Eight weeks ago I was asked to be a part of a project. This project offered me the opportunity to dress up in a vintage 1950s swimsuit, have my makeup done, and pose in an iconic luxury estate something akin to a Miami beach house in Oxfordshire. The catch? Well there was none really - I was working with a professional photographer and peers I consider friends yet I had no idea how uncomfortable I would feel until the moment I sat down by the pool in that gorgeous red vintage 1950s swimsuit at the time to pose. Yet not pose. And look cool, as well as perfect. This was the narrative in my mind.
Vikram Kushwah, incredibly talented fashion + art photographer, opens up the conversation about body image and does it with colour and integrity. His series ‘Women in Bathing Suits’ explores the subject of body image and diversity in the female form. In this series of portraits, the sitters - from various ethnic backgrounds and professions - shed light on how they perceive their bodies, as well as how the complexities of their form and/or societal ideas of beauty affect their psyches.
The photo was incredibly difficult to sit for - I felt self-conscious, awkward, self-conscious about my awkwardness!! It felt difficult to share this without berating the parts of myself I do not like.... which is ridiculous! Sharing my experience - as well as the series of photos Vikram took from the shoot - with my friends and peers gave me overwhelming insight and reassurance, that it’s not just me. I have read messages from both men and women who experience the same feelings of insecurity and self-beratement, equally without reason nor rationale. Here were my very honest thoughts about body image, and my reflections based on the responses that followed:
'A lot changes in the journey from how I see myself in the mirror to how I picture myself in my mind. Body image in my life has been something all-consuming. Sometimes I like what I see, but mostly I have berated my shape rather than celebrate it, the scars, the curves, lumps, blemishes, bumps. I don’t believe the problem is body image at all, it’s more “mind image”- the “not good enough” attitude that I think many of us women and men have adopted without respite.
Yet I do love my body. I am deeply grateful to be in this body. And I look after my body as best I can. I do criticise my body, most parts of it, regularly. Still, I know and love the body that is mine, and remind myself that this battle going on inside of me is happening in the minds of most of my peers, the strangers I pass on the street, even the models who walk into my yoga class. Yoga, dance and pranayama have helped me to be in my body, to let my mind go, and for a short moment that ridiculous concept “not good enough” is far, far away.'
~ Victoria Adams
As an aside, when Vikram asked me my swimsuit size, what I really wanted to say was
“could you order me 3 sizes in case it doesn’t fit me?”
I can’t remember what I actually said. I should also say that of the photos taken I was at my most natural and “beautiful” as far as I’m concerned in one of the outtakes, laughing and having fun with my friend Julie. I remember the moment it was taken. In that moment there was no photographer (in my mind) and no self-judgement, only an opportunity to laugh and be myself with my dear friend. I am so grateful to have this photo: in it I do not see two beautiful girls in swimsuits, I see friendship.
I don’t know where in my lifetime it came from, but there is so much pressure to look “perfect”. I’m not sure I really know what perfect means, or even how I’d know if I got there. I have scrutinised my photograph. I have picked it - me - apart and then blurred it all back together again to see its beauty. I am sure that many of you will relate to this screening and scrutinising, whether we’re talking about professional pics or Facebook tags. We all pick at ourselves, man or woman. Critical over body, over decisions we have made in our past, over decisions we haven’t even made yet in our future.
Would you speak to the person sat next to you on the train in the same way that you speak to yourself? As my grandmother said, they’d give you a slap what for! Yet we deem it acceptable to self-flagellate ourselves as if we were our worst enemy? I have sat with circles of men and women, and seen them brought to tears at being told how beautiful they are in their entireties, not just their physicality. In their eyes I see them release years, often decades, of grief that has been buried, churned and recycled to the point that it has effectively become a trauma. This trauma that we have lived with, and continue to live with, as if it needn’t be dealt with or even spoken of. Why? Is it because we know it is a misplaced cause to put so much pressure on ourselves? Do we know on a gut level that, really, we are enough “just as we are”? I don’t know how to answer this.
All I know is that we are losing the opportunity to connect with others on an authentic level because we are so all-consumed by worry and fear that we are “not good enough” in the eyes of others. When actually some of us have failed to connect because the ones deeming us not good enough ares our own Selves.
Lose your story. Trust that you are enough, and that the love you convey to and for yourself can spread and inspire the same in others. Do not stress, or self-flagellate: for every 5 minutes you’re upset, it takes 8 hours to get out of your body’s stress response. And that’s not good for the wrinkles ;)
Every time you use your voice, it sends out a message to every cell in your body, as well as to the people around you. Be grateful for your body - it has gotten you this far. When you are having “one of those days” remind yourself that this fight going on inside of you is probably going on inside the man or woman you just passed on the street, or inside of your “perfect” best friend, who was too embarrassed to talk about it, or too busy to stop to notice and practice self-care and self-love. If the concept of body image is about how our mind perceives our body, can we change the narrative that has taken us out of our bodies? How do we get out of our heads? How do we stop being so hard on ourselves?
Maybe it’s as simple as reminding others and, in the moment we point out to another, we come to the realisation in ourselves: we are all good enough.
Vikram and @julieelagrace thank you for the beauty in your work and in your friendship. Check out www.vikramkushwah.com for more portraits of the beautiful and inspiring women who took part in the shoot.
Please share this post if you wish, I would love to know your thoughts on body image, mind image, and the constant chatter that goes on inside our heads. You can reach me @victoriaadams on Instagram.