So pleased that my photo of body positivity and disabled rights activist Imogen Fox has been shortlisted for The Royal Photographic Society 2018 Exhibition. Read Imogen's powerful story for my Body of Women project here. And see the full RPS shortlist here, super pleased to see fellow Bristol photo pals Izzy De Wattripont and Jamie E Murray on there too.
We’ve been quietly working on Body of Women for 18 months now and recently things have been getting a little less quiet and little bit more loud. And we’re so excited. We can’t wait for BOW to be bigger and better. But we know that right now it is not where we want it to be. We’ve worked with some incredible women. Women that have been generous and brave and have shared their stories with us. Women that have made us smile and cry and exclaim ‘you felt like that too?’. Women that have helped us along our journey as we’ve been a part of theirs.
But we also know that these women are not fully representative of our world. They are one segment of our society and while we are *so* grateful to have met them and worked with them, we want to make sure that Body of Women is open and inclusive and representative of all women. No matter what size, colour, culture or anything else.
So we need your help.
We are reaching out to women of colour, women of all sizes, women of all races, religions and cultures. If you don’t see yourself represented on these pages and you would like to be a part of our project, please get in touch with us. We want you here with us. If the project isn’t for you but you know someone who it might speak to, please share it with them. If you belong to a group or a sisterhood or a girlgang or a Facebook group or a campaign or a WhatsApp group full of people that might want to find out more, please please please send them this.
And if you have any feedback for us or ways to help us make Body of Women as diverse and beautiful as possible, then please get in touch: email@example.com
With love, thanks and sisterhood,
Jo & Naomi x
Super excited that two of my photographs have been selected to be shown at The Tate Modern this Friday 27th October as part of the next Uniqlo Tate Lates.
My photos will be projected on the walls alongside a selection Reggie Yates's photographs and images from an amazing selection of other photographers. The photographs feature those who have helped the individuals reach their potential, so I thought I'd share my images here and explain why I submitted them to be shown.
I shot this one last year as part of a lookbook for ethical fashion label Birdsong. Sophie and Sarah, founders of Birdsong, have built a brand on two principles which are values I also fiercely advocate; 'No sweatshops, no photoshop'. I was so proud to shoot this series for them and since then they have been brilliant supporters of what I do. See more of the images I shot for them here.
When poet and author Rupi Kaur commissioned me to photograph this series to celebrate the release of her first book Milk and Honey I just knew it was the beginning of something magic. Using her personal experience as the inspiration for her work and sharing her stories of pain and healing, Rupi has built a strong community of followers around her online and in real life and in turn helped others to heal themselves. Working with her inspired me to create work which was more honest and personal and lead to the very beginnings of Body of Women. See the rest of our series of photographs here.
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.
Hannah and I had been talking about doing this shoot for a while. It's scary organising to get naked in front of someone you don't know and often it can make all sorts of emotions surface which had been hidden. So we waited till it was right. I say this a lot, but it really is such an inspiring experience watching someone go through this experience and Hannah totally owned it. We'd already talked about why she wanted to take part, but when I read her story it really hit me all the negative thoughts about herself she'd had to overcome to get to this point. The photos were are part of that journey to self acceptance but it was Hannah who made it happen. So proud to have shared that with her and so grateful to her for taking part in the project.
In her own words (keep scrolling), here is Hannah's story and her favourite image from the set.
" When Naomi sent me the photos, I cried. I was away for the weekend with a new partner and 15 of my school friends in the middle of nowhere. The downloads were slow, on a phone in the corner of the lounge, trying to hide them from small children and a group of people who had known me for 18 years. I had put on weight but was also in a relationship where the man involved could not get enough of my body, and I had recently started to come to slowly accept that this was just what it looked like, and some people liked it, and maybe I liked it, and it could do all these wonderful things.
But when I saw the photos, it was there. My body. Everything about it hit me in the face with a magnitude I wasn’t expecting. How I feel about the tummy that has always and will always protrude further than I want it to, that is so ugly to me. My confusion about how the world will see a naked woman. The enormous spot that had erupted on my hip and stayed there for months. Feeling strong, feeling like I want to curl up in a ball and never let anyone see me naked again. The tattoos I’ll probably regret in a few years. My vagina, in the photos, over trimmed and shaved because I thought I should be neat on camera, but it doesn’t really look like her. So exposed. The big feet. The scar on my knee from falling off my (stationary) bike a few evenings before, tipsier than I should have been. The ovaries, the eggs, the womb inside, getting older, unsure about their role, waiting and not waiting to do something everyone tells me they should. The lips I love. My breasts, slightly sagging now, after years of my weight fluctuating as I try and make my body fit into this mould we women are always, constantly, unrelentingly told to conform to. The sexual assault - the one that gave me an anxiety disorder for a year and a half, the one that made me a fighting feminist, the one that made me feel like my body was no longer mine - it was written in ink over every inch of my pale flesh in every one of those photos. And then my partner's hands, all over it, erasing every last letter of the assault because together, at long last, he and I told the shit bag to go fuck himself - this body was mine, ours, and every new memory we made together with it removed my attackers violent hands until there was no trace left.
The shoot itself started difficult conversations with family members, finally telling them why I was so strange during that period, why relationships were hard, why I was always in my head. The day felt good - for the first time, I felt exposed and yet safe. My body was being so closely looked at, but it was not being judged, or sexualised. No one wanted to invade it. No one wanted to criticise it. It was just there, being a body. Trying not to fart or get too cold or be too hungry. Moving around rooms, lifting up limbs, standing, sitting - just doing all the things my body does.
When Naomi left, I cried (I’m a crier). Then I picked myself up and went to meet my partner. We drove to the coast and stayed in the world’s strangest B&B, that smelled like dog and had woodlice on the floor, and a bed with an electric blanket that creaked so loudly we had to make those body memories on the floor. We walked on the beach and sang 90s R&B at the top of our lungs in the car and ate terrible food and fought so hard the urge to tell each other that we loved each other, because it was too soon and because of all the terrifying things it implicated. And I didn’t think about my body once, about how it looked to him, whether my clothes were too tight, where it was going or what it was eating or whether it should do a shot of Apple Sourz in the pub (it did).
It was just mine. It was just me."
'Body of Women' is a platform for anyone who identifies as a woman to share their story about their body. Read more about it here. If you would like to be photographed for the project or just want to chat drop me a line: email@example.com
A few months ago I took part in a seriously inspiring workshop called 'Bringing Sexy Back' by Vanessa Kisuule (if you don't know who she is I'd highly recommend checking her work out) with a group of about 20 other brilliant women. The workshop opened up some really important conversations between all of us about body ownership, consent and of course sexiness and we all stayed chatting in the space - and then the pub - until long after the workshop finished. It was here I first met Kate and she asked to be involved in 'Body of Women'.
(If you missed my first two posts introducing the project head here to read more)
On a prematurely sunny day a few months back Kate and I met to shoot some images of her for the project. And amongst lots of conversations about our shared loves of Bristol and sport Kate shared her story with me. The two images below are from that shoot, read on to find out what motivated her to take part.
"Looking at these photographs feels different every time. I so rarely see my whole body like this. I'm just so naked!
Before the shoot with Naomi I had a weird relationship with naked photography, as the only person I'd ever sent nudes to was the person who sexually assaulted me. Partly because of that, I didn't want these images to be sexual at all. And looking at these photographs still makes me a bit nervous, but doing the shoot has given me a different appreciation of my body. I like the fact that this isn't me at my fittest. We shouldn't just show off our bodies and be proud of them when we've worked hard at them.
My body has been through some things I'd rather it hadn't, but it would be ridiculous to be ashamed of it for a tummy roll, or scared because of the thought of what someone else could do to it. So yeah, now I don't just feel okay to be showing a photograph of my naked body. I feel really proud of it.
I also realised I have so few photographs of myself where I'm not smiling. I like that in the photograph where I'm standing slightly above the camera, I look a bit fierce."
Thank you Kate for a gorgeous day and for sharing your story, it's such an honor to have you on board.
'Body of Women' is an ongoing project in which we invite women from all over the country to share the journey they've been on with their bodies and help us rewrite the way female nudity is viewed.
If you'd like to get involved in the project drop me a line firstname.lastname@example.org
If you haven’t already seen my last blog post introducing ‘Body of Women’ and the very personal story which started the whole thing off, give it a read here. Working with Jo on the photos was an incredible experience and as we work together now on the project, her story has inspired women to come forward for a whole range of reasons. Some very moving and all totally amazing.
Some have been on a journey of emotional change and for them the photos are a way of coming to terms with that change and owning their bodies again. For others it’s more about a physical change and how that physical change has led them on a journey. When I photographed Mikaela she was 7 months pregnant and bar a few totally normal nerves about being naked, amazingly relaxed and comfortable. She gave birth to her gorgeous son Otis back in September (he is totally adorable). Several months on, I wondered how she felt now looking back at the images and what effect being pregnant had on how she felt about her body.
“It’s hard to say whether I feel super comfortable being naked, I think the relationship you have with your body is intertwined with a lot of things. But at that moment my body was changing really quickly, so quickly it was impossible to reflect on the magnitude of the situation. Even when I first looked at the photos, because I was still pregnant I didn’t see the beauty in my shape. Since giving birth to Otis I feel so proud of myself and my body for showing it’s strength. The photos are a record of the change I went through and a reminder of the power of my body.”
‘Body of Women’ is an ongoing project in which we aim to re evaluate the visual language used to talk about women’s bodies, record the stories they tell and celebrate their journeys. As the community of women taking part grows, we are looking for more women to share their story and collaborate with us. Get in touch by emailing me email@example.com.
Happy International Women's Day to all of you
Over the past few months, I have been quietly working away on a personal project with my dear friend Jo. It began when she approached me to take naked photographs of her. The image below is of Jo and in her own words this is why she decided to ask me to take these photos:
“When I was 18 I was raped. I didn’t deal with it because I didn’t know how. But I changed. As the years went by I changed a lot. I didn’t like my body, I didn’t like it being touched and I found sexual attraction made me anxious and sometimes I even thought it was a bit repulsive. When it started to come between me and my boyfriend, I knew something had to change. I used to like my body and in rational moments I knew it was a good one – it was capable and flexible and it did everything I needed it to do. I just couldn’t see it. So I asked Naomi to photograph me naked. Nothing sexy, nothing too posed, nothing to hide. Just me.
I explained why and Naomi immediately agreed. I opened up more throughout the shoot and in doing so realised that I’d come so far already. It was like a surreal therapy session that ended with a huge penny finally dropping. When I got the photos back I saw a beautiful, strong woman and she looked a bit like me. Now, a year later, with one of the photos on my wall, I know that woman is me. I just needed to see it.
Being sexually assaulted has affected my life in more ways than I can put into words. But the body it happened to isn’t my body and it isn’t me. My body is mine and no one can take it away from me again.”
Photographing Jo, speaking to her about her experiences and seeing how she was taking steps to own them and tackle how they made her feel was a really powerful and moving experience. It helped me to recognise how I felt about my own body, the negative feelings I had towards it, the times when those negative thoughts had held me back and all the times I had been cruel to it, starving it, punishing it or denying it pleasure in some way.
I feel quite strongly that the photography we see around us on a daily basis in advertising and (increasingly) pornography has a big responsibility in this. From a young age we are taught as women that to feel happiness in life we must give up our sexuality and force our bodies to look a certain way. As Naomi Wolf writes in The Beauty Myth; ‘Female sexuality is turned inside out from birth, so ‘beauty’ can take its place, keeping women’s eyes lowered to their bodies, glancing up only to check their reflection in the eyes of men.’ And if we are focusing down on our bodies, we are denying ourselves our full capabilities as strong and powerful humans.
Turns out (perhaps unsurprisingly) Jo and I weren’t the only ones who felt this way and as we began to share this discussion with the women around us, the more women we discovered who felt the same sense of disconnect we felt from our bodies - sexually, emotionally and physically. From this I photographed more women, first friends, then new friends and now the project has grown into something bigger.
'Body of Women' is a celebration of all that we are, the journeys we have been on with our bodies and a reclamation of their form and the space they inhabit. It is a collaboration between myself as a photographer and the women as subjects, formed around the stories they tell as we work together to find a new visual language in which to speak about female nudity.
It's an ongoing project and if you would like to take part please get in touch, we'd love to hear from you.