“The anxiety was there every day. I was thinking that maybe I shouldn’t even go to the store or take out the trash when I look like this.”
Around Journal presents a portrait project by photographer Outi Törmälä about women who don’t like the way they look. The aim of the project was to encourage discussion of this phenomenon that touches so many women but is at the same time nearly invisible. In the era of social media, both one’s appearance and photos have become ever more important. It invokes pressure and increasing dissatisfaction.
In addition to the photographs, there are narratives from each 20 participants. In them, they tell in their own words how it feels to hate yourself. The interviews and texts are done by the journalist Venla Rossi.
Can I Go to the Store Like This is not meant to be a therapy project but a combination of art photography and journalism. Still, Törmälä has been thinking about how the medium of photography can provide an experience of an accepting gaze for the subjects. A lot of the participants found the photoshoots empowering.
When I was younger, I didn’t think about my looks very much. I didn’t consider myself beautiful, but kind of okay. At that time, my inner self-image was more in line with the reflection in the mirror. I have never used much makeup or anything like that, people were more like natural hippies in the 1960s. Times sure have changed a lot. I feel like people are much more obsessed with their looks these days.
Now when I look in the mirror, I see an aged person, much older than what I feel like. It feels bad and sad. The sorrow also stems from feeling like I won’t have time to do everything I want in life. I never realized before that a thing like retiring is such a life-altering experience. It makes you feel like this was it. That, say, the plates I have at home are all the plates I will ever have.
Sometimes it’s absurd to me how much people comment on the way I look, in bars, social media, everywhere. And how they manage to get underneath my skin. I feel like I’ve heard everything that can be said about my looks, every extreme. I’m tired of hearing anything about it, even positive things. It’s not anybody’s business.
About five years ago I was spending an evening with the guy I was dating at the time. He had already gone to bed when his drunken friend started to yell at me that you’re a fucking ugly woman. It was awful. I was unable to do anything, I couldn’t even leave the room. I’m sure I will always remember it. I told my partner about it in the morning, but he didn’t handle the situation particularly well. No one apologized to me.
In my late teens, I started to spend a lot of time on my mask. I couldn’t imagine stepping outside without makeup. At the point when I moved from my parents’ place to live on my own in Kallio, Helsinki, the way I looked even caused me to panic. I felt that I looked so funny that all the strangers in the street were staring at me. There was probably some general panic disorder involved, but it all manifested as concern about my appearance. The anxiety was there every day. I was thinking that maybe I shouldn’t even go to the store or take out the trash when I look like this. Sometimes I could put off leaving the apartment for several days. All the while, I knew it wasn’t healthy. But I was too embarrassed to tell anyone about it.
My attitude has changed over the years, but the problem still exists. These days it’s more like giving everyone a mental middle finger. Like hey, here I am in the store in my nightgown with hair hanging over my eyes, suck it.
I’ve been thinking about the influence of my upbringing. I’m an only child, and my parents would put a lot of weight on things like being smart and doing well at school: more like intellectual qualities. I don’t remember a single time when they would have said something nice about my looks, called me pretty or anything like that. Instead, being beautiful or aiming for it was frowned upon at my home. If my mom was putting on makeup for an office party, my dad might laugh at her, like there she is dolling up again.
Everyone around me knows that I’m a humor person. I especially like self-irony. In photographs I’m always fooling around, sticking out my tongue or something. It’s a way to take the attention off my looks. If you’re being silly in the photo, you’re kind of not really visible in it.
I always try to look like I haven’t thought about my looks at all. The truth is the opposite: every detail is carefully considered, and I may spend over an hour getting ready. So my attitude to my appearance is everything but relaxed. In fact, I’m never quite happy with it, especially with photos of myself.
A few years ago I broke up from a long relationship. My former partner’s dream was that I would lose weight and get back to the size I was when we met. The fact that I didn’t want to lose weight and exercise was one reason for our break-up. The ending of the relationship brought self-loathing. I thought I was awful and ugly and that no one would ever want me. When I started dating again I came to realize it wasn’t true.
During the past years I’ve been working on accepting myself. One of the first things I got for my new home was a full-body mirror. Every morning I stand in front of it and tell myself I’m beautiful. Some mornings I manage to believe it.
More images of the project at www.canigotothestorelikethis.com