How do we challenge cultural expectations that tie beauty to self worth? Bec Hyland a photographer from Wagga Wagga, Wiradjuri country in NSW had an idea: we do it by sharing who we are; our natural, raw, messy selves. Bec chats to Kat Vella, Mona's non fiction editor about her photo project to bring women together to be each other's 'cheerleaders', and in the process challenge the beauty myths that have served to control women's beliefs about themselves.
Could you tell us a bit about what you wanted to achieve through this project?
I really wanted to achieve something natural and raw! Stripping back real women and letting their uniqueness and natural beauty shine. Showing the world that not one person is the same nor should they be. I wanted to give amazing women the opportunity to shine in their own way, to come out of their shells, to prove to themselves that beauty should not just be focused on the outside but the inside too, to build self-esteem and confidence. I want women to build each other up not break each other down, let’s be each other’s cheerleaders! Overall, I just wanted to bring diversity, realness and uniqueness to the table showing the world you can shine bright just being you. I got to create magic with 14 bloody awesome women and boy, were they each other’s biggest supporters; 14 strangers paying one another compliments and cheering one another on. It was positively wonderful. So, mission accomplished!
What inspired you to create this project?
I was inspired to do this shoot as body image issues are prevalent in society. Unfortunately, what you see on social media platforms are not always genuine, and can be heavily altered or edited. I was lucky enough to come across the lovely Brooke from Keeping It Real By Brooke who contacted me after hearing about what I was doing. She herself has a platform which is all about empowering young women which is inspiring. So, I asked her to come on board and get in front of the lens too. Many women I shoot in a variety of sessions tend to say things like "please make me look good!” or “can you make me thinner?” Or they would explain their struggle in finding something to wear, in which they felt comfortable and confident. Which I totally relate to, but ironically, so often the things people point out to me that they don't like about themselves, is what draws me to them. All the women I have photographed over the years are so unbelievably beautiful in their own ways. Lastly, I have struggled with body image issues myself, and having two daughters, I believe it is important to show them you're perfect just as you are.
Could you tell us a bit about your own experiences with 'Body Image Culture'?
This is something I have personally always struggled with, being labelled "the skinny girl" throughout high school. Then I had my daughters, and of course getting older, fad diets and mental health. All these things contributed to how my body altered over the years. Now, I'm coming to terms with where I am at and finally feel I am at a point in my life where I am comfortable and unbothered by what someone might say about my appearance. While I most definitely have days when I am envious of other women’s appearances, I always remind myself that how my body looks doesn’t influence the love I receive from my husband or how much my two daughters look up to me. Above all, I always try to remember that we are all unique and special in our own way, and life is too short to let the way we look consume us. Full disclosure though I do have hair extensions and love to get my hair washed by my lovely friend and hairdresser Al from Embrace of Hair studio!
What does being beautiful mean to you?
This is a tough one! I don't think beautiful is summed up by just one word or definition nor is it just about what you look like. You can be a supermodel and be an unkind person. There are so many versions of this word. I personally believe beauty is a mixture of things that shine from the inside out. If you have a kind heart and a caring soul that makes you pretty damn beautiful.
In your experience as a photographer and as a woman, what kind of harmful ideas do you see around women’s bodies, particularly in regional communities?
I definitely think about today's culture of celebrities, friendship groups, influencers and a huge one, social media. Social media is a platform that can send a message that girls need to look a certain way, images being heavily altered and edited giving women and girls a false sense of perception, lowering their self-esteem causing anxiety and depression. As a photographer this makes social media double edged as this is where people can view my work, interact with me, where I book my clients and make a living. But as for harmful ideas, more so in the fashion side of photography, it does add an element that can be misleading in the sense of editing, smoothing, touch ups, removing. In my everyday sessions I don’t alter people, however I do have my own pre-set that I edit my images with, so my work is cohesive and best represents myself and my images. I believe body image is no worse in regional areas than it is in the city, again with social media it is always there.
What is the message you would like people to take away from your work?
I would just love for women of all ages to embrace their true selves, to see the real them standing in the mirror and love them wholeheartedly. Upload your photos without filters, delete those body altering apps, wear the makeup or don't, wear what you want, stop spending so much time focused on the numbers on the scale or the size of your clothes. Who cares what others think. Be unapologetically you! Exercise because it makes you feel good or eat the damn cake because it makes you happy. There is no rule book to life so live it to its fullest. Please get in front of the camera because one day you will look back and all you will have are memories and these are the moments caught in time that you will treasure forever.
Rebecca would also like to acknowledge the work of the following businesses that helped bring her idea to life.
Hair- Embrace of Hair studio
Earrings- Iyana and Jayne
Mindset & Fitness Coach- Keeping It Real By Brooke
A bit about Bec Hyland...
Bec Hyland is a photographer, childcare worker, mum and regular boss babe from Wagga Wagga, NSW. Over a coffee date with a girlfriend Bec had a light bulb moment that she needed to put her love and passion for taking photos into action professionally. Six years later, she combines full time work with doing what she loves and spreading the joy of photography.