We live in a society that is utterly saturated in curated images and ideals of typical beauty and sexiness; the slim, european feature, cis gendered, hetero normative concept of beauty and sexuality has been the main narrative for generations. This is enforced and our bodiespoliced in a myriad of ways that are both obvious and subtle, from female and non cis bodies being used as a battle ground in politics to white feminism dominating and ignoring the voices of non binary, non white females. We are flooded with images of what it is to be “normal”, “beautiful” by industries that so innately need to redefine their definitions of both. The issues we face are many and varied, from Australian censorship laws preventing female porn stars from having visible labia, so they are digitally removed thus representing pre pubescent vulvas as the “norm”, this has resulted in an incredible rise in labiaplasty in this country. Violent pornography and grossly gendered popular culture encourages a "boys will be boys" mentality which perpetuates the rape culture that is so rife throughout society. Young girls are taught their own pleasure is irrelevant as long as they are desirable to men - our own journeys of wanting to seek (knowing we deserve) genuine pleasure ignored. Non cis people are excluded almost entirely from mainstream conversations surrounding sexuality, body positivity, relationships and feminism. Female bodies are stripped of autonomy, our parts used to sell products and insecurity - insecurity that is the fuel behind buying the products our bodies are being used to sell. It’s a twisted system which once seen cannot be unseen.
“The most vulnerable I feel is when i’m naked or during a panic attack. When I have panic attacks theres a voice in my head telling me i’m weak, ugly and worthless. This picture is me fighting those voices”
“You say you hate me but you still use me for recreation”
It is human nature to be curious about sexuality, bodies and gender - we are fascinated by these elements of humanity from childhood yet our curiosities are often met with embarrassment from parents, outdated curriculums at school and a general adult unwillingness to speak openly with children about these parts of ourselves and society in general. Compounding this, our first sexual experience is with…. the internet. From an inappropriately young age we are flooded with images and videos that reveal a dark and violent side of sex and nudity, autonomy over our bodies and sexuality become railroaded by industries that profit from our dysfunction. It disturbed me that female bodies have become a conglomeration of parts which are used to sell ideas, products and insecurity, it disturbed us that our bodies were plastered all over billboards yet images we take of ourselves are deemed inappropriate.
But while this is still the norm in mainstream society I believe we now have more opportunities to reclaim and represent a wider range of bodies, genders, faces and sexualities - while mainstream media and the narratives it has perpetuated for so long are bigger and more influential than ever, so is social media and this is an incredible tool of diverse connection.
The day I became completely disenchanted by these images of typical femininity and beauty I put some videos out into the instasphere expressing my feelings and asked if anyone would be interested in collaborating on a photographic project, to my surprise hundreds of people responded and this was the birth place of the Is This Real Life Project.
We asked: where can we see real intimacy? Real love making? Real bodies? Real pleasure? Where can we see people in their power facilitating their own pleasure knowing that they deserve it? When I opened the space for people to contact me with their experiences and why they wanted to be involved in the Is This Real Life project I realised just how prevalent yet underrepresented these issues are.
“It took me a large portion of my life to accept that, as a male, I am beautiful. I am allowed to feel beautiful. I dont mean handsome or strong, or good looking, its accepted to be those things as a man. But being vulnerable and expressive of that deep feminine beauty that everyone has was something I always felt emasculated me. Now I know otherwise. That expression is deeply needed for true self love and healing”
We narrowed down our vision which is now to create a safe space where people of all shapes, genders, sexualities, sizes, abilities and skin colours can share a part of their-real-selves and for other people to witness that realness - to share true moments of beauty, vulnerability, pain, sensuality, intimacy, bodies and life in general. Through collaboration with hundreds of people around the world we are now creating a collection of images that represent these things. The goal is for each contributor to feel powerful and for the viewers concepts of what is beautiful, sexy, intimate to be challenged by each story and image. People have shared stories on self harm, non binary sex, body positivity and discovering themselves as sexual and non sexual beings. It’s been such an exciting and liberating experience for people that we hope to take it to a bigger scale, compiling our images into a zine and facilitating an exhibition that will hopefully take the conversation even further.
“We live in a society where my self worth is defined by my weight. I would like to believe that is shifting”
The Is This Real Life Project page has received messages from around the world from people expressing how important the page has become to their journey of self love, it’s been an incredibly empowering movement to be a part of and i’m so looking forward to where we end up.
“The naked body. Nudity. Showing too much skin. My whole life that has all been seen as bad. I was taught it was bad. That's slutty. I've always strived to cover up and be "modest". Any time I would see a female dressed showing "too much skin" I would automatically think "wow gross she's such a slut."Showing too much skin or seeing someone naked was always so awkward because of the way I was taught. As I got older I started to be around/see a lot of more open minded people. I started following people online that embraced nudity as something beautiful rather than just pornographic. Over time I read the descriptions on their pictures they would post. The things they said were so empowering. Sharing how the body is beautiful. It should be shown off not hidden. It should be loved on not hurt. Their pictures and descriptions inspired me. Their lives inspired me. Ive never in my life posted a picture online that showed "too much skin." Not even me in a bikini. So this is a big step for me. But I'm doing this for me. I'm doing this for anyone else who was raised to think their gorgeous body should be hidden.”
The QUO AUSTRALIA:
In a marketplace where radical thought is considered divisive, volunteering is becoming a competitive sport. Where purpose-driven organisations are overshadowed by businesses who overlook the complexities of the problems we face now and in the future, being meaningfully heard is not quite as simple as it seems. Feeling silenced by the structures that privilege social and academic capital over personal experience, they sought to uproot the deep-seated apathy affecting many young people and from which they themselves were not immune. The status quo focuses on the problems, but rarely seeks solutions.
The QUO was born with the recognition that we need an alternative online platform that values a positive outlook, nurtures bold ideas and propels direct action initiatives. We need an aggregator that shares individuals’ lived experiences and encourages the active development of empathy and community. Creativity, critical dialogue and collaboration should be valued above competing. We wanted to create a digital safe space built upon mutual respect. Here, non-conforming organisations and individuals connect, sidelined stories are heard and any respectful idea is given the opportunity to gestate into an action.