“I got the idea to do this project after being inundated with multiple ads every day enticing me with photos and emojis and offers to buy their product to get a ‘beach body’ or ‘bikini body’ or ‘summer body.’
They are telling me the price of admission to summer is that my soul resides in a specific type of body.
It is not my job as a human, or yours, to be a decoration at the beach. It is not my job to be aesthetically pleasing to every passerby.
It is my job to laugh, and swim, and hug my kids, and hangout with my friends, and feel comfortable in my skin. To feel the warmth of the sun on as much skin as I’d like, or to wrap up as much as I’d like. The freedom is in having the choice, without shame, to show skin or to cover it up.
These lovely humans came to my home and we talked about our journey with our body. We found that there is a common bond, among every single one of us, regardless of body type, that we have been shamed by others, and ourselves, about some aspect of our body. Words have meaning and power, and it was time to wash those words away.
They paired up with a friend to write those words that have held them back on their skin. I wanted someone else to write the words because I wanted the writer to feel how bad it feels to write these words of shame on another person — and if it is so hard to put these words on someone else, why is it so easy to do it to ourselves? We are someone’s someone else. We are loved.
After the hard part of writing those words came the joy of washing them away, breaking free of those words, reclaiming our skin and bodies as worthy, and strong, and beautiful, and enough, and not too much, just as they are.
It was an amazing experience to watch these strangers bond through shared vulnerability, to go from being uncomfortable and nervous to full of joy.
You already have a beach body, a bikini body, a summer body. Let’s make this the best summer yet.”
Here are some words from participants:
“At the beginning of the shoot, we gathered outside in a circle, sitting on blankets, benches, and chairs, in all our different bathing suits and coverings. Cindy encouraged us to share about the struggles we’ve had with our bodies, and what I expected to be an anxious experience shifted almost imperceptibly to one of commiserating friends. Everyone was so instantly open and honest, creating a safe space by virtue of our shared mission: embrace ourselves, honor our struggles, support one another.
When we were given our next assignment — to write hurtful words on a partner that they had heard or felt about themselves — I was crushed. My partner was gorgeous, a bubble of happy energy, fearless and strong. I didn’t want to label her like that… but I did. And she wrote on me. And it created so many familiar feelings: finding a space inside of numbing from the negativity toward myself, fighting the urge to grab my partner and embrace her and throw the marker away. I looked around at the others gathered and saw their pain written on their skin, and I experienced such a quiet despair. A despair that was shared: I heard ‘I don’t want to see these things on everyone!’ more than once that day. Eventually I reached a point where writing on my partner became unbearable, and we agreed to put the marker down.
Finally, it was time to clean off the words, and the collective relief was palpable. We moved to the sprinkler, running and standing and twirling in the water, laughing at the change in energy, the cold water, and frankly the delightful ridiculousness of being sprayed by a giant unicorn!
My partner grabbed some soap, which we shared, and then she pulled me in, wriggling around and laughing, scrubbing the nasty words off each other in such a playful way that I was snapped fully out of my previous numbness.
We all checked each other to make sure there were no lingering words, and the bodily inspection felt sacred in and of itself: we were asking someone to look closely at areas we may have felt insecure, to make sure the hurt was gone, and it felt so natural and normal that it made the statement of the shoot feel that much more real. Gathering for the final shots, I felt proud of all of us. I felt proud of Cindy. And I had learned so much about my place in the body positivity movement, and its place in me.
My drive home was silent. Contemplative. I can’t wait to carry this magic forward.”
“This shoot was a humanizing moment for me. I think, as people, a lot of us feel the need to judge and categorize others — especially when placed in a situation where we feel a heightened sense of discomfort. Being able to take part in this experience was a gentle reminder that if you’re willing to put yourself out there and share a little piece of your own experience (especially in instances where you are uncomfortable or leaning into raw, powerful, sometimes hurtful realities) others will more than likely accept you with open arms and say ‘me too.’ This has changed not only the way I see and relate to others, but the way I see, feel, and my internal dialogue with, myself.”
“Coming up with words to have written on me was almost too easy. Writing them on my partner though, I was shook. ‘I don’t like writing these words on you,’ I said to her. That’s when her next word left her mouth. ‘Ugly.’ Dragging the marker over her skin, watching the word come into being… I became so overwhelmed. How could a person so beautiful even consider such a word as applying? Then I was reminded of every time I’ve casually thrown out a self-depreciating joke to loved ones. In that moment, I was reminded how beautiful each and everyone of us is; even though we forget sometimes. Love yourself and those around you, it’s the best way to live life.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Cindy Johnson of Cindy Johnson Boudoir Photography in Franklin, Indiana. In her work as a boudoir photographer, she says it is her passion to help every human feel comfortable in their skin, and for everyone to see themselves as their loved ones see them.
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