Within approximately zero minutes of meeting Imogen we’d got straight into a juicy discussion about body politics. One of those ones where a penny drops every couple of seconds and where you feel like you totally get what the other one is saying. It was exciting. About 2 minutes in one of us definitely threw in the c-word (that’s cunt, not crisps) there was no messing around. It was a bloody great chat which lead to a beautiful day of naked photography and then another chat which has kinda kept going. I hope it carries on, but for now I’m gonna leave you with this image of Imogen and her words about why she decided to take part in Body of Women.
It’s hard to admit here that for most of my 35 years on this planet the main feeling I had about my body was shame. Shame is described as an innate feeling of ‘wrong’. And that sums up perfectly how I felt, not just about my body but about who I was at my very core - wrong.
I am not alone in that feeling I know, many of you will have grown up with anxieties about your body and worries about how you’ll fit into the world around you as a result of the flesh you reside in.
As a kid I was ‘chubby’. My Grandma used to tell me I had such a pretty face, if only I lost some weight. But eating was a really confusing and difficult thing for me and living with siblings who seemed to take to eating like a duck to water just highlighted how ‘wrong’ I was getting it. By the time I was at secondary school, I was already binge eating daily and gaining weight.
My first period of restriction started just after my physical impairment did and having just come out as a gay woman my sense of ‘otherness’ reached new heights. Whatever connection I may have had with my body was firmly severed and in turn any ability to prioritise any kind of self care was out the window.
Living in a body that doesn’t work in a way that feels acceptable, that hurts constantly, that ‘fails you’ and leaves you in a society that considers you a burden is not just hard work, it’s exhausting.
It’s not difficult to imagine why my eating disorder spiralled out of control. After decades of mindless and binge eating, my second phase of restriction saw me losing over 150lbs. I so desperately wanted to shrink my body into something that was manageable and considerably more socially acceptable. By the time I realised how out of control my eating disorder was, I was wearing clothes for an 8 year old and unable to eat anything that didn't sit on a list of Paleo approved foods.
In January this year I posted a photo on Instagram, where I had up until that point been documenting everything I ate as a way to motivate people to lose weight themselves, stating that I couldn’t cope with the binge eating I’d been experiencing. A local woman left a comment that stuck out amongst all the ‘don’t worry, you’ll be back to it tomorrows’, she suggested I followed another local woman who wrote about quitting dieting.
January marked the start of another leg of my journey, one where I discovered that I didn’t have to hate my body. Laughable really, both that accepting your body could actually be an option, but also that it’s taken me the best part of 35 years to find that option.
Learning to eat intuitively was just one part of my recovery. Learning to accept my body regardless of size, regardless of impairment, regardless of its otherness, has been a challenging and mind stretching process. But, I am fundamental about accepting whatever my body may be in any moment. Getting tied up in loving myself or ‘being beautiful’ actually seems counterintuitive, both of these are just standards you can beat yourself up over not achieving. So when someone suggested I posed naked for a friend of hers I felt very mixed.
I first met Naomi in a coffee shop and we talked over a peppermint tea. We talked for ages. We talked about beauty standards, body acceptance, eating disorders, the future for young women and the politics of the body. I knew straight away that Naomi ‘got it’ and the more we spoke the more I knew that she understood that my body is political.
Being a queer disabled woman, my body IS political. It’s otherness, the way people think about disabled bodies makes it so. When I post photos of my own body, I do so in a way that challenges those ideas and I knew immediately that Naomi would be able to capture images that did similar.
The experience of being naked directly in front of another woman truly felt like a real ‘moment’ in my recovery. I actually felt tearful on the way home, along side a buzzing sense of pride and elation. What quickly became apparent was that whilst my body is impaired and a whole host of different, it’s also terribly average. I am just another woman who’s struggled. Another woman who didn’t feel anything but discomfort in her skin. Another woman who battled her own body in desperation to shrink it into submission. Another woman stuck in a culture that teaches us beauty and health is the height of female accomplishment.
Being naked, being photographed, being political, they all helped me find a peace in my body that is so powerful. Every cell in my body is thankful for my ability to nourish and care for myself in a way I never imagined possible. It would be wonderful to feel a love for my body, but for now I’m loving the ability to find peace.
Body of Women is all about having conversations, because conversations are vital in building a diverse and open community. If you’d like to get involved in the project send me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) I’m keen to talk to and photograph anyone who identifies as a woman and I’d love to photograph you and help you reclaim your body.
To read more stories from the project so far have a look here.