Margaret Eby
May 13, 2015 6:00 am

The way you think about your body is a funny thing. There’s so much more to it than what’s just reflected back in the mirror. There are years of messages you’ve heard directly or indirectly about the shoulds and shouldn’ts of what you’re supposed to look like, the tug of insecurities, and the moments of pride and admiration in small things. When you see yourself, you might think, I’m really feeling my eyeliner today but I gotta work on my upper arms. Or are ankles even supposed to look like that?

It’s the ins and outs of how we think about the way our bodies look that photographer and recent OU grad Kelsey Higley was thinking about in her series, Body Image. For the project, Higley focused on taking portraits of her subjects. But not just regular ones: She asked each model what their favorite and least favorite feature was and photographed both. The end result is a triptych: In the center a straight portrait of the subject, and on either side, their most favorite and least favorite feature.

What’s brilliant about this photo series is that, without being told, you would have no idea which feature was the subject’s favorite or not. Everyone has insecurities. But most of them are invisible to the outside observer. Disassociated from the rest of the body, it’s difficult to tell which parts of the body the subject considers flaws and which features they love.

That, Higley said, was kind of the point. “My hope is that when viewer looks at the series, they will not be able to tell which feature correlates with the positive or negative emotion,” Higley tells Hello Giggles. She purposely didn’t label them, allowing the viewer to guess which is which.

It’s a reminder that the things we’re so self-conscious about are totally imperceptible to others.

Higley decided to feature both the positive and the negative perceptions her subjects had of their bodies for balance. “I think this dynamic is important because so often when body image is discussed, only the negative is brought up,” she tells us. “It’s vitally important for us to recognize what we love about ourselves and embrace it. Plus, it  goes to show you that even someone who has a relatively positive image of themselves still has little things they wish they could change.”

That, Higley said, was kind of the point. “My hope is that when viewer looks at the series, they will not be able to tell which feature correlates with the positive or negative emotion,” Higley tells Hello Giggles. She purposely didn’t label them, allowing the viewer to guess which is which.

It’s a reminder that the things we’re so self-conscious about are totally imperceptible to others.

Higley decided to feature both the positive and the negative perceptions her subjects had of their bodies for balance. “I think this dynamic is important because so often when body image is discussed, only the negative is brought up,” she tells us. “It’s vitally important for us to recognize what we love about ourselves and embrace it. Plus, it  goes to show you that even someone who has a relatively positive image of themselves still has little things they wish they could change.”

It’s not the first time that Higley has tackled the weirdness of beauty standards. Her series Manipulated explored the way Photoshop changes the way we think about women’s bodies by having images of her own body digitally manipulated at a rapid pace. The result made it appear as though her flesh was being molded to exact specifications. In another series, What Binds Us, Higley took photos of herself in various workplace settings while wearing a medieval contraption called a scold’s bridle to highlight the way that women are silenced in the workplace.

Though many of her photo series focus on women’s representation, about half the subjects in Higley’s Body Image are men, a choice that she made deliberately. “So often when we discuss issues of appearance, we are excluding men from the conversation,” Higley said. “While I feel that women are much more likely to be self-conscious about their body due to the constant sexualization of their image by the media, we should remember that men struggle with these things too, they may just not be as vocal about it.”

“One of my subjects viewed the project as a whole and said ‘People will see this. But they could see my insecurity as beautiful or my confidence as ugly. Thinking about the perception of others invites me to question why I hold certain positive or negative perceptions of myself,'” Higley said.

“Another subject said that it made him think about how if no one can tell from these images what he likes and dislikes about himself, then everything he worries about in regards to appearance seems so insignificant. The idea he took from this project was that ‘when people look at you, they don’t see your best or worst features, they see a person.'”

[All photos by Kelsey Higley]
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