Today’s society has made it difficult for teenage girls to have high self-esteem. According to the Girls’ Attitude Survey of 2013, 51 percent of girls between the ages of 16 and 18 have low self-esteem stemming from negative body image.
Growing up in an environment that considers sexuality shameful, Western freshman Ashly McBride has used her passion for photography to start working against this stigma, she said.
McBride said she takes photos of people of all genders to show them positive attributes and work against their insecurities. Her photos often involve nude subjects.
“That’s why I like taking pictures of people naked, especially for me because I never felt comfortable in my body,” McBride said.
When she first started taking pictures, McBride found herself interested in photographing the human body, but not in the same way she is now.
McBride started on a journey of empowerment by taking nude photos of herself and posting them on certain forms of social media, like Tumblr.
She gained confidence through the exposure and realized what mattered was the way she viewed herself, not how she thought others viewed her, McBride said.
After realizing the impact these images could have on her own self confidence, she began photographing friends and coworkers.
“It made more sense to take pictures to empower people, to empower women and to empower myself,” McBride said.
McBride and fellow photographers and students Hunter Long and Giuseppe Ruggeri often work together on nude photoshoots.
A recent photoshoot the three of them worked on involved Long wearing lingerie. They also incoporated knives covered in fake paint with fake cuts all over their bodies.
McBride believes the lingerie symbolizes the importance of breaking down barriers that come with confined gender roles. The only time you see anything similar on a regular basis is in drag shows and in Rocky Horror shows, McBride said.
“We’ve been raised up in a society that sexualizes the body, and that’s how we ingest these images,” Long said. “I think the idea really lies within making the body normal.”
Similarly, Ruggeri said having McBride photograph with them has added a great deal to photo shoots because it added a female body. This meant more gender representation than what he normally photographs. They experiment with posing the way the opposite sex normally would, Ruggeri said.
“Posing myself sexually is okay apparently, and apparently it’s not for her. I’m really interested in these kinds of ideas,” Ruggeri said.
McBride was 14 when she received her first point-and-shoot camera. During her sophomore year of high school, McBride switched to the Tacoma School of Arts to pursue singing. She quickly fell in love with photography.
“I think it was the idea that you can capture a moment and hold onto it,” McBride said.
Growing up, McBride remembers being interested in activities stereotyped as female or male, which later led to her becoming aware of the rigid stereotypes that exist based on gender.
“It made more sense to take pictures to empower people, to empower women and to empower myself.”
Jennifer Adams, McBride’s high school photography teacher, said she appreciates McBride’s sense of self and her desire to empower others.
“I’ve never noticed her trying to be somebody for anybody else,” Adams said. “She doesn’t try to tone herself down or mold herself into what she thinks people want.”
Body shaming is another issue McBride hopes to tackle with her work. When looking at pictures of heavily photoshopped famous people, McBride says it sends the wrong message to viewers and young people.
“I remember being 12 and not feeling good enough,” McBride said. “I want all body types to be normal so that when a 12-year-old, 14-year-old or whatever age looks at it, they’re like, ‘Oh, I can reach that.’”
McBride said she wants her photography to be different than images normally presented in society. She chooses not to use much photoshop on her pictures of people so they are more realistic and relatable. She wants people to feel like they can relate to her photography.
“With a lot of my photos I want to inspire. I want someone to cry,” McBride said. “I want people to get emotional.”
With her work alongside Long and Ruggeri, McBride has found herself getting more comfortable with both photographing nudity and posing for nude pictures. She has even done a shoot involving bondage, domination, submission, sadism and masochism.
As this was her first time in an atmosphere where people are open about art and the human body, McBride said her art has progressed. Western being a clothing-optional campus promotes a level of comfort, McBride said.
“There’s certain social aspects to when you undress in front of each other you aren’t really prepared for,” Long said about being naked in front of people you know well and the vulnerability it brings. “It’s a learning process.These things happen progressively.”
Long said after a while they realized it didn’t matter they were naked.
“It becomes a totally normal thing, and then you realize it’s just like wearing clothes, you just see more of that person,” Long said.
With friends referring to her as a feminist photographer, McBride said she is only now starting to feel comfortable with the term because of the many negative connotations that seem to surround feminism.
Having always felt like she wasn’t informed enough about feminism to call herself a feminist, McBride said the way feminists are viewed as being anti-male is a problem within itself and a big part of what discouraged her from fully accepting the term.
McBride has a vision for her future involving photography. She hopes to someday open a cafe-inspired studio for herself and other artists to shoot, paint and sculpt whatever art they desire to create.