I grew up in a small town in western Tennessee with quite an untraditional family of mostly women. In fact, my father was the only male in the house until I got a male cat during my college years. From my childhood onward, as long as dad wasn’t at home, my mother, sister, and I had no issue with roaming around the house naked. This isn’t to say that we were nudists, or that we would become naked for no reason at all, but if one of us were getting out of the shower or trying on clothes there was no qualm against being nude for extended periods of time in each other’s presence.
At the same time, having grown up in a small, rural town in the Deep South, I was taught that a lady doesn’t do such a thing in a public setting. A respectable female covers the important bits (and then some) so that something is left for the imagination. Who is going to want to buy the cow when you can get the milk for free, right?
I was never the skinniest (too much delicious southern food) or the prettiest (as I saw it) girl in the room when I was younger. From an early age, I remember looking at images of beautiful women and wishing with all that I had that I could look like them one day. This desire intensified as I hit puberty. These women were slender, with rounded breasts, perfect skin, and luscious, thick hair of all shades, and 13-year-old me, with pointed, small breasts, a plump frame, and thin, strawberry blond hair, wanted nothing more than to trade places with them. I wanted to be that girl who, when I walked into a room, people noticed and didn’t forget after two seconds. I found myself soon after with an eating disorder, trying to make my hair more blonde, and changing what I wore to fit a certain demographic.
It wasn’t until I was fifteen or sixteen that I realized something was wrong with this. I walked into a modeling agency with long, straight hair; weighing 135 lbs. and wearing a size 5-7, which is a little under average for my 5’9” frame. The woman at the desk, after perusing some of the photos I brought, looked me up and down, and with a sugary sweet voice informed me that I would probably never be able to do modeling for the kind of fashion I wanted to do. With my size, I would only be able to do a little commercial work, and then, only as a plus sized model. This was my first big wake up call. I walked out, never to return, and I remember thinking things like, “Who are you to tell me, albeit indirectly, that I’m too large to be in high fashion?” and “Why am I doing this to myself?”. From that night forward, I decided that I would let my body take the shape it wanted, and I would spend more time worrying about making myself beautiful on the inside. This is about the time that I started heavily playing guitar and poking my nose into even more books. If I couldn’t be the prettiest, I was going to be one of the smartest and most interesting.
So here I find myself today, having waged countless wars with myself, being my own worst enemy most of the time, and I can honestly say that I’m happy with who I’ve become. That isn’t to say I don’t have the same issues with my body; I do. There are still plenty of ways I could think of changing it. I just know that a lot of these changes are unrealistic and unnecessary. I’m currently a size 6, with small, pointed breasts, and straight, thin auburn hair. I still look in the mirror on a daily basis and feel a pang of unease that it isn’t what I see throughout the media. The difference between my mindset now and what it used to be is that now, I understand that I can feel beautiful regardless of my weight, shape, size, or appearance. I have realized that I don’t need to look like the women in magazines, and I most definitely don’t need the approval of everyone around me to feel beautiful. If I can’t love my body for what it is, and love myself inside and out, why should I expect other people to love it?
This question is what led me to take the vulnerability of nakedness even further for this project. I could be comfortable enough naked if I was hiding behind the mask that make-up provides. I don’t usually wear a lot of it, but I do feel prettier after I’ve covered the imperfections and added a little color to my lids and lashes. I don’t ever leave the house without at least a sweep of powder and some mascara on my face. Strange as it may seem, I feel more naked without makeup than I do when I’m actually unclothed. Even in the interview before the shoot, I might as well have been nude, the way I felt. Add this to how uncomfortable I am as the focus of a camera lens, and you have the recipe for a “deer in the headlights” kind of feeling. I did find that during the shoot, I encountered waves of comfort and unease at being photographed naked, but after the initial few photos, I completely forgot that my face was bare. At the end of the shoot, I remember touching my face as I normally would to fix my eyeliner, and realizing it wasn’t necessary. Not only that, my face felt smooth and clean. It felt so natural, and I even became comfortable with the idea that many people might see me in such an open, vulnerable state.
All of this is why I chose to do this project, and it took me awhile to realize it. I found myself attracted to the idea behind it, and I instantly wanted to be a part of the movement that I saw in it, but I couldn’t put my finger on why for the longest time. Then it hit me. I’m lucky enough to have done a lot of self examination from a fairly early age, and through it, I’ve become (mostly) comfortable in my own skin. As I said, I still have confidence issues, but in general, I’m comfortable being who I am, in whatever physical form that takes. That’s what I want for everyone— comfort with whatever body they have. I wanted to be an example for whoever this project reached, to show them that everyone has these issues, but you don’t have to allow them to control you. It is easy to appreciate beauty in others, but there is true beauty in every part of nature, and everyone is a part of that. You can learn to love the body you have in all its perfection and imperfection: every inch of you is something beautiful because it is part of human existence and the broad spectrum of beauty that comprises it.