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.
She 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.