Those of us on the outside don’t understand

WARNING: Discussion of Self-Harm

There are a hundred ways to self-harm, but most of those who think about it, will think about what’s shown in the images here: the use of a razor blade on your own skin. Burning, carving, pinching, self-hitting, self-biting, hair pulling, food restriction, foreign-body ingestion, over exercising, sleep deprivation, sitting outside without proper attire, repetitively engaging in unhealthy relationships, neglecting medical intervention.

There are even more reasons why someone would choose to do so.

We, on the outside, think they might be doing what they do to draw attention to themselves but more often than not what they’re seeking is far more internal. 

“Many factors play a role in their decisions to self-injure. These elements fall into four broad categories: (1) environmental influences, (2) direct media influences, (3) peer group dimensions, and (4) internal psychological elements.” But boiled down to simplest terms “It temporarily reduces tension and restores a sense of equilibrium. It has powerful communication aspects, provides a sense of control and empowerment.”

(From: Treating Self Injury, a Practical Guide. B. W. Walsh)

It’s entirely possible that they’ve lived a life full of pain. Pain from being abused in some way. Pain from a medical condition. Pain from abusing substances. They spend so much of their lives experiencing that pain that when it’s removed – something is missing.

It’s entirely possible that those who’ve experienced trauma in the past grow to feel that they don’t deserve good things, and when those good things happen, they retreat to return to what they know. 

If you’re like me, there’s likely been times in your life when you’ve done something in response to a bad situation. I remember pounding my fist on the steering wheel of my car over frustration from a job I once worked at. I was left bruised, and the steering wheel suffered as well, but under no circumstances did I feel like I deserved what I did to myself, it was a ‘vent’ to a bad situation.

Over the course of the time I’ve been making images for Woman as Art, I’ve seen this several times, as has been displayed here. What these strong women have told me is frequently what’s going on inside their world is so loud – that the only way to silence the noise, or calm the inferno, is to gain control through self-destruction.

To find relief. “It hurts but it doesn’t hurt, maybe because I can control it.”

In the end, it’s something that has clearly marked pain.

It’s something that’s written all over them.

It makes them Woman as Art.

Bilateral Mastectomy

I had to look up the meaning, and when I messaged my friend to tell her that if she wanted me to document this journey that had been forced upon her, I’d be more than happy to do so. She said thanks, and a couple of weeks later reached out with an idea that came to fruition this past weekend.
Noni has been in Woman as Art before and done boudoir, but this was the first time she brought her whole family, and friends, and clippers, and scissors.
In fact it was the first time I’ve photographed anyone getting their head shaved before starting chemo.

The process was later something that she described as ‘therapeutic for all of us’ and accomplished something that she wanted – to be in control of some part of the process. She said, “None of this was anything we have control of. I love that this is one thing I can do on my own terms and not be “the victim”. I guess it just kind of feels like if I can do this on my own terms then I’m almost taking the control back in a way.”

She entered my studio a fighter and left even more so.

If you find yourself asking, ‘why?’

I ask client about a photo session.
Her reply, written later, “I found it awkward because any picture I do have of my self is for some sort of accomplishment. There is a reason or purpose in documenting that moment in time. I earned it. Never would I be photographed without reason and I didn’t have one. I felt to have a photograph of myself, aside from the usual selfie, would make me arrogant.

“If you find yourself asking why, here is my answer, “Woman by their very creation are walking, talking works of art. Way too many have lost the concept of their beauty. Woman as Art is a project that celebrates the masterpiece in all of them.”

Grace

Grace in women has more effect than beauty. ~William Hazlitt
I often tell the women I photograph, and they are usually surprised by it, that how a woman holds her hands and fingers gives quite the insight to a woman’s beauty. They usually say ‘these are just my hands’ and go on about how they, like the rest of them, are nothing special. It’s a simple thing but it seems to be present in every woman I’ve photographed in some way, and you can definitely see it here. Over the weekend in fact I saw that same grace in a young girl that I photographed as well.

Something to hide behind.

I’ve always used my eating disorder to hide. It’s always been something I could use to hide from my own feelings and my own personality. I used it to ignore feelings and I let people’s comments on my body and my size be the only thing I based my worth on.

This photo session made me feel like I was breaking free of all of that. Like I was done hiding behind a physical body and was ready to be a real human that deserves validation regardless of her body. Like someone who deserved to let all of that go and love herself again for who she truly is and not the person she hides behind.

In the model’s own words.

There is No Flaw in You

In the client’s own words:
Today, a man stared at me while breastfeeding.
My baby and boob were covered. At 8 months to be covered without so much as a flailing arm is a rarity.
Nevertheless the staring man confidentially said, while never breaking his stare, he confidentially said; “Breastfeeding and c-sections are disgusting. Such a pity for a beautiful woman to willingly destroy her body.” He continued to go on about how hideous both breast and scared tummies are.

I debated posting this, but I think a lot of times we see things on social media and casually think this isn’t an issue close to home, because we’ve not experienced it firsthand.
I was told it would be hard to find a man to love me, because my body was wrecked after I found myself a single mom at seventeen.
This is life.
My body has carried three beautiful babies.
Do not let selfish men or a backward world tell you that the process and proof of life is not beautiful.
We are not meant to be ageless and without cracks.”You are altogether beautiful, my darling; there is no flaw in you.”-Song of Solomon 4:7

The Next Chapter

When I started Woman as Art it began I wanted to be able to make images that women would celebrate for themselves.
There’s a big deal about ‘boudoir’ now and while that’s something that I do a lot of, I always rejoice when a client comes to see me for images – for them, and not for someone else.
As I began to celebrate the art that women truly are in session after session I began to gather the best of those images into a website – and my wife and several others have suggested that Woman as Art become a book, and I heartily agreed to that statement.
But there’s a vast chasm between putting a few images on a website, and putting together a book. And I doubted that I could ever do it.
Recent events have caused me to re-think that, however.
So, as of today – Woman as Art is GOING to be a book. A book filled with images of strong, beautiful women. And their stories.
I have no idea how it’s going to work, just that it will.
What I need from my friends is – volunteers. Models who want to be part of the project. To reveal their skin and their soul so that other women can be made stronger by it. I might need later – advice, referrals, money, etc. But right now I need models. So, if you are so inclined, or know someone who might be – send me an email.
Thanks.