Your Seattle Family Photographer is now…
A Beautiful Body Project Photographer
If you have not heard of ABBP, I am so honored to be the person to tell you all about it. In their own words from their website:
A Beautiful Body Project is filing as a non-profit organization with a mission to be the largest source of recorded women’s voices about their bodies and their lives in the world, through unretouched images, videos, podcasts, and written essays.
24 female photographers, videographers, and journalists in seven countries have already joined founder Jade Beall and 200 more have applied to get involved, on top of the 1000’s who have volunteered around the world.
Women’s voices are coming together to speak to the complex realities many women around the globe face having to do with birth, aging, cancer, eating disorders, breast feeding, c-sections, miscarriage, loss, domestic violence, sexual abuse, and beyond.
A Beautiful Body Project is a multi-media platform where women can heal, find others who have journeyed through similar challenges, realize they aren’t alone, and show future generations of boys and girls a source of media that isn’t controlled by corporate interests, using digital body alterations to change how women look, and actually build healthy self-esteem in future generations of women. – Jade Beall
I am now an ABBP photographer with the honor, the duty and capability to submit women’s stories and images to the amazing mission of this project.
What does this mean to me? A lot. More than I can begin to express now. I think Stephen King said it best:
“The most important things are the hardest to say. They are the things you get ashamed of, because words diminish them — words shrink things that seemed limitless when they were in your head to no more than living size when they’re brought out. But it’s more than that, isn’t it? The most important things lie too close to wherever your secret heart is buried, like landmarks to a treasure your enemies would love to steal away. And you may make revelations that cost you dearly only to have people look at you in a funny way, not understanding what you’ve said at all, or why you thought it was so important that you almost cried while you were saying it. That’s the worst, I think. When the secret stays locked within not for want of a teller but for want of an understanding ear.”
I am afraid words will not adequately express what being part of this project- the project that celebrates women as their most vulnerable and authentic selves- truly means to me in the depths of my soul. It is the truest and loudest song in my heart. Anyone who has known me for any length of time will know that I have always sought ways to shine spotlights on women and the strength they carry. After being in a very low place personally, and knowing how hollow and empty it feels, it is my passion to ensure that no other woman experiences the same strife.
It has been on my heart for so long to share my story. And now it is time.
This word, this thing we named beautiful. Nine simple letters can mean so much to someone. It can also mean so little. The definition for what is beautiful has changed for me over the years. Like bark on a tree that has many rings, with each passing year, droughts, storms, fires and calm winds change my rings. My ideas begin to change and with it, the things I deem important change with each new dawn. Beautiful changes.
I need to start from the very beginning.
I was born with a cleft palette. From the first day I drew breath, my appearance was not normal. I was different. I would undergo many surgeries to look like everyone else. All I ever wanted was to be beautiful. Do you remember those milk ads in the 80’s of a thin girl looking into a mirror? That photo was my moment of realization. I wasn’t good enough. There was no amount of milk in the world that would fix my face. It did not stop me from drinking all my mom bought; I was determined to try. I was born into a family where beauty was really important. Looking good and always putting your right foot forward.Appearances were everything.
Friends were not easy to come by when I was young. I was bullied, picked on, humiliated for my differences. I would try to pretend it did not affect me, but many days after school was just another day of soaking bed sheets with tears. I just wanted to be liked. I wanted to be around people. I wanted to not feel alone. If only I was beautiful, then I would make friends. It was not my birth defect that made me sad or alone; it was everyone’s reaction to me. As a result, I did not learn incredibly important social skills needed for survival and success.
After my last surgery, I was not a bad looking young girl. I was ready to spread my wings and fly. I felt refreshed with my new nose and new beauty. I was 6’ feet tall by the time I was 14, and a C-Cup with long soft blonde curls draped around my shoulders. People looked at me. They noticed me for the very first time. Suddenly, I drew glances not filled with pity for the first time. No, it was something else now. Girls glared. Boys said hello. I was no longer invisible. Externally, I loved it. I needed it. The social interaction I had longed for like a shelter dog who had been caged for the first 10 years of his life was finally within my grasp.
Simultaneously, deep anger began to fester. Like a weed I could not kill, it grew and grew, smothering the joy I felt every time I got attention. As much as I loved the attention, I began to hate it. Why now? Am I only now worthy of your friendship? Are we that superficial? Am I? I was the same girl inside with a new nose and lip. I was still me. I started to mistrust people and fear their attention because my past gave me insight into the truth. The attention was fleeting. It would come and go likes the tides of the ocean. This was the beginning of my darkest time.
At the age of 15, I decided I did not want to be beautiful anymore.
I kept whispering ‘please stop’ over and over wanting to be polite as to not wake the other campers. He whispered back ‘God you are beautiful’. I pushed and pushed but could not get him off of my body.
I laid there trying to think of why I deserved this. I wanted to go on this camping trip after all. I wanted to feel wanted. I wanted this…..right?
When he was done, this man who was over twice my age rolled off my 15-year-old once virgin body. His beaded sweat rolled down the skin of my now cold and bare belly. Why does this hurt so badly? Why did he not stop when I asked? Why is he in my tent? He was supposed to be my friend.
When I was 15, my neighbor’s brother raped me during a camping trip.
I no longer wanted to be beautiful. I hated beautiful.
My mother wanted me to make sure that I treasured my body, treasured my virginity. At the age of 15, when your virginity is taken from you, you can’t possibly distinguish the lesson your mother wanted to teach you when she said, “You have one gift you can only give once. Make sure you give this gift to a person you love because you can’t get it back.” Her words were loving and innocent. I took them too literally as any 15-year-old would. When my gift was ripped from my body leaving me cold, bleeding, confused and wondering what I did to inflict this pain upon myself, I concluded I was nothing. I had nothing to give. I was worthless.
Anger and hurt were now home to me.
Below are a few poems I penned over the years.
beautiful letdown | 2003
a body that is nothing more than contradiction
so beautifully ill
took years to make this smile
now there is nothing to smile about
tears run down my face as I lay on my bathroom tile
my courage and strength fading with every drop that hits the floor
my fear grows and turns black inside
was it every there? Was I ever strong?
Why is there never a good place to hide?
Does anyone care?
Do you know why I am so scared?
there has to be more to life than this
there is so much I already miss
I knew it would not be easy
but why is it so hard
In my eyes I see scars
sparkle for life is just tar
she said she’d die for a body like mine
I would live for a body like hers
outside my window I see
the stars are out tonight but they do not shine
they need polishing like my will to survive
I am a contradiction
on the outside a pretty face with a smile that took years to make
now there is nothing to smile about
please find it in you to forgive me
Dolly | 2002
my smile is worn
my arm needs stitching
my dress is torn
I have lost my left shoe
I fell off your bed
Under it is where I lay
with the little dust bunnies I now play
I haven’t been replaced
I haven’t been picked up either
Today I am a mother in my 30’s with a beautiful life, but I am haunted daily by my past.
Haunted by my lack of social skills from the deficit of practice in my adolescence, my lack of patience and trust in people. My past haunts me.
My Definition of Beautiful
In this 34-year-old body I am happier now than I ever have been in my life. I refuse to go another day hating my scars. Every morning I say hello to my new gray hairs, my slowly sagging skin on my face and body and say thank you. Thank you for getting me this far. I am strong because you, skin, you kept me whole. You kept me safe and you kept me strong. My mind kept me strong until I was ready to process my past, forgive my weaknesses, and embrace my future. I can honestly say I love and honor my genuine authenticity. That is what I believe beautiful is: the ability to love yourself fully and forgive yourself completely. Connecting with yourself first.
the ability to love yourself fully and forgive yourself completely, connecting with yourself first.
I am so excited to share your stories and images of your innermost, true self. Your whole beautiful self.
Thank you for sharing your time with me.