I am a time traveler. I am a botanist. I am but a child.
Have you ever lived three lives at once? Time wraps back on itself in layers, mixing and merging into a temporal tapestry. I am a grown woman. I am a restless teenager. I am a wide-eyed child.
To me, time and age are nebulous. I was nearly 30 before my sense of self snapped into sharp relief. I missed out on so much of my youth. At 12, my body betrayed me. At 15, I buried my confusion deep and tried to hide. At 27, I was brave enough to try and honour my unique body rather than fight with it. I started to see a glimmer of beauty, and how much potential still lay within me.
I was born intersex — a condition in which I didn’t receive the right mix of hormones in the womb. “Intersex” is an umbrella term for a number of internal or external physical characteristics that differ from traditional definitions of male and female. In my case, I was born with an underdeveloped reproductive system. I have no ovaries. My uterus is merely a dot on an ultrasound screen, nonfunctional. I don’t make my own estrogen, so I have to take two little blue pills each day to stay healthy.
Girls grow galaxies. Women’s bodies give life. For years, I’ve struggled with what my history means for my womanhood. At night, I still lie in bed and trace a finger along my abdomen, imagining vines sprouting under my flesh, upward and outward along a fallopian route, until they flower.
I likely never will bear a child, and that breaks my heart.
I spent years being confused about my body and feeling alienated from those around me. It took far too long to gain some manner of control over my physical self. But on those nights in bed, I imagine those ovary flowers opening up inside me. And do you know what? It turns out that they’ve grown to give me life.
I was born in 1982. We didn’t have the internet. There was no social media until I was at university. We didn’t hear about other people’s lives the way we do today, and until I was an adult, it was easy to think I was alone in the world — or at least in my world. I was friends with all the girls in school until they got their periods and I didn’t. The boys knew I was nothing like them, and they didn’t let me forget it.
I was absent for my childhood in so many ways. I was an alien as far as I knew, and it often stopped me from making friends, from taking part in childhood activities, from having the carefree experience every child deserves. So while it might seem strange for a woman of 35 to talk about being a child, I’m reclaiming those years by letting wonder into my life, by spending time with friends and family who make me feel safe and loved and nurtured, by allowing myself to feel each emotion as fully as I can. Most days I feel like I’m about 15 — and I’m going to try to enjoy 15 this time around.
I am still growing up.
I’m still learning who I am and how to embrace that.
Dearest friends, watch me blossom.
Thunder Bay, 2018
Model: Adelie Bergstrom. Artist: Shayla Hickerson. Photographer: Viiein Dampier
Models: Allison Drechsler, John Forget – Fantasia LaPremiere
Photographer: Shayla Hickerson
Makeup on Drechsler by Jenna Scali
Makeup on Forget – LaPremiere by Jessica Frappa
Photography and Styling by Shayla Hickerson
Makeup by Saskia Pateman
Written by Saskia Pateman
I remember one of my first thoughts as we started the shoot was comparing how my body looked to the other girls in the room. I quickly stopped myself and came to the realization that I was doing exactly what this art piece was trying to discourage. I was objectifying the women around me, dissecting their bodies into neatly packaged boxes, trying to create the perfect woman.
“She has a bigger chest than me”
“wow her skin is so flawless”
“I wish my thighs were smaller like hers”
“her face will be so much more captivating in the photos” etc.
I focused on the positive physical aspects of them instead of analyzing the other parts of them that actually matter. Like their kindness, intelligence, world view, humour etc. We so often tell women they are beautiful or pretty before anything else, but why?
Women are so much more than their bodies and this shoot just helped me learn that even more.
I stood beside the other women, confident and proud to be among awesome, likeminded, bold women. I’m glad that the shoot gave me that.
Model: Jacqueline Heinrich
Photographer and Stylist: Shayla Hickerson
Makeup: Jacqueline Heinrich
Models in order of appearance: Allison Drechsler, Amelia Eirynn, Jacqueline Heinrich, John Forget – Fantasia LaPremiere, Saskia Pateman
Photographer and Stylist: Shayla Hickerson
Makeup: Jenna Scali and Jessica Frappa
Photo and Styling courtesy of Shayla Hickerson
Models from left to right: John Forget – Fantasia LaPremiere, Allison Drechsler, Amelia Eirynn, Jacqueline Heinrich, Saskia Pateman
Makeup by Jenna Scali and Jessica Frappa
Reclaiming the Feminine Image (Part 2)
In the beginning of the Volume geared towards ‘Exploring Art and the Male Gaze as Influential of Body Image’, members of the community studied the effects of art in the past and how it is still relevant today. Visual representations often become reflective of the current social events, value and life. Pablo Picasso used the topics of prostitution and objectification of the female nude to create his work, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907).
Fast forward half a century, and objectification remains a notable topic depicted through artistic means. Similar to Picasso, Yves Klein produced art under the male gaze. In his piece, L’Anthropométrie de l’époque bleue (1960), Klein is glorified for his ingenious technical approach. Klein is observed to have listened to classical music, while orchestrating nude, female models covered in Klein blue paint to imprint their bodies onto canvas.
Fast forward another half a century and we end up with similar objectification regarding the current female identity.
I want to examine the continuation of objectification in art. To recreate a historical piece created by the male gaze and present it through a modern, feminine directed experience. I want to create an image, where the creative process within Klein’s work is reversed and the models are shown in a still-shot, pre-imprint.
The imprint of the female nude is depicted on the models to redirect the focus of the human subject. In the original work by Klein, you see an image created by using the female body as a tool, as a stamp, as an object. Her identity and humanity is removed, but through redirecting the focus on the models, they regain their identities. The imprints are recreated, and painted onto female and male models to re-humanize their form. These models exist not for the male gaze, but rather by owning their own image.
Model: Saskia Pateman
Photographer: Shayla Hickerson
You’re too tall. You’re too pale. Too big, too flat, too boyish, too old.
These thoughts bleed into my soul far too often.
You, too, probably have criticized yourself for being too something. We talk about body positivity, about self-love, about girls supporting girls. But most of us succumb to self-judgment at least some of the time.
“Standing out” is something we celebrate and applaud; “sticking out” conjures fears of lacking community and support. I’ve worried about sticking out ever since I was old enough to be aware of social culture. From being nearly six feet tall to having small breasts to likely being unable to have children, I’ve often felt apart from and awkward around other women. I’ve felt like an outsider because I’m too this or too that, too much or not enough. And in the end, I tend to be the one who holds myself apart from the community I so long for.
As we prepared for this photoshoot on a sticky Canada Day weekend, I shared the space with six beautiful women (and a very cute cat). The models and photographers all were significantly younger than me, and as we models undressed, I worried that all of those “too” fears would come flooding back. I know the tricks my mind can play.
Instead, I found kind hearts and minds, gathered to celebrate feminine beauty in all its forms. For an afternoon, at least, I had my community. We were seven strong women creating art, honouring one another’s beauty, softness and power.
Before we began, I sat with one of the photographers as she painted my eyelids.
“You’re a work of art, my dear,” she said dreamily, a near-whisper.
Her words reminded me of why I started art modelling more than a decade ago. I hope to see myself as others say they do, to trust a photographer to show me the grace that often eludes my own eyes.
And so, I’m still learning to be OK with myself as I am. We all are still learning.
Thunder Bay, July 2018