A young girl is shamed by her friends for not dressing “modestly” enough. A BYU student is chastised via note from a male student for wearing leggings. A BYU-Idaho student is not allowed to take a test because her jeans are “form fitting”. After hearing these stories and others in 2012, I threw up my hands in exasperation. What on earth is going on in this culture? I don’t remember it being like this when I was a child and teen growing up in the church. Why has the modesty culture of the LDS church gotten so extreme and what can we do about it?
Women around the world deal with objectification, body shame, and the burden of the male gaze. Mormon women have an added layer of complexity and heavy expectations: while being warned against becoming “walking pornography,” we also face immense pressure to be attractive and fit. We must both attract and protect against male desire. Even though Mormonism teaches us our destiny is to become like our embodied Heavenly Parents, the hyper-focus on modesty leaves many of us feeling disconnected and ambivalent about our bodies. Our sense of self can feel so eclipsed by the expectation to be a wife and mother that we no longer see our bodies as our own. Separated from our skin by layers of clothing, many Mormon women lose touch with the capabilities and power we innately possess. Mormon Women Bare seeks to empower women to reclaim our bodies. Through photography and personal narratives, women are seen as beautiful, flawed, vulnerable and real. Women of different shapes, sizes, and ages demonstrate that bodies need not bring shame but can be owned, celebrated, and honored.
In a previous project, I used photography to help normalize breastfeeding. I found that the more we see something, the more normal and less taboo it becomes. Knowing that images can be very powerful tools for change and being familiar with photographer Matt Blum’s The Nu Project, I was inspired to do something similar with Mormon women. I decided that including each woman’s own words along with her photograph would help put the viewer in a position of empathy and compassion, instead of critique and objectification.
By showing women’s bodies as natural, normal, and diverse, I feel we can help combat the shame many women feel about our bodies. When we can see that most of the women around us are imperfect and yet so full of beauty, courage, and light, we begin to have more compassion for ourselves. In this project you will see women photographed in comfortable places, most often in their own home. Each woman exhibited some nerves as I began photographing her, but soon relaxed and settled into ease with her body. I was so humbled by their bravery and vulnerability. Many of them have expressed what an empowering experience being part of this project has been for them. My hope is that everyone who sees these images and reads these women’s stories will walk away having internalized the truth that women are more than bodies to be objectified or discounted, and more than their so-called “virtue”- they are whole and complex individuals of extraordinary capabilities and strength.
I am still photographing models to add to the series. If you are interested, particularly if you are a woman of color, over the age of 45, or have a unique story to tell, please contact me here.