Fifty-four women have bared all -- bodies and minds -- for a new book showing off (proudly) the female body in just some of its myriad forms. "This Is Who I Am: Our Beauty in All Shapes and Sizes" reveals the strength and frailties inherent in the bodies of the young and the old, the heavy and the thin, the small-breasted and the wide-hipped, the tattooed and the scarred.
And then author and photographer Rosanne Olson goes further, sharing the women's very real stories. Emily, 22, reflects on her seemingly normal appearance -- and the part of her lung lost to cystic fibrosis. Donna, 39, is learning to accept the body she wishes were 60 pounds lighter. Jan, 88, a dancer before World War II, has recently been diagnosed with Alzheimer's. Loti, 38, loves her brown skin and cares not whether she has hair. Gretchen, 42, likes her wide shoulders and finds her mastectomy scar interesting.
Olson, who has battled anorexia and worked with breast cancer patients, says she wants the book to awaken women to the beauty within each of them, to not feel bound by stereotypes, by the perceptions of others or by their own imagined imperfections. "My hope is that this book will be a catalyst for compassionate conversation among women and men everywhere," she says in the introduction.
The photographs are beautiful, to be sure, but the stories are what give the women their power -- or, rather, acknowledge the power they already possess.
But we're a product of our culture. Or biology. If there's a woman out there who, looking at this book, does not automatically compare herself positively or negatively to the photos therein, please, please, let me know. And tell me how you mastered that instinct.
And if there's a woman out there who, looking at this book more closely, does not see the beauty of these women and the strength in their stories, please share that as well. I'd like to know how that's possible.
-- Tami Dennis
Photo: Book cover, Workman Publishing