Body image affects everyone.

In fact, in the United States, 20 million women and 10 million men suffer from a clinically significant eating disorder at some time in their life, including anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, or an eating disorder not otherwise specified (EDNOS).

I personally have a close friend who has an eating disorder and I have seen how it has taken hold of her life. Her body is deteriorating inside and out, and she is tortured by all things food. During holidays, which should be pleasant times with family, friends and delicious foods, she struggles with her urge to purge. Anywhere food is present, my friend struggles, squirms and feels anxious When she is alone, she struggles with debilitating thoughts of anxiety and depression. She is one of 20 million women affected by eating disorders, and statistically speaking, she is not the only one struggling with an eating disorder in our community

Everyday, we are visually bombarded by how men and women are “supposed” to look. It doesn’t take much flipping through magazines or flipping around on the television to identify the “desirable” and “attractive” qualities of men or women that our society demands. We should all stop to consider how these rigid expectations leave out a majority of our society who does not “fit the mold” of standardized beauty.

Consider the fact that race is rarely portrayed, and if it is, it is often animalistic or stereotyped. Consider the fact that people who don’t identify in the gender binary of male/female are completely left out of mainstream media. These are two of many examples of under and misrepresentation of the wonderful diversity of human beings.

Simply put, we do not see a variety of people portrayed in mainstream media, and that can have an effect on our psyche. We are apt to feel negative feelings about ourselves when we don’t “measure up.” Body image is not limited to fixating on thinness but about other representations of body. Corporations spend millions of dollars a year to ensure that we all feel insecure, and in our desperation, consume their products in hopes of becoming better, more beautiful beings.

Love Your Body Day is a national day (October 16) where people are encouraged to embrace, celebrate and enjoy their bodies as they are. People of all gender identities, body shapes, abilities, races, religions and nationalities all have their unique, important and necessary purpose on this earth. One’s body is a vessel by which they navigate the world, and it’s the only vessel one gets. We should stop learning to hate our bodies and perpetuating that hate, and instead learn to love ourselves, forgive ourselves, and celebrate ourselves.

I shot last year’s Love Your Body photoshoot, and was very excited for this year’s. The purpose of this shoot was to first and foremost get people excited to show their wonderful bodies and celebrate them. Secondly, the FORGE club (Fighting for Our Rights and Gender Equality) has decided to use the photographs in various teaching and recruitment material such as promotional website galleries, brochures, posters and future campaigns. Last year’s criticism was that the shoot didn’t represent a full spectrum of gender identity. Luckily, this year, we achieved that goal.

This year’s photoshoot was quaint and intimate. A few individuals showed up, at first apprehensive and shy. It took a few photoshoot veterans to offer to be shot first, encouraging the others to follow suit. Once the participants got comfortable in front of the camera, they were very excited. My artistic vision took me to toward silhouette work and body paint writing. The silhouette series was intended to have a backlight that rendered the face and body facing the camera to be darkened, where only the shape and contours of the body were visible. I felt that this isolated and made mysterious the idea of identity and made a visual pull to viewing the whole of the body. There are shots of individual silhouettes, some looking powerful, others graceful, and others casual. There are also shots of the group in a silhouette, creating a sense of community and solidarity, where difference is identified, yet not distracting or negative. Instead, it shows the essential differences that make us so beautifully unique.

We then moved onto well-lit body writing art. The subjects were instructed to write something that pertained to themselves and how they see themselves, encouraging creativity. After some time for consideration, we had subjects with all different words scrawled across different parts of their bodies. Writing included the phrases “sarcastically funny,” “these hips don’t lie,” “aerodynamically curvaceous,” “respect,” “smart,” “Peace & Love,” “Love your body,” and the symbols for man, woman and trans*.

The intent for this exercise was to showcase how these individuals manifest their own body. The things they took pride in were unconventional forms of beauty, which proved that beauty is more than what is portrayed in mainstream media. It showed that people are capable of finding beauty in things within themselves and in others that don’t necessarily apply to conventional forms of beauty.

The success of this Love Your Body photoshoot has been encouraging, as people have emailed me hoping to still participate. Therefore, there will be another scheduled photoshoot in the near future, hopefully reaching out to the wider Winona Community. There aren’t many opportunities for people to rid themselves of conventional beauty and be recognized for their uniqueness. People are not celebrated enough for their humor, their intelligence, their honor or their activism.

Although this photoshoot on the surface seems like it is all about body, it is about much, much more. It is a protest against all the mainstream media that refuses to portray non-professional models, including the campaigns that claim they embrace “normal” bodies in order to make profit on their products. It is a celebration and elevation of the human body and spirit, a joyous time to where one is offered a non-judgmental atmosphere to be themselves and dwell in their wonderful body through space and time.

Everyone must be recognized for their individual capacities for improving the world, and the bodies they use to do it.

Time and place of next photoshoot is yet to be determined.

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Courtney McCaw

Courtney graduated in 2015 with a BA in English and a Women's and Gender Studies minor. She is from Madison, WI and her interests include feminist activism, snowboarding, longboarding and petting dogs.

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