Forget the gauzy, syrupy ad campaign by the folks at Dove soaps (and the counter ad for men). Forget the lithe, wafer thin, perfectly airbrushed model on the cover of any magazine or the siliconed double D on the porn channels. Real beauty isn’t contrived or hesitant. Real beauty isn’t perfect or airbrushed. Real beauty is messy and scarred, but powerful. Real beauty comes from the freedom to be vulnerable, to be who you are.
We don’t need advertising moguls telling us what beauty is, but we do need the wisdom of a young woman fed up with the superficial concepts of beauty to show us what is right before our eyes – that beauty comes in all shapes and sizes.
Meet Kailei Picciotti, the 19 year old college student behind one of the most important feminist movements of our time: This is My Body Project.
Thanks to Kailei’s simple and personal act of protest – she scribbled in black ink This is My Body across her naked abdomen, took a picture and posted it on Facebook – we have a vision of beauty that transcends anything advertisers can create. From that simple act of protest Kailei began a movement that empowers men and women to reclaim their freedom and own their beauty. In just under two years, the Body Project has almost 20,000 followers.
Men and women from all over the world bear their bodies with the simple and defiant message – this is my body. No airbrushing, no perfection, just the simple, raw beauty that comes from having the power and the freedom to be vulnerable and accept what comes.
This is My Body Project reminds us what real beauty and real power look like.
Let me introduce you to the remarkable young woman, Kailei Picciotti, who began the Body Project.
This is My Body Project
Kailei, tell us a little about yourself. I’m a college student and juggle four different jobs on top of running the Body Project. I started the Body Project when I was 17. I had done some modeling throughout my teen years. I started to receive anonymous messages on social media sites saying things like, “in real life you’re fat and hideous” and “you’re too ugly/fat to model. You should just kill yourself then I wouldn’t be forced to look at your hideous face.” “Cut a little deeper next time.” I don’t consider myself “fat.” For most of my life I had, but I eventually got over it. I do realize, though, that I’m not a “thin” girl. Currently, I’m a size 11 in jeans and I weigh 165 lbs. I am curvy and I have a bit of a gut, but I’m honest about it and I’m proud about the way I look. At first, I took these attacks heart and was really upset. For months, I was extremely depressed and thought they were right. I answered their message with really humbling words though and never showed I was upset. I talked to friends/family about my situation and they were comforting, but it didn’t help.
To this day I don’t understand what made me change my mind… but one day I did. I realized they were wrong about me. I realized I needed to do something about it. I needed to show these people that it’s okay to be “fat” and it’s okay to love your body. Actually loving your body is a really good thing! So I went down into my basement-turned-photography-studio put my camera onto my tripod and went to work. I had an idea of a conceptual photo where I wrote ‘This is My Body’ on my stomach. To show that I was proud of my chubby little belly and didn’t mind the ridicule. You can see the original post and photo here.
That post, even though I was convinced it would bring me most ridicule, received a lot positive attention. Within the next few days I had a dozen girls send me photos of themselves inspired by what I had done. A few months later, I compiled those photos into an album on Facebook and the This is My Body Project was born. About a year later, I was ready to take on this Project more fully and saw my passion for really helping people love their bodies. Ever since then I’ve been working diligently on the Project to help as many people as I can and change as many lives as I can.
How has the project grown and where do you see it going in the future? Considering the Project started kind of by accident it has grown to an extreme degree. I’m in shock and awe every day going through all of my e-mails and submissions. I can’t even believe what a big deal it is. It’s astonishing and truly humbling. Right now we’re just online. We have a Facebook page, Tumblr, Instagram and Twitter. That’s not good enough for me though. I want to branch out and make this a physical entity. We’ve formed a club at the college I currently attend so we can do fundraisers within our community and help local charities. We can also have taken steps to becoming a non-profit organization. That is my true dream for the Body Project. I want to make helping people love their bodies my career and give other people the chance to make it their career as well!
Why do you think the project has resonated with the public? Because it’s a subject we all can relate to. Somewhere inside all of us in an unsure individual who wonders about how people see them and if they find them beautiful. We all do it. We all question ourselves. It also helps that the media has body type archetypes that no one can relate to, because the people on our page are real people that the public can relate to. I think that has a lot to do with it.
What about internet safety? Were you ever concerned that posting pictures of girls, women, even men, might elicit untoward responses? I still have concerns about this not just regarding myself, but everyone on the page. I have gotten messages/harassment from internet creeps regarding the type of imagery I post of myself online. I know how to be safe on the Internet and am very cautious about how I handle those situations when they happen to me. I give no answer or response and depending on the site that they contact me I ban them from contacting me. I’ve never had anyone else on the page come to me with a problem about this thankfully. If I ever did I would be sure to have them ban that individual from contacting them. Also ban that person from having the ability to view our page at all and would on some sort of forum warn the rest of the page about the individual if they were to contact any of them.
Is there a story that has touched you/your followers more so than any other? I know this probably sounds really corny, but every story has touched me. Every story means something to me and I read all of them, every word and every thought. It has definitely helped me grow as a person and expand my mindset. I appreciate every story I get so much. The stories that really inspire me the most are the stories about people overcoming self-harm because that’s something I’ve done myself. There also are a few stories shared by people who have Muscular Dystrophy, a disease I myself have. Reading the stories about muscular dystrophy always bring tears to my eyes, in the most beautiful way.
What are you proudest of? I wake up every morning knowing that I’ve made a difference in the world for the better. That is the best feeling in the world. When I get messages from the public letting me know how much I’ve inspired them and how much I’ve helped them, I wouldn’t say gives me a sense of pride, but more so gives me a sense of humbleness and gratitude.
Where do you see yourself in 1 year or 5 years? Will this project be part of your career? In one year I’ll be finishing off my Associates degree and transferring colleges to start my Bachelor’s degree. I hope that by then when I make my move that the Body Project is a legally recognized non-profit because that’s what I want my career to be. If all goes as planned in five years I’ll be a totally awesome non-profit business owner; a woman who employees people, teaches them to love themselves and raises awareness about the media. I want to change people’s lives for the better. I also want to the world for the better!
How do you see this fitting with the feminist movement? I’ve never given the idea much thought so I honestly don’t know. I hope that it can help in changing people’s perspectives of our society’s rape culture and the radical standards women are held to within their own sex lives. Things such as slut-shaming and the beauty standards set in the porn industry. They’re all subjects I’m very passionate about and so I try to tie them into posts on the page.
How do you see this project changing the perceptions of the human body? I think that the Project gives people a healthy dose of realism. What we’re shown on TV in magazines and advertisements obviously isn’t realistic and the Body Project shows the many ways a natural body can look and also shows that a natural body without any sort of alterations is beautiful. That’s the point that we’re trying very hard to prove. I hope eventually this can change the standards we’ve all subconsciously set ourselves to as far as our appearance goes.
Final thoughts? I just wanted to say thank you for the publication of this interview and for taking the time to speak with me. I genuinely appreciate it and hope you can make a great story out of this!
Real beauty isn’t plastic or contrived, it’s empowered. Thank you Kailei for reminding us of that.