Saturday, May 27, 2017

This Is What I've Learned From Naked Women by Lewis Chaney

"Have you ever looked at a photo of yourself and cried?"

The tears welled up in Valorie's eyes when the image came up on the screen.  The more she stared at it, the less her eyes could hold back the tears until they rolled down her high cheek bones.  Her voice and her facial expression echoed her words as she said, "I look horrible."
        In the photo, she is standing in a cabin with her back against a rock fireplace. A lone shaft of light from a nearby window etches her body. She is staring out towards the window, wearing a look of defeat on her face. It is as if she were wondering how many years it had been since she felt good about her body, her shape, herself. She stands in profile to the camera, her arms across her breasts.

       There was no mistaking she had curves and more weight than she ever wanted to carry. She was transfixed, gazing deeper into the picture, seeing more than the camera showed. She saw every bump, every line, every scar, and every mark on her. She was seeing every single flaw she had in a way she had never seen, through the unblinking eye of my camera.

       This was in stark contrast to how she was in her youth, the athlete who stood up for others when they were picked on for being different. A marriage, child and divorce had left her a single mom. Where had the time gone that had forged her into the 52 year old she is now?

       But as hard as she is on herself, she is the opposite with everyone she meets. If she met you, she would say things like “I love your hair,” “That is a beautiful dress,” “Wow, you look awesome,” lifting you up and brightening your day. She could see the beauty in everyone but herself. This picture seemed to encapsulate every negative thought she had about herself and every negative thing ever said to her, including those backhanded compliments like "You are awfully pretty...for a fat girl."

       It was more than a just a picture, it was a visual representation of repulsion and self-loathing.As the photographer, I only saw a beautiful woman.

       For thousands of years, the female form has led to some of the greatest works of art, such as the statues of Aphrodite and Venus de Milo and paintings like Goya’s Nude Maja and Diego Velázquez’s The Rokeby Venus. In the past 100 or so years, countless photographers have captured breathtaking and stunning images you can find with the click of a mouse. I wondered if I could parlay my 30 years of shooting video into this particular world of art.

      What started as an endeavor to create some artistic black and white pictures, perhaps for a contest or a gallery, quickly became so much more. as the women removed their clothing, they bared more than their bodies; they bared their souls.  

       A very pretty young woman, in her late twenties, asked me to photograph her. She was a size 6, standing 5’ 5” tall, with long dark hair, and it stunned me that she didn’t like her body. I literally had to take a step back, because I was shocked to hear her describing her perceived flaws. Her hope was that this would help her regain her self-esteem.

       Halfway through her session, we were taking a lunch break and I was showing her what we had created so far. She pointed at the computer screen and said “I don’t know WHO that sexy bitch is, but I like her!”

       Within a couple of weeks of the shoot she told me “I have seen the true beauty of MY body, the body God has given me. And I know that regardless of what society thinks, I am beautiful, I am sexy, because I am me.”

        I am no stranger to this topic. I have been married for 22 years to a plus size woman and been witness to her struggles as her weight went up and down. I have felt her joy and her anguish and stand on the cusp of understanding, never really being able to because, let’s face it, I am a man.

        But I can be the conduit for these stories and this is only two of the many I have photographed. From size 6-24, all had one thing in common: they disliked their bodies. Some had zero confidence; some had a little; while others had more with their clothing on instead of off.  A few were very confident, including one woman who, when I asked her size, told me “Well, I like to say I am too awesome for single digits, but since that won’t fit on a tag, I buy 22’s”.

       The stories I heard are so powerful, that they can connect to other women.  They can help every perfectly imperfect woman re-shape her thinking so she can re-think her shape. 

      As I consoled my longtime friend Valorie , I explained that every single curve, line, scar and mark were just part of her map. I told her it’s not a road map; it’s a treasure map, because you are at the end of it.

      Then I tried something. I handed her a shiny penny and a gemstone. I told her to imagine the penny is every insult, every backhanded compliment, every negative thought she has ever had about herself. What’s all that worth? A penny. Not even the value of someone’s “two cent’s worth”.  

      Now, look at the gemstone in the other hand. No two are alike. Some are short, some round, some jagged, some a solid color, some swirled in color. If I laid out a thousand of them, you would be hard pressed to pick your favoritebecause each is uniquely beautiful. 

      I told her that, from now on, when she had something negative come up, squeeze the penny until your fingers are numb and then, put it away/  It deserves no more of your attention. 

      After that, look at the gemstone, and see your beauty. Over time that penny will fade, but the gemstone won’t, and every compliment you get is just someone polishing that stone.

      Within days of the shoot she wrote me and told me she had found her beautiful again and wasn’t letting it go. She said “I LOVE ME, from my natural hair to my mocha chocolate, curvaceous body!” She can now look at the picture and be unfazed. And every time she leaves home, she touches the gemstone on the way out the door.

      Valorie no longer lets anyone set her value or her worth. She refuses to let the woman in the mirror degrade her. She says she wasted so many years letting others con her into believing them, letting them con her out of her confidence.  

Don’t be conned out of your confidence.

Written by Lewis Chaney
I had a very refreshing conversation with photographer, professional storyteller, speech coach, Illusionist, movie producer and director Lewis Chaney.  His story of how all of life's twists and turns has led him down the road to photography is amazing and inspiring.

If you would like to book him for the full presentation or a photo session please visit his site  

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