Check out @bodyloristsofhr to view the full project! With each photo is also a portion of the interview with an important message. You do not have to be a member of Instagram to view this art.

To start this project off, I posted a picture that my partner took of me ‘in the nude’ as a representation of reclaiming my worth as a human being. Mentioning the sexual abuse that I dealt with in the past was used to give light to why I was binging and purging so much last semester. Another practice that was mentioned was evaluating ourselves based off of unrealistic beauty standards. Our bodies and minds are deeply interconnected; when our minds are not stable, we can make hasty decisions that lead to self-harm. Acknowledgement of painful self-inflicted practices should be reflective of evaluation leading to empowerment.

Secondly, a dear friend allowed an interview to discuss how a classmate of his fat shamed him in high school. That bigot’s impact on him lasted years after the initial commentary but ultimately led to him focusing on fashion, embracing his weight and goofiness. His story should spark familiarity with anyone who has felt like their body wasn’t good enough after someone commented on it. Fat shaming is an epidemic that plagues our advertisements, leaves out bigger bodies in fashion and film and can cause mental illness if not dealt with head-on.

For the third story, my tattoo artist shared what her ideal tattoo community would look like. She mentioned issues of misogyny, her horror with white/cis/hetero homogenization for females who choose to get tattoos and how toxic the culture can be. Body modification is certainly garnering wider acceptance, but the same issues that we hear about in mainstream society with sexual assault have trickled into artistic communities. Bodylorists often study the practice of body modification, but the psychological implications aren’t always delved into.

Another friend allowed me to photograph injecting testosterone as part of the transitioning process from female to non-binary. Amongst countless other misconceptions about transgendered people, the assumptions that everyone transitions from male-to-female or female-to-male are damaging. The gender spectrum is far and wide; constricting labels continue to plague people who assert their individuality. Hopefully someone who comes across this story with stereotypes can become open to this process with a visual component.

To further emphasize how fat shaming can be detrimental to one’s well being, I had the honor of interviewing a woman who is on a journey to have gastric sleeve surgery. She went in depth about how her doctors made her feel with their commentary about the  necessity of weight loss. Since the surgery cuts off 85% of the stomach, her mind often races about potential outcomes. Perhaps the most profound part of her story was the self-realization of how reaching out for support actually signifies strength. Her story is testimony to how talking through issues can push you in the right direction.

Someone that I knew since high school disclosed to me the story of how she was raped by a close friend that she trusted at a very young age. Her story mirrored mine almost identically, so we discussed how to present her story for a long time while maintaining her dignity. Rape awareness, stopping victim-blaming and being an ally to those who have been assaulted should stick in the minds of anyone who reads her painful story.

To spotlight how privilege marks certain bodies within the gay community, another individual shared how his experience of being a twink wouldn’t be possible without his white skin color. People are quick to label those who are different without thinking about the racial undertones involved in the process. Colorism works to his benefit in this situation, but readers should hopefully feel compelled to not label others so quickly.

Skin care rituals were brought up to emphasize how ridiculous societal beauty standards are for people today. Advertisements scream “you are not worthy, you are ugly, something is wrong with your skin, you are overweight or underweight, are you seriously confident without makeup?” Capitalism has allowed companies to bank on insecurities.

Because ableism is rampant to those who appear handicapped, I had the pleasure of interviewing my father about how his adaptive ice hockey team has affected him. Here, issues such as hyper-masculinity, mental illness and overarching resilience in the face of debilitating sickness are mentioned. To say that reading my father’s responses was emotional is an understatement. I have never seen someone go through Hell with such dignity.

My neighbor, an elderly African-American man, fought in Vietnam in the sixties for the United States. He experienced America before it was de-segregated and had powerful anecdotes about what that looked like. Colorism was real back then and still exists today.

A third story of sexual assault was used to emphasize just how severe the issue is. Institutions often forget how vulnerable victims are; being yanked in every direction without action being taken for the perpetrator leaves them feeling invalid. There’s no simple solution to changing this, but these stories should move readers to take action.

I put my entire heart and soul into this project. Every story required looking inward to approach the topic with utmost sensitivity. When interviewees shed tears, I did too. For people to share their most painful stories about fat shaming, LGBTQ mislabeling, transitioning, racism, ableism, insecurities sparked from societal beauty standards and life-changing medical procedures took insurmountable strength. No amount of gratitude equates to the level of vulnerability that these interviewees shared with great composure. Coming from a place of hurt and advocacy, I urge viewers to reflect on these stories and stand in solidarity when faced with injustice.

Mikalah Lake is a student at Old Dominion University pursuing a B.S. in Women’s Studies with a minor in Psychology. Causes that are particularly important to her are women’s rights, environmental awareness, leadership, civic duty, and mental health awareness. After completing her B.S. degree, her dream is to pursue a Master of Public Health Education degree at Eastern Virginia Medical School.