The camera lens can be a friend as well as a foe. It will capture everything you want it to, and then some more. With the correct technique (and the perfect lighting, of course), one can emphasise all the desirable aspects. What we consider ‘desirable’, however, holds no importance to the camera. It will simply do its diligent job of capturing a moment in time. How wonderful it is to think, though, that the same tool that we use to bring out our ‘beauty’, treats everything as equally beautiful?
Following a similar thought process is Theres Sudeep, a Bengaluru-based journalist and photographer. Like many other young women plagued with insecurities about their appearance, she too would do all that she could to do away with the little blemishes on herself in photographs in order to achieve ‘perfection’. The abundance of ideas in her mind forced her to model for her own pictures, but the seed of doubt emerging from the reminder of her acne scars and body hair was continuously nurtured by her underconfidence.
“One day a follower messaged me, saying that seeing me show my acne helped her deal with hers. That was really awesome, so I wanted to do something to not just show it but celebrate it,” Theres says. It marked the beginning of what would become her journey towards self-acceptance. With this newfound empowerment in hand, she decided to turn it into a photo-series as a spontaneous 6 am decision. Placing the focus on parts of her body that were always ridiculed, it’s almost as if Theres took back the power from those who did so, and channelled it all into normalising something so natural as acne scars and body hair.
Explaining her process for the series, she says, “I chose pink as a complementary colour to the tones of brown, because body hair, which is present in every photo is seen as masculine. I wanted something to contrast that; the elements of nail polish, heels, and the flow pink top and dress also work in the favour of that aspect.” None of the elements of the series shies away from the scrutinising lens of the camera. Theres has allowed her acne scars to be loud, and her body hair to be free. The most difficult part of the series may not have been the photography itself, but it was probably the willingness to be photographed in your most vulnerable state. It has been etched into the minds of little girls that hair on their body is unnatural and makes them ‘manly’ (a whole other problematic adjective). In addition to that, acne scars always invite a pitiful look with the occasional “Just wash your face.” Theres’s photo-series is an attempt to trump these regressive connotations attached to body hair and acne scars.
It’s high time we understand that gender constructs not only steal a little bit of our sense of our identity every time they modify ourselves to fit a certain idea of ‘perfect’, but they also restrict our creative freedom and expression. Neither of those things must be compromised over something that is generally considered ‘appropriate’. To be unapologetically you is a gift to yourself like no other, and Theres’s photo-series is a true testament to that. She herself admits, “We’re so conditioned to see these things as ugly that even to just show them as they are was a challenge.” For something that should ideally be no different from a regular portrait, such pictures take a different kind of grit and resilience.
Luckily for Theres, the thrill of choreographing a portrait drives her. She was able to combine her insecurities with one of her passions, and its results are nothing short of impeccable.
You can find the photoseries on Theres’ Instagram.
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