Last Spring, a friend brought to my attention the existence of a photography project called I Woke Up Like This and suggested that I consider participating in it. Conducting some research, I learned that the mission of the project is to remove criticism from the perception of our bodies by witnessing the vulnerability, beauty and imperfections of other bodies. As a social experiment, the project strives to weave individual stories with the narratives of these photographs, connecting viewers and participants on a mutual journey to find empathy, self-awareness and self-love.
I was happy to discover that Jillian Powers, the project’s creator, was traveling to Denver to meet participants who were willing to strip naked and expose their most vulnerable selves, sans makeup or fancy hairdos, for the camera. Of course, I immediately expressed my interest. A chance to further the fat-positive cause AND be a part of a social project pioneered by an award-winning portrait photographer? Yes, please! Where do I sign up?
I knew that by participating, it would mean removing all of my clothing in front of strangers. I also knew that there would be conversations surrounding body image and self-esteem. What I didn’t anticipate from the experience was having to face my own vulnerability; I am imperfect, I am fat, I am covered in stretch marks and cellulite and dimpled body parts. Being stark naked in a photo shoot with doors and windows wide open and strangers nearby managed to push a few unexpected insecurities to the surface.
Yet, despite those fleeting thoughts of self-doubt, I remained positive and uplifted. I gleaned something extremely valuable from that afternoon spent in front of Jillian’s professional camera lens: the realization that I am, without apology, a perfectly imperfect human being. Every single one of us is. And it’s crucial, absolutely crucial, that we remember that.
Interview with Jillian Powers
/// BEFORE SHOOT ///
What level is your self-esteem at from 1-10?
I worked to get here. It didn’t come easily.
Are you nervous?
Not as nervous as I thought I’d be. I was more nervous thinking about coming here, then I got here and it feels more exciting. More exciting than nervous.
Why did you want to participate in this project?
It’s an important project. I believe in positive body image, spreading the word of respecting yourself and loving yourself. That includes me. I’m still a work in progress myself. This project is an opportunity to be a part of a bigger picture. To be able to spread this message to the world.
With all the blogs, social media interaction, and so on…body positivity is important to me.
/// AFTER THE SHOOT ///
What is your self-esteem level now?
Nine point five.
How did the shoot affect your self-esteem?
It definitely lifted it, because I don’t look at pictures of myself naked. I don’t even own a full-length mirror. I’m not afraid to be naked, or see myself naked. It’s just fascinating to see myself through your lens.
How has your body affected your self-esteem throughout your life?
By third grade, I was wearing a bra – not because I wanted to, but because I needed to. No one else in my grade was wearing a bra at that point.
How did that make you feel?
Very self-conscious. I felt like a bit of a freak. I definitely felt fat. I was already getting the curvy hips, the belly. And most of my friends were thin. Limber. Athletic. All my friends could do cartwheels. Everything I tried to do in respect to that with my body just wasn’t on the same page. My body was holding me back from doing physical things.
What did that teach you about being fat when you were little?
I started finding other parts of satisfaction in my life. I turned to creative paths, things that didn’t require my physical body to be limber and fit and accomplishing physical tasks. This doesn’t mean that I wasn’t active; I participated in physical games and sports and ran around with friends. I was a very active kid. I just always felt like I couldn’t get to that level of athleticism that others could reach.
How old where you when you first began negative self-talk?
I would say sixth grade, eleven or twelve year old. It was my first year attending public school, and I didn’t have to wear a uniform. I felt out of place. I didn’t know how to dress right. I wasn’t popular. Boys only liked me because of my boobs. Girls didn’t like me because of my boobs. It was the first year I experienced bullying.
You run a body positivity blog, tell me how that began?
I went through a divorce about five years ago now, and my marriage had been very emotionally damaging to me. When I finally made the decision to get out of the marriage, I found a renewed sense of self that I had not experienced for decades, and I wanted to express that.
What caused that new sense of self?
When I was married, my husband was a negative, dominating personality in the relationship. Emotionally, he was overbearing, belittled me, made me feel stupid. Verbally, he made little jabs that consistently put me down. He never outright complained about my weight, but we did not have a close, intimate relationship like a husband and wife should have. It wasn’t satisfying, and it wasn’t loving. He didn’t treat me like he desired me, there was no romance between us. Eventually, the verbal and emotional abuse wore me down.
How did that make you feel about your body?
Prior to the divorce, I did not like my body. I liked myself as a person but I was ashamed of my body. I sort of retreated into myself, wore baggy clothing to hide all the rolls and the curves. I just didn’t want to acknowledge my own body. When I left the marriage, I realized that I wasn’t actually the person he’d manipulated me into believing I was. I was better than that. And I knew that I could love my whole self, body and all.
Do you have children?
Yes, I have a son, he’s sixteen. Before this project, I sat down and told him what it entails – that it’s going to be online, in a book, etc. The first thing he said to me was, “GOOD! We need more of that.”
What is the biggest struggle you’ve faced in your life thus far?
Being comfortable in my own skin. I think I’m almost there. My biggest hope is to inspire people to be comfortable in their own skin. It opens up a whole other pathway to happiness. Discovering your own inner and outer beauty is the key. I’ve had many friends through the years tell me they look up to me because I don’t come off as someone with low self-esteem. I don’t worry about what other people think about me, for the most part. I don’t make decisions based on what other people might think of me.
Are you a feminist, and why?
Yes. I know that there are a lot of women who claim not to be feminists because there can be negative attitude surrounding it – that feminists are aggressive, man-hating, don’t want to be mothers, etc., and I don’t think that’s it at all. It’s making sure that all women are seen as vital people in this world. Women have just as big a part in this world as men do. I’m not a man hater, and I’m not afraid of being sexual. Femininity to me is being strong with who you are, embracing who you are. It’s being a mother, it’s being a businessperson, it’s being whatever you wanna be. Whoever you wanna be. Not letting anyone tell you you’re not good enough or don’t have the right skills or that you’re not smart enough because of your gender.
Any last words for the readers?
My mantra is that I try to live an extraordinary life, even through ordinary circumstances.
For more information on I Woke Up Like This or to participate in the project, visit http://www.iwultproject.com/join-the-movement/