things I’ve put her through, as she has always come back stronger and more resilient than I thought she could. I am so proud of her, proud of me, knowing we are one in the same.

We begin again, each month anew, as we cross the threshold from Maiden to Mother to Crone. We’ve done it before, dear body…and I’m so looking forward to going there, this time around, with You!

My beautiful body: I choose to respect her, to honor her cycles, to stay in tune with her, no matter what.

Body of mine, I am so very grateful for you.

Kirra Donna

Kirra Donna – USA

My stark white body against the uninhabited pavement gave me the feeling of what one might call an apparition, as if I was watching myself, completely removed from the situation, like an objective onlooker. The stabbing pain in my feet from the cold cement was the only thing grounding me to reality. Each drop of rain that fell fatefully over my body caressed me, and I began to feel reinvigorated.

I had fallen out of touch with what I like to call the “magic,” for lack of a better word. I had come to a point where I saw “beauty” and felt nothing; I took on the characteristics of a machine, operating on automatic (which unfortunately is not so uncommon these days). A monotonous cyclical pattern had taken hold, and I fled.

I think when I met with Erica I had come unconsciously seeking a state of mind long gone; a mindset that appreciated the profoundness of small wonders; like a perfectly round stone or the only purple flower in a field of green. Magic.

I was visiting from Montana (and had come seeking Atlantis), so Erica and I had a short window of time in which to make everything happen, and her warmth and attention was well received.

At the point we met I was already quite at peace with my body and had no qualms about stripping down bare, which is more or less surprising after having gone almost the entirety of my life with what most people perceived to be an eating disorder. But that was never the truth.  The truth is I was and have always been a very skinny person and it has almost always been perceived as a weakness.

There are two sides to every spectrum. Some are born big boned, I on the other hand am naturally small. I think more than anything my decision to participate in the Embody Project was somewhat of a declaration to the all-that-is. Not that I was out to prove anything, but as I spun in circle after circle  it was as though I was screaming at the top of my lungs without making a sound.

I felt ALIVE and I was THANKFUL.

It’s funny to me how sometimes you have to leave in order to remember what you already knew.