From personal experience, I can say that being a woman in America is not easy. Being able to conform to all of society’s unusual standards is not an easy task. For the women who have been able to do this with ease, it’s probably because they are already appealing according to what our culture demands from them — and it’s really great, for them. On the other hand, it’s unfortunate for women who look like me that curvy women (of color) don’t exist in popular culture who we can look at and feel proud of our bodies.
There are a lot of stereotypes that surround curvy women — namely that it’s the sexier body type. It’s something you’d probably see in an issue of Sports Illustrated or Playboy, but not in popular media. The problem with this is that the women in these magazines are not photographed for how beautiful they are, but for what their bodies look like. For the most part, it’s not even how they actually look like because they are so overly edited. Women with these body types are oversexualized and objectified — and it’s all for the entertainment their bodies provide to the male gaze. And to be honest with you, I’m over it. I’m over having to prove my worth to myself. I shouldn’t have to be ashamed of what I look like because I am not a walking Photoshop edit of myself.
A few days ago, the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition put out their yearly issue, and this time they tried to elicit a more political message. As a sort of tribute to the #MeToo movement, the models posed nude with different words that represent themselves were written all over their bodies. I think this project, titled “In Her Own Words,” is powerful because it’s empowering for a woman to be able to define who she is, pushing aside all the pressures of society. But I have mixed feelings about this project. It is both important and ironic that a magazine that usually tailors to what the “ideal woman” looks like took part in something so political and powerful.
As a photographer myself, I understand the idea that a picture is worth a thousand words. However, what I struggle with this is knowing that the purpose of this shoot wasn’t just to be one with the times, rather, it was to put out an issue that is seen as sexy to the viewers. So while I do think that posing completely naked is an empowering act, I wish that there had been more representation in the women that the magazine chose to be in this issue. While the women hail from diverse backgrounds, they are not representative of the beautiful women who make up the population of this country. Once again when we think we are moving forward, we move two steps back. As a generation, we are trying to accept everyone for who they are, yet there lacks representation of what or who we want.
The only way this could have been more impactful is if there had been actual diversity in the shoot. The women in this shoot, as beautiful as they are, already are defined this way according to society’s standards. They do have imperfections, and they were trying to show them, but our society already considers them perfect.
What real representation looks like is including a transgender woman of color or a really curvy woman of color, or any societally “imperfect” woman on the cover, with words plastered all over her body to portray who she is.
Girls shouldn’t have to grow up without anyone who looks like them for guidance on how to love themselves and feel empowered. It is important for every woman on this planet to understand how incredible she is. There are a lot of different kinds of women, and each and every one must be appreciated and understood. Call me an idealist, but all I want is to be celebrated for exactly who I am, for what my role in society is and for what I look like. Every woman should feel respect and given proper representation. Is that so difficult to ask for?