“I’ve struggled with a negative body image for a long time, but I’m at a place in my life where I finally don’t care.”
“Every day I’m loving my big cheeks, my spotty skin, my broad shoulders, my pimply back, my squeaky voice, my nervous laughter…I’m lucky to fucking exist at all, let alone exist in a healthy, wonderful body.”
“Being a woman means outgrowing everything you’ve ever been taught about being a woman.”
The Seattle Exposure Project, curated by founder Amanda Sloan and photographer Allyce Andrew, presents full body portraits of women alongside their measurements and evaluations of body image and self worth.
The two embarked on the creation of this project in 2014, and the results speaks for themselves. In fact, the best part about this project is that the women actually do speak for themselves.
Here are Amanda and Allyce on shame, art, and gender in the Seattle Exposure Project, taking “a stand against girl-on-girl crime, body shame and society’s unachievable expectations.”
Where did the idea for the Seattle Exposure Project come from, and how did it take shape?
AMANDA: I think initially it was a very selfish thing, I wanted to feel okay in my skin and in the end, I knew I couldn’t be alone in feeling so insecure. I also have dealt with and seen a lot of “girl on girl crime,” shit talking, body shaming, manipulating, and I wanted to build a platform that shows the humanity of each woman, and that we ALL struggle — and— we all have flaws. Perfect imperfections, I like to say. I had had enough with the alienation I saw from myself and other women towards other women.
What do you hope the Seattle Exposure Project achieves? Who are you trying to reach?
AMANDA: Eventually I would like to open it up to all people. I want to make some videos for it. I want people to start self-submitting. Gender norms, beauty norms, shame this and that, it’s all bullshit. I want to help empower people. I’d like to make this a collective, a support system, a family.
ALLYCE: I hope that it normalizes the human body for a lot of women. It’s crazy to see a visual of someone who might match your weight and height, but looks so different from you! There’s no uniformity there.
How has Seattle contributed to your growth as artists and activists?
AMANDA: Man, just being asked that question makes me giddy! Never would I have thought someone would call me an “artist and an activist”, WOOT. But in all seriousness, I started going to underground art and music shows in Seattle and neighboring cities when I was 11 years old. I don’t know a life without art and music, and we are fortunate to live in a city that has art spewing out of every possible crack. I have traveled a decent amount, and been a part of other art communities and Seattle’s is truly unique. It’s a community that encourages you to create constantly, like, say, New York, or Los Angeles, but also that demands that you keep your integrity, and holds you accountable. There’s no skating by here. The women of the DIY scene have really come together in the last couple years and that’s been one of the most important things to happen to me. Things like DIY women’s meets ups that Rachel Leblanc started and the feminist collective Men’s Right Club have been truly inspiring.
ALLYCE: Seattle is a crazy place to be an artist in right now! My pictures are really just pretty basic extension of photojournalism, so if it weren’t for the interesting, collaborative artists here, my work would be pretty drab. Also – Lily Kerson, Katherine Humphreys, Ambrosia Bartosekulva and Rachel LeBlanc are incredible women who create intentional, often DIY spaces for artists. If it weren’t for them, I would have a much smaller platform for my work.
What skills or unique perspective did your collaborator bring to the project?
AMANDA: Allyce is cool, calm and collected. I was frantically running around, feeling insecure, sweating my shorts off and she just has this chill jazz about her. She was really encouraging and sweet with the women while their photographs were being taken, in a way that I don’t think I have in me. Her confidence was really inspiring to me. Also – duh, she’s a kickass photographer.
ALLYCE: Amanda brought everything, I just showed up with my camera! I was inspired by the amount of time she gave each woman to answer the intro questions and get comfortable. I tend to run for project to project, so taking the time to talk with the participants and just hang out was a valuable lesson in itself.
How do you yourselves maintain healthy body image?
AMANDA: Somewhere in the last couple years it turned from “do I LOOK good?” to “do I FEEL good?” which usually are one in the same. If I’m binge eating pizza and watching Roseanne for three weeks straight or if I’m starving myself and stressed out, most likely I feel and look like shit. My idea of what I look best at as changed a lot too, I struggled with an active eating disorder for a long time. Getting down to 95 pounds at times, I used to think that was what looked good for me. In retrospect, that was what I saw and thought I had to look like. I have a norm for me now I created, that indicates that I’m healthy and happy, and that’s what I think I look good at. I think surrounding myself with smart, open, driven artists there’s a really big push for mental and physical health but no pressure to look one way, I tend to surround myself with women I look up to, usually creatively or intellectually. Of course I don’t read fashion magazines, and shun people who shame me, or others. Basically, I just try to feel healthy, whole-self care, therapy is important!
ALLYCE: I had a really unhealthy body image until I moved to Seattle a year and a half ago. This city’s amazing because there are a ton of opportunities to walk or bike everywhere, but there’s a huge stigma against walking in my hometown. Body image is definitely a solitary thing for me and I don’t typically approach others for advice, but I think entering into a relationship with a super open-minded person, along with the physical act of moving around this city, has helped me more than anything else could have. Basically, I definitely love my body best whenever I’m walking and active – being a photographer is a really physical thing for me; I have trouble sitting still.
How does the Seattle Exposure Project use external representations of bodies to connect what people love about themselves with their bodies, rather than dissociating from sexual and other forms of external validation?
AMANDA: There are a lot of body-positive websites that have come out in the past couple years that feature nude women of all sizes/ages/races in lingerie, posed with complimentary lighting that are body-positive websites. They’re really beautiful photographs and powerful websites. But it’s the idea that this girl can be sexy too, even though she’s 250 pounds (as an example). I think that women owning their sexuality, feeling sexy and being sexual is so important to feminism and growth, so don’t get me wrong, but I wanted to just take sex out of it. Naked shouldn’t inherently be sexual. A woman naked should not inherently be sexual. Body acceptance isn’t only feeling beautiful despite what others think; it’s accepting your human form, accepting limitations and embracing the freedoms it gives you. Finding the distinct connections your mind and body share, and the things they don’t share too. The idea that if we didn’t have bodies we could still be ourselves…what is ourselves?
When you’re sky-diving you’re not thinking to yourself “I’m fat, I’m a woman, I’m ugly, I want a thigh-gap”, you’re probably thinking “Holy shit this is beautiful and I hope I don’t die”. When you’re with your favorite person in the world you don’t walk around thinking all that bullshit either, you’re just you, you’re smart and funny and creative and charming, and you get my point. The photos are taken like “body mug shots” because I wanted to show like this is my real body. It’s not posed for you, there’s nothing about it that tells you who I am, there’s no backdrop with clues to my story. It’s allowing the women to be like ‘here, hear it from me. Here is my body in its very human form. This body lets me paint and cook and strip and laugh, the me that’s inside of the body’.
ALLYCE: Nothing about this project felt “sexy” to me, which probably proves in itself that bodies aren’t just seen as sex objects. I think being confronted with a stark image of your body can be terrifying, but when you’re doing it along with other women it turns into something different.
How did the process of working together with a group of women affect you? Is it important that women work and process and create together this way?
AMANDA: I think you can process this stuff any way that fits your specific person and story. But for me personally, it was so uncomfortable and scary to do this with other women. I have major trust issues with other women so doing it this way pushed me in incredible ways. It was so moving, definitely one of the most amazing experiences of my life. I do think it’s important for women to reach out and be around each other more. Society teaches us to compete, but we can get a lot more done working together.
ALLYCE: I left both sessions feeling pretty blissful. I felt like we really gave something back to the community.
Was the project open to trans women? Why are projects like yours still essential, even with our evolving understanding of the binary?
AMANDA: The website is open to trans women but honestly I think it does a terrible job of coming off that way, and that’s something I want to fix immediately. Also again, I would like to make it inclusive of all people. Many men have asked me if they could do it and I think that’s totally awesome. Gender norms and gender socialization are very much so one of my biggest passions. Simply put, I don’t like boxes of any kind. It is insane to me that from the time we are born that we are taught who we’re supposed to be and eventually shamed if we don’t fit into that mold. Hopefully, this project shows that there’s a great lot of us affected by these rules and that we don’t have to enforce them on each other or ourselves.
Tell me your biggest fear or stumbling block regarding this project.
AMANDA: Making sure I was being respectful to the women, to gender, to feminism. People put a lot of trust in me and shared beautiful things with me. When I was putting the website together I was just like “oh god oh god oh god.” It’s really scary when you think you might let people down! Also, because my relationship with my body and my feminism, and with other women, is always changing, and so are my feelings about this project, but I think I found a platform that will continue to express the original idea.
ALLYCE: I don’t want people to take advantage or judge the women who participated. The Internet can be a complex, unfriendly place, so I hope people mostly see this for the positive message of body acceptance we intended.
What was the biggest lesson from launching this project? How have you been changed by it?
AMANDA: I know a lot of the women who showed up in my personal life. There were some who I didn’t expect to show up and when they did I was just… shocked. Reading the write-ups and seeing that some girls I think are “perfect” feel all this terrible shit too, which of course is one of the major elements in this project, I just found my surprise sort of a reminder that I was still judging women and making assumptions about other women. So, this is a process and there’s never really an end. I’ll just keep fucking up and growing. My favorite story from that day was when an older woman, who was the mother of a girl none of us knew personally, had caught wind that this was going on and took like three buses or something to participate. Just, all by herself, showed up, ‘Hi I’m ______, ready to go!’ It was amazing! My jaw dropped, on the verge of tears. I think in that moment I really understood just how many of us, from all walks of life, struggle to just love ourselves.
ALLYCE: Amanda helped me connect with Seattle in such a cool way. I’ll never forget this project. Seeing the women who showed up and felt no issues at all with showing their bodies inspired me so much. It was a great reminder that life’s just a little easier when you aren’t spending so much time worrying about your image. We’re all busy, we all have projects, and wasting time feeling self-conscious feels like a sin sometimes.
If you could share one piece of advice with someone who is struggling with their body, what would it be?
AMANDA: I don’t know that I would give any advice. I think I would just say “I know, I know, I’m sorry” and hug them. When you’re in that place, there’s not much anyone can do to change your mind about your body. The idea that you can just say, “you’re beautiful,” to someone and they’ll perk up is insane. But resources are good for when you want help. Education and support are key!
ALLYCE: I’m no expert, but I think body issues can stem from a lack of feeling in control of your environment. My best advice for those who are struggling is to take steps that feel intentional in your life. When I’m building something that feels significant, I find that I focus less on my image in the process.
What’s next for each of you?
AMANDA: Moving the hell out of LA, back to Seattle, finish school. My long term goal is to open up an art therapy house for young girls post trauma. Planning some more projects for the future!
ALLYCE: I’m working as a reporter and still just taking a bunch of pictures!
For more information, check out www.seattleexposureproject.org.