be beautiful red lipstick

For 30 days, Denise Jolly took photos of her nearly naked body, often in public spaces, then posting each picture on the Internet, learning exactly how she looks while “inviting the belief that it is beautiful exactly as it is.” She called it the BE BEAUTIFUL Project, and it is spectacular.

On HuffPo, she explained some of her reasoning for the project:

In doing the BE BEAUTIFUL project, I dated my body for 30 days… Every day I took time to recognize how beautifully fierce, and gracious my body really is… Each date commemorated with a photo of my body and the words “BE BEAUTIFUL” written on it. With every photo I found something new and inviting about the house I’ve been living in for 34 years, the one I never paid mind to. It was not easy at all, but love is not easy and learning to practice self love has been worth every ounce of the struggle.

All of Jolly’s self portraits are pretty amazing, whether they were taken in the risque outfit she wore to Oakland Pride or in front of the mirrors at Lane Bryant. Plus, the insights she gives regarding her own emotions are amazing to read, as well. For example, when posting a photo that included her face, she captioned it as follows:

Inserting my face in these pictures is proving to be the most brave and emotionally challenging part of this journey (so far :). In the process before now there was a moment where I became separate from my body. I became one part in a larger artistic aesthetic, one uncommon object in a landscape of beautiful… Disassociating from my body like that is something I have done as a means of survival in every aspect of my life. I am not surprised I instinctually did it in this journey. I am glad I realized it was happening before the 30 days came and went.

Pretty epic stuff. My favorite portion is when she speaks about why she took this photo:

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Her reasoning: as an overweight woman, one of the “occasional privileges” she receives is rarely being sexualized, including in public spaces. However, earlier in August, she was harassed so terribly that she had to escape off a train. For her final photo in the BE BEAUTIFUL Project, she opted to “reclaim the subway as a safe space” by having a group of wonderful supporters join her that day, ensuring she was protected as they kept watch.

The title of this post may sound flippant or dismissive, but that is not my intent. In all actuality, I find Jolly to be incredibly brave — it is not easy to put your body out there, particularly when you are a woman, as our bodies are so frequently judged (clothes on or off) already. And it is even more difficult when your body is not what society has deemed conventionally attractive, so people feel the need to comment and criticize and remark.

Women who call themselves beautiful, even the ones whom society considers “perfect,” are in turn called egotistical, cocky, obnoxious or delusional if they don’t shrink into their quiet, demure corners. Any declaration of self love is met with scoffs at the sheer audacity of a female — how dare she like herself? How dare she not cover up her body?

It’s okay if men inappropriately gawk and comment on a woman’s body on the subway, in the street, but if she should consider herself to be lovely, then she’s suddenly an arrogant bitch. Now, I cannot speak to whether this phenomenon contributed to Denise Jolly’s project, but I can say that this is exactly why I love it so much. Rather than letting others dictate how she should feel about herself, she is telling everyone (including her own internal voice) that it is important to take ownership over your body. So, to Denise: You make me want to separate with my chronic insecurities and stop apologizing for my appearance. Thanks for that.

Photos: Denise Jolly’s Facebook.