Ali | Providence, RI
Images by Lisa Gendron
"I felt incredibly empowered and uplifted by this experience. I was worried I would feel even more like a victim, like I am damaged, but instead I felt the opposite -- whole and complete, wonderful and beautiful."
"My body has been the subject of much shame and self-hatred for most of my life. I always felt I was too homely, my stomach too fat, my face too lumpy, my hair too frizzy and big. Being a survivor of physical and sexual abuse left me wanting to reject the body that had experienced so much hurt and pain. I struggled to find even a glimmer of self-acceptance, and spent many years hiding or harming my body in various ways. I always felt like a victim -- of myself, of others -- and felt inhibited and anxious.
When I lost my breasts to cancer, I felt a part of me open up. I had to start to accept a new version of myself, a new body that looked and functioned differently. Not only did I look different than the “old me,” but I looked different than virtually every woman around me. The breasts that fed my child were gone and I grieved, and still grieve, their loss, the loss of their function, the loss of social acceptance, the loss of fitting into society’s definition of beauty. With that grief came a strange kind of healing. I felt less scared and more self-confident -- nothing else could harm me or bring me down. I had already survived it all, virtually every bad thing that could happen to someone.
n many ways, although I am still adjusting to the image in the mirror, I feel like my external image better reflects my internal image of myself. I know I am not supposed to say that, that it might somehow make me seem less of a woman, less beautiful, less feminine, to admit that with the sadness of losing my breasts also came a certain freedom and strength. I have survived more in my 31 years than most people go through in a lifetime, and my body reflects that in both obvious and subtle ways, and I was both in awe of and distressed by it.
I want to be able to accept my body as it is, with all its lumps and bumps and scars and fat and imperfections. I want to feel confident in my own skin, recognizing that no one looks “perfect” nor should they, and I want to feel the same acceptance of myself that I feel for others. I believe that our differences -- physical, emotional, spiritual -- should be loved and celebrated, yet so many times in my life I’ve wanted to reject myself for not fitting some ideal. I would like to love the body I’m in for the things it can do, for the suffering it has overcome, for the beauty within. I believe that with this self-confidence comes energy, vitality, happiness, and peace.
During the photo session I felt a transformation, from shy and self-conscious to more open and stronger. I felt incredibly empowered and uplifted by this experience. I was worried I would feel even more like a victim, like I am damaged, but instead I felt the opposite -- whole and complete, wonderful and beautiful. And it was fun! I don’t think think I’ve ever enjoyed being in my own body; I think the photo session was one of the first times in my life I felt both inner and outer beauty.
Looking at the pictures now is a powerful experience. When I see pictures of myself, I usually focus on problem areas of my body, on my imperfections. In these photos I can look past all of that. I feel like I can see what others say they see in me. Lisa has captured my essence -- an essence I didn’t believe was visible, or perhaps never allowed myself to show. I can see my strength and my spirit and my courage and my heart and my peace. I am a strong survivor and I am alive and I can see life within me and I am so very grateful for this life and this body."
Images of Ali by Lisa Gendron.