Guess what day it is? Wednesday! And you know that means? It’s time for the second installment of Re-Picturing Women Wednesdays (part of the Re-Picturing Women Project).
I am honored, delighted, and incredibly grateful to have our first guest post for the Re-Picturing Women Project by my fellow blogger and creative companion – Melissa Dowler co-founder of the Long Haul Project. Melissa is fabulous and I love, love, LOVE her ROAR project! Thanks for sharing, Melissa!
Guest Post and Photos by Melissa Dowler.
When she’s not stressing over her day job, Melissa Dowler is the co-founder of the marriage blog/documentary The Long Haul Project and video production company Long Haul Films.
I’m addicted to blogs: relationship blogs for my marriage project, marketing blogs for my day job, photography blogs for my hobby. But the blogs I’m most addicted to are fashion and lifestyle blogs. They are the ones I most hungrily anticipate and pore over for long stretches. These blogs all have a woman at the center, and I have a complicated relationship with them.
Who are these women? They have long, flicky hair and perfect skin. They sew the most fashionable, stylish dresses out of flannel shirts pulled out of dumpsters. They handwrite place cards and bake cupcakes for tea parties with their friends. They have totally supportive boyfriends/fiancés/husbands. They don’t seem to have “real” jobs-the kind that involve a rush hour commute and working in a cubicle for 12 hours a day- or if they do, they never mention it. They spend their days making jewelry, trawling the web for new design inspiration and styling photo shoots of their peppy, happy lives. They always look pretty. They rarely, if ever, complain.
I’m obsessed with their dreamy, storybook lives and lately, became aware that I’m trying to imitate them. Of course, it’s led to incredible feelings of inferiority: my apartment isn’t quirkily decorated enough, my wardrobe doesn’t have enough cute vintage finds, my handwriting is terrible and I really hate baking so I suggest going out for drinks rather than hosting tea parties. Plus, my hairdresser confirmed the other day that I will never, ever be able to grow Zooey Deschanel-inspired bangs.
So, when it came time to do a project for my photography class, I wanted to create a series of photos depicting something totally different from the type of idealized images that obsess me. I wanted to depict women I know who are amazing and strong. None of them are perfect or happy all of the time. They don’t have flawless wardrobes or ideal relationships. They struggle. They have achieved amazing things, and they have also tried and failed. They’re not always in good moods. They get stressed. If you told any of these women you view them as strong, they might be surprised.
In fact, every woman I photographed so far has expressed a struggle with the idea of seeing themselves as strong. Yet I see them that way, and am far more inspired by these real, “imperfect” women than the dream women of my blogs (and yes, in my rational mind, I know these blog women are just editing out the imperfect parts of their own lives).
That’s why for my project, I asked women to ROAR. They had to forget about looking pretty or cute. I wanted the women in my photographs to show their strength and fearlessness; and in that fearlessness, let other things out. Pain, frustration, uncertainty, even anger. Feelings that we as women are trained not to show, because it makes us look (or so we think) weak, out of control, ugly, flawed.
I’d like to share one of three ROAR shoots I’ve done, with a talented woman named Kaitlin Maud who is a social media strategist, designer and entrepreneur.
The shoot inspired a lot of conversation between Kaitlin and I, and led us to reveal many things to each other about our own journeys to become strong women. Here are a few thoughts that Kaitlin shared about ROAR.
How did it feel to roar? What was good about it, what was bad about it (if anything)?
At first, it felt silly, unnatural, and embarrassing. While I was actually IN my roar, it felt liberating and expressive. I remember saying to you that it felt nice to be heard. Everyone wants to be heard, I think, and I felt powerful.
What did the shoot make you think about?
The shoot made me think about myself… a lot. It made me analyze my own fears, comforts and pride. I had to look inside myself and find my voice, both literally and metaphorically. I was surprised at how self-conscious I was and how nervous I felt, because I don’t typically shy away from anything. It made me think a lot about my own strength and how/where I find it.
How do you think women are typically portrayed in photos, images, media? Does ROAR feel the same or different, and please explain how?
Well, for one, I don’t feel that women “like me” are ever really portrayed in media. My modeling experience was limited to art school friends and “alternative” photo shoots. Even in those cases there was an air of sex and provocation surrounding the images and in roar I almost felt like I was doing something “ugly.” Accepting that I would look “ugly” was difficult, but it meant more to me that I capture the concept of the photo in a way that was accurate… so I let go and just ROARED! It was an exercise for me to see the photos afterwards and let go of any judgment of my appearance, because the “typical media depiction” of women tends to make me critical when looking at images of myself.
What makes you feel strong as a woman?
Being content. I don’t think happiness is really a state of being, more an emotion… but being CONTENT… THAT makes me feel strong. Being content feels like… yes, I did it. I am here. I am strong. Being PRESENT feels strong- strong over mind and body. Feeling accomplished also makes me feel strong. Self respect and pride are also tied into strength. I don’t think there is anything outside of me that makes me feel strong.
How do you feel about expressing yourself strongly? Is it something you feel you do in your daily life?
I don’t feel like I do it in my daily life, no, but it’s not a conscious choice not to. It’s unnatural, I think, to assert oneself as a woman and be strong in our expression. It’s a practice I’d like to re-introduce to myself. I would like to be more aware and act more upon my own strength.
Anything else you want to add?
I think everyone needs to roar.
Thanks again for the post, Melissa, and sharing this strong part of yourself, Kaitlin — this fits the spirit of the Re-Picturing Women Project perfectly. Also, the backgrounds are truly priceless. There is something so delightful about having Centerfolds as a backdrop for strong women. Check out Melissa’s blog for other fabulous posts! If you are interested in contributing to the Re-Picturing Women Project, please contact me at sarah.gervais[at]gmail.com.