Laura Dodsworth is a photographer and the author of ‘Bare Reality: 100 women, their breasts, their stories’, in which 100 women bravely share un-airbrushed photographs of their breasts alongside honest, courageous, powerful and humour stories about their breasts and lives.
Read her Q & A:
1. How did the book, Bare Reality come about?
We see breasts everywhere, in magazines, on TV, billboards, the internet, but real breasts are taboo. I became fascinated with the dichotomy between how breasts are presented for public consumption versus how we feel about them privately. When I was younger I didn’t feel that my breasts measured up, literally, to the ‘perfect’ breasts I saw in the media. It’s common to feel insecure about how we look, but our appearance has never been under such pressure. With all the sexualised images of women and the ubiquitous airbrush, I feel we are chasing unobtainable ideals. I really wanted to burst the ‘fantasy bubble’ of perfect media breasts.
I didn’t recognise myself in the images and portrayals of women in the media and culture around me. Bare Reality is a creative and personal response to that. Talking to 100 women has helped me deconstruct cultural myths and define being a woman on my own, fresh terms.
Breasts mean different things to different people. Their primary purpose is to feed our babies. At the same time, in Western culture they are considered a woman’s single most significant sexual attribute, our sexual calling cards. To some they are a symbol of motherhood and womanhood. They can be erogenous zones. Yet to others they bring disappointment, inconvenience, and even health problems. Talking about breasts allowed the women to reveal stories that were central to their experiences are women. Breasts, as well as being fascinating in themselves, became a catalyst for a conversation about female experience.
2. Why do you think this project is such an important message?
Just seeing a normal pair of boobs, as opposed to ‘perfect’ boobs in the media, is shocking for some people, let alone the raw, un-airbrushed truth of breast cancer scars. But one in eight women in the UK will have breast cancer. The loss of a breast, gaining scars, the diagnosis, treatment and recovery will mean different things to different women – we are individual, complex, nuanced. I wanted to tell these women’s stories and share the un-airbrushed truth. This isn’t about a pink-washed sugar coating. We need to tell the truth. This is how they look. This is how they feel.
3. What impact do you think your book has on others?
I hope it moves and inspires people. I’ve received very touching messages from women and men, young and old. It’s been eye-opening for people to understand just how different we all look, and to hear the stories women can tell through their bodies. Most women think they are too big, too small, too saggy or too something. After seeing the photographs in the book, I hope they will take heart. I hope it gives young women an insight into their own potential future. Men have been incredibly supportive of the project, and have spoken about how much understanding women’s perspectives have meant to them. At the end of creating Bare Reality, I like myself more as a woman, I like my breasts more, and I have so much respect and tenderness for female experience. I hope it does that for others.
4. Is Breast Cancer awareness a cause that is close to your heart?
While creating Bare Reality I met some amazing women who shared deeply personal stories with me. It transformed me. I always knew that one aspect of Bare Reality would be doing my part to create a conversation about breast cancer. But I couldn’t have anticipated just how profoundly important it would be to me after meeting and interviewing the women who took part. Their stories were especially moving, as you can imagine. Working with Stella McCartney on this project feels like a natural, and important, extension of Bare Reality.
5. What can we do to spread awareness about Breast Cancer?
I think it’s important to be honest. Sometimes people skate over the harder aspects because they don’t want to frighten others. I think there is more power in the truth. Just among these 12 women, they have had such different experiences and results. As some of them have said, fear can come from not knowing. Sharing these photographs and stories can reduce that fear. It’s a big thing to bare your breasts in our culture, so to bare scars, real and figurative, takes courage.
6. How did you select the 12 women who participated in the #nolessawoman project?
Hello Beautiful and I put a call out through social media and breast cancer networks. Interested women then volunteered. It’s humbling how many women were willing to take the leap of faith to get involved. We tried to include a range of experiences and ages so as many women as possible would be able to relate to the photographs and stories.
7. What does this collaboration mean to you ?
How often do we see photographs which, while gentle and sympathetic, also present the un-airbrushed reality of breast cancer? I’m really proud of this collaboration. We’ve tried to take a tender, truthful and inspiring look at the lives and bodies of women with breast cancer. Honestly, I think it is a bold and beautiful direction for a fashion brand and it will probably surprise people. Lots of love to Stella for having the heart to do this with me.