With award-winning photographer Substantia Jones of The Adipositivity Project and Manchester-based photographer Paddy McClave, Bustle is launching A Body Project. A Body Project aims to shed light on the reality that "body positivity" is not a button that, once pressed, will free an individual from being influenced or judged by toxic societal beauty standards. Even the most confident of humans has at least one body part that they struggle with. By bringing together self-identified body positive advocates, all of whom have experienced marginalization for their weight, race, gender identity, ability, sexuality, or otherwise, we hope to remind folks that it's OK to not feel confident 100 percent of the time, about 100 percent of your body. But that's no reason to stop trying.
Isha Reid, the blogger behind An Autumn's Grace, radiates warmth. Her kindness is almost startling: A rarity with the potential to catch one entirely off guard. Everything about her aesthetic — from the vintage-inspired dresses she wears to the soft red lipstick on her pout — somehow makes one feel at home. To think that a human so simultaneously confident yet humble could have ever felt completely ill at ease within herself is an uncomfortable thought. Yet Reid is no stranger to body hangups, particularly regarding her visage.
"My face is always on show, so seeing my features and knowing they don't fit certain aesthetics deemed desirable" has been the most difficult aspect of self-acceptance for the blogger, writer, and photographer, she tells Bustle. Her "darker skin, overhanding forehead, broad nose, fuller lips, small eyes, and round chubby face" all set her apart from the (mostly white, mostly thin) people who've been around her ever since pre-school. That included the Disney princesses, of course: Figures so many little girls are introduced to at a very young age and taught to emulate. "Seeing the princesses be white, slim, have big expressive eyes, an oval face, and a slim nose did nothing but give me the message that the way I looked wasn't acceptable," she adds.
Growing up in London, these Eurocentric beauty standards permeated all aspects of Reid's life. Mainstream media perpetuated the notion that feminine "beauty" is predominently white, symmetrical, and petite. Billboards and advertisements and brand imagery around the city suggested very much the same. "When you're younger, it's harder to filter and choose what you take in, which is why it's so important that parents, guardians, and communities in general [...] reinforce the need to reject society's narrow-minded, non-inclusive, detrimental vision of how bodies should look," she tells Bustle.
Before she started school as a child, Reid wasn't particularly cognizant of the fact that her skin wasn't fair, or that her nose wasn't especially dainty, or that her body was round. "I was always with family, so there was never anything overly different in our appearances," she remembers. "Joining nursery was when I really saw how my facial features differed from those around me."
Feeling othered for her facial features, for her body's size, and for the color of her skin all led to an eight or nine-year-old Reid contemplating plastic surgery to "fix" her nose, which felt like the centerpiece of an unacceptable canvas. "Instead of just enjoying being me and climbing trees, I was making plans to have surgery on something that was perfect all along," she muses. It's a thought that saddens her to think back upon — this idea that narratives of beauty can affect us from such a young age. But she quickly bounces back, remembering the beginning of her turning point.
"A ray of light came at university," Reid tells Bustle. "People at university were so unapologetic and really seemed to have a better, healthier mindset regarding their bodies and sexuality [...] It was then when I realized there was an alternative [way to live], but it still took a few years down the line for me to understand that I wanted the alternative for myself, too."
There's a lot to be said for physically separating oneself from toxic environments: For moving into spaces where you size or race or features don't lead to condemnation. But if such removal is not always logistically doable, there are ways to start reevaluating your perspectives on body image and self-love from home.
Reid, for instance, sought out blogs and forums like Live Journal. She also suggests that anyone struggling to accept their appearance read as much fat and body positive content as possible. "Whether you are all about the aesthetics, all about the politics, or somewhere in between, there is something out there for you," she says. "Get online. Head to a library. Subscribe to podcasts. Arrange meet-ups. Soak in all the positive messages and wrap yourself in good vibes."
But there's also photography. If so much of the imagery we're consuming in this world reifies beauty standards (Eurocentric or otherwise), we must put in the effort to curate pictures that deconstruct all the BS. "We need images of ourselves in order to break down the supposed ideals of what you should look like or whether or not you should be accepted," Reid says. "Owning every inch of yourself and having and sharing photos of yourself and others on their journey is the best and biggest middle finger."
Taking honest images of herself, and allowing others to do the same, has been crucial for Reid's own journey. When entering the shoot with Paddy McClave, for example, she felt "excited to take photographs that a few years ago I would have felt too self-conscious about." Back in the day, allowing photographic evidence of the features she hated to exist would've terrified the hell out of her. Now, she revels in the intricacies of that same face. She can look in the mirror and smile. She can experience the joy of playing with makeup to enhance one's features rather than hide them. "It feels good," she says. "More than good. It feels euphoric."
Although Reid acknowledges how difficult it can be to train yourself to love a body or a face or a feature you've been conditioned to believe is "flawed," she cannot downplay the benefits of trying.
"We need to shout louder [than the haters] and we need to be demanding rather than self-deprecating," she says." We have to challenge society and have the audacity to ask for something a simple as to be treated as human beings. We have more power than we think and now is the time to use it."
Now is the time to stop hiding. Stop apologizing. And start living.