These women are challenging beauty standards and shredding labels
As a young girl you think your body is your own. You wear it proudly to play, swim, jump, skip, and roll in the grass. Then something happens in girlhood, at an age too young, where your body is no longer yours. The forces of society take it from you, objectify it, sexualize it, and label it. And just like the women in this photoshoot, at some point in adulthood, you realize you need to take it back and reclaim it for yourself.
That’s the message behind the powerful photoshoot entitled, “Don’t Label Me.” As women and photographers, Abigail Spencer and Meg Bishop, co-owners of Salt and Light Photography in Grants Pass, Oregon, created a project to show how hurtful words can be, and that we are more than reductive labels.
The duo photographed seven women, of varying shapes, sizes, and struggles. They had the women write words they’ve been called on their skin. Words like “useless,” “crazy,” “slut,” “damaged,” “cripple” and “fat.”
“We have yet to have met a woman who is completely comfortable in her own skin and wouldn’t change a thing about herself. We’ve been called names, cat called, abused, sexualized, looked down upon and labeled because of our appearances,” they wrote on Facebook.
“Today, we want to say screw you to the contouring and spandex. To filters and tummy trimmers. To weight loss pills and push-up bras. To every horrible, uncomfortable, unrealistic standard of which we feel we have to live by. We are mothers, daughters, sisters, aunts and friends. We are women. We are strong. Unified. Bonded. We are unapologetically confident from here on out,” they write.
One of the participants, McKyla Crowder, was diagnosed with Vitiligo at age four. Vitiligo is a disorder that causes skin patches to turn white.
As she got older it progressed to the rest of her body in patches and that’s when the name-calling started.
“I tried everything I could to fit in. No matter what I did, it never seemed to be enough. I hated being unique and different. I would cringe when I was labeled as ‘spots,’ ‘cheetah,’ or ‘leopard,'” she says.
“Now I am happy to say that I love the skin I wear. And I wouldn’t be McKyla without it!”
Another participant, Cassie Giesbrecht, had just come around to the 11th anniversary of a car accident that changed her life.
As part of her growth, she’s had to transcend labels and even misconceptions of what a person using a wheelchair can or cannot do. Spoiler alert- they can do whatever they want, it just might have to be done in a different way.
“I’ve turned a lot of these obstacles into positives in my life because I enjoy being different. I want to turn the label of handicapped into handicapable,” Cassie says.
Doctors told her she’d never walk again, so she found other ways to accomplish her dreams. Doctors told her she couldn’t have babies. She has three children.
“I have three sons with my oldest being six years old and it was a whole new obstacle and challenge being a mother in a wheelchair. Although the blessing in this is that I get to expose my children to a new and different world. They are not afraid of being different or those who are different. I have endless blessings in my life. I’m rich beyond belief!” Cassie exclaims.
Anja Crawford dealt with hurtful labels such as “fat girl” and “fat bitch” as a young woman. People told her she had a pretty face and she’d look “so much prettier if she lost weight.” She would vent and cry to her mother at times because why couldn’t she just be pretty as a whole person, all of her?
The most disturbing label is that she’s been called was ‘the N-word.’ She was raised in a biracial family and said she felt prepared for it on some level, but it’s impossible to fully prepare for this vile insult. She’s trying hard to let these words roll off her.
“But no matter what people say I will always love myself first,” Anja says.
Melissa Bowers was bullied severely as a child for the way she dressed. Her peers had no idea her dad was working three jobs to put food on the table. The only clothes they could afford came from the thrift store. At 15, suffering from severe depression she tried to take her own life. Following that was more depression and struggles with anorexia.
Though Bowers still struggles at times, she’s committed to rising above it.
“I’m involved in this movement to show that no matter how you grew up, or what you look like, or what you are labeled… you can overcome those obstacles,” she says.
Participant Candice Constantin has survived physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. These traumas led to depression, self-harm, and eating disorders.
“I am fat. This is the first thing you will know when you look at me. I am not curvy or chubby, I am fat. What you won’t know is that is just a label and not who I really am,” she says.
“I am intelligent, creative, loving, involved. I am a mother. I have been through a lot of things that have tore me down and left me damaged, made me feel like I was worth nothing and would be nothing. Here I am though, I have survived.”
After the women were photographed individually and as a group with their painted black words, they smeared them. The labels of their body were banished and turned into pieces of beautiful, glittery art. Aimee Griggs put her dad in jail when she was 13. While she won’t verbalize what he did, she says her mother believed her and left her father. She’s now reached a place of forgiveness as she believes that’s the best way to live for herself.
There are so many beautiful photos of vulnerability, rawness, and strength in this project. The photographers, Spencer and Bishop, say they were inspired by their own experiences.
“On our way driving home from a photo session, we were talking, how most best friends do, about how we struggle with our self-image and how things that people have said to us, or labeled us, are hurtful and we can remember vividly being called things clear back to grade school,” they tell Scary Mommy.
“One thing led to another and as the conversation continued we came up with the image of ‘Don’t Label Me’ as a way to help EVERY woman feel beautiful and hopefully break the mold of the stereotypical skinny/curvy/contoured woman being the only ‘beautiful.'”
They hope their message becomes an integral part of the movement towards more self-love and unconditional acceptance.
“Here’s to being real, vulnerable, unedited and raw,” they write on Facebook. “The ‘fat.’ The ‘skinny.’ The black.’ The ‘white.’ The ‘in between.’ The ‘slut.’ The ‘crippled.’ The ‘bad mom.’ The ‘different.’
“Here’s to us being us, so ‘DON’T LABEL ME.”