By Chayla Taylor
For a lot of women, the idea of having nude photos of themselves is terrifying. So many women don’t know what they look like because what we see in the mirror is so clouded by what is going on inside our minds. Most of the time they have never seen themselves as anything other than not good enough. What we do at Crooked Images is help our ladies see how beautiful they really are – despite how utterly scary it sounds.
I would never ask a client to do something I wouldn’t do myself, which means really confronting how I feel about my body, and who I am. In doing so, I have learnt how to love what I see when I look at photos of myself. I have learnt to celebrate what I have, instead of wanting what I don’t have. Learning to do that means unlearning all the misconceptions that are built into society about women’s bodies.
We live in a world where we are bombarded with messages that the female body is an ongoing, lifelong renovation project. It is almost ludicrous that we would want to stop working to “fix” our bodies. We are taught from the youngest age that our appearance is of utmost importance. We are taught that how we look defines everything about who we are. It is expected that women should focus on looking good, but never feeling good about who they actually are.
I have always been a big person and have felt crushing pressure, for as long as I can remember, to shrink myself. I know the dread in the pit of your stomach when someone points a camera at you. That rush to pose in a “flattering way” or to hide part of your body behind another person or object. I get it, I really truly do. It’s something I fight against every day in my life – but lucky for me, I am a photographer.
Making people comfortable in front of a camera is what I do, it’s literally my job! But doing it for myself? That’s way, way harder. I can see the beauty in others instantly because I’m looking at the whole picture of who they are. The beautiful way the light hits their hair as they touch it, or the way they move their hands when they talk, the quirky way they smile, or I might froth over their nice clavicles… Stunning!
And, of course, I know that as a photographer, not every single photo will be amazing. Sometimes the human face looks weird! It just does! But I know these ‘bad’ photos don’t define anyone. A few years ago there was a photo of Beyonce circling the internet where she was mid-performance and she was barely recognisable, doing a thrust dance move with a hilarious expression on her face. Did anyone think Beyonce was less beautiful, talented or amazing? No! Because they knew that photo did not define her entire worth.
Some “bad” photos are downright funny because they are not reality.
A ‘bad’ photo of your face or body is never a reason to psychologically beat yourself up because it is simply one of many angles and versions of you that exist in the universe, but for some reason, we take that “bad angle/photo” and make that our truth. We have all seen unflattering photos of ourselves, but it is how we react to them that is important. Instead of taking it on as the utmost truth of who you are, try saying “Okay cool, that’s one way I can look!” and remind yourself that that’s completely okay.
I wasn’t letting myself see the whole picture, because I wanted to justify disliking myself. Disliking how you look is a comfortable box that we have been put in for so long we can’t see the walls any more. Liking a photo of yourself isn’t something we, as women, are conditioned to experience. For so long we have been told that men are supposed to see us as sexual objects, and we are just meant to accept the sexualization handed to us. That would be the only reason for there to be nude photos of us, right? Well, not any more! Sorry, boys. But this simply isn’t about you anymore.
Learning to see the good in photos of our bodies, and embrace the bad/funny/crazy outtakes, helps us take the power back. Appreciating our own delicious skin because it belongs to us… that’s a rebellious act! There is this notion that a woman liking a photo of herself is vain, full of herself, slutty, a whore. It is a huge misconception that only negativity comes from self-appreciation. It’s bullshit. Our bodies deserve our love, care and appreciation for their unique loveliness. Taking back ownership over our physical bodies is freeing beyond belief.
Through years of exposure to bodies like my own, plus a lot of hard conversations with myself, I see myself a lot differently to how I once did. Now when I see myself I don’t want to erase those so-called “flaws”. I see the woman I have worked so hard to be, the woman I have worked to love unconditionally!
When I see a photo of myself, I now know that the first thoughts that hit me are the waves of societal pressure crash over me, wanting me to be small. I see my large hanging belly and a tsunami hits me – all of the hurtful things I have ever seen that shame bodies like mine are suddenly shouted at once in my mind. Newspaper titles, magazines and tv ads all being bellowed at me. They shout about the female body with violence, like “Blast fat fast!”, or “the battle of the bulge”. They yell how I need to “stop letting myself go”. The message is clear – I am too big to take up space in this world.
What I have learnt, from talking to so many amazing courageous women through my work, is that I DO deserve to take up space in this world. I have learnt that my value is nothing to do with men, and my worth is not based on how much fat is stored in the cells of my body. I’ve learned to stand in that tsunami, and breathe through it, and remind myself that I am the person I want to be, and not what anyone else wants me to be.
My body is as valid and worthy as any other to be shared. It deserves to take up space in this world, just like every other body shape, size and colour. Helping women see how stunning they are by showing them real, raw unedited photos of themselves feels like I am rebuilding the damage done by these tsunamis. They are waves of shame that are drowning women. For me, guiding them out of that water is what keeps me going through even the darkest day. I feel like I am handing them the key to their own happiness, and making art while doing it!
At Crooked Images, what has shocked us is how many women keep coming back for more photoshoots – but we realized that we helped them on the path to loving who they are, inside and out, by making them feel worthy. They didn’t feel worthy of having photos of themselves. They didn’t feel worthy of spending money. They didn’t feel worthy of compliments. Some clients during their shoots were so terrified of looking in the mirror that they burst into tears.
Yet now, those same women are coming to group nude shoots in nature! The shoots have become their self-care, like going to the day spa now and then, to remind themselves they are beautiful just as they are. They inspire me every day to see the worth inside myself. When women empower other women, we all benefit and grow.
So the next time you look at a photo of yourself, stand calm in that wave. Look inward, and think of what you like or even love about who you are. Look at that beautiful woman and see what you love about her! See the whole picture, don’t zoom in on the flaws. Instead, focus on how much she has survived so much in her life, how she has grown and the amazing ways she is loved by those around her.
Those things can not be washed away, and she deserves to be seen. She is all of us!
Find out more about Crooked Images through their website!