It is still a sad reality of today that women are made to feel insecure and unworthy in relation to the "perfect" image of the female form. Unrealistic and damaging standards are set and celebrated within the media, resulting in anxiety and damaging mental health for women across the world. Photographer Fanny Beckman has made it her mission to break down these unhealthy and absurd standards by championing the female form in all her diverse, wonderful, beautiful variations. Her ongoing series 'Women of My Generation' is raw, real and a refreshing example of how, through females working together, we can start to uphold our own beauty standards.
How did the initial idea of the project come to you? Being a young woman myself, I know how much impact media has on body image and self-esteem. After discussions with my friends, I realized we share similar experiences and we were all fed up with beauty standards. I decided to question this norm, the fact that these beauty standards are nearly impossible to achieve. The norm has changed throughout different centuries, but it is never inclusive, which means that there are always millions of women who can’t identify and as a result, lots of women suffer from eating disorders and lack of confidence. For the last 10 years, I have used my passion for photography to highlight different social injustices. and for about a year now I have dedicated numerous weekends capturing lots of women in their bedrooms.
Was it easy to find women who were willing to be photographed/did you know them already? I made a post on Instagram and was overwhelmed by the amount of women who wanted to take part. I knew most of them before the shoots, but I have also been invited to total strangers’ houses. I am forever grateful for the trust they have in me and my work, to invite me to their safe spaces and letting me capture them in their underwear. I have also been told that some of them have found me through a Facebook group for women of colour. My aim has always been to photograph women who are underrepresented in mainstream media, and was therefore very glad that someone posted about my project in this group. Word of mouth and friendships seem to have worked in my favour as well :)
You captured these women in their underwear, sitting on their beds. What were the reasons for these creative decisions?
The norm has changed throughout different centuries, but it is never inclusive, which means that there are always millions of women who can’t identify
We rarely see women sitting down in fashion photos for example, and if we do it’s always a certain body type. Models are usually very aware of their “good angles”, or instructed to pose a certain way, which makes them look smaller. They are usually portrayed from an angle slightly above their face, to make them look smaller, which is also something I’m working against. I always sit on the floor, worshipping my models who sit above me in their beds haha. That way they look more powerful and they take ownership of their bodies which I love. I chose to capture them in their own bedrooms since it is such an intimate shoot and I want them to feel as comfortable as possible.
How did you find this experience as the photographer, did you feel a sense of responsibility for helping the women feel relaxed and confident? I feel a massive responsibility every time! I have always said that the series is not just a visual project, it is just as much about the conversations “behind the scenes”. During these intimate shoots, I get to hear lots of stories and the women share their own experiences of potential disordered eating, how they gained confidence or how they are planning to gain confidence. When I started this project I thought it was going to be only very confident people who wanted to take part, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. Most of them do it to challenge themselves and it is a step in the right direction towards a healthier relationship to their bodies.
It’s all about comfort and proving that you don’t have to make an effort to be beautiful.
I always make sure to have plenty of time before I actually take out my camera, to talk about completely different things and to establish trust. Sometimes we speak for an hour or two before I raise my camera, and sometimes I take breaks in between to have a little chat, especially if I notice that the model is feeling nervous or anxious. Another trick I use is that I always let them choose music they find either calming or empowering. I’ve had everything from soul, to heavy metal and 90s Pop. It’s amazing! Women of My Generation has also just launched as a podcast. Since I want everyone to hear the amazing stories I have heard, it is now a multimedia project where I invite some of my models as guests to talk about body image and feminism.
Did a sense of sexuality come into play when you were asking these women to pose just in their underwear?
No, that has never happened. Quite the opposite, lots of women have said that they’ve made a conscious decision not to wear underwear that is “too sexy”. It’s all about comfort and proving that you don’t have to make an effort to be beautiful. Sometimes you want that little extra, but it’s not a must.
Many people enjoy taking highly sexualised images of themselves in their underwear – do you have an opinion about how this may be affecting women’s sense of confidence (either as a positive or a negative).
I find this one quite tricky. It’s all about context and gaze. During my studies in both Fine Art Photography and Media and Communications, I studied lots of editorial content and questioned the male gaze. The viewer always have to ask themselves what decisions have been made, who has taken the photo/who is the client and what is the purpose behind the photo? There are still lots of countries that have ads for car washing with nude women for example, which is wrong on so many levels (1. It has nothing to do with the product, 2. It states that it’s only people who are attracted to women who wash cars, 3. Who washes a car naked?!) and implies that there is a strong male gaze.
Second-wave feminists questioned pornography and objectification. The photos that were causing anger in the 80s, have now returned on social media but by new artists - the women themselves... But has the audience/gaze changed?
Now you might think that this has nothing to do with women taking selfies, but I’m arguing that the society we live in affects how we view ourselves. In these instances it could be worth asking yourself why you are taking these sexualised images, and if you publish them - who do you post it for? Is it for validation - and more specifically - for male validation? Or do you do it simply because you are really proud of your body and don’t care if anyone else likes it? Either way, I’m sure it is a massive confidence boost at the time. But for it to be a long-term solution, you have to ask yourself why you are doing it, and if you are not happy with your answer, to seek other/more solutions. We live in an interesting time. Second-wave feminists questioned pornography, and objectification has always been a big no-no. It still is to most of us, but the photos that were causing anger in the 80s, have now returned on social media but by new artists - the women themselves. They are now taking ownership of their bodies, and publish them on their own terms. But has the audience/gaze changed? I don’t have an answer, but I think it is a very interesting discussion and a very important topic to raise. For a less philosophical answer: if you enjoy the feeling of taking photos of yourself in underwear - go for it!
You discuss eating disorders and the negative impact media has on female body positivity. What has been your own personal experience with your body and feeling confident in your own skin?
I had a problematic relationship with my body at an early age. Unfortunately, I don’t know many people, especially girls, who don’t share this experience. We live in a society where beauty is prioritised and whoever doesn’t fit the norm is often left unhappy. My body has changed a lot throughout the years, depending on how much I’ve exercised, puberty, if I’ve been stressed etc. One thing that I have learnt is that no matter what body shape I have been in, there has always been something that I’ve disliked. I’ve also realised that my appearance hasn’t defined my happiness.
I’ve learnt to accept my body and to be grateful that I am healthy and smart and that I have more important stuff to think about than my looks
The norm is incredibly narrow which makes people feeling too tall, too short, too fat, too skinny, way too small breast, way too big breasts etc. The list can go on and on. I’ve learnt to accept my body and to be grateful that I am healthy and smart and that I have more important stuff to think about than my looks. Sometimes those rational thoughts are easier said than done though, depending on mental wellbeing and if there is anything else in life I struggle with. But overall, I feel very confident and grateful for my body.
What other changes do you feel need to happen to encourage a sense of confidence in women?
There are definitely changes in the making at the moment. Companies have started to use more diverse bodies to promote their products. What’s important now is to avoid it being just a trend, and going back to toxic beauty standards next year. Companies need to stop making profit of women’s insecurities, by either only providing one body type or selling products that imply that women need to change their bodies (i.e. diet products etc). I genuinely believe that showing diversity in ads, TV, on the catwalk etc would have a massive impact on women’s confidence. And by talking openly about our issues (without just talking badly about ourselves - but actually problematise the culture we live in) we can put pressure on these companies to make these changes. Try to stop buying products from companies with bad morals, and we can thereby show that we’ve had enough. And try not to talk badly about your body, it won’t help yourself and it can have severe consequences for your surrounding in case they will start comparing themselves to you, or if it plants a seed in their head to think about their appearance. Instead, go to body positivity/neutrality events/listen to empowering podcasts or bring a book to your favourite café, I highly recommend Body Positivity Power by Megan Jayne Crabbe and Eat Up by Ruby Tandoh.