Pin It
Mathilde Grafström
Photography Mathilde Grafström

The photographer teaching women to feel beautiful naked

After Danish authorities tried to shut down her exhibition, a photographer explains why her images celebrating the naked female form help fight body image issues

Photographer Mathilde Grafström struggled with body image issues and confidence for much of her life. “I had a major identity crisis a few years back and I’m still working on trying to accept my own body as it is. I suffer from these beauty ideals that are put out by the media, and it affects my confidence. In the back of my head, I’m always thinking that I need to look a certain way. I know it’s not true, and I’m beautiful as I am, but for some reason I seem to have been brainwashed in this way”.

Grafström’s photo series, Female Beauty, combats the negative self-image that she and many others feel by photographing women naked, in nature. “It [Female Beauty] is an act of love. I want to show women to love themselves as they are and to be happy.” Rather than using professional models, Grafström asked women who’d struggled with self-confidence issues to contact her. The resulting images of naked women in sun-dappled forests and bathing in clear streams are undeniably beautiful – although it’s worth pointing out that all the women pictured are conventionally attractive by the standards of today’s society, and it would have been nice to see a bit more diversity in the range of models used.

Despite her best intentions, Female Beauty came under fire from the Danish authorities. Police in Copenhagen prevented the pictures from being exhibited on ‘public decency’ grounds, denying her permission to display them in Nytorv, the city’s main square. Just yesterday, however, Claus Pedersen, a legal adviser to Copenhagen’s police force, wrote Grafström a letter acknowledging that they might have been heavy-handed in denying her permission to exhibit her work publicly. Grafström will be reapplying for permission to exhibit her work, and is hopeful that this time the police won't shut her down. To find out more, Dazed spoke to Grafström to talk body image, art, and why we should teach women to be proud of their bodies, not ashamed.

Dazed: Can you explain the message of Female Beauty? What were you trying to achieve?

Mathilde Grafström: I’m trying to show them something they can’t see themselves, which is how beautiful they are. It’s a life-changing experience for a lot of the girls, whey they realize they are not actually what they think they are. I guess you could say it’s a bit of an eye-opener project.

Dazed: What do you think about how society treats women?

Mathilde Grafström: I think there are so many things that women have to live up to in our society. How we look, and how we act.

“I want to show women that no matter how they feel, they are more beautiful than they realize. There’s beauty in everyone” – Mathilde Grafström

Dazed: You were critical of the Copenhagen police’s decision to censor the exhibition on the grounds of immorality while allowing nearly-naked women to be used to advertise products in the same square. Do you feel like there’s a double standard when it comes to using women to sell products, but it not being okay to celebrate their beauty?

Mathilde Grafström: I do think it’s a double standard. I wonder why art is being censored when commercials are not. There are so many images of naked women out there already being used to sell various things, so when my exhibition was banned I was puzzled. It seemed so arbitrary.

Dazed: Has Naked Beauty helped you to love your own body?

Mathilde Grafström: I’m changing all the time, and shooting these pictures really helped. Helping other women to love themselves as they are really helped me to love myself. I can see it in how I relate to my own physical appearance.

Dazed: How did you find the models for Naked Beauty?

Mathilde Grafström: They’re all normal girls, none of them are models. Most of them are friends or friends of friends. They contacted me because they wanted to represent themselves and be more conscious and happy with their bodies.

Dazed: I was surprised to see that all the women in your images didn’t view themselves as beautiful, because by the standards of our society they are – they’re all slim, young, white. Would you like to include a more diverse range of models in your pictures? 

Mathilde Grafström: Absolutely! I’m definitely missing older women, bigger girls, women of colour. It’s not intentional, I want to photograph them because I believe every woman is beautiful, but they just don’t reach out to me. I’d love for you to write something in the piece asking for more women to contact me so I can take their pictures actually. I’m always looking for more diverse groups.

If you’d like to be featured in Mathilde’s photography series, and you live in Denmark, you can reach out to her here.