"Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful,
We must carry it with us or we will find it not."
~Ralph Waldo Emerson
Women on the Wall is a term I use to describe my personal attempt in helping women of all ages, sizes, and cultures to realize the importance of having their portrait taken and displayed on the walls of their homes.
For over 25 years as a portrait photographer I have witnessed the reluctance and fear exhibited by women as they contemplate the idea of being in front of a camera, and the shame and embarrassment of hanging their own portraits on the walls of their homes. These observations have led me on a campaign to help honor, liberate and empower women through the art of portraiture by emphasizing the values of our portrait legacies, realizing the therapeutic benefits of facing the camera, and being confident enough to serve as a role model for future generations of women.
The Women on the Wall campaign has become important to me because of the death of my mother. She suffered from poor body image, and, unfortunately and tragically, the self-loathing of her body ultimately ended her life early. By not adhering to her annual gynecological exam schedule, my mother's vulvar cancer grew to stage four before she saw a doctor. I remember the doctor telling me she was in denial and disconnected from her body because the tumor was the size of a grapefruit. I love my mother dearly, and her traumatic death, in part, has inspired me to help other women to love their bodies.
Be Bold. Stand With Me as We Redefine Beauty Standards
It seems every woman I know has something to say about how hard it is to be in front of a camera, let alone having her portrait displayed on the wall of her home. In exploring the reasons for this reluctance, I have come to the conclusion that it is primarily based on Western Civilization's idea of what is beautiful, and how women have come to adhere to these standards instead of staying connected to their own internal wisdom.
(For more on the history of women's portraiture refer to my thesis: Ecofemography: Photographing Women in Nature and the Inward Movement of Beauty).
Unfortunately, today, the unrealistic ideals still exist. Consider how powerful and influential visual images are to women and their senses of self (body image and self-esteem included) if vision accounts for 80% of the sensory information that the brain records.
Is it any wonder that women are dissatisfied with the way they look, especially after the news and print media bombards them with female images so seemingly unattainable? Is it any wonder that the lack of daily variety in the female body images with which we are presented causes emotional inflexibility in our acceptance of physical variances?Click here to contact Robin.
If we cannot convince media teams to understand the negative impact of projecting unrealistic and unattainable female images to the world, then let us instead outnumber their images with images of our own that speak of truth and authentic embodied life.
Making changes to our thought processes will require direct, conscious, concentrated effort on the desired outcome; how else do we re-program? How else do we undo the circuit board that has been unconsciously built within us than by consciously re-wiring it? It takes years of repeating a new thought, or visual, for it to become a permanent pathway in our brain.
I propose that every woman place her portrait on a wall in her home to honor her matriarchal lineage. It will liberate her and also serve as a testament to who she is and, ultimately, empower future generations of women. Having our portraits in plain view on a consistent basis will help imprint self-images that are attainable, so we can begin to shift our internal reference point from media-created to personally-inspired. We can reconstruct what the media is telling us is beautiful, and begin to create our own standards of beauty referenced through our own portraits! By performing this courageous act we also raise the female energy in the world, which is so critical to our survival as a species.
I am reminded of the lack of photographs of my mother, and how I will never have the opportunity to capture her spirit on film again. Perhaps this is where my own body image issues originate: the legacy unknowingly left behind by my mother as she lived the ideas she had absorbed from society about what was beautiful and good.
Now, you and I face the challenge of breaking down these ideals, so that we might help ourselves overcome negative body image - and thereby leave a positive legacy for our daughters and future generations of women. I wrote the following poem in honor of my mother:
My Skin is Her Skin
My skin is her skin.
Every day I look and feel more like my mother.
I am her.
For the legacy of women is as thick as blood.
The blood that seeps and weeps through our benevolent bodies,
Carrying the wisdom of all the women who came before us.
How can I, then, deny this body?
I long for my mother's gaze upon me,
With eyes that spoke of unconditional devotion,
Teaching me a silent language.
Her portrait brings me home again,
Ah yes, I recognize those identical lines on my own face.
My skin is her skin.
She is beautiful. I am beautiful. All is as it should be.
Betty, Robin and Samantha