Vanity Is Not A Four Letter Word
Society makes image everything.
The image you project defines you, your body, your clothes, your social media presence, your voice, name, job, income, the objects you own, and the people you surround yourself with. All of these are viewed through a narrow lens by society. We are constantly judged and categorized by all of these things, like a credit score but for our societal worth.
I am fat.
I have been fat nearly all my life.
Fat is a title, a sentence, that for most of my life plagued me, hung over my head like a cloud. A title that I did everything to deny and to hide from, and when that was not possible I let the word blanket me in shame, tried to fight it with self deprecation, to fat shame myself in an attempt to beat everyone else to the punchline. It has taken me the better part of a decade to be able to reclaim that word. To remove the power it had over me and to fill it with my own power. The way in which I did this most significantly was through photography. Discovering photography changed my life in many ways. It offered me passion at a time when I felt my life had no meaning, and that creating something in this world was not something I was meant to do. It provided a window into my own life, a way to see myself without the stigma and self hatred I had carried for so long. We see our own bodies in very few ways. Through our eyes; our arms, hands, torso, etc, but distorted, elongated, not as other see us. In mirrors, in reverse, and often in rooms and light that in no way resembles where we spend any real time. In photos, and through photography an infinite number of ways to see ourselves is awaken, and when you take your own hand and guide a photograph of yourself into being there is a recursive energy that opens new gates of thought and introspection, and it is magical. Representation matters, something that cannot be overstated. For me, being able to create photographs of fat bodies, my fat body, utterly changed my vision of myself. My body has so much worth, beauty, and power. I had to learn these lessons by myself, I feel very lucky to have stumbled into self portraiture at a time when smartphones were nascent technology, front facing cameras didn't exist, and no one had heard the word selfie. Today things are different, for every article decrying the vanity of youth and their endless gratuitous self portraits, there are people millions of people discovering how to love their faces, their bodies. An idea so radical that it seems silly. That we could have a generation growing up to embrace their differences, that they might all see bodies like theirs, and bodies dissimilar to theirs, and seem them as equal and worthy of being. I wouldn't trade that for anything. Everyone can and should be able to open that front camera accidentally from some unflattering angle and smile. Vanity is not a four letter word.
Written By: John Savoia