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Lauren Crow
VivianPhotography Lauren Crow

How do we define the ‘ideal body’?

By using her own anxieties as a starting point, this photographer aims to break down body dysmorphia amongst her female contemporaries

Human bodies are magnificent, from the internal intrinsic workings to the external skin and hair that constitutes flesh. While, yes, we can acknowledge the biological wonders of our bodies, we also often neglect them. It is not in a vain or “I forgot to brush my teeth” kind of way. Instead, we emotionally neglect and punish our bodies for not fitting an idealised archetype or digitally enhanced version of the human form, we often label ourselves as “imperfect”. It is this that Portland-based photographer Lauren Crow explores through her work. Work that ranges from images capturing the pivotal moment of a woman’s climax to documenting herself in the same position on her birthday, every year.

In a collection of portraits, Crow photographs diverse natural forms, while investigating their beauty and ultimately (hopefully) aiding those who participant and observe her work, to relinquish their own body dysmorphia. However, it is not purely the body anxiety and loathing of others that Crow aims to quell, but also her own. “As a woman, I recognise my own body as divergent from standardised and publicised forms of beauty,” she explains on her website. Such self-awareness of her own body, led to a mission to question and challenge the meaning of an imperfect body, and to educate others on the beauty of human forms. To re-quote Friedrich Nietzsche talking about Rousseau, “he is relieving himself as an individual, and thinks that he is seeking a cure that will directly benefit society, but that will also indirectly, and by means of society, benefit him too”.

In this case, Lauren Crow is Rousseau, and through her portraits she creates a visual world through which she and others can help one another; by using her own anxieties as a starting point, and then sharing them. Below, we talk with the photographer about accepting your body, challenging media presented ideals and how social media is changing the identification of women’s bodies forever.

“In general, we’re just shown all the things wrong with our bodies” – Lauren Crow

What led you to start photographing human bodies?

Lauren Crow: I have always been drawn to the human form, and imagery of people and their bodies. The differences and similarities are so fascinating. In school, I saw images of Edward Weston’s “Nude”, and Cindy Sherman putting on costumes and makeup for her film stills series; I started implementing that imagery into my own work. I guess, it was the two ideas of dressing up and performing, as well as undressing and being so vulnerable. So, it was only natural that this would be the kind of work I would create. I didn’t necessarily decide, “I am a portrait photographer” it happened organically.

How do you feel bodies are represented in today's hyper-connected world?

Lauren Crow: In general, we’re just shown all the things wrong with our bodies. Consistent messages of: “buy this so you can change this and be accepted”, “do this so you can be thin enough, hairless enough, and beautiful enough”, keep trying and spending so you can reach this unobtainable standard!”. Advertising, capitalist culture and the idea of selling products certainly plays a big part – it’s a mix of all of it.

What changes have you witnessed in the general representation of womens’ bodies in recent years?

Lauren Crow: With the help of social media, I think we are getting more body positive messages out there and our voices are being heard. NYFW has had size 16 models walking the runway, and while they are still idealised plus sized bodies, it’s a step in the right direction. We’re seeing a lot more body acceptance and positive role models for loving your body, and that is amazing.

We are bombarded with images of idealised bodies from the media and through the internet. How has this affected your relationship with your body?

Lauren Crow: Growing up as fat, and not seeing imagery of bodies like mine, led to years of self-loathing, low confidence and confusion. Generally, if I did see a fat woman, she was the “funny best friend” who doesn’t get much of a back-story and is never the romantic interest. I struggled with unhealthy eating habits and ideas for many years, overwhelmed by this perceived ugliness. I would like to think, in general, I’m past that. It’s entirely natural to have bad self-image days; but in the present, I’m not consumed by this idea that my self-worth is somehow lessened by my weight or appearance.

Now, I live with the mind-set that no body is better than another, and that each is fascinating and wonderful. We need to raise each other up instead of knocking each other down. This is definitely implemented in my work, through the idea that everybody is valuable and beautiful, and my desire to photograph bodies that are not always as praised for these things. Mainstream media needs to catch up and show these bodies, too. It’s important so we can all feel a little less shameful, guilty, ugly and like we’re not enough.

What was the motivation behind the "Portraits" collection?

Lauren Crow: It is simply a way of grouping these various portraits that don’t necessarily fit into a formal series, but hold worth with me. I haven’t done too much planning over the years on how my work would be organised, but it seems only natural that this collection should/would continue to expand and grow as I produce more and continue photographing people; some of whom are my friends and some I’ve found online through various social networks; and often, the subject is me.

“I see plenty of imagery of thin white women with hairy armpits being praised, but those who have less acceptable body hair continue to be ridiculed” – Lauren Crow

Tell us about the process of capturing the bodies.

Lauren Crow: The easiest and most obvious element in my work is self-portraiture, this came from a lack of people to shoot, or at least a lack of non-idealised model individuals around me. A lot of my subjects, one way or another, have come about by utilising various forms of social media. The internet is amazing for breeding these kinds of connections! Some are my friends, prior to photographing them; some people I meet or become friends with because we want to work together; and some people are random finds from craigslist. There’s also a little bit of “hey I know this person, you guys would create great stuff together.” I’m always very excited and honoured when someone wants to be involved.

Some of the images are created in the moment, when someone had a good look about them, the light was doing something neat or I just really wanted to capture a moment of/with them. Others are posed and constructed, I ask people to look a certain way. Regardless, honesty and softness are two things I strive to represent in my work. There are a few photographs (such as the photo booth images) that quite obviously belong together, but generally each is its own entity and exploration of the individual. Some of [the images] are sexual, but nudity is not inherently sexual. A naked body does not automatically make an image or situation sexual.

Your work seeks to reconstruct and question the meaning of an "imperfect body". So far, how has your photography impacted your life?

Lauren Crow: It has helped me become more comfortable in my body and with its “imperfections”. I remember again and again that all bodies are “flawed.” Just because we are trained to have a very Eurocentric view of what is beautiful, doesn’t mean that that is the only form of beauty or the “right” kind of beauty. There is no wrong way to be or to look. I think it has helped the participants, and also those who view my work. 

Why is photography such a vital tool in the quest to quell body anxieties and stereotypes?

Lauren Crow: While photographs can be doctored or altered, straight out of the camera, we are able to see very honest imagery of ourselves. For some of the people I photograph, seeing themselves from the eyes of someone else is very powerful. That being said, when we see images of bodies that look like ours it normalises it. When I was younger, I never saw images of fat hairy women. Through the internet and various body positive circles, I have seen that and realise my body is not that strange or different or wrong.

What do you think the future holds for the mainstream representation of women’s bodies?

Lauren Crow: It’s great that fat women are starting to be represented more, but we also need more non-idealised fat women, people of colour, non-able bodied people, trans and queer individuals. I see plenty of imagery of thin white women with hairy armpits being praised, but those who have less acceptable body hair continue to be ridiculed. We’re going in the right direction, but we need to keep working. And while doing so, we need to recognise our privileges and let those who are less privileged get a word in. I plan to continue working honestly and do my best to make others feel safe, valuable and beautiful. I’m working on a series right now about intimacy, exploring this idea and all the different forms of intimacy I have in my life.

See more of Crow’s work here