This self-portrait photographic project is about exploring my imperfections and aging skin. I want to challenge fashion in a way to open a discussion about naturalizing the bodies and normalizing models in photographs, with an editorial documentary feeling to it. I want to expose myself, something that I have learned and portrayed in my art is that being vulnerable and forming connections have created new functions and even healing. I take self-portraits as a way to reverse perspective from how I see myself to my interpretation of how I am seen by others. I do it because I have always judged and criticized myself harshly, and self-portraiture is the best process I have found to really change my vision. Nudity disclaimer.
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If I ask myself why I want to be a photographer, the answer would be to make people think and be inspirational.
Photography for me needs to be meaningful and with the goal of contributing to society. In this last year of my University course, I learnt a lot about photographic representation in media, I think we should be more aware of how photography could be deceptive and subjective.
Flawless skinny bodies it’s often all that’s offered. Texture and blemishes are carefully photoshopped by extremely skilled people, as much as it looks real and people start thinking is real. A lot of absurd expectations from our bodies are created by advertisements and fashion, creating insecurities and anxieties in the viewer (“this is what you are supposed to look like, but you are not”, ”buy this if you want to look like this person”).
One of my assignments was about taking my own headshot and heavily retouching it, changing the shape of my face and smoothing my skin. It was sickening to understand how much retouching celebrities and people in the media are subjected to, sometimes even without their consent.
My body is getting older, but I am building more confidence and I learn to appreciate every imperfection, scar, and wrinkle on myself. Sharing my imperfection, I hope to share the message that nobody is perfect and that society’s expectations are often unreal and unnecessary.
This project is about exploring my imperfections and aging skin. I would not use any make-up and minimal retouching (black/white, dodge and burn, white balance) and I will put an accent on my scars and wrinkles. I also will play with classic fashion photography, with inspirations such as Irvin Penn and Helmut Newton. I want to challenge fashion in a way to open a discussion about naturalising the bodies and normalising models in photographs, with an editorial documentary feeling to it. I want to expose myself, something that I have learned and portrayed in my art is that being vulnerable and forming connections have created new functions and even healing (Blanchard, 2016). I take self-portraits as a way to reverse perspective from how I see myself to my interpretation of how I am seen by others. I do it because I have always judged and criticized myself harshly, and self-portraiture is the best process I have found to really change my vision. When I look in the mirror, it’s to check – criticize – correct – (and I can always find something to fix) in a never-ending quest for perfection (Baker, 2019).
This body of work represents the feeling that interpretation provokes, I know I am not perfect, but I accept, and I love myself. What is perfection anyway? Who gets to decide the canon that we all need to aspire to? And why? I am inspired by photographer Samantha Geballe, who documented her body and extreme weight loss, and Sophie Harris-Taylor, who celebrates the beauty of imperfection by capturing 20 bare-faced women across the UK with common skin conditions.
I want to celebrate the beauty of imperfection and challenge the idea that people need to be flawless. I used a similar strategy to beauty photography, with extremely clear and focused digital macro photography, to reveal texture in my skin, but I avoided major retouching and actually tried to emphasise my skin texture and pores. I am also inspired by the early studio portrait of American Fashion beauty photographer Irving Penn. His simplistic approach in his photography soon became a trend that is still followed by many great photographers. Photographing his subjects against a simple grey background became the signature style that landed him on the cover of many magazines such as Vogue and subsequently many commercial brands, including Clinique, General Foods, De Beers, Issey Miyake, etc… His simplicity was the key to his fame and success, in his portraits Penn sought to distil the essence of his subject. When discussing his portraiture, he framed it as an attempt to find a person at a moment of calm, when they allowed the facade to fall away. (Penn Foundation, 2020)
Growing up in the 80s in Italy, as a woman, something that you learn very quickly by watching television is that girls are just supposed to be pretty, sexy, provocative, and erotic. Feminine beauty was a constant presence in every tv show and a condition for all successful programmes, women were amusing, entertaining, and not too challenging (Calloni, 2009). Intellectual qualities were not important, but it was crucial to have a good-looking token female to attract an audience, even if she was not speaking. There was (and still is) a dominant model of femininity that damages Italian women's identity, creating a widespread, grotesque, vulgar, and humiliating representation” (Zanardo & Zanardo, 2017).
Even in 2018, when I visited my family in Italy, from Australia and I took my American partner with me, he was shocked by the constant presence of semi-naked not talking attractive women on Italian TV, with no needed skills or reason to be there. In Italian media, still today, women need to satisfy social and aesthetic canons and they are being put on display, transformed into pretty packaging, with glitter and shiny jewellery for the sake of the spectacle. (Putignano, 2020).
Culturally in Italy, beauty and appearance are a very important factors for fitting in society. Women’s roles switched from the 1950s mother, wife and subservient maid, to 1970s sexy advertising icon, a sexual object. In a strongly patriarchal society, where men need to be always strong, the carer, the provider, and emotionless work mules. The women’s role is always been switching under a Madonna-whore complex, where the options are to be the sweetheart that needs to be taken care of, a delicate flower, trained to be faithful and quiet, expecting the men to give her expensive gifts, dinners in fancy restaurants and be treated like a princess. The other option is to be in the role of a men-eater, sinful, troublemaking, judged, independent, crazy witch. Even if the roles could be different, the media representation of the female body is always the same, it needs to look in a particular way.
Entrepreneur and speaker Veronica Benini says: “Italian women feel ugly and fat compared to the beauty standard that TV and the media promote”. The standard Benini refers to was originally set by Italian vallette, our own version of “showgirls.” A product of the TV networks owned by Berlusconi since the ’80s, they're made to perform basic dance routines and have a supporting role to the anchor or conductor of a TV program while wearing skimpy costumes, treading the mostly non-existent line between irony and debasement. Their beauty is supposed to convey both “girl-next-door” and “bombshell” charm. Because of this, casting directors choose tall, slender women with medium to large breasts and narrow hips—my guess is that they are toying with innocence versus eroticism. (Frey, 2019).
A reasonable representation of the multidimensionality that embodies real life is wanted in commercials, women want to see real “normal” bodies. The so-called “femvertising“, that is, implementing plans for equality and reality in order to overcome clichés and stereotypes. After decades of humiliating representations for women, flooded by advertising and media, companies have begun to propose female models that are no longer univocal and stereotyped. This does not mean that these images have been completely eradicated, but that especially in recent years, there are also companies and brands that tend to create advertising to overcome stereotypes and to get closer to gender equality. Body positivity, the inclusion of different aesthetic canons in advertising, is a declination of femvertising, for example. Many companies made in Italy, are now showing more openness, and really supporting women, such as Fantabody (sportswear), Vitasnella (water bottle producer) and Versace who, for the first time in 2020, started to involve plus-size models in Milan Fashion Week.
PERCEPTION OF BEAUTY
Contrary to what we see in the media, bodies are not all supposed to look the same. We have been taught that if a body does not look a particular way, we should reject and sometimes even shame it. (Mabaso, 2019) Perception of beauty is not the same all around the world or even never been the same during our time on earth. In the past few years, there have been some interesting experiments to see how people around the world see beauty. For example, journalist Esther Honig sent headshots of herself to Photoshop retouchers in over 25 countries and asked them “to make her beautiful”. Another experiment had female graphic designers in 18 different countries Photoshop the image of a woman into the “ideal” body type according to the beauty standards where they live. In both experiments, all of the photos look very different from one another. (Kasbee, 2018).
According to Neelam Vashi, MD, associate professor of dermatology at Boston University School of Medicine and director of the Boston University Cosmetic and Laser Center at Boston Medical Center the mass media platform has introduced certain criteria to what establishes beauty, and more recently social media, instant photo sharing and editing apps have further influenced how society adapts to beauty principles. "Unfortunately, a selfie, filtered or not, may not correspond to a patient's reflection in the mirror, and may lead to an unrealistic and unattainable perfect beauty sought through cosmetic surgery and procedures." (Medicine, 2019). What we perceive as a beauty standard, is often just a momentarily and locally general perception, not personal or customised to our situation, body type, financial state or emotional/ mental condition. Society shapes us in many ways, from our interactions to our personal development to others’ perceptions of our bodies as a reflection of self-worth. We are social beings. Genetically we rely on one another for the survival of humanity. That primal connection makes our interactions physiologically and psychologically important and it’s not surprising that how society perceives us affects us on many levels. (active, 2020).
WHY ARE WE DISSATISFIED
Why are we so dissatisfied with our body image? A big role in this is played by the media, which repeatedly expose a certain canon (thinner for women, muscular for men), leading viewers to think that is a representation of reality, as normal, expected and attractive. Thin television characters are overrepresented, while overweight characters are underrepresented. In particular, women’s images are presented as thinner than in the past and thinner in relationship to the actual average female population. (Grabe, 2008) Sometimes body image is negatively impacted by one or more significant events. For example, a gymnast who is continually chided by her coach and fellow athletes to lose a little weight may develop a deeply ingrained and long-standing dissatisfaction with her body, no matter how thin the person becomes.
Body stereotypes are something that people can also learn from family, friends, culture, advertisements, toys, video games, TV, movies, music or magazines. It is important to understand and move beyond current social norms about physical size and appearance, body shape shouldn’t come with judgement or assumption about the levels of happiness, health, intelligence, success, and attractiveness of a person. In our society body image are so ingrained that most of us take them for granted and accept them as natural and normal. This might lead us to internalize negative concepts about ourselves and others, such as feeling like a bad person for being overweight or thinking that thin people are the most worthy friends. Ideas about body image, however, are not fixed or universal and vary depending on the time and place.
THE BODY-POSITIVITY MOVEMENT
Miz Zazon is the founder of the #Normalize Normal Bodies movement on Instagram in 2012, “specifically for people who have marginalized bodies," says Zazon. "But I do feel like there's some space to give women with 'normal bodies' more of a voice”. This movement is my way of reminding women that they're allowed to show up as they are. You don't have to fit into a category to feel comfortable and confident in your skin. All bodies are 'normal' bodies”. "From a young age, we are led to believe that our body isn’t beautiful enough, or enough at all. But [the body] is not an object for others’ pleasure or to be restrained to fit society’s beauty standards. Your body holds many qualities. Qualities far beyond size and shape."
Whether it was adult acne, stretch marks, premature greying—stuff that's so demonized in society—I wanted women to realize that all of these things are normal." The term "body positive" emerged in 1996 when a psychotherapist and an individual who had been through treatment for an eating disorder founded the website thebodypositive.org. The site offers resources and educational materials designed to help people feel good about their bodies by taking the focus off of losing weight through unhealthy diet and exercise efforts. Body positivity also means enjoying the body you have and not beating yourself up over changes that happen naturally due to aging, pregnancy, or lifestyle choices. (Cherry, 2020) However, recently the Body Positive movement changed and it became more commercial, monetised and politicised by brands and often that causes exclusion of certain sizes (we can see only “acceptably fat” women) or certain ethnicity (frequently just white or light skinned pictured) being excluded from the conversation, with some exceptions.
It is all about representation and there is a beautiful quote from Junot Díaz about it: “You guys know about vampires? … You know, vampires have no reflections in a mirror? There’s this idea that monsters don’t have reflections in a mirror. And what I’ve always thought isn’t that monsters don’t have reflections in a mirror. It’s that if you want to make a human being into a monster, deny them, at the cultural level, any reflection of themselves. And growing up, I felt like a monster in some ways. I didn’t see myself reflected at all. I was like, “Yo, is something wrong with me? That the whole society seems to think that people like me don’t exist?" And part of what inspired me was this deep desire that before I died, I would make a couple of mirrors. That I would make some mirrors so that kids like me might see themselves reflected back and might not feel so monstrous for it.” Representation, especially reflective representation allows people to believe they can be in control of their narrative rather than blindly or rather subconsciously led to adhere to a stereotype. Mental pictures inevitably influence our engagement with others' need to unlearn things from the past when beauty ”standards”+ youth + luxury was what fashion photography was all about. Fashion photographs are often capturing glamourous flawless beings, and unattainable perfection, pushing consumerism, decadence and luxury as “the way to be”. The opportunities for advancement and to educate the observer are many for the new generation of creative producers.
IMPERFECTION VS FLAWLESS
Celebrities on the pages of magazines and models on homepages of the Internet portray flawless skin and perfect bodies, doing a poor job of defining what a ‘normal girl’ looks like. Although it’s commonly known that these images have been altered to erase any imperfections, for some reason we still compare ourselves to these unrealistic standards – and we still try and do everything we can to be flawless. Women prevented themselves from aging and evolving with their natural body processes because they wanted to look just like the airbrushed advertisements. Advertising typically sends the false message “that [the thin ideal] is possible [with] enough effort and self-sacrifice” and therefore, “girls spend enormous amounts of time and energy attempting to achieve something that is not only trivial but also completely unattainable” (Kilbourne 132). Celebrity magazines often switch from airbrushing photos too heavily, to photographing celebrities' body flaws and demonising them. Many famous stars have recently criticized the widespread use of photo-editing software, especially in magazines and on social media. For example, Jameela Jamil is a big speaker against excessive airbrushing or retouching without consent.
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