"I wish I had known to surround myself with people who fall in love with my mind and my words."

 
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Aretha Brown

- Queer, Indigenous, Teenager

In terms of body image, feminism, being a woman, I haven’t really explored this yet. I walk into a room and people see my race first and foremost. Subsequently: womanhood, queerness or any other substance of my identity gets ignored.

I went to one of the local high schools in Nambucca heads where I was the majority. Amongst all my cousins, my crew family, body image was never a thing. In terms of beauty standards… who really gives a fuck. We all have curly hair, big beautiful noses. Big eyebrows. I was more exposed to it when I moved to Melbourne, but still didn’t think much about it. We don’t question it. If you’re indigenous, you’re indigenous, it doesn’t bother us. It’s white people that go, ‘Wow you’re very light-skinned.’ Or, ‘What are you?’ Or, ‘You’re very pretty for an Aboriginal.’ The worst thing is I can’t tell them that’s actually not okay to say, because it’s done with such good intent.



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In terms of positive representation, I remember when I was little I was watching rage on TV, and David Bowie’s ‘Let’s Dance’ came on. I saw mob on the TV for the first time ever and it was the happiest moment of my life. David Bowie saw the beauty of the mob. He could have had anyone in that video clip and he wanted us. In terms of good representation—that’s the pinnacle! When I do currently see myself represented it’s often not in the best light. It feels irrelevant as all subsets of my identity are not equally portrayed. Of course there are positive indigenous stories occurring. We’ve just been lead to believe there isn’t. At the moment, it’s seeing other mob on the street. That’s when I see myself reflected back. I love Footscray—Footscray Market is my favourite place in the world. It’s the only place in the west where I do see mob on the street. They give a little wave or a nod, and there’s an unsaid recognition and mutual respect when that happens that is so uplifting.

 

“I wish I had known that I was worthy of loving myself regardless of what the number on the scale said.”

 
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Sarah

Life coach, body acceptance advocate, feminist, writer.


I chose this photo because it was one of the final moments I felt worthy in my body. I look happy and carefree, unaware of the looming long-term battle with negative body image and an eating disorder. Puberty wasn’t unkind to me, but it brought with it some fairly noticeable changes to my body. My hips grew wider, my breasts started to develop and my butt and thighs got a bit bigger. Like many other teenagers, I was a little self-conscious of these changes but it wasn’t until the bullying started and then the entire relationship with my body changed.

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My body became the topic of choice for some of the boys in my year level who very creatively gave me the nickname ‘Thunder Thighs’. This name-calling, along with society’s expectations of the ideal female body, played a huge part in the way I felt about myself for a long time. Being bullied about my appearance was the start of my belief that bodies had to look a certain way to be accepted. From that moment, I truly believed that my worthiness was based on my weight and I constantly felt the pressure to look a certain way.  For many years after, I engaged in disordered eating habits and countless failed diets – it was a vicious cycle and only continued to negatively affect my body image. Reflecting back on that time is hard for me. To go back and see how much time and energy I wasted on trying to achieve the “perfect” body for external validation is heartbreaking. The moment I stopped seeking the approval of others was the moment I started to feel at peace within my body. Today and every day, my worth is no longer defined by what the numbers on the scale say.




 

“I wish I had known that in order to be beautiful you don’t have to conform to society's expectations.”

 
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Madii Oakley

Writer, explorer, questioner of all things.

“I think it began when I started realising myself as a woman—that I was attracted to other people and in return I wanted to BE attractive. I started taking notice of how I looked. Comparing myself to the people I saw on TV, in magazines and those around me. I realised that I didn’t necessarily fit into that regular beauty standard. Nobody ever explicitly told me I wasn’t good enough. I guess I came to that conclusion on my own: when the ads on TV are marketing products to clear your skin; the magazines are telling you new ways to lose weight. So, thinner must be better and smooth, poreless skin must be my ticket to happiness? If that's what these products are trying to achieve, then attaining that must be what’s deemed beautiful! I think what also made me conscious was growing up with an older sibling suffering with an eating disorder. To the outside world, my sister fitted the mould, but they didn’t realise the lengths it took to get there. How unhealthy she truly was. But I had a backstage pass, and if THAT’S what it took, I wasn't willing. Because even though she seemed to meet the beauty standards, she was still a lot unhappier than I was. It sounds simple now, but this was 7 years of realisations. And for the last 4 years I have been working on, and will continue to work on, being not only kinder, but more appreciative of what I possess: internally and externally. Travel has been a massive part of that lesson. Finding an identity outside of what you look like, and really loving, respecting and being proud of your accomplishments is one of the biggest tools to love what you see. Because you’re no longer only looking at the physical, but everything this body has helped you achieve.

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My latest love is adoring/embracing photos that aren’t the stereotypical ‘good’ photo. Not every photo is going to be a good one, and it doesn’t have to be, because you are so much more than a photo. So much more than what you look like. And THAT is beautiful.”    




 

"I wish I had known not to listen to other people’s comments about my body."

 
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Jasmine King Koi

Founder of ‘Her Pyramids’

"I’ve always been small. Now, when I look back at photos of my siblings and growing up we’re basically skin and bone despite eating until we were full at every meal. Being petite was just a result of my genetics. My relationship with food and my body image changed when I started dating my first boyfriend at sixteen. I used to dread having dinner with his family as they would endlessly mock me for the small portions of food that I ate. They called me “Sparrow.” I knew myself to always have a healthy relationship with my body, but their teasing brought on discomfort and anxiety. I’m sure they considered it harmless fun, but it made me conscious of my body and my food intake in a way I hadn’t been before. When the relationship ended, I packed up my life and moved to the other side of the world. I lived off comfort food and pastries. My active, healthy life was a distant memory and I began moving towards an unhealthy weight, but I think I wanted to prove to myself that it was okay and that I could do it.

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The word sparrow has haunted me. It was one of the main issues I spoke to my psychologist about. Today, ten years on, I am still working on disconnecting the link I created with food and anxiety. I now live an active lifestyle and my passion for food, especially cooking, has become a source of fulfilment and something I truly enjoy in my life. I may be small and petite, but I am strong: much stronger than I look. And that is something I am proud of."

 

"I wish I had known that having a creative outlet would lead to my self-acceptance."

 
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Zoe Milah

Puerto-Rican/American, woman & artist.

“As a little girl and as a teenager I struggled to figure out where I fitted in. I grew up in a very ‘mixed' household. Both of my parents are Puerto Rican but divorced and married white partners. I lived in predominantly white neighbourhoods and went to almost entirely white schools. I looked nothing like any of the people I was surrounded by. For most of my life I hadn’t really known anyone who looked like me. Even if I turned on the television, all I’d see were white people most of the time. This didn’t necessarily bother me as a child. My friends were white. Half of my family is white. I was able to relate just as well. However, I did feel like I was different and that my differences needed to be changed in order to fit in.

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Hair is a good example. I have very big, curly hair and as soon as I entered high school, I started straightening it almost every week. My boyfriend at the time said he preferred my hair straight so in my mind it made me more attractive. Straight hair made me stand out less and spared me from comments such as 'your hair is so frizzy!'. Straight hair was what this particular community was used to and it was a standard of beauty that I felt compelled to meet. Small things like this caused me anxiety and made me hyper focus on the way I looked. It wasn’t until I went to college and met people from all different backgrounds that I began to come into my own. Up until this point, I had been stagnant. My interests and hobbies were limited. My mind was consumed by very superficial thoughts and desires to be like everyone else. I’ve always been creative but I was too insecure to really delve into anything. The sense of freedom that came with being on my own and away from what I had known allowed me to flourish creatively and try new things. I learned how to play guitar. I began to study theatre and eventually began making art. I discovered that my differences could be celebrated and that they are special. I found that being creative and making art made me feel most connected to others. Art brought me peace and made me feel confident and proud. Art allowed me to have a voice. It allowed me to accept my brown, curly-haired Puerto Rican self because I realised that I am so much more than my outward appearance.”

To view Zoe’s art head to her Instagram account.

To follow the series on Instagram follow @iamjessanders.