‘Emotional barriers’

Swimsuit photo shoot in rural Indiana explores how women internalize hateful labels

(Twitter / Cindy Johnson, via The Indy Star)

Images from a body-positive swimsuit shoot held by Indiana boudoir photographer Cindy Johnson have gone viral on social media after she asked women to write the labels they heard applied to themselves on each other’s bodies. The impromptu photoshoot, which featured 16 friends and acquaintances of Johnson on her rural property near Franklin, Indiana, came about after the 44-year-old mother of four grew sick of the inevitable and unceasing advertisements calling on women to get “beach bodies.”

“They are telling me the price of admission to summer is that my soul resides in a specific type of body,” wrote Johnson on Facebook. “SCREW THAT.”

Kenna Sisson, one of Johnson’s friends who attended the shoot, told The Indy Star she didn’t mind when her friend Amy was asked to write the word “Chubby” on Sisson’s chest. She had dealt with such labels — and worse — since childhood, she recalled. But when she was asked to write the word “ugly” on Amy, she found herself bursting into tears.

“I just couldn’t grasp someone so beautiful, inside and out, ever believing the word applied to her,” Sisson said. “It hurts to think of Amy ever feeling that way.”

Part of the point of that exercise, Johnson explained, was to show that people easily accept and internalize harsh statements about themselves — even when the idea of applying such terms to others they cared about was nearly unbearable. Johnson, who began her career in boudoir photography a decade ago after she was asked to take photos as a favor for a friend, acknowledged that she too had been made to feel uncomfortable in her own body ever since her mother signed her up for Weight Watchers when she 10 years old.

“When the clothes come off, people are jolted out of their comfort zone,” she told USA Today. “When the physical barriers come down, the emotional barriers come down, too.”

Read the full story at The Indy Star and visit Johnson’s Facebook page to see all the photos from the shoot.

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