I take black-and-white photos of women and then ask them to write, in their own words, how they feel about the way they look in the photo. The woman’s photo and her words become one piece that stands on its own, with no editing and filtering. The viewer, first attracted to the photo, is then further drawn in by the emotions revealed by the words.
I first started this project when I was a student at Mills College, wanting to expose and explore the unrelenting negative comments that my friends made about the way they looked. These were intelligent, strong, beautiful women attending a women’s college. Yet they still felt the need to be thin and attractive in order to be accepted. I wanted to reveal their inner thoughts—those words that they shared with other women in private conversation. Instead of the standard research, articles and opinion polls, women’s voices emerge through their own words, allowing us to see how women see themselves. The exhibit also asks the question, “Is what these women see in the mirror a reflection of what society sees, or does what they see come from somewhere within?”
The participants so far include a history-making New York City firefighter, a woman who has sailed around the world twice, a NASA scientist, an award-winning actor, a rabbi, a judge, a high-school rower, a farmer, an Academy Award-winning screenplay writer and an Emmy and Peabody Award-winning television producer. Women in this project begin by examining their appearance, but delve deeper to explore how factors such as ethnicity, age, goals or upbringing have affected their lives and formed the mirror in which they see themselves. What better way to explore the source of women’s body image issues than to see and hear from women themselves?
Jennifer Bermon’s exhibition “Her / Self: Women in Their Own Words” is on display at dnj gallery at Bergamot Station in Santa Monica, Calif., until April 4. All images are from the exhibition with permission from the photographer.