Photographer and network producer Jennifer Bermon’s series Her?Self, 28 black-and-white portraits of women, gives us a peek into how women perceive themselves.
For the past 20 years, Jennifer has been taking photos of women and asking her subjects to write, in their own words, how they feel about the way they look in their 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,” Jennifer explained to Women You Should Know.
“What better way to explore the source of women’s body image issues than to see, and hear, from women themselves?”
Jennifer first began this project when she was a student at Mills College, “I wanted 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,” she said.
The women featured in the series come from all walks of life, and among them include: a social justice activist, a goat farmer, a history-making NYC firefighter, a woman who has sailed around the world twice, a NASA scientist, a judge, a Rabbi, and a Southern reverend.
“By examining their appearance, the women delve deeper, exploring 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?”
Transcription: I like the way I look in this photo. I come across as kids, approachable, delicate, thoughtful, exotic-looking, yet natural. Most notable is how I detract from my body by choice of wardrobe. My Costa Rican immigrant parents encouraged me to espouse certain aspects of American lifestyle, while also entrenching in me the core value system of their culture – including the taboo of overt sexuality and vanity. Despite my outward expression of inhibition in private I am proud of my body. I stand 5’7″, weigh 112, and measure 34″-24″-35″. I’ve notices that I’ve begun to wear clothes that flatter my figure more. I’m sharing hints of my true body shape with the world at large now. Almost like a butterfly emerging from its chrysalis, I’ve shed the shell of self-doubt and protectiveness that resulted from a verbally abusive relationship. Now single, and free to spread my wings, I feel confident enough to express my sexuality through wardrobe. Though I still feel like I’m flaunting while wearing revealing clothing, I continually challenge myself to become more comfortable. I think I’m making steady progress.
Transcription: I like the photo of me very much. I think it shows someone with a good spirit and vitality. One of the advantages of growing older is that I have let go of vanity about my physical self. The external and superficial have become less compelling as life nears its end. My self image was 74 years in the making. I was a much loved child who was fortunate enough to be successful in school and with friends. The directions to which I have put that self-confidence and energy have changed, of course, through the years. Becoming a mother has given me greater insight into myself and others. It has taught me to how to love another more than myself. Becoming a teacher, a political activist and a rabbi have given me expression to the values I espouse. Having confidence to ‘go forth and do’ comes from a very basic sense of oneself. I would like to think that the experiences of my life have helped me to become a gentler, more generous person.
Transcription: I see a girl who is always striving to improve. Who is always striving for acceptance. When I look at this picture I immediately criticize my look, my thighs, my face. I always have the mindset of “this could be better.” I am very hard on myself in every aspect of my life. Looking at this picture I see many flaws. I also see a girl who has accomplished many things in her life, but will never be satisfied. Knowing this, I’ve learned how to cope with my feelings of self image.
Transcription: You know, what resides within is what’s important. I’ve relied on myself and the resources of my women shipmates to sail around the world twice. We have only ourselves to look to in the face of storms and offshore emergencies — and so far we’ve looked pretty good. I’ve been essentially living on the ocean for the past 12 years and my 38 foot sailboat Tethys has been home to many (67) women on our passages. I hold my head up and have a steady gaze — which shows in this photo. I’m self-referenced. I’m happy. I’m thinking you’re looking right back at me ready to voyage into your future as captain of your life.
Transcription: At 35 I feel my place is becoming clearer, and easier. I try to be practical and realistic. I feel stronger than the 21 year old I was, who thoughts she knew everything. My body is decorated to celebrate my life. The life of my daughter who grew inside of me, the lives of my favorite people who have shaped me into who I am. I will dye my hair blue or wear glitter lipstick because why not? If I can be an example, to anyone, to do what makes you happy then that makes me happy. I am a 5’3” multi-racial, daughter, wife, mother, photographer, crochet enthusiast, dancer, coffee-lover.
Transcription: This journey of 50 years has taken courage, the willingness to self-define, to be small, to be alone, to trust that my body is the center of my wisdom. I feel Truth – Beauty – Love – Grief – Anger – Intimacy & ALIVE in my body. It is in my body I experience FREEDOM! Joy reverberates from feeling ALL of it. Home is where my body is, here in my garden as at the ends of the earth. Women in the global south live in there bodies much more than we in the global north. Not as distracted by patriarchy’s controlling images – They know power is in THEIR bodies. I am deeply grateful for the women who showed me the way HOME.
Transcription: I know this woman, but I almost never take time to just look at her, let alone just appreciate her. When I saw this picture, I initially felt good like I was seeing an old friend, but once I became conscious that I was looking at myself, I immediately felt disappointed with my hair, blemishes on my skin, my weight. Perhaps I rarely look at myself because I don’t like the way I look. It makes me sad that I’m so judgmental of myself, because I’m really not that bad. I’m special. There’s something special about me, and I can see it in my own eyes. I can see my confidence, my warmth, that comes from the fighting, loving spirit deep within me. I want that energy to shine first (perhaps it does?). I wonder what others see when they look at me – what do they see first? But that’s not the right question, is it? The question is ‘what can I do so that I see the good in myself first?
Transcription: I see myself thankful for life as a woman and for my relationships – my husband, my sons, my granddaughter, my family and friends, my opportunities, my journey. For I truly know my Savior has carried me. What joy! What joy!
Transcription: I can remember being 5 yrs. old at an audition overhearing the casting director say to my mom ‘Bring her back after she’s lost 5 pounds.’ And by no means was I a total chubster, I just wasn’t boney like some of the other little girls there. Regardless I was rejected because I didn’t meet up to their standards. I felt I wasn’t good enough. That’s pretty fucking heavy considering I was in kindergarden. I guess that’s when it started. So for the next 15 years I lived with the idea that since I was overweight, I was worthless, I was not good enough, boys could never like me because I didn’t look like that girl… etc. That’s such bullshit! This society is killing any inkling of a positive self image for children. Girls aren’t taught to love themselves for who they are, instead they are bombarded with images of 98 lb. girls with ridiculous D-cups instilling that is normal, and that’s how they should look if someone is ever going to love them. It’s sad. At this point in my life I can say that I’m the BOMB, not just because I am, but simply accepting my greatness without worrying what anyone else has to say about it is the shit. Love yourself for who you are. Work hard to live up to your own dreams, rather than an MTV video.
Transcription: The one word that comes to mind is satisfaction. This is the face and posture of someone who is comfortable and satisfied with her position in life. I am a NYC firefighter in Engine 58- the best firehouse in the world. I am the result of many hands molding me into the firefighter I am – especially Lt. Robert Nagel – my hero, my role model. A man who looked life and death straight in the face, walked the walk and talked the talk. To have the best job in the best house in the best city in the world – this explains the smile captured here. It may not always be on my face, but it is always in my heart.
More about Jennifer
Jennifer grew up in New York City, where she developed her love of photography. She interned and studied at the International Center of Photography, and started working as a professional photographer at 18, when her first portrait was published.
She has spent the majority of her career working as a producer in network television, specializing in documentaries, national network news and newsmagazine programs. Her work has appeared on NBC, ABC, ITV, MSNBC, CNBC, Discovery Channel, Investigation Discovery, TLC, Weather Channel, E! Entertainment-TV, etc. Jennifer currently resides in Los Angeles. You can follow Jennifer on Twitter.
An exhibition of Her?Self is on view at dnj gallery in Santa monica, CA through April 4, 2015.