I’ve worked in fitness for years. And for many of those years, I coveted the success of others with thousands and thousands of Instagram followers and envious of those given the opportunity to shoot for fitness brands I emulate. Often, I angrily scrolled through my feed not double tapping in protest of my own jealousy wishing and wanting so desperately to be someone—anyone else other than myself with a body that could wear clothes in a way that companies would want me to shoot for them. It was a horrible cycle and I was so entrenched in it.
As the years of envy and self-loathing plagued me, I continued to wonder in vain, why not me?
Why couldn’t I be picked for this or that, or why couldn’t I be her? Why, why, why?!?
It wasn’t until I finally realized that I didn’t really actually want to be a model per say. Sure, it’s super cool and great to be heralded for your body and beauty, but when I think about the legacy I want to leave behind in this world; it certainly isn’t with respects to what I looked like, wore, or even my purple hair.
I want to inspire people through my words, my wit, my power, my physical, emotional, and mental strength. I want to help empower people to take back their lives. Free themselves and really live. But most of all, the ripples I want to leave echoing for eternity are ones that celebrate who we are in our infinite power—whether that be physical, professional, or personal. So I didn’t want to be a model; I simply wanted a platform to be heard. I wanted the world to see me, to hear me, and let me change their perspectives by the life I lead.
So in an effort to try to clean up my life, I stopped doing things that were motivated by external validation. I stopped wanting ‘it’ [I mean what is ‘it’ even anyway?] so bad and turned my back on the Instagram yogi. I decluttered my Instagram feed of people that didn’t inspire me and frankly, made me feel bad about myself. And then something remarkable happened—I felt better! I really did. I opened a door to my soul and asked myself what I really wanted to do and wondered how I was going to do it. And then, just like that, on some idle morning I woke up, rolled over and stated to my still sleeping husband, “I’m going to be a body builder.”
I spent 11 weeks preparing for my first show with countless hours in a gym, food shopping, meal prepping, and talking about what I was going to eat, when I was going to eat, and my workouts. Every step of the way, I posted my progress for the world to see. And by progress, I mean the gritty sweaty selfies on the stair machine after leg day and the realities of breaking down into tears when I dropped my food all over the floor. I shared it all and held nothing back. What I received in return from the world of social media was applause for my honesty and what I had been looking for all along; that platform to inspire others to try new things, love their bodies, and live life on their own accord.
So in the midst of this process, when dear friend and famed photographer Jen Rosenstein offered to shoot me before my show to document my journey—I jumped at the opportunity. But what happened next, we could only imagine in our wildest dreams.
A few weeks after our photo shoot, Jen was approached by the girlgazeproject to have one of the images we shot curated in their exhibit: #girlgaze, a frame of mind at The Annenberg Space for Photography. We couldn’t believe it. THIS WAS IT. THIS WAS THE PLATFORM WE WERE BOTH SEEKING. This was our chance to show the world that women need to be proud of their bodies, accomplishments, and mustn’t allow their voices to be silenced by others and self-doubt. Holy shit, we did it—people will now hear and see me, see us, and be inspired on a visceral level. This. Was. It.
On the eve of October 21st, 2016, I walked into a museum to see a portrait of myself [in my underwear and bra] hanging on a wall.
I cry as I type this and I have to keep stopping to wipe my eyes.
To see myself immortalized in such a way—the way I always wanted to make waves in this world was so surreal, or shall I say real? I spent the evening with Jen, her friends, meeting others girls in the exhibit, and of course with my husband—for without him, none of what I do could ever be possible. I felt loved, celebrated, honored, and humbled all at the same time knowing that in this moment in time I am truly part of a movement and change in taking back the word girl.
To quote one of the placards at the exhibit:
“We are pushing back against the cultural projections and traditional gender roles imposed upon girls from the outside world, media and culture. Instead, we aim to represent the intelligence, creativity, complexity, and diversity of girls’ experience—across nationality, ethnicity, race, religion, sexual orientation and economic background—by taking back the camera into our own hands. It is up to us—those who identify with being a girl—to show our perspectives, tell our stories, and determine our own identity, sexuality and beauty.”
Arielle: The Body Builder is a piece of raw emotion. It is me, you, your best friend, and the girl at the gym who just joined and is terrified of not knowing how to use the equipment. It is every single girl who dared to take a chance on a dream without worrying about the outcome. It is a timeless story of a girl who said, “Screw what you think, what you want me to be and do. I am me and that’s all I know how to be.”
It is my hope that through this photo you can take something away from it. For me, I look at it and I don’t see the girl who spent years as the ‘fat funny friend’, the slowest one on her college lacrosse them, the anorexic, or the girl who’d be prettier if she just smiled a little more. I see a survivor.
I see a girl who took back her identity, rediscovered her self-confidence, and is truly proud of the scars she wears on her heart and sleeve.
Thank you Jen for giving us a chance to bring others into our worlds, and for giving me a platform to be seen and heard.
Thank you Greg for your undying support of my ceaseless need to constantly push the envelope.
And thank you to my friends, family, as well as those I have yet to know and meet [via the interwebs] who always cheer me on and offer support.
I hope you will continue to be part of my journey. Follow me on Instagram and Facebook and make sure to check out #girlgaze, a frame of mind at The Annenberg Space for Photography. Admission is free and the exhibit runs through late February.
Remember, who run da world.