‘Underneath We Are Women’ exorcises body shaming and ushers in a ‘love your body’ mantra.
“You’d be a lot hotter if you worked out more.” That’s what a guy once said to me on a date (our first and only). I’d been teased plenty before and had a fair share of critical remarks about my appearance thrown my way, but that comment still haunts me today. It shouldn’t, because there was nothing wrong with my body then, and there isn’t now. There’s no excuse for body shaming. The aforementioned incident isn’t the only time a man has been the critic; shockingly, more often it’s a woman. I’m not alone, as women across the globe experience this type of treatment every day, at every age. We can blame the media and fashion industry, but when it comes down to it, we have the power to change the dialogue and create an accepting, “love your body” society. Amy Herrmann’s upcoming book, Underneath We Are Women, aims to do just that with its body-positive message by showcasing the female form through photography in all its (im)perfect glory.
A Private Experiment Becomes Much More
Herrmann did not set out to create a book focused on the beauty of women’s bodies. She just enlisted four of her close friends to come into the studio and be photographed in their underwear to create images that resembled a lingerie campaign “with a little twist” — that is, sans Photoshopping. “Of course, they all jumped at the opportunity. I mean, what woman doesn’t want to bare all for the camera? No, in all honesty I had to beg and bribe each of them,” Herrmann told Crixeo.
Each of the women was given the full treatment: hair, makeup, music and the opportunity to be photographed by a professional. Herrmann did not expect that it would change their lives, but it did. “They came into the studio that day quiet, shy and uncomfortable with their bodies. What happened in the space of about 40 minutes was truly amazing. I can’t tell you what was going on in their minds, but what I can tell you is the physical change I saw in each of my friends.”
Each woman’s face lit up when she saw her images, Herrmann said. “Their comments empowered one another, and they began to see themselves in a way they hadn’t before. These photographs were literally showing their inner beauty.”
Herrmann expressed the desire “to help others see their own inner beauty captured in a photograph.” Before she took the leap to create a campaign that encompasses a “love your body” mantra, she shared the photographs on social media. “The response was overwhelmingly positive,” Herrmann said. Women began messaging her, asking to be photographed. This not-a-project organically became one, and Herrmann set up a website for Underneath We Are Women, started social media accounts and later launched a Kickstarter campaign to help fund the book. The campaign raised more than $24,000. She included a registration section for women, and over 300 applied within the first week. Now over 1,000 women from around the world have applied.
In order for Underneath We Are Women to be successful, Herrmann had to “photograph as much diversity” in both the physical appearance of women’s bodies and their backstories as she could. “This book is an opportunity to educate people on the diversity and power of women and their bodies… Women have lost autonomy over their bodies in this world. We are constantly criticized, policed and judged for our choices in what we do with our bodies and how they look,” she said. The project “gives women a voice, a platform in which they have the chance to regain autonomy of their bodies and tell their story and experiences in a way that is authentically their own.”
Herrmann’s goal is to “tell untold stories and photograph unseen bodies” in an effort to help participants and others of any gender. The “love your body” concept is in line with her work at university, where she specialized in photography and focusing on taboo topics surrounding women’s bodies. It was a deeply personal study, with a strong focus on the changes her body was undergoing during pregnancy and postpartum. “I became interested in images of bodies that were considered taboo in mainstream media,” Herrmann said. “Turns out, most bodies are considered taboo! I wanted to change that!” Underneath We Are Women can do just that, and the women who participate have to be brave because they get three choices for their photograph: nude, partially nude or in underwear or lingerie. “The choice is left completely in their hands,” Herrmann said. She finds their decision often reflects their personality, “which is beautiful in itself.”
Initially only 10 women were to be photographed for the book, which Herrmann now finds ridiculous. “Ten women to showcase diversity? What was I thinking?” There will now be 100, but she finds even that number may not be enough. “Literally every single one of us is different from the next. How could I possibly show them all? But what I can do, and what I aim to do, is find the ‘unseen’ women and the untold stories. This, I can do.”
Herrmann hopes the book will help change society’s views of women’s bodies: “I want people to accept that women have a right to choose when it comes to their bodies. It is theirs. Our bodies’ primary aim is to carry us through this life. Our aim is not to replicate one single — and often, thanks to Photoshop, completely unattainable — body. This is the world we live in, apparently: a world where women are told what to wear, how to wear it and what body type you should have to be ‘able’ to wear it.”
It’s time for a change.
Children, Love Your Body
Growing up, Herrmann wasn’t exactly exposed to body-positive images of women, but she knows how beneficial her book can be to a child. “I know firsthand the value that visibility can bring to a child. Unfortunately, I wasn’t granted this opportunity,” she said. “I didn’t see images of confident women. I didn’t see images of proud women. I didn’t see women with body hair or in wheelchairs. I didn’t read stories of women who’d overcome eating disorders or survived cancer. I didn’t know that a fat woman could be happy with her body. How crazy is that?”
Underneath We Are Women will “give children the opportunity to understand all the different ways in which a woman can have a body and move through this life. It will show them that no matter their appearance or life experiences, they have the ability to be proud of themselves and supporting and, most of all, accepting of those around them.”
Underneath We Are Women presents enormous potential for universal change and acceptance, but its success will depend on how we use its message to confront body shaming. All women are beautiful, and our uniqueness makes us special and should be embraced, battle scars and all. So love your body, and spread body positivity proudly.