Body Talk exhibition with Shy Burham photography & poet Sharena Lee Sattit
Many women still feel very uncomfortable talking about their bodies, particularly in a positive manner. We are all so good at complimenting others but often struggle to show self love and appreciation of our own bodies. Photographer Shy Burhan and Poet Sharena Lee Satti came together to create an exhibition breaking this taboo and celebrating body confidence. Women from diverse backgrounds were invited to submit three words describing what they love about their bodies before being photographed by Shy. Sharena then wrote a beautiful poem called 'She is a goddess' inspired by those photographs.
Opening night was a sell out and it so lovely to see the women showing friends and family their photographs proudly hanging on the walls at Kala Sangram in Bradford. Shy ended up with 58 women, she originally asked for 52 to represent each week of the year but had such a positive response she didn't want to turn anyone down. I love that all the women were truly diverse and different, a true reflection on women in society today. Wouldn't it be great if those people who organise fashion and beauty advertising came to events like to see what true representation looks like.
There is something very moving about seeing women embracing their bodies coming together to celebrate. It's so important that we have creative people bringing projects like this to life to help break down body confidence issues and improve our mental wellbeing.
The exhibition will run until 3rd April and I'm looking forward to then buying my own art installation cylinder, it's going to become our new wine cooler and certainly a new topic of conversation!
The word joy sums up the art installations as part of the exhibition, the 58 women all look so different but so happy and free to express themselves. It was such fun shooting with Shy for this project, lots of movement and laughter.
I'll leave you with this beautiful poem "She is a goddess' written and performed by poet Sarena Lee Sattit. The opening night performance saw this poem accompanied by a beautiful dancer, it was a very moving moment.
What three words would you use to describe why you love your body?
I spent so many years dreading the summer holidays, stressing myself out months before with fad diets and manic exercise to reach the unobtainable perfect bikini body. I can't tell you how liberating it is to be free from this now and I really want to inspire other women, particularly over 40 to stop worrying and start enjoying the summer more, just as they are.
What better way to make that statement and continue to challenge my own body confidence by doing a shoot in a lingerie shop window!
Rachel Peru, wearing Empriente swimwear, photographed by Silverymoon Photography
If we saw more women over represented with swimwear brands in advertising perhaps we would all feel a lot more positive about our own bodies. One lady recently left a comment on my social media saying, "I will be 45 soon and I don't feel represented in anyway. I feel women in their forties are invisible". I hear these kind of comments from women all the time and it drives me mad that advertising is making us feel this way. That's my driving force in doing what I am doing.
River Island swimwear, model Rachel Peru, Silverymoon Photography
I think it's important to acknowledge I wasn't always this body confident, infact it has taken me until I reached my forties to feel this way. It's been a gradual process, gained by constantly challenging my insecurities and it's ongoing.
As a woman in her forties I still love to sit down and read fashion magazines and I'm guilty of losing hours shopping and browsing on line. I love fashion and that includes admiring and buying nice underwear. I am a 34FF bra size so that in its self limits my accessibility, although there are so many more brands doing my size fashionably now. However what I find completely demoralising as a shopper is that they are always modelled on young, fresh faced models who look stunning with their youthful bodies. But trying to imagine what I might look like in my 48 year old body compared to the image is never a positive comparison. Our body shape changes, are skin isn't as tight and firm as it used to be, I need more support up front!
But I can still look and feel good in the right lingerie without being constantly reminded that I am ageing. It does leave you with a feeling off being written off by the fashion industry and things need to change.
Lingerie set (XL) and dressing gown , Gifted from F&F Clothing. Photographer Mya Fawcett, MUA Emma Denton.
Whilst there are some very positive brands embracing this change such as Berlei, Panache and Lonely Label wouldn't it be nice if all brands got on board and didn't just see it as a quick PR eye catcher for individual campaigns but don't carry it through the rest of their website or advertising.
This Berlei campaign is the way forward and they are at the fore front of embracing all ages in their continued advertising. Wouldn't it be wonderful if we saw these kind of images every time we opened a magazine.
How amazing does this older model look for Lonely Label lingerie, I look at this photo and I can't help thinking that if we saw women of all ages we would be less insecure about growing older and it would help our self confidence and body positivity as we change through the decades.
Whilst I think this photo of 57 year old Julianne Moore modelling for Triumph is beautiful, I only hope they continue down this road in their ongoing branding and images. I want to be able to relate to the models in magazines and fashion branding ,please don't alienate us, after all we have money to spend and make up a high percentage of your sales!
Flick through any fashion magazine and you will notice a distinct lack of middle aged 40-50 year old models . Whilst it is wonderful to see the increase in older models such as the incredible 70 year old Maye Musk, the industry seems to be completely overlooking the middle aged bracket. Why are we so invisible to the high street fashion market? Especially when you consider that women over 50 make up 47% of the spending market. I want to be inspired when I open up magazines by women of my own age group that I can relate to and that reflect me, wearing high street modern fashion. We have money to spend and there is #nowrongage to express yourself through your clothes.
I love seeing so many inspiring women sharing their self confidence and helping others embrace their own bodies on social media and Instagram. It has made me stop and think about what being body positive actually means to me.
Whatever size we are, we all have our own journey with our bodies and when I look back at my own, I am finally able to accept and love my body, flaws and all. To reach this point is incredibly liberating and has increased my self confidence ten fold. I would never have had the confidence to have modelled like this when I was younger and whilst I think it has been a real shame to have wasted precious time feeling insecure in my own body, maybe this is all part of my journey and the time is right for me now.
Growing up I was always slightly chubbier than my friends at school and the size of my chest was an issue fairly early on! I do remember being called Chubby at secondary school, top that with 'specky four eyes' and its not a positive start. Don't get me wrong, I had amazing friends and enjoyed life but I do remember those feelings of not being good enough creeping in early on.
As a society we are so judgemental about looks and size; it is so unhealthy and makes me sad.
I have been what I would call 'thin' three to four times in my life, where people would tell me how great I looked now I'd lost weight, congratulating me on the 'achievement'. Once when I was a teenager after my parents got divorced, once when I got into a bad habit of making myself sick and when eating out caused me huge anxiety, once after breastfeeding and having no car so I walked literally every where (which I loved) and finally when I got divorced! Apart from one of these periods of life, the rest weren't very positive or good for my mental well being.
Fast forward to my twenties when I gave up my job and went to work as an au-pair for 6 months in Denmark aged 23. During those six months I learnt so much about myself, it was the first time I had left my home town and ventured out solo in life. I made new friends and ate too many Danish pastries washed down with plenty of beer. I came back home two stone heavier. But what has always stayed with me was sitting with a close member of family whilst they chatted on the phone discussing my return. The first comment made was about how much weight I had put on, not how well my trip had gone or things that I had experienced. At that moment I was so hurt and felt humiliated. My confidence took another tumble. How have we got to this point in society where we are so shallow that how we look defines us over our personality and life experiences?
Again in my thirties all dressed up in a black figure hugging wiggle dress for a special event I felt amazing. I went out feeling so confident and glamorous. During the course of the day a close male friend announced, in front of a line of other men that I scrubbed up well for a 'fat lass''. At that point I wanted the ground to swallow me up, I went bright red and went for a good cry in the toilets. Looking back, what actually makes me really cross is that everyone else's reaction to this was so unsupportive and I was the one that had an issue because I was 'too sensitive'. I can see clearly now that these comments were completely unnecessary and I allowed them to penetrate my own self belief when I am also sure they were forgotten about five minutes after they came out of their mouth. If only I had the inner confidence then that I have now! It is also worth noting I was a size 14 at the time which really highlights what a screwed up message people are still receiving, from the fashion industry and media, about the judgment and image of women, when the UK national average women is a size 16.
I strongly believe there is a need for more body positivity and self confidence building to be included in schools curriculum, because it is the next generations to come that have a real opportunity to change this mentality. Body activist Taryn Brumfitt's and her Body Image Movement, first started in Australia, is such a fantastic cause. If you haven't seen the Embrace documentary yet, I can highly recommend it, (finally available to buy in the UK on ITunes). I am proud to have become more involved with this and am looking forward to taking part in a live Q & A panel after a screening during York Fashion week on April 17th. Her mission is to make an Embrace education study guide, working alongside education and health specialists, accessible to all schools across the UK. The movement is already having a positive impact in schools around Australia. As a parent I would also recommend taking a look at Doves Self-Esteem Project www.dove.com
I honestly think there was not a single year between 20 to my late 30's where I didn't try a new diet at some point. Putting pressure on myself to achieve unrealistic goals, striving to feel like I 'fit in', loathing myself when I failed. It's such a vicious circle. In my late thirties I actually booked in for a breast reduction thinking this would make me feel better about myself, thank fully I didn't go through with it. It wasn't my bra size I needed to change but my mindset. I am also fully aware that my experiences will seem trivial to some women who will have experienced a lot worse, but I guess the point I am trying to make is that regardless of your size or sex or age , if you are size 0, 10, 16 or 20 we all have the right to love our bodies and society works hard to try and stop us.
Since turning forty there has been a huge transition in my own attitude and I no longer look to the scales for my self value. Two things have happened in my forties that have finally shifted the negative body image I had of myself. Firstly I embraced my natural grey hair, which I have managed since my teenage years and had every colour of the rainbow. I love my grey hair and would never change it now, it's part of me.
The second shift came in 2017, after volunteering to join a local photographer Mya Fawcett who organised a group of women to re create the Loose Women MyBodyMyStory photograph. 11 women, all strangers to me, stood in our underwear together, all different ages and sizes, all with their own body stories. I wanted to challenge myself, also I have three teenagers and I want them to be able to see their beauty and fill them with self love, challenging the medias portrayal of beauty by being a good role model. I walked out into the studio and immediatley went to my default programme of comparing myself to others and feeling very insecure.
This really hit home to me the fact that it doesn't matter what size you are, or how others may perceive you, its such a personal journey and all of equal value. A recent Dove global research report showed that ''80% of women agree that every woman has something about her that is beautiful, but do not see their own beauty''(https://www.dove.com/uk/stories/about-dove/our-research.html).
MyBodyMyStory with Loose Women
Following this photograph we ended up on Loose Women live in our underwear, since then nothing phases me! I have gone on to model swimwear with Ashley Graham and Swimsuitsforall, Lingerie for Panache and I am keen to continue flying the flag for the 40+ women in being body positive and embracing our years. Women in todays society are put under so much pressure from a young age to look a certain way, when in fact we should be embracing our individuality and judging others a lot less. I don't want to be written off because I am over forty and curvy, I'm just getting started!
Rachel Peru with Swimsuitsforall in the Bahamas.
Panache Lingerie 'I AM' campaign
Yes I have a large chest, my waist is a little bit wider than it used to be, my front teeth overlap, I wear varifocal glasses, I have cellulite and stretch marks. Shock, horror!
In the last ten years my body has got me through a 1/2 half marathon, 2 Great North Swims in Lake Windermere, cycling from London to Brighton, the 127 miles Leeds to Liverpool canal route and two sky dives. I am also immensely grateful that my body gave me three wonderful children, I am fit and healthy, loved and in love. I have a great smile and am a happy person loving life.
What do you love about yourself? Start that list.......
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