Capture the Moment and Beyond: Stories Behind A Female Art Program
A subtle nervousness captured Tao Yujie when she took a deep breath and said, “I love myself” in front of the camera for a female art program. It is a program she joined as a closure on the painful past.
The art program “I love myself, love your authentic self” photographs 43 females of different ages and professions and exhibits their portraits. “We intend to send a strong note that females can accept their authentic selves, love themselves more, and find their inner strength,” said He Li, the program's initiator.
The “accept your authentic self” concept attracted Tao to sign up. Tao has never felt confident about her appearance or voice as a music performance major since college.
In 2012, she won a third prize in a beauty pageant before falling victim to cyberbullying. But a myriad of internet users labeled her “the ugliest Miss Chongqing” merely based on one poorly taken photo, ignoring her talent in piano and dancing.
After the incident, Tao started working behind the scene, as she could hardly face the camera again for years and struggled with depression. Last year, she took another hit from her fizzling-out relationship and started to seek changes with psychiatric help.
“For years, I felt anxious and critical about how I looked, thinking I have a flat nose, an imperfect jawline, I am not slim enough, and such,” Tao said. “I tried so hard for recognition and to grasp a sense of security from others. Last year, I finally realized what I really needed and that the sense of security or strength doesn’t come from others; I should seek inwardly.”
She used to define beauty as delicate facial features, exquisite makeup, and well-shaped bodies, “but I understood from my trainees that beauty comes in all sorts of forms and confidence makes one radiant,” said Tao, who runs a modeling school for all ages.
On the shooting site, Tao faced the camera without makeup for the first time. It started with discomfort and self-uncertainty, which eased out gradually as she was encouraged by a photographer to share her experience over the years.
“I want to be seen as who I really am rather than what others expect of me. I was relieved when the shooting was done, moving on from the past and feeling fearless. I realized that I didn’t love myself enough when I said ‘I love myself,’ and I almost cried,” said Tao.
It is part of the shooting for every participant to face the camera and say, “I love me.” The idea is to encourage females to love themselves for who they really are and see their inner strength, said He.
He came across many females whose kindness and courage inspired her. “I know a woman who got cancer nine years ago when the doctor said she only had two years to live. She has never given up on herself and keeps encouraging her peers to fight the disease,” said He.
He added there is also a story of a ride-hailing driver who volunteered to pick up a stranger for dialysis for a long time. So many of them contribute what they can to make the world a better place.
As a photographer herself, He believes that the camera captures not only the instant moment but also the making of the moment that carries more significance.
“A moment is an epitome of what she has been through, her current state of mind, and how she feels, that is where the beauty and strength of females lie, and that is what we want to capture and present in the program,” He said. “When I saw Yujie with a relieved smile through the lens, I saw her growth after all these years and her strength coming from inside.”
(Written by Guo Shuyu, Liangjiang New Area Media Center)