Body Image by the Book

By Christine Cupaiuolo — April 14, 2008

Photographer Rosanne Olsen has just published “This Is Who I Am: Our Beauty in All Shapes and Sizes,” a book of nude photographs of dozens of women age 19 to 95.

Each woman’s photograph — and there does seem to be a good mix — is paired with her words describing how she feels about her body.

You can preview excerpts here (PDF). And here’s a review from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

I poked through the book a bit and wanted to share a favorite entry. These are the words of Constance (left), who is 80:

In a restroom on the university campus, a handwritten sign on the mirror reminds the user that “Everyone Is Beautiful,” as if trying to counteract the negative feedback most of us feel on viewing our own image.

Though I tend to avoid mirrors, I like catching a glimpse of my shadow in action when I’m walking or riding my bike. Most of the time I’m pleased that my body works pretty well, bore healthy children, and is relatively slow to break down as it ages. I try to give it what it needs: water, food, exercise, sleep. Since I retired, I can take a nap whenever I want, and I’ve had fewer long-lasting colds. I’d say menopause is God’s gift to women. I rejoice in freedom from the responsibility of reproduction.

It’s clear to me that I would have had more professional opportunities as an astronomer if I were a man. I like to imagine a system where everyone is reincarnated, switching gender at each reincarnation but retaining some memory of what it’s like to be the opposite sex. When I tried to deal with an egotistical colleague or a pompous administrator– almost invariably male in my day — I found it entertaining and soothing to visualize his next incarnation, maybe in the ninth month of his fifth pregnancy.

Happy Monday.

9 responses to “Body Image by the Book”

  1. When I visit the museums and see the women in the paintings, I feel a lot better knowing that I am pretty average not only for my time period (despite the images pushed by the media) but for centuries of women.

  2. I have yet to find a technique to help myself overcome my negative self image. I have always been on the larger side of things, usually on the upper limit of appropriate weight for height and sometimes ten pounds more, but never obese. My figure under clothing appears propotionate however underneather, I feel horrified, from my large thighs, bulge in my stomach, stretch marks on my boobs and general pear shape body. People who are close to me are shocked that I feel this way because I have a pretty face, nice color hair, intellegint, and well dress. As indicated above, I am proporsionate and don’t look freakish with clothing. I have yet to have sexual relations with a man an can’t imagine taking off my clothing.

    Does anyone out there know of a technique to help me gain a positive self-image of who I am, regardless of my weight?

  3. I just read a book that addressed this self hatred so many of us experience better than anything I’ve seen in a long, long time. It’s called Health at Every Size: The Surprising Truth about Your Weight — you can find out more about it at

    I hope to get more info about the Health at Every Size movement onto the OBOS website and blog soon!

  4. In response to “Uncomfortable”–looking for techniques to gain a positive self image:

    Self image is a complicated thing. I knew that and discovered it even more when I did my book “This is Who I Am–our beauty in all shapes and sizes.” What I love to do is to help women see themselves as beautiful. Usually I do this through photography. I have created a questionnaire that I ask my subjects to think about (write about) prior to our photo sessions. Perhaps they will be of help to others. Some of the questions are:

    -What do you love about your body?

    -What, if anything, would you like to change?

    -What are some ways you take care of yourself?

    -How has your physical body changed as you get older?

    -Has your tenderness toward yourself changed as you get older? More? Less?

    -Did your mother help you learn to have positive self-esteem? If so, how?

    These questions won’t make you feel better automatically–but they are a starting point. And even better is discussing them with friends–learning that you are not alone in your feelings.

  5. This article is so great, as is your entie blog. I added a Weight Loss/Body Image community on my website, shareWIK (share What I Know) and would love your input! ShareWIK is an online community bringing together people of all areas of expertise so that they can share what they know. Keep up the great work, and we would love to hear from you!

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