For the past three years, NOW Toronto, a magazine based in Toronto, Canada, has put out a "Love Your Body" issue to promote body positivity through sharing the inspiring stories of diverse individuals alongside their nude photos.
The issue was created to counter all the "new year, new you" messages that inevitably inundate us after December.
"We thought, why not appreciate the people we are and the bodies we have today instead?" Michelle da Silva, co-coordinator of the feature, told A Plus. "We wanted to showcase Torontonians, who aren't models and aren't typically seen in the media. Every year, the group we assemble is diverse in shape, size, race, genders, abilities, and age, and they come with inspiring stories of body acceptance and positivity."
Anyone willing to be photographed nude, and share an inspiring story about the relationship they have with their body, is encouraged to apply to be featured.
"I think every person who stepped into the studio for this shoot had been on — or was in the middle of — a journey of self transformation through self-love," Tanja Tiziana, the photographer who took the portraits this year, told A Plus. "They had found the freedom and the happiness that comes through accepting yourself and were exploring the new world that opened up to them. Many took the time to say how proud they were to take part and how they felt like taking part in this series was the next step in their process: sharing the experience with others."
Tiziana has felt greatly inspired by the people who participated in this shoot. "They are putting themselves out there in the magazine and online, to millions, where, realistically, plenty of trolls are ready to try to strip them of their pride. That's courage. Many have been through enough already without risking that," she said.
Da Silva hopes that sharing portraits of this diverse group of people, and learning more about their relationships with their bodies, will help promote body positivity.
"I think that providing a platform for diverse people, bodies we don't typically see in the media, helps to change the conversation around beauty standards," da Silva said. "So many of our participants said to us, 'I want to do this because I never see people who look like me in magazines.' I hope that by showcasing their photos and telling their incredible stories, we challenge expectations of what it means to be beautiful and strong."
Take a look at this year's models and some excerpts from their interviews. (Some images NSFW):
1. Catherine Hernandez
Catherine Hernandez is a mother and the author of a new novel titled Scarborough. In her interview, she spoke about developing two chronic illnesses and learning to listen to her body's needs.
"During the height of my sickness, I would write love letters to my body and post them up. Like, 'Dear Body. My beautiful Body. I am so sorry that I starved you. I'm so sorry that I made you work when you didn't want to work. I'm sorry that I pushed you hard when I shouldn't have. I should have just listened to you. And I'm listening to you now,'" she said.
2. Heidi Hawkins
Heidi Hawkins is a new mom and voice-over actress. In her interview, she revealed how pregnancy changed her body.
"I want women, mothers especially, to accept themselves and to know that our bodies are amazing. I want women to not worry what other people think. All that matters is we're healthy enough to take care of ourselves and our children. What women have to go through in order to bring a child into this world is the hugest thing. We are strong and we can deal with a lot of pain and discomfort, and our strength is so important," she said.
3. Paul Lancaric
Paul Lancaric is a voice-over artist. During his interview, he shared how going to clothing-optional beaches helped him find self-confidence in his body.
"You assume that people might gossip about you or go behind your back the second they see you naked, but in the end, nobody has time to care about that. No one really cares that much about how you look," he said.
4. Ted Hallett
Ted Hallett is a writer and improviser who was diagnosed with kidney cancer last year. During his interview, he discussed how the experience has changed him.
"I don't stress about the things I did before. I yield to the stuff I have no control over. As I get older, I give less of a shit about what people think. That includes what I look like. My body is my body, and I'm cool with that," he said.
5. Jasbina Justice
Jasbina Justice is an activist, yoga instructor, and a coordinator and performer with feminist porn company Spit. During her interview, she shared how her experiences inform her work.
"As a survivor of trauma, learning how to be OK being sexual on my own terms and how to have boundaries has been a big part of my work. There's a demand for respectability if you're a survivor of sex assault – you can't say you're doing porn or sex work or be a very sexual person. But when I went into some sex-positive spaces, it was hard to say, 'I'm coming with a lot of trauma, so this is scary for me,' " she said.
6. Prince Amponsah
Prince Amponsah is an actor and social work student. During his interview, he spoke about being severely burned in a fire and learning to heal.
"I couldn't even comprehend what to do during the time I was recovering. I couldn't see myself going back to acting because I didn't feel I had a place there. You don't see a lot of people who look like me on the stage or on the screen, and sometimes you need those kinds of role models – to see yourself, to feel like you can be a part of it. And it can be very superficial as well, right?" he said.
7. Monique Mojica
"It's been so hard for me not to be at Standing Rock. But it's snowing, and I don't do well in the snow. And if it's no longer appropriate for this 63-year-old to lock herself down to a bulldozer, what the fuck can an old girl like me do?" she said.
8. Acacia Christensen
"People say to me, 'You're so confident.' But there are good days and bad days. Usually it's 'This is me and I can't do anything to change it, so I'm gonna have to enjoy it.' And then there are days when I'm like, 'This is awesome – I'm fat and tattooed!'" she said.
9. Jewelz Mazzei
Jewelz Mazzei is a body activist and model. During her interview, she shared how modeling and the body positive movement helped her find self-love.
"To me, being a body activist means advocating for all shapes and sizes and never judging people based on who they are on the outside. Even though the body-positivity movement has taken big steps in the past few years, I feel like it's still super-important. There are still so many people out there who believe they don't deserve to love themselves unless they look a certain way. I want to keep fighting for them and keep spreading the message of self-love," she said.
(H/T: Huffington Post)