Versions of Ourselves

When Maria posted her beautiful photograph last week there was so much I wanted to say but I held back, not wanting to hijack her blog with an unwieldy comment. The days passed and rather than settling on something suitably pithy I actually just refined the long response in my head.

As an image plain and simple it was wonderful; the muted colours, the relaxation of the body, the fact you could imagine the contemplation on her face without needing to see it. But it was the words that really struck a chord with me. Within a few lines Maria had touched on many thoughts that had been tripping through my mind.

July 2014 AnonymousShe spoke of closely cropped versions. Oh, the crop! I have pondered the integrity of a body positivity project in which I so often work hard to manage out the bits I don’t like. I bloody love my legs, but my Stepping Out post is very exactly edited to just lose the belly overhang at the top. I really don’t like my breasts, yet I happily and frequently return to this photo (which I first posted anonymously a year ago), mainly because here they really don’t look like mine! Am I being body positive because I choose to celebrate and post photos that make the best of me, or am I being negative because I choose to hide the truth?

For me, the leap of faith came with Andromeda where my belly hung out and my tits are at opposite sides of the room like quarrelling siblings. I understand Maria’s instinct to regard herself with disdain. I am proud I posted my full body shot, and I will do more of them I am sure, but it doesn’t mean I am completely comfortable with everything I see.

Am I allowed a gratuitous Dirty Dancing quote here? Damn right I am. “If you love me, you have to love all the things about me.” And I do love my body. It copes pretty well with the distances I make it fly, the alcohol I put in it, the lack of sleep I subject it to when I can’t say no to another work project, and it’ll shrug and get on with it when I decide to shuffle it 13 or 26 miles round a city. It is also home to my spirit. So I am sorry belly and boobs that I am not always very nice about you, but I am learning to love you.

For me the most powerful point Maria made was this: “One of the most lovely and helpful things about the Sinful Sunday community (for me) is thinking about how my image will look through other people’s eyes rather than just through the filter of my own baggage.”

Tomorrow I am photographing one of my oldest, dearest, friends for this project. She wants me to focus on her caesarean scar. Next weekend I am photographing Honey for an amazing new project in which she is withdrawing her right to self-edit and giving other people complete freedom to choose how they photograph her. One of these women I have known for half my life, the other I have met just once. I am humbled and honoured by the trust both are putting in me and my camera.

And trust is really at the heart of all of this: my Andromeda, Maria’s Undo, Honey’s project, my friend’s excitement about participating in Exposing 40. By sharing our self-portraits or by allowing others to photograph us we trust them to help us face our vulnerabilities, celebrate our good bits, and see ourselves with kinder eyes.

And Maria, feeling (or being) large is an undeniable fact for many of us, but there is absolutely nothing ungainly about you. I see only elegance in your words, photography and body.

40 thoughts on “Versions of Ourselves

  1. I love you so damn much! I’m sitting in my car wiping away tears. This, your thoughts here, is exactly why I love this community so fiercely. Because we *do* struggle to love every part of ourselves. We, collectively. It’s so important to share this with each other. Because we see the best in each other and we are teaching each other to see the best in ourselves. Thank you so much for writing this! I’m incredibly excited about your upcoming projects! xoxo

    Liked by 1 person

  2. What a brilliant post. I still haven’t commented on Maria’s post because I wanted to find the right words to do such a truly beautiful image justice.

    I do not think that cropping and composing shots to create an image that show parts that we feel make the best is lacking body positivity. They are still honest pictures and damn, it feels good to be amazed at how good an aspect looks sometimes. Your Andromeda post is truly wonderful for many reasons, but one of those is the brazen honesty of it. Those comments that you make about your belly and breasts aren’t echoed in the mind of the viewer – it not for me anyway. I think that we search out our wobbly bits when we look at our own images instead of seeing the whole image with all the elements of form. I agree that one of the wonders of Sinful Sunday is the way that the community helps us to look at ourselves through their eyes.

    I can’t wait for next week. So excited.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This: “By sharing our self-portraits or by allowing others to photograph us we trust them to help us face our vulnerabilities, celebrate our good bits, and see ourselves with kinder eyes.”
    That is SO true. Being part of this community and reading the positive words even when we ourselves don’t like an image as much is uplifting and freeing. It taught me over the years to accept flaws such as my huge scar too, and my big bum. I won’t say I love those (yet), but I have accepted them to be part of me and my body.

    I just love this piece and I definitely look forward to see the fruits of your projects!

    Rebel xox

    Liked by 2 people

  4. You’ve really got me thinking! I don’t post pictures of myself online very often – I’m just better with text than with images, though I wish I that weren’t necessarily the case. My instinctive reaction is to think that, even cropped, an image is still an accurate representation of the subject, even if it isn’t raw and unfiltered. I suppose I’m thinking of it in terms of the revision / editing process – just as I control the “picture” when I write an essay to focus on a point, photographers (I would think?) have to do the same in order to compose an image that tells a story.. I don’t know if the analogy is at all accurate, but I think that if the image is saying what the photographer intends, then it is honest and revealing in its own way. Wonderful post.

    Liked by 1 person

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