UNITED STATES. Penn Yan, New York. A 2015 video created by Huffington Post’s Jessica Samakow and Oliver Noble examines the messages that girls and women hear everyday about their bodies, emotions, and decisions throughout their lifetime. Those messages include:
- “you need to wax your eyebrows,”
- “don’t wear that to school, you’re gonna distract the boys,”
- “don’t be a slut,”
- “you’d be really pretty if you just made an effort,”
- “you must have been beautiful when you were younger.”
Expectations on women: a personal journey
In my late teens, I unexpectedly won a modeling contract (I didn’t know one was being offered) after participating in a local youth contest. I swiftly turned it down. I am more of a tomboy, preferring ripped jeans to Ralph Lauren. No one understood my decision, not my peers nor my parents. Isn’t it every girl’s dream to be thought of as beautiful?
I had something going for me I never considered an asset at the time: I was (still am) an introvert. The thought of walking a stage, with makeup on, wearing an outfit I wouldn’t be caught dead in was no dream I aspired to. Give me a quiet room with a good book-now that’s living the dream.
At least that’s what I told myself.
In my twenties, I faced a serious mental health crisis. I was an honor’s student in college, had no shortage of friends. I was engaged to be married. But this gnawing hole began to grow within me. Was I pretty enough? Was I smart enough? Was I good enough?
All pervasive, all-encompassing self-doubt. I broke off my engagement, turned down acceptance to graduate school, and succumbed to the chorus in my head… “Who do you think you are?”
Where did that confident 15-year-old retreat to, you know the one who scoffed at a modeling contract and went riding the trails on her dirt bike? Maybe she was skinning her knees and covering herself in dirt to scuff the panoptic gaze.
Pervasive body dissatisfaction
So much research has been done to examine women’s sense of self and its link to body image that it hardly matters which study one chooses. “Body dissatisfaction is a major source of suffering among women of all ages” asserts a 2017 study published in The Humanistic Psychologist. But this study goes on to look at a potential mitigating factor: self-compassion.
Boudoir photographer encourages self-love
29-year-old Paige Siwak lives in a small upstate New York town located on one of the beautiful Finger Lakes. She has two daughters, and in 2016, she said, enough was enough. “Society makes women feel like they need to be a certain weight or size to fit the standard of ‘beauty’,” Siwak said in an interview with Transcontinental Times. “I am here to change that. I want every woman to feel beautiful. No matter her size, color, or weight. I needed to help women feel this.”
Siwak wasn’t content to take stunning photographs of women in nature or with a pleasing backdrop. She challenged women: less is more.
“Boudoir was something I was drawn to because of the experience of making women feel empowered. Confidence and self-love are something not many women have these days, and I want to change that.”
Promoting positive body image
At first glance, one might be ready criticize such images, suggesting that women sexualizing themselves only feeds the stereotype of women as sexual objects. But Siwak’s work, in fact, has the opposite effect on the women who choose to become her subjects. Here is just a sample of the thousands of comments from her hundreds of female Facebook followers:
- “I had to really build my confidence up for this. I’ve had 5 kids and my tummy is my weak spot. My soon to be ex-husband would tell me he’s not attracted to me because of it. Here’s to self-love.”
- “Thickaaa than a snickaaa; damn it gurlllll”
- “You go girl! Gorgeous! And courageous!”
- “I honestly cannot thank you enough for making me feel so gorgeous!! This was the best experience.”
By women, for women
“I start from before we even meet,” Siwak said. “I know this is a very vulnerable experience and 98% of my clients have never met me before coming in. I help choose outfits for their body type, and I make sure they are super comfortable. I talk to them like we are best friends. I pose them every step of the way. I am the biggest hype girl, telling them they are beautiful and just building them up the entire time.”
Siwak even has a professional hair stylist and make-up artist on her team.
“I hate the way society molds women to think only skinny is pretty, that you have to be a certain size or weight to be beautiful. I love giving women the experience to fall in love with their bodies just as they are,” she said.
At nearly 50 years old, with two kids in their teens, I have finally silenced those voices of self-doubt. Finding Paige’s “Babes” (as she affectionately calls the subjects in her “Babe Cave”) has given me and hundreds of women new lyrics of self-love and a reason to shatter those old broken records.