yael laroes' unedited self-portraits explore the complexity of obesity
“Fat bodies are often tucked away. Not only by fat people themselves, but also by the media."
The article originally appeared on i-D Netherlands.
Sharing unedited photos of yourself might sound like an absolute nightmare for anyone struggling with their body image. Yael Laroes is one of those people — but she does it nonetheless.
Yael Graduated from the Fotovakschool in Rotterdam with a project called Dense, a series of self-portraits aiming to create awareness about being fat and the feelings of shame it can entail. Featuring Yael in awkward poses against raw backgrounds and shot in black and white, the series is stripped of all comfort. It’s a big step for Yael, who in the past didn’t feel comfortable sharing her work online.
Now, she’s not only showing her photography online, but also her body. Yael stares straight into the camera, making it nearly impossible for the spectator to escape the piercing image. It represents Yael's inability to break free from her body and the prejudices that haunt her.
I call that incredibly brave. Yael herself calls it “necessary” when I ask her about the project. “I am very insecure about my body and it dominates my daily life. I’ve made countless attempts to lose weight in the past, but to no avail. This series arose from the need to accept my body and feel better about myself. As a photographer I find it important to stay true to myself when I create something,” she says.
This series enables her to start that process for herself, but doing something for others is something she finds equally important. “Fat bodies are often tucked away. Not only by fat people themselves, but also by the media," she says. There’s a growing awareness about the complexity of obesity — the solution might not be as easy as “simply eating less” — but there’s still a considerable stigma attached to being fat. “People who aren’t fat often don’t realize how negatively overweight people are perceived. Some people think we are stupid, lazy or unmotivated. The prejudices may not always be expressed that bluntly, but they can be felt.”
While Yael wants to bring about change when it comes to prejudices, she prefers to keep the photos as they are: unpolished. The series contrasts sharply with the image represented by the body positivity movement, which has been on the rise in recent years. “Sometimes I feel like this type of positivity mainly exists online and not in real life. A lot of people may benefit from online body positivity, but for me and probably many others things get rough once you stand naked in front of the mirror, all on your own. It makes me feel bad and I still feel horrible about my body every day. I don't want to make my body more beautiful than it is. I didn’t photograph myself to show people my pride. I just want to show people how uncomfortable being overweight can be."
Initially she wore clothing in her photos, until a conversation at school made her reconsider. "One of my teachers advised me to be as open and honest as possible. To me this meant having to pose naked. I wasn’t comfortable with it at first, but I slowly got used to the idea. I realized it would reinforce my message."
Shooting the photos for Dense, Yael set in motion a huge personal journey. For the first few photos she picked quiet public places as shooting locations, so she wouldn’t have to deal with unwanted spectators. She determined and built the setup; her boyfriend or her mother pressed the button. They made thousands of photos together and Yael’s urge to make beautiful work helped her get through her feelings of discomfort. But when I ask her if it has helped her accept her body a little more, she responds hesitantly. “I still find it terrible to wear short sleeves or dresses. I still feel uncomfortable going swimming and I wear a lot of loose, black clothing. I do notice that something in my mind has changed, but it might take a while before it fully comes out."
Seeing the enlarged photos of her naked body at the printer’s was shocking, she tells me. It was too late to back out, but she wouldn’t have done so, even if she could. “I finally felt ready,” she concludes.