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Offline NudieDaniel

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By Claire Cohen, video courtesy Laura Dodsworth

8:00AM BST 24 Jul 2015

 “You can’t judge a book by its cover – except mine because it’s got breasts on the front,” says Laura Dodsworth, laughing.

Little wonder the photographer is in good spirits. She’s recently published her first book, Bare Reality – a collection of 100 un-airbrushed, searingly honest photographs of women baring their naked breasts.

Each image is accompanied by an interview, in which the women reveal what their breasts mean to them. The youngest participant was 18 and the oldest 101. There’s a vicar, a Buddhist nun, a streaker, a stripper, transgender women, a club promoter called ‘Captain Hello Titties’ – and many others of different ethnicities, ages, sexual orientations, shapes and sizes.

Dodsworth, 41, first had the idea for the book four years ago but it took her a year to ‘build up the courage to do it’.

“I was shy about telling people for months. Not many mums at the school gate are going ‘yeah, I photographed some boobs today’.

“Now with No More Page 3, Free the Nipple and breastfeeding selfies it seems really current. But when I started it felt bonkers.”

 So ‘bonkers’ in fact that she couldn’t find a publisher. Undeterred, Dodsworth went on Kickstarter to see whether anyone might be interested in such a book. They were. The project met its target on the first day and ended up going three times over. The accompanying video has been watched 1.5 million times.

“It went mental,” she says. “I was afraid to go to sleep for a weekend, because I was getting messages and emails every minute.”

So what prompted this photographer, more used to taking portraits of women’s faces, to want to capture their bare breasts instead?

Growing-up, Dodsworth tells me she felt as though she never ‘measured up, literally’ to images of women she saw in the media.

“I didn’t recognise myself,” she explains.

“My dad, though a wonderful man, was a sex addict. He had this tacky pink satin cushion on the back seat of the car and it had a picture of Sam Fox’s gigantic breasts on it. It fascinated but also intimidated me.

“That was reinforced by pop culture as I grew up. There’s this big chasm between what we are told is the right way to look – sexually attractive and submissive - and how you actually feel if you look down your top.

“Our bodies have been stolen from us and we’ve been sold back some two-dimensional sexy version of ourselves that doesn’t have a story.”

 Bare Reality is an extraordinary book – Dodsworth describes it as ‘100 photographs, 100 stories, 100 acts of feminism –unflinching in its portrayal of the female form.

Some of the models are family and friends. Others heard about the project through word-of-mouth and volunteered.

All are anonymous; only their ages are given, alongside headlines such as ‘Other people don’t perceive you as a sexual person when you are in a wheelchair’ and ‘It was like having two clitorises on my chest’.

Some are hilarious, like the woman who gave her breasts personalities – one shy; the other a ‘roaring teenager’.

Others are deeply moving, such as the breast cancer survivor who talked about her son shaving her head.

Perhaps the most gripping is that of the 101-year-old, who tells the story of her breast milk drying-up through shock, when Hitler marched into Berlin. It deserves a book of its own.

Dodsworth took the photos first because “by the time people had bared their breasts they were ready to bare their stories.”

One woman was so nervous she was shaking - the only person who’d ever seen her breasts was her husband. Others whipped their bras off and got under the lights. Another sat down to do the interview topless, before Dodsworth gently told her she could put her shirt back on.

 The difference between older and younger women, she tells me, was huge.

“Older women were more pragmatic about their bodies,” says Dodsworth.

“One, 80-year-old said younger women are now weakening themselves by turning themselves into sex objects. She doesn’t understand it, because in her day there were no push-up bras. When her mother was a young woman she didn’t have the vote, so she feels she’s seen this swing in equality in one direction and then back again.

“The young women were all so affected by airbrushing and internet porn.

“Everyone thinks they’re too big, too small, too saggy, or they have too many hairs around their nipples, or their veins show too much, or they’re too asymmetrical or pointy. The ways in which we torture ourselves about not being good enough are endless”.

Dodsworth’s first model, though, was herself.

The photographer’s original plan had been to ‘hide away’ in the book, anonymously. “But as time went on realised I had to talk about how it had changed me. Because I’m a completely different person now,” she says. “It would have felt dishonest, and the whole project is about honesty.

“It was a very vulnerable decision. When the book went to press I cried. I’ve basically put a gigantic picture of my boobs in a book.”

When I ask how she’s changed, I expect Dodsworth to tell me that she’s more accepting of her body. Having seen 100 other women’s lumps and bumps, she surely realises there’s no such thing as perfection.

This she does. But she also tells me that her boobs are ‘more erogenous’.

“Yes, it’s surprising,” she continues. “We’re sold this idea that breasts are the ultimate sexual fondle bags, but I have never been into the idea of mine being touched until now.

“I can’t promise everyone who reads the book will have the same side-effect. I think it’s less to do with nerve endings and more to do with having sense of peace with myself as a woman”.

Dodsworth tells me that all the women featured in the book are ‘delighted’ and proud to have taken part – they’ve even established an alumni network. And she’s had positive responses from other women (“although one said, ‘it’s not very NICE is it?’”).

And how have men reacted?

“Amazingly,” she enthuses. “A third of the Kickstarter backers were male. I had a message from one in the US that made me cry, talking about how he now sees his wife differently.

“It should be required reading for men. It’s like overhearing a conversation between a group of women, spilling their intimate stories over a glass of wine. What man wouldn’t want to read that?”

That said, she does tell me about a male curator who said the images were ‘too controversial and distracting’ to display (“I was flummoxed because you can’t walk into a gallery without seeing female nudes, albeit mostly created by men for the male gaze”).

And she mentions a male friend who saw a preview of the project.

“He said ‘it’s really fascinating Laura, but I don’t want to see any more because it’s destroying the fantasy of breasts’.

“I felt resentful of that. That’s the point – breasts currently only exist as a male fantasy and must be scaffolded in a bra to be unpackaged at the right time.

“In our culture breasts are our sexual calling cards. But they’re also how we feed our babies, and they’re life and death – one in eight women will have breast cancer.”

(To that end, the proceeds of the book are going to charity Breast Cancer UK).

Dodsworth has a second project in the pipeline that she won’t yet reveal. But the experience of photographing women’s breasts has clearly changed her.

“It made me feel more love and respect. And if you feel like that about other women it ends up transmuting to yourself. I can’t think they’re incredible without thinking I’m a little bit incredible, too”.

I couldn’t agree more.
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Offline prodigal_son

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Re: What photographing 100 pairs of naked breasts taught me about women
« Reply #1 on: July 28, 2015, 05:27:40 pm »
That's a great concept for a book and really positively portrayed. I hope it does well and helps women to feel good about their bodies.

Offline Archaewok1

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Re: What photographing 100 pairs of naked breasts taught me about women
« Reply #2 on: July 29, 2015, 03:44:19 am »
Thanks for sharing this, Daniel. I can see myself buying this book in the future.