I love my lips. I was born in China with a cleft lip, then adopted at two months old by my current U.S. parents. Because of them, I underwent plastic surgery as an infant then again at age seven to reform my upper lip. Some children aren’t as lucky, because cleft lips and palates can severely impair your quality of life. When I was younger, other kids would ask me, “What’s wrong with your lips?” These comments hurt but I realized that the scars simply reinforce the luck, stories and love that guide my life. This is my body, and I am more than just my appearance, but beautiful for my imperfections. This is the meaning of St. Lawrence’s Body Pride Project.
In February, we turned a Student Center room into a photo studio for the project. Beyoncé music bumped in the background. So many women, some friends and others I’ve never seen before, laughed, watched and cheered. Each of us took turns striking a pose in front of the white board while my friend, Raina Puels ’16, snapped away on her camera. Some ladies flexed their arms, sat on a table, whipped their hair, or revealed scars, birth marks and tattoos. We all highlighted what we loved about ourselves and tried to express in a single quote why.
My friend, Chelsea Draper ’15, who lives in The Women’s Resource Center theme house, (better known on campus as The Dub), led the campaign. Chelsea was inspired by body-image campaigns such as Dove and Seventeen magazine’s Body Peace Project. She wanted to create the Body Pride Project for St. Lawrence because, as she put it, “college can be a bed of judgments.” “We’re so quick to look in the mirror and find what we don’t like about ourselves, so this is about boosting your own esteem, while encouraging others to do the same.”
Last spring was the preliminary trial for the project, and though feedback was enthusiastic, this year we received even more support. There were over 80 volunteer participants, with three photography sessions across two weeks. The result was 76 portraits of St. Lawrence women expressing their pride for who they are. Whether ladies featured something about their bodies that they’ve loved forever, reminded them of family, or an insecurity they’ve battled with, those few minutes in front of a camera were inspiring.
Raina, the vivacious lady behind the lens, was honored to be part of the Body Pride Project: “Some participants emailed me afterwards told me how empowered they felt. It’s incredible what having your photo taken can make you feel.”
The Body Pride Project is also a collaboration with Body Beautiful Week/Love Your Body Week and the Advocate’s Program “Campus Peace Project” from last spring. Those portraits featured male students and their thoughts on granting sexual consent. As the project—or perhaps the movement—gains traction and reaches more eyes, Chelsea thinks that it could possibly expand to other campuses and become an ongoing project.
I couldn’t agree more with Chelsea’s hopes that the Body Pride Project “keeps the positivity going all year and the good vibes from the photo shoot.”
I hope you’ve caught a glimpse of the Body Pride Project posted around campus! If you missed it, all 76 photographs can also be found in the Body Pride Project album of the Women’s Resource Center Facebook page.