This is the eleventh installment of the Body Diversity Stories from the models who participated in the Social Outreach Seattle Body Diversity Project. Meet Justice McCartney.
Body Diversity and the struggle of acceptance.
The day I was born I had a lump. It was the size of a grapefruit and it was because I had a cystic kidney. I almost died. Thanks to the doctors at Children’s Hospital I was saved but it came at a cost. I bear a scar across my midrift that I would see as a blight. As soon as I was old enough to regularly interact with other kids it was pointed out to me that I was different. My scar haunted me. I would look in the mirror and see it as a reminder that I was not complete. There was a part of me that had been taken. It meant that I couldn’t be involved in full contact sports and even the ones like Basketball and Soccer at the first sign of them being aggressive it would cause my mother to be frightened that my remaining kidney could end up harmed. It also meant that no matter what my wieght was I could always pinch a mound of flesh. Remember the cereal commercial that equated health with being able to pinch an inch on your waist, well that always made me think I was fat. Even when I was 6’2″ tall and 120 pounds I thought i was fat because I could pinch an inch on my waist. I eventually didn’t get hungry from starving myself in my attempt to reach an impossible goal. I wanted to get that inch off my waist and never could.
When I came out in the early 90’s and moved away from home it was even worse. I was suddenly immersed in the gay community in the middle of the dying years. I still had my adolescent acne that would often present itself in the form of large oil patches that when they burst resembled Kaposi Sarcoma lesions. People started asking me when I was diagnosed and I was clueless as to what they could possibly be talking about. It never occurred to me that it was my skeletal frame with the lesions from the acne that made them think I was HIV positive. I was ostracized to some degree because of this. I finally got health coverage and a doctor pointed out that I was anemic and terribly under weight and malnourished because of my quest to loose that inch on my waist. I didn’t think of it as anorexia. I just didn’t get hungry so I didn’t eat. I walked everywhere because it was cheaper than the bus, but i was a skeleton. I decided to learn how to eat again. I learned how to enjoy food and my doctor finally explained to me that the inch i was pinching was scar tissue and without plastic surgery I would always be able to pinch an inch.
With eating better came weight gain. I also realized that I didn’t really feel full right away. I had a few years at 180 pounds which was a perfect weight on my frame. I looked great and loved my body for the first time in my life but eventually I passed that. Slowly but surely over a few years I gained weight up to 250 pounds. I no longer recognized myself in the mirror. My face that had once been so angular and sharp was now round and puffy. My body had bulges in all the wrong places and my clothes didn’t fit. New pains from carrying the extra weight started to become prevalent in my life. Once again I hated my body but now I was always hungry. Now I couldn’t lose the weight and actually needed to. I worked in an office and didn’t walk everywhere anymore. I learned to dress to hide my body so people wouldn’t realize just how fat I had become unless they knew me when I was so gaunt before. I’ve joined a gym, and am altering my diet and am down to 230. I am not ecstatic about my body but have learned to accept it. I no longer see my scar as something where a part of me was taken, but see it as the point where I was allowed to live. I still want to get my weight down to where I feel healthier, about 180 lbs which will be about 4 inches off my waist. I still see every flaw when I look in hte mirror, as we all do, but I have learned to accept my flaws and turn off the tapes that tell me how disgusting I am and revel in the fact that I have had 38 years of life that, had i been born just 5 or 10 years older would never have happened. Yes I am a work in progress but I love myself. I love my scar. I love that I can’t count my ribs when i stand naked in front of the mirror anymore, but i still look at myself in a funhouse mirror through spectacles made of carnival glass and will probably never see the me that other people see.
This is the tenth installment of the Body Diversity Stories from the models who participated in the Social Outreach Seattle Body Diversity Project. Meet David Hammerberg.
When I was told about the project, I contacted Richard after a period of consideration. Although I usually don’t mind being on either side of the camera, having the chance to have someone else take pictures for a change is kind of nice. It also gives me a chance to see how others look at my body.
I packed some clothes to choose from, mostly fetish and some street clothes, and showed up at his door. After a little conversation, I opened my bag, stripped down, and offered to dress as he liked. He looked at the things in my bag and smiled, and pointed out my vest and cap, along with my other leathers.
As we started, I first found myself turning and posing in ways that didn’t show my belly or avoided certain angles or shadows, but eventually I relaxed. I found that place within me that wasn’t so worried about whether or not I looked fit, or if I might look silly or cliché. I smiled, and connected with the things that made me happy, confident and sexy: my hat, the leather vest, my cigar, my dog tag.
I became very playful, and found humor and a casualness in being naked. I found a certain power in being dressed in so little, but letting my body language tell my story. I felt very strong and secure, and none of it had to do with what I looked like, but how I felt about myself. It was around that time that we caught the image you see now: confident, masculine, dominant, and sexually charged.
The project helped remind me that people still judge based on body types and appearances, and that we still sometimes judge ourselves harshly because of what we are told by others. But we are our own invention – our own depiction of who we are, reflecting the paths we have traveled, and our lifetimes of experiences.
There are broader representations of body types other than the limited ones presented or accepted by our culture. Bodies are actually quite diverse, genuine and different. They can be realistic and accessible, and express a person in the truest sense.
I know that without diversity, I can sometimes feel self conscious and ashamed, feeling like I don’t fit in, or that I am somehow ugly or invalid. But just because someone is physically more attractive doesn’t mean that they are smarter, stronger, or have more value.
Being within a diverse community, I am more of an individual with stories to tell, something unique to contribute, and posses a better sense of self.
I am not my body, but my body is a reflection of my journey and what I have experienced. Every scar and mark makes me unique, and they are symbols of every battle and every triumph. Through these battles and triumphs I learn how to bravely face the world around me, and in turn, I find strength and confidence within myself.
This is the ninth installment of the Body Diversity Stories from the models who participated in the Social Outreach Seattle Body Diversity Project. Meet Victor Loo (a/k/a Victoria Victor).
The Capacity of an Individual is not Measured by Size!
Victor Loo aka Victoria Victor (www.facebook.com/victorloovictoriavictor) is originally from Singapore, a metropolitan city. And yet being gay, homosexual, queer, or whatever you want to call it is illegal, and not well accepted. Homosexual sex is illegal in Singapore under section 377A. Constitutional rights for gay people are nonexistent for the most part, and penalties for crimes relating to homosexual acts can lead to up to 2 year’s jail (s377A). However, in October 2007, during the Penal Code review and repeal of section 377, the Singapore government declared that private, consensual, adult homosexual sex would no longer be prosecuted but that its illegality would remain as a statement of the values of the “conservative majority”. Anyway, the point is I grow up having feminine facial features and having a smaller physique, and then being gay in Singapore is definitely not an easy breezy cover girl process.
Having a smaller frame, gay with feminine facial features, my childhood to adulthood (yes, surprise everyone, I am an adult and am not exactly a teenager) was almost hell. Being bullied, physically, verbally, and emotionally abused during that time where I did not have the mentality to cope with it was traumatic. I won’t go into details here, use your imagination about SE Asian looking like a girl who is a boy, think of it like being splashed with slush in Glee almost daily.
Thank goodness nothing too extreme had happened, otherwise, I probably wouldn’t be writing this. To quote Kelly Clarkson’s “Stronger”, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger : D
From a kid even until now, I often get questions about my gender, and I learn to respond by saying, “Yes!!!” when being asked, “Are you a boy or girl?” these days. To me, gender is fluid, it should not matter whether I am a boy looking like a girl. Gradually, society has accepted androgynous, or rather, now I affiliate with a genderless identity. The ongoing challenges I face, whether it is through doing social work, modeling, or whatever is being judged and rejected because I look “different.” I’ve learned to embrace it. Since I can’t fight it, I empower it by building higher resiliency.
I remember reading an article in the New York Times (yes, I am SE Asian model, but I can read beyond fashion magazines) , “The Triumph of the Size 12s” (Jan. 13, 2010) that has gathered mixed comments from the public. The article is an interview about the plus size model, a size 12 Crystal Renn, who is 5 feet 9 inches tall, 165 pounds. Her measurements are bra 38C, waist 30, and hips 42. Over time, the average size of the American woman keeps fluctuating. Looking at her photos, she is stunning. To make it in the high fashion industry, one almost has to be less than a size 2, and at one point, she was 95 pounds.
Is less really more? How about the concept of one size fits all? V Magazine launched a campaign where they feature a size 0 model and a plus size model wearing the same outfits to demonstrate that, regardless of an individual’s size, one can still be beautiful
Having the opportunity to participate in the Body Diversity is truly a fun and liberating experience! Yes, I do have abs, and as you can see from the photo I am quite fit : D At times, people think I am anorexic or starve myself to stay thin. But for friends who know me, you know I EAT real food, and not tissue paper to fill my stomach. The message I want to convey through the photo is: regardless of size, it does not limit the capacity of an individual! Be strong, be fit, and love life!
What is the right size? Does size really matter? These questions will always remain subjective, since beauty is in the eye of the beholder. To me, any size is beautiful, but others may think differently. Regardless of what size a person is, the important part is to feel happy from the inside out, to exude confidence and charm as a size healthy : )
This is the eighth installment of the Body Diversity Stories from the models who participated in the Social Outreach Seattle Body Diversity Project. Meet Mary Flake.
Body Diversity Exhibit, happened by chance.
My wife, Aretha Alexander, was having her photo taken by Richard Woods for this SOSea forum. I thought that I was coming along for moral support. What happened though is that Richard made us both feel so comfortable during this scantily clad shoot, that I volunteered to start taking off my clothes. The question Richard was asking of his models was this, “What is it about your body that makes you uncomfortable or that you like the least?”. My body issue is that getting older has come with an army of skin tags. All it took was three photographs, Richard had found what he was looking for.
The outcome of these shoots was a wonderful, inclusive exhibit. I am glad to have been a part of it.
This is the seventh installment of the Body Diversity Stories from the models who participated in the Social Outreach Seattle Body Diversity Project. Meet Jeffrey Hedgepeth.
I have never had serious issues with my body. Okay, I have always wanted to be taller, and have more body hair and a slightly larger penis. Being double-jointed would have been fun too. TMI? But basically I have rolled comfortably with my body’s fluctuations.
In my early years, I suffered from asthma, allergies, and every germ that blew into my slum apartment in Brooklyn, NY. A move to a more middle-class environment, and maybe fairy dust, changed my life when I was 12. Suddenly the sicknesses abated. I developed a tight, muscular body and was competent enough in sports always to be picked early in softball and touch football games. My hormones were also raging, and were directed in one way-at men and boys. I had many of both. Somehow I got through this era without being tagged a fag. Surprisingly, in Brooklyn in the 60s no one seemed to make a fuss about perceived fags in my schools anyway.
Adulthood cycled me through major weight variations, from about 150 to 195 pounds and back. Through it all, gym visits and running kept me wrapped in plentiful muscle. I loved it more when I was slimmer, but I thought of myself as a hairless bear cub when there was more of me.
I am about 173 pounds in this photo. I show a stomach bulge. Richard took other shots of me from other angles that didn’t show the stomach and made me look hunked out. I was glad he chose this one to exhibit because it shows my mind’s image of how I look. I am a 60-year-old, happily married African-American man who has kept himself in good shape, who loves to eat and drink, and has a paunch he is totally comfortable owning.
I covered my dick with a giant bird headdress, not from being particularly modest, but because I am featured in a full-length documentary, Beyond Naked, about the experiences of people who rode for the first time, naked and painted, in the 2011 bike brigade at the Fremont Solstice parade. The movie opens about the same time as this exhibit and I didn’t want that much EXPOSURE so close together.
I also adore it when people tell me I have a big beak down there.
This is the sixth installment of the Body Diversity Stories from the models who participated in the Social Outreach Seattle Body Diversity Project. Meet Aretha Alexander.
When I first read the post on Facebook asking for models for the Body Diversity project, I was a bit curious to say the least. I did answer the ad for models and was sent a date, time and location, and the rest is what they call history.
Well I can say I have tackled all kinds of diversity except body diversity. Who would have thought this project would having been therapeutic for me also.
I have never regarded my body as attractive since my mid twenties. I have had two babies, multiple surgies, weight gain, and some weight loss. Seeing myself on paper so vulnerable has made me appreciate “ME“. All that my body has gone through has shaped who I am today and I have to say I am a damn good person who spreads love, understanding, peace and joy!
This is the fifth installment of the Body Diversity Stories from the models who participated in the Social Outreach Seattle Body Diversity Project. Meet Kelsey Hart.
I have struggled with my weight pretty much my entire life. I got to a point in my life where I just accepted the fact that I would never be skinny and now I own my own skin and love it. I’m not going to lie and say that I wasn’t embarrassed to see my photo up on the wall. In fact, I even cried. In the last 3 years I’ve lost over 100lbs. I was 387lbs at my heaviest. I hid the fact that I was extremely depressed very well but Sometimes I still feel like that 387lb girl.
So, when I saw my rolls in all their glory I was embarrassed, almost ashamed. As the night continued I realized that I was putting myself down for my photo and I was assuming that everyone in the audience was picking me out as the token fat girl like I was doing when that wasn’t the case at all.
I am the only one that still sees that 387lb girl in my photo, not the beautiful curvy girl that I am. That is me and I am beautiful. I learned from this experience that everybody has things they are uncomfortable with pertaining with their bodies. We need to accept the body we have been given and treasure and love it for everything that its worth! This was a life changing experience and I am thrilled to have been a part of it.
This is the fourth installment of the Body Diversity Stories from the models who participated in the Social Outreach Seattle Body Diversity Project. Meet Dave Wheeler.
The first thing I notice about my body are the bones. Some days they’re the only thing. My proportions feel like they’ve been the same since I was thirteen. A metabolism that never lets me weigh more than 130 pounds. Maybe that’s my gift, but I’m not always thrilled with what I’ve been given.
Other days I only see pale, pale skin, something I’ve been conditioned to believe is less attractive than the bronzy, muscular physique. My body constantly falling short of an ideal I have no clue how it originated. In fact, my whole life has been a spectacularly awkward attempt to perform traditional masculinity, acceptable maleness, and—until a couple years ago—straightness.
Cisgendered, white male that I am, I don’t have a lot of room to feel sorry for myself. I’m privileged, pound for meager pound, all the same.
Late into high school I discovered David Bowie. More recently, Tilda Swinton. When Richard Wood asked, for this project, about my body, what I liked, what I disliked, how I felt empowered, my mind snapped to those pale, angular, androgynous weirdos. Artists. Creative minds I have fallen in love with. Whose bodies reflect my own.
Being skinny and not especially coordinated, sports were never an interest to me. People have felt permitted to comment on my “chicken legs” and scrawny appearance. Tell me a gust of wind could blow me away. Generally imply my lack of substance, a peculiar insignificance. So, early on, I retreated into my head: studied hard and excelled at school, practiced piano for well over a decade, and wrote, crafting an art all my own, a body of work that is significant, full of substance, bears weight.
Because I recognize that art must bear weight. That is its purpose. To construct critiques, to tell truth, to articulate oppression so that it may be eradicated. Like I said, I know where my privileges lie. I know how my insecurities can cloud my perception of them. But I’m also learning how my head and my body can unite with many others around me in an effort to combat prejudice.
This is the third installment of the Body Diversity Stories from the models who participated in the Social Outreach Seattle Body Diversity Project. Meet Mark Finley.
What can I say about my body? I’ve had ‘issues’ with it my entire life. For starters it spurted up faster than most: I’ve been 6’2” since sixth grade. After it grew ‘up’ – I grew ‘out’: I wore 38” waist ‘husky’ pants by my sophomore year of high school. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention: I’ve had size 12 feet since I was 10. I wasn’t interested in sports or physical activities as a child on top of all that. To put it plainly – I was a tall gawky pear shaped klutz. So how did I become the graceful beauty you all know and love? My senior year of high school was spent as an exchange student in Japan where I studied kendo, traditional Japanese dancing, and the female roles of Kabuki theatre. Attending college in Los Angeles and New York City – with many friends in the fashion industry – my body insecurities returned. I got overly thin just so I would fit into women’s Calvin Klein jeans!
That changed when I was diagnosed with ‘GRID’ (Gay-Related-Immune-Deficiency) at 22. Thin was no longer ‘in’ if one wanted to give the illusion of being healthy. But instead of joining a gym – I drank to excess until, on her death bed, my mother asked me to stop. So I did. I also left Manhattan and moved to Seattle where I threw myself into theatre and community service. I’ve finally come to terms with my ‘shape’ – such as it is.
Having studied costume design I know how to dress myself – in pants or drag – to appear tall and slender. Though when you reach my age – 29, thank you very much – your body changes yet again. I’m loathed to admit it – but I need a ‘foundation garment’ to give me the figure I desire. And I can no longer wear my high heels night after night without suffering from a slight case of ‘cankles’.
Oh yeah, one last body issue: single vs. partnered gay man syndrome. Most gay men – when single and ‘looking for love’ – look their best and those who are in long-term relationships get a little ‘lumpy’, or ‘comfortable’. I, oddly enough, usually do the complete opposite. When I’m not dating or seeing anyone food becomes my best friend – but when I’ve been lucky enough to land someone I get hyper-critical making sure I’m perfect in their eyes. Silly I know – but it is what it is.
One last little thought I’d like to leave you with: Tim Minchin, in his song “Not Perfect” says, “This is my body, and I live in it. It’s 35 and 2 months old. It’s changed a lot since it was new. It’s done stuff it wasn’t built to do. I often try to fill it up with wine. And the weirdest thing about it is – I spend so much time hating it, but it never says a bad word about me. This is my body, and it’s fine. It’s where I spend a vast majority of my time. It’s not perfect, but it’s mine.”
This is the second installment of the Body Diversity Stories from the models who participated in the Social Outreach Seattle Body Diversity Project. Meet Fraya Love.
Well to be perfectly honest, just like every other red blooded American, I have body image issues. I was a bit of a husky kid but never really noticed until I hit high school. Even after my mother would set me on a scale at 10 yrs old and ask, “How am I taller, and older yet still lighter than you?” (Yeah that happened quite a few times) but I won’t relish on stories from the dark farm.
In high school I was I little more body conscious however I was a bit more concerned with being called, “FAG!” Than, “Fat.” Not that it happened very often if at all.
After High School I hit the real world (no not the MTV hit show) and stumbled upon the gay community (at this point I had lost a good majority of the weight via dance, musical theatre, and actually participating in P.E.) to learn almost all of them spent the majority if their lives in a gym. Where as I spent mine with friends in a class room or on a stage so I still wasn’t in (what gym bunnies would call) the best shape of my life. Did I care? Hmmm sometimes but that thought was usually locked in the back of my mind. Do I still care that my body isn’t A&F perfect and that I don’t look like some twink? No not really.
This is the first of the Body Diversity series stories I will be posting. These stories accompany the Body Diversity exhibit. Over the next couple weeks I’ll be sharing many of the stories of each of the models in the exhibit and how their stories came through in the photograph. Meet Mikkel Prim.
There I was walking down Main Street in the small town of Algona Washington. Before 6th grade I had never looked in the mirror thinking anything negative about my body. I had always been teased about my stutter but nothing of the magnitude of the middle school I was about to enter. The day I stepped into that classroom my entire life was flipped upside down. Only a few weeks into the school year I was perceived as gay. I had never said a word about my sexuality, let alone even acknowledged my own sexuality. I had faggot written on my binder, backpack, and sweatshirt in big bold print. I was shaken and stunned, I had never before thought of myself in such a cruel and demeaning manner. That same day when I got home, I looked in the mirror for hours. I thought that it had to be something physical about me. It just had to be. Going from head to toe I went over every part of my body and couldn’t articulate a single answer. This went on until it was unbearable, so unbearable in fact that I had started to do whatever I could to be different.
I went from a fresh-faced 13 years old to an emaciated kid with a pale complexion. I mostly stopped eating for the most part and if I did it was nothing of substance. The harassment and teasing had gotten so bad that I needed an escape, any escape that I was able to control. I remember vividly walking home from the school bus stop, walking into my house, making a stop in the utility room then locking myself in the bathroom. The item that I had retrieved from the utility room was a razor blade; I wasn’t looking to take my life I just knew that I would rather take the physical pain over the mental torturing.
By this point I had fallen in with the wrong group of friends, my father had left, and my mother was in the middle of a recovering from a nervous breakdown. I took solitude in my neighbor. He was a tow truck driver who lived next to my best friend. He would buy us alcohol because we were young and he was trying to get close to someone. But we didn’t know who until I got too drunk and passed out. I woke up to him touching me; I was paralyzed with fear; I didn’t know what to do. I can now realize what he had been doing for all the months leading up to that moment. He had been grooming me, making me feel as though he was the only one who could truly be there for me. After the first encounter, the abuse continued for 10 months, during which I had probably been cutting myself for 8 months, flipping back and forth from anorexia to bulimia, and taking drugs and drinking excessive amounts of alcohol. I was drinking and using narcotics on a daily basis to be able to cope with what was happening to me. I didn’t dare tell a soul what was happening to me. It was so awful that I believed that I deserved what was happening to me. After 10 months of being sexually abused I attempted suicide in my shower by trying to overdose on my mothers painkillers and cut my wrists I didn’t get very far before my mom found me and called an ambulance. I had finally had enough; I turned my rapist in to the police and agreed with my family and my defense attorney that I needed to be admitted to intensive inpatient counseling. It was an 11-month struggle; even while in the program I continued cutting for four more months before they finally caught me. The counselor sat me down and asked why I was doing this to myself. I told her it was because I hated myself. She told me, and I will never forget, “We will strip your room. You will have a mattress and a blanket and we will beat this together if it is going to come to this.” For the first time I knew I was going to move past this.
Over the period of being in inpatient I went from 164 pounds to 254 pounds. Now I looked in the mirror and all I saw were scars from cutting and the stretch marks that taunted me each time I saw them. When I left treatment and went to live with my grandparents, I ran, and ran, and then ran some more until I would collapse from exhaustion. I got myself down to a mere 147 pound and a size 28 waist and then would look in the mirror and tell myself that I was still not fit and I would never get to where I wanted to be with my body. Since then, to this date, my weight has bounced back and forth because of eating disorders, multiple injuries to my ankles from running, and my on and off pain killer addiction. I still struggle with this on a daily basis but I no longer let it dictate my life. I don’t have a washboard stomach but I am thin, and see the scars of my past and know I have survived to tell an extraordinary story about the fight to fit in, the fight against negative influence, and surviving when the odds weren’t in my favor.
On April 30, 2013, kapchur.us photography was featured at a presentation about the topic of Body Diversity being put on by Social Outreach Seattle (SOSea). Richard Wood, over a month and a half time period and with the assistance of other SOSea members, assembled a mix of 25 models to compile 23 different photographic art pieces to display during this event. The art pieces were intended to stimulate the participant conversations and allow the participants to view the art while also meeting many of the models.
ON A PERSONAL NOTE: Overall, this project was AMAZING. I want to thank Social Outreach Seattle for allowing me to contribute to such an important topic and bring my vision of diversity into light. I know that I learned much about body diversity JUST from participating in the shoots and had many long discussions with so many of the models about what the topic means to them, how it’s impacted their lives and how this project allows them to reflect better on that diversity.
The event itself floored me! 118 RSVPs on Facebook, and a PACKED room of amazing participants… not just voyeurs of art, but active participants interested in the topic, interested in making change, interested in broadening what beauty means.
Before closing, I’d like to thank Zach Pullin for guiding this event and handling SO many of the logistics and pulling together so many seemingly small pieces to make a good event GREAT! HOWEVER, Zach surprised me with the “take away action questions”. There were two questions but one REALLY hit me hard, 1) How will you, in so far as the topic of sizism, DISASSEMBLE your privilege? How will I disassemble my privilege? My first thought would be, WHY would I want to disassemble my privilege? Any privilege I have I need! However after saying these words out loud to the other participants in my breakout group, I realized that by continuing to assert and use my privilege as a gay white unhumanly attractive male I’m also asserting that those who do not have the same attributes as myself are less than me and continue to be oppressed in our society. By asserting my privilege I encourage the same classism that exists between individuals based simply on how they look, be it race, weight, height, facial features, and many other things that make people insecure about their physical being.
I hope you enjoy the photos.
Keep an eye on the Social Outreach Seattle (SOSea) Facebook page for updates on the sale of these prints to benefit SOSea and the wonderful community activities they energize.
UPDATE: See the Seattle Gay News article written by Mac McGregor, one of the models in the exhibit, entitled “Body diversity and the ‘magic letter’ – The importance of being true to yourself“
The amazing Pine River Ranch in Leavenworth
A lovely ceremony at Seattle University’s Chapel of Saint Ignatius and a reception at the bride’s family restaurant, FX McRory!