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Fat, skinny, weak, strong, too big or too small … these are just a few of the ways many women describe and judge their own bodies. And while the recent "body positive" trend of acceptance and self-love seems a move in a more positive direction, even that struck Katy Wimer as non-inclusive. While she appreciated the way heavier women are finding acceptance, she wondered where that left other body types.
"So, then what about fit women, pregnant women, post-pregnant women, old women or women going through or post-chemo or [having] surgery to remove cancer?" she asks. "The next thing I knew, I had decided to take on a photography project called The Body Project that would focus on all women positively affirming themselves and their bodies."
The Whitewater-based photographer and blogger recently answered a few questions about her work photographing women of all shapes, sizes and ages—and encouraging empowerment in the process.
What is the project and how does it work?
The Body Project is a series of black and white photographs of women that promotes body-acceptance and self-love. It started with an invite via Facebook to all the women I knew who may be interested. I encouraged them to share the invite with their friends and so on and so forth. Once I made a schedule, I started taking reservations. I have been photographing women every other Sunday, occasionally every Sunday, since January in a studio set-up in my living room. There is now a break until August when I will have one last session with a group of women and one private session with middle-aged sisters from California who requested to be shot together while they're visiting their family in Wisconsin.
I asked all the women to write a letter to me telling their story and sharing their opinions on how women are portrayed in the media and what their thoughts are on health, et cetera. Some of these stories are shared on the blog, but all will end up in the book of this project, either partially or whole. At the sessions, the women choose a body part(s) that they have been least secure with and then write an affirmation on that part for the photograph. I plan to compile all of these images in the book along with their stories and hopefully some quotes from the sessions.
Who has participated and what have those experiences been like?
The project is for women eighteen-plus with our oldest participant being ninety-three. Everyone's experiences have varied—some cried, some ranted, some felt relief and others were still quite hesitant all the way through their shot—but a majority of the women experienced a feeling of acceptance from other women, often for the first time in a long time, if ever. A lot of women expressed gratefulness to me in private messages/emails after a session because they have always wanted to share their stories, but never felt like they had a voice nor the space to express themselves.
What are some highlights that have stuck with you through this project?
Wow. This is a big question. I definitely love when women show up nervous and leave with giant smiles and new friends. Another highlight is the strong community of women that are a part of The Body Project group page on Facebook. The love, support, education and open, honest communication that comes from these women has been incredible. Probably the biggest highlight is when other women tell me they discuss The Body Project and its mission with others, both male and female, and the tremendous amount of oos and ahhs, support and applause that it (and the women involved) receives floors me. That's an awesome feeling. That's what instigates change.
Why do you think women are so judgmental of their bodies?
Simply, it's easy. Women have constantly been measured by our physical appearance since forever. Pair that with pervasive advertisements and the desire to rise up in a male-dominated work world where suddenly women have to compete against one another (when once we didn't need to) and you have yourself a recipe for comparison and self-loathing/hatred/disappointment. When society has told us for so long that our worth (in relationships or at work) is determined by how our bodies look, what clothes are sexy and what makeup makes you look better, younger, firmer, et cetera, we have forgotten that it's okay to say, "F--k that! I am me. Period." Most importantly, though, judging our bodies is definitely a faster and more common way of dealing with various types of inner pains.
How has this work changed your own relationship with your body?
I'll be honest, I already had a strong relationship with my body previous to this project. Whether positive or negative, I have been hyper-aware of my body for as long as I can remember, and I think that this project wouldn't have come to fruition if I wasn't already mindful of my body. What has changed is my reactions to my thoughts about my body. For the longest time, I always wanted to be strong. I always had to be strong, regardless. Now, I'm much more forgiving.
What's surprised you most in working on this project?
Every participant's willingness to be open and vulnerable. These women are beautiful and incredible and inspiring. You'd think I would've been prepared for that, but I'm still in awe. It makes me cry.
What do you hope women get from participating in The Body Project or reading your blog?
I truly want women to know that they aren't alone when it comes to body issues and struggling with self-love. I want women to believe that they are worth so much more than their appearance. I want women to spread body-acceptance and self-love around to our younger generation so we can have a world full of powerful souls.
What's next for you and the project?
In August, I will start crafting the book, which I hope to have done by September or October, when I plan to have a majority of the images up in a gallery here in Whitewater, followed by a party for all involved … I don't know what's going to happen next, but I kind of like it that way. I don't know whether I'll continue doing projects with women or try something with men. I don't know if I'll hang the hat on a coat rack and call it a day, but what I do know is that women are talking, healing, supporting and loving. I couldn't really ask for much more than that. It's easier for me to focus on what's happening right now because it's powerful. If I think too far ahead, I'll miss it.
For more information on The Body Project, visit lovebodyproject.wordpress.com.
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