My body has been used to sell products. But I don’t mean ‘my’ in the collective female sense, though that is also true. All women have the right to feel personally exploited by a culture of fascination with our sexuality and form.
In my case, the interplay between commerce and my body is especially personal. Starting at the age of 17, I was paid to be photographed in swimsuits and lingerie. The images were published in magazines like GQ or used by department stores in catalogues.
That’s all ancient history now – It’s been 16 years since I retired from the business and began college.
But I’ll always have this sour taste in my mouth. I know now that it won’t go away.
As I work to get the message out that isolation is fatal and treatment is awesome, I’ve often considered using my body. It’s dicey though and I haven’t been ready until now.
Turning 40 this summer gave me an appreciation for the life I’ve lived; digressions included. Maybe especially the digressions. Who’s to say that my modelling years represent a wrong turn from my ‘true path’? Until now, I’ve been unmovable on that point.
I watched the great film Boyhood last week and was reminded that I wanted nothing to do with college at 18 even though that’s what all my friends were doing. You couldn’t have paid me enough to move into a dorm and sit through lectures. I still watch scenes of kids going off to college and think primarily of dirty laundry and cinder block dorm rooms.
It’s an odd association to make because I absolutely love lectures and learning. College was amazing when I finally got around to it and now I’m happy as a clam in graduate school.
The timing of it all turned out to be right.
Occupying a new headspace from this realisation, I’m doing photoshoots again and enjoying it immensely. Now I control the concept – the makeup, the location, the mood. And to circle back to the female body, my wardrobe or lack thereof.
Recently I decided to bare some skin for a photo series about identity. I worked with a great team and I’m proud of what we created.
Debuting here, this collection is called I Am Not My Depression. We are many things in life; a mood disorder shouldn’t be constantly foregrounded. It’s a piece of my identity and claiming it has made me feel whole.
This sentiment is perfectly described in one of my all-time favourite novels, The Good Lord Bird by James McBride.
A young former slave, forced to live as a girl as he roams the prairie with abolitionist John Brown, wrestles with the ambiguity of identity and freedom: ‘It occurred to me then that you are everything you are in this life at every moment. And that includes loving somebody. If you can’t be your own self, how can you love somebody? How can you be free?’
Image credit: John Cooper
Style and make-up: Sadiq Trusty
Elsie Ramsey was born in California and moved all around the country growing up. She runs the website, What’s Your Story?