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Real Women Talk Body Insecurities
31 May 2016 2:58 PM
Nudity. Our bodies. Getting undressed. Every woman has her own relationship with her body but as a nation we're traditionally not known for being particularly at ease when it comes to flashing flesh. As part of our Take Back The Beach series, where we explore the everyday, un-Photoshopped and under-represented stories of women and their bodies, we decided to photograph some brave women's "insecurities" on film, with no retouching, and talk to them about how they conquer those hang-ups every day.
What soon became clear was that while they weren't 100% happy with the way they looked, these women were most of the way towards accepting themselves as they are. From stretch marks, to widening hips and skin problems, here are some women embracing their imperfections and celebrating their uniqueness. All the portraits were shot by Daisy Walker, a fashion photographer who focuses on the representation of women and gender, and is the co-founder of gender equality discussion group Women in Fashion.
I was always self-conscious of my freckles on my face. I thought it made my skin look 'bad'. At school I was forever wearing really heavy foundation to cover them. I was also uptight about a cluster of them that would gather around my lips; I thought it made me look like I had chocolate around my mouth in photos! Now I really appreciate them. I recognise that they're unique and special and I think they're a really integral part of who I am. My sister's face is covered in them too and when I look at her I think how beautiful they make her face, and it's a characteristic that connects us both.
When I walk onto the Tube, or into a room full of strangers, or I'm sat at a meeting table, the first thing I look at are people's hands. I consciously seek out hands like mine to make me feel comfortable in a situation. I have bad circulation and my hands are usually a painful shade of red. Red, itchy and swollen in heat; magenta and purple in the cold. Press your fingers hard enough into my palm and the blood can take 10 seconds to return colour to my skin. Every single time I shake a stranger's hand they comment on my cold touch. "Cold hands, warm heart," I reply on auto, because I having nothing else to say. I cringe. A doctor diagnosed me with mild Raynaud's in my teens, when I started to get hard chilblain like lumps over my fingers in the winter. Taking the medication made me feel like I had a disease, and gave my hands more significance in my identity than I thought they deserved, so I stopped. Now, instead of wasting the energy worrying, or drawing attention to myself by awkwardly hiding my hands in company, I take more care to look after them: wearing gloves as soon as the temperature drops from autumn to winter, and keeping cool in summer with fancy mists. It took a long time to realise that – apart from the ice queen touch – people just don't notice. No one is staring at my hands when I speak, they're listening to what I have to say.
I got stretch marks when I was about 11, which is really, really young and I was at dance school. I grew really quickly. I was 5ft 10 by the time I was fourteen. That's a lot of growing to do. They're really prominent all over my legs and my bum, and I have really small boobs, but I also have them there. I just don't have stretchy skin.
On a school trip in Year 9 (one of those adventure trails), some of the boys started shouting out, "Tessa's been attacked! She's injured." Then everyone noticed them and I had to wear joggers for the rest of the holiday. Obviously they fade, and when they're not pink I worry less. I think as an adult I've always been the most self-conscious about the ones in between my legs, because of boys and things like that. With my job as an underwear model, I am naked all the time. Since I started modelling, I just had to stop assessing myself. I used to turn up to shoots with Mac Face and Body make up and I gave up when I noticed my little sister obsessing about hers. I just thought, "I can't let her see me worry."
Of course they Photoshop my stretch-marks out, so my friends forget and then we'll be on beach with them and they're like, "Oh". I wanted to do this today as a bit of exposure. I was on set recently and a stylist said, "Any model with stretch marks would've got those sorted by now." I stood up and said, "I don't work this hard to spend thousands on laser, to get rid of stretch marks that are part of my body." Any scar, of any sort, is just a mark to show that you've grown and you have to love it. You only get one body.
When I was growing up in school, you never saw black British women in the media. I only ever saw white girls with straight hair, and that was what was seen as pretty. I looked completely different from that, and it's hard not to spend your time wondering if your hair isn't pretty. So I spent my time straightening my hair. I used to put weave in.
I actually only stopped having weave at the beginning of last year. I just cut my hair and thought 'no more' and it's been a revelation. I've never felt more me. It's strange because I come from a strong background, but I've been suppressing my ethnicity, my natural self, my hair, unknowingly. My parents are Jamaican, but I grew up in the countryside.
I have sisters, and we've all had weave since we were little and we've all gone natural recently. It's funny, my mum has never worn extensions. I looked up to my older sisters and we'd gotten into this cycle. The music we grew up with, those pop stars all have weaves. I used to say "I'll never not wear a weave! I'll be in my coffin in a weave!" And now I can't imagine ever going back.
Last year I was sat in the hairdressers, and I had two bags of weaves and I was about to have them put in and I felt so annoyed because I couldn't really afford the hair – it's so expensive – and then I just thought, 'I should shave my hair.' I turned to my hairdresser and said "Shave it off!" So she gave me a buzz cut. I disconnected from myself for half an hour while it was done. Afterwards I thought, 'This is great.' I'd spent all that time without my hair. I literally hadn't touched my scalp, or had water from the shower hit my head in maybe 15 years. When I got home and showered, I felt this euphoria.
I'm an actress, so I'm in the public eye. I feel like it's a political statement for me. I wear it with so much more pride. I want young black girls to look at me and see it's fine and it looks beautiful and it's acceptable. When you type in "unprofessional hair" into Google you get an array of black hair styles. That needs to change. This is why young black girls feels this way. These latent undertones make up the collective attitudes that suppress a culture. For me, this is a personal movement to let young people know they can wear there hair however it comes out. I wake up and afro pick it, and I'm done.
I really like my bum. Now. But in all honestly I've only come to like it in the last few months or so. Maybe three to be precise. Before then it was the focus of all my body hang-ups.
At 5ft 2 I have always been petite. For the majority of my adolescence I was a rather slender size 4-6. I was very casual about the fact that, at any store, from high-street to high-end, I could safely slip into the smallest size on offer. People remarked on how small my waist was and how "skinny" my legs were. I was in fact unhealthy looking, and I had no idea. I paid no attention, fancying myself to look much like everyone else. I was in fact small enough for my periods to stop completely for three years. After I finally got the nerve to see a gynecologist, I discovered what I'd long suspected: that I have polycystic ovaries, and that my body had been going into shut-down mode, and that I needed to gain some weight. One packet of contraceptive later, one break-up, six months of heavy partying and heavy eating and my body had entirely changed shape. Most notably I had grown a rather sizeable bum, and I didn't' recognise myself. While people insisted I looked "healthier" I was in denial about the fact that I'd leapt up a dress size or two and although I still have quite small boobs (an A cup no less!), I now had a bum that is apparently worthy of remark. I was suddenly self conscious. I blamed my ass for pretty much all of my trousers not fitting. I thought I looked ridiculous in suit trousers (my old faithfuls.) For a long time I just wore looser skirts. Then I remember one night coming home and getting changed and looking at myself in a thong in the mirror long and hard and thinking, 'Sure it's bigger, and there's stretch marks, but it looks alright. Like, squeezable.' So that's how I'm currently styling it out now; 'more cushion for the pushin', or whatever.
I used to be so insecure about my thighs, and I've recently just started to get over it, so I thought doing this shoot would be a nice way to celebrate that. I hit puberty really early and they were the first thing to happen. I think if you get big boobs, people can say nice things about them, but when you have big thighs and you're 11, there's nothing really nice about that.
I went to an all-girls school, so I noticed how different I looked, and it wasn't a positive thing. I remember so vividly looking at other girls when we'd be out for a walk and they'd be in skinny jeans, and their thighs wouldn't touch. That looked 'normal' to me. The whole thigh gap furore was actually a positive thing for me to see because of the backlash it involved. People were saying that firstly this isn't necessarily healthy and secondly, it's not physically possible for most people.
There was a period of about five years when I didn't wear trousers. I was convinced they made my thighs look bigger. So I wore '50s style skirts. Now I'm fine with it. I went to fashion school and was around women who were all shapes and sizes. It dawned on me that I was being a bit dramatic. I think other people's positive comments helped; other people's support helped. Now it's only in the summer when I see my stretch marks and I feel my thighs rub together that I remember those feelings. But now I think this is the pay-off for big boobs and being the size I am. And I'm happy with that.
I used to feel insecure about my boobs, because I didn't know what they were supposed to look like. I saw the ones on TV and mine didn't look like them. My sisters are blessed with massive boobs too, so I always felt like I'd gotten the short straw. I felt like I had bigger nipples too, considering that my boobs aren't very big, so I used to worry about those as well. Then, I got boyfriends and they were like, "They're nice, they're lovely".
Now, I accept that everyone is different in shapes and sizes. I see other people getting their smaller boobs out and I think it looks really cool. I'm definitely going to try harder to be out and proud of them. My girlfriends tell me that they think my boobs are cute and underwear shopping is easy breezy.
I have really large hips and when I was younger I was upset that my hips were much larger than my waistline. I thought that made me look "curvy" and I thought that wasn't a good thing. Other people at school brought it to my attention and their comments resonated with me. Sometimes it was meant as a compliment and they would describe me as curvy.
I actually suffered from anorexia until I was around 19. When I got over that, I stopped caring about my appearance in general. I gave up caring whether people found my physical appearance attractive or not. It was an internal decision to be happy. As a photographer, when I'm casting I'm very conscious that I'm casting representatively in terms of race and size and age. I shoot fashion photography and am a founder of a group called Women In Fashion, that is all about making the industry more fair, so, for that reason I'm keen to show types of beauty that aren't white and slim. The industry is changing but we have a very long way to go. But I do see more short models, more models of a healthier size. However, representing girls of colour is still a massive blindspot. Finally the fashion industry is accepting that there's a desire for personalities and people with character too.
As a photographer, my body allows me to do my job. I have to be strong enough to do my job. My body is there so I can achieve things in my life, not so I can look good for someone else. I feel more womanly now. I think my anorexia was all about being afraid of turning into a woman. Now I have no fear of that.
Daisy Walker is a fashion photographer focusing on the representation of women and gender. She is also co-founder of gender-equality discussion group Women in Fashion.
This story was photographed on analogue film, without any modification or retouching.
Photographed by Daisy Walker
; Art Direction by Anna Jay
; Assisted by Emily Rose