Dara Durost is a Boston-based professional fine art photographer working on a project to use photography as a step toward broader understanding and acceptance of all bodies. She contacted me seeking volunteers to participate in her project, which would include both reflective writing and posing. I wanted to hear more, so I asked her to tell us about her work.
What’s your connection to this work?
Being a woman, my weight has always fluctuated, as have my skin and hair and, well, everything. I have always been subject to self and outside criticism about my body and appearance. I learned it to the point of obsession. Then, when I started taking self-portraits, I became more aware of my body in a way that felt intimate and healing for me. I found a way to look at myself in an objective and less critical manner.
How do you understand the concept of body image?
Body image is deeply connected to how we feel about ourselves. Negative body image can go along with a plummeting sense of self-worth, speeding through a cycle of negative reinforcement that ultimately damages our relationships, the types of people we spend time around, and what kind of risks or opportunities we allow ourselves to take. Image and appearance are given so much weight in our culture; it can seem that how we look matters more than what we say or do. Often when we see images, we don’t see the person—instead we see ourselves and how we compare to the image we are seeing. I would like to challenge these patterns of alienation and competition and give people permission to see others and themselves as we are.
Body image is attached to our sexuality and sexual relationships in a big way. A negatively reinforced attitude about our own bodies can damage our sexual health. If we are not comfortable enough in our own bodies to explore what makes them feel good, then we miss out on satisfying our own desires and potentially connecting with other people in the process. On the other hand, when we do find ways to feel comfortable in our own bodies, we might also be more comfortable seeking out physical and relational forms of pleasure.
What got you started on this project?
Doing a project about body image has been in the back of my mind for some time now. It started with two self-portraits, entitled “Women’s Work” and “Seeing You, Seeing Me,” which dealt with how women are expected to act “sexy” while happily fulfilling the “domestic” and “mothering” roles. I explored how I fit within a world that is always watching. Many women deal with the gaze at all times, feeling constantly observed or judged in public places. What I began to notice while working on these projects was the role that women play in the images that we consume as part of our daily and increasingly digital lives. I go to the bus stop and there’s a skinny, “sexy” woman pictured on an advertisement for perfume; I check Facebook and there are ads for getting the perfect “bikini body” or “flat belly”; there are images of a desirable body defined as skinny, white, sexy and “feminine” everywhere. In contrast, I’ve begun to see a few websites that encourage body-positive views and invite women of all sizes to post photographs of themselves. I want to expand on this idea of giving people a forum to be proud and feel good about themselves and to show images of people that belong to the diverse population we live in. Everyone is different and almost no one fits into these intensely shaming and constrictive boxes.
I am interested in photographing men, women, people who are transgender, anyone. Negative body image doesn’t only affect women; it affects everyone. We all live in a world with certain ideas of who we should be and what we should look like.
What would the process be like?
Ideally, that process would begin with a meeting to allow us to get to know a little bit about each other. I would then ask the subject to write something about body image, how they see themselves or whatever comes to mind during the journaling process. I would like each image to be accompanied by a personal story or comment in order to allow the viewer to connect the image of a body with the person being represented. I would take some photographs, and I would invite them to take some self-portraits as well. My goal is to make the process as comfortable as possible. The images need not be nudes; I want the people being photographed to work within their comfort levels at all times. My final goal is to show the images to a wider audience, and I want to be respectful so as to not have the project become exploitative. I am currently looking for as many participants as I can with the goal of creating as diverse a project as possible. If you are interested in participating, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Body image is deeply related to sexuality—how we live our lives and connect with other people with and through our bodies. I’m interested to see what themes regarding sexuality and relationships come through in Dara’s project. If you choose to contact her and participate, I invite you to come back here to debrief your experience!
*Photos by Dara Durost