This feature, you will notice, deviates from the other articles in this issue and of Salient’s oeuvre—it is a photo-essay, of a sort, and should be interpreted as such first and foremost. However, the terrain of bodies, and especially the way they intersect with issues of sexualisation, commodification, shame, self-doubt, make them fraught territory to document. A brief introduction is necessary, and not only because I’m rather partial to bloviating preamble.
My intentions are that these photographs will explore (and hopefully encourage) body positivity by showcasing bodies as they are: no retouching, a shitty lo-fi iPhone, participants both willing and wonderful, shot in poses chosen by them that accentuated either their favourite or least favourite bits ‘n’ bobs. Which is to say: the people in the photos are nekkid. Gather your pearls for clutching accordingly.
The photographs are not intended to be pornographic or arousing, nor vile or inappropriate—like bodies, they just are, and it is my hope that when you affix your conceptions onto these photos you do not denigrate the people involved, or turn the photos into something more salacious than they need be.
Because that’s the thing: bodies aren’t just bodies, they’re complexes waiting to happen. I can guarantee with 99.9(recurring) per cent accuracy that everyone reading this will be disappointed with their body in some way, shape (ha!), or form. They aren’t just corporeal flesh-prisons that your essential self happens to inhabit. Our biologies have been transformed into both destinies and markers.
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If you are born with a penis you have the destiny of “masculinity” imprinted on you, your dick becoming a kind of branding. You’ll need to be emotionally cock-sure, strong, aloof, better. If you’re born with a vulva then you have it even worse; prim femininity and, simultaneously, sex appeal are demanded of you from day one, and as media saturate us with unachievable ideals it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. And if you’re born intersex? You’re destined to have this identity erased and vivisected from you purely because you don’t conform to a socially established sexual binary.
Is it any wonder that according to one survey only three per cent of people are “happy with their bodies”? That body-image related disorders are both a) on the rise and b) disproportionately affect people who identify as female more than male (Feminism was right again! Coincidence???). That people don’t like talking about the “gross” things that bodies do, like menstruation and defecation and heavy sweating and involuntary expectoration, and that this fear of an “imperfect”, purely biological body is proven to be one of the reason Crohn’s, AUB, and Bowel Cancer go undiagnosed?
Fuck that. Here are bodies, as they are, no fuss or muss, bepubed and wobbly and asymmetrical. They are also absolutely. Fucking. Gorgeous.
This is in many ways more their article than mine, and I am exceedingly grateful to each of them. I am also thrilled at the diversity of bodies on display; we have varied colour pigments, genitalia and gender, including an AFAB Trans Male.
Our bodies come with expectations kneaded in, but that doesn’t mean we have to express those demands. We can, quite literally, be more than the sum of our parts without foregoing the love of our bodies. Go well. Love yourself. Even ur butthole is beautiful.
I would like to explain that this project was published only after the assent of The VUW Women’s Group—especially Chrissy Brown, who went above and beyond the call of duty—and UniQ representatives. I would like to offer my sincerest gratitude to them, as well as to the contributors involved for baring their bods and souls. Without them, this “spread” (sorry) wouldn’t have been possible; if they identify themselves to you, buy them a beer yeah?
Photography by Philip McSweeney, ur mum, Harriet Robinson
Concept by Philip McSweeney