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The Reality of Beauty

“I’d love to model for Victoria’s Secret.”

This is by far the most common reply. Every time I work with a model for the first time, I enjoy chatting with them during the hair and makeup. I like picking their brains a little, getting to know their personalities, understanding their motives a little better. Many times, this can lead to a much more productive shoot as I can anticipate how to draw them out a little better when the camera is on them, and this always leads to better images. I like hearing about their past experiences, and I like to hear about their goals and aspirations in the modeling world. This tells me a great deal about their initiative, their dreams, and many times, about how realistically they see their own future.

Working in West Michigan, three hours from Detroit and four from Chicago, I’ve not been inundated with offers of portfolio work with the likes of Alessandra Ambrosio or Miranda Kerr. I work predominantly with the new hopefuls to the modeling industry who’ve not yet had an opportunity to prove themselves, they’re on the ground floor and looking up at that very steep and daunting ladder. Few meet the “industry standards” that the fashion world and marketing and advertising agencies have doled out to us. Few have ever worn the eccentric fashions of the elite designers of New York, Paris, or Milan. Instead, they work with what they have, accentuating their best features, their most marketable characteristics, and put their energy into getting their best foot forward.

I love working with these women. They are, for the most part, very aware of their realities and unencumbered by the overactive ego. Five foot, three inches doesn’t bode well for the runway. Thirty-two double A doesn’t exactly promote the full-figured bikini top. That extra couple of pounds around the middle only lessens the dynamic of the hourglass figure. These ladies know how much they are NOT Alessandra or Miranda, but that doesn’t seem to hamper their dreams. They step before the camera with confidence and poise, and share the elegance of the female figure with my camera. And I enjoy the challenge that each model presents to me as a photographer, to demonstrate their unique beauty, and do so in a manner that may be contradictory to what the current fashion trends deem as beautiful ... to showcase a beauty that doesn’t necessarily meet the mainstream requirements.

But in the last six years, I’ve become increasingly alarmed at the rising level of poor self image experienced by the women of our culture. Never before have I heard such outlandish self-assessments from people who I genuinely thought were beautiful people. From “fat calves” and “thick thighs” to “wide jaws” and “pointed shoulders”, women all around me are comparing themselves to a set of standards promoted by the Photoshopped covers and pages of check-out lane magazines, and they’re finding it hard to look at themselves in the mirror without fixating on their own personal disappointments. When I heard my nine year-old daughter making comments about her own body and how it didn’t meet with her expectations, I’d had enough. Beauty, in my world, needed to be redefined.

When the Victoria’s Secret Holiday catalog came out just before Thanksgiving of 2011, I decided that I would build a series of photographs around real women, beautiful women, from my very realistic world. And this series could stand as a testament to all women who compare themselves to the supermodels of the fashion world, those supposedly “perfect” specimens of the female form, and let them realize that every last one of them has a physical beauty that is still astounding to behold, exciting, and desirable. I wanted to assure every hyper-critical eye that they must listen to those around them when they’re given a compliment, and stop seeing only those features that the industry would call “flaws”. Stand confidently in your skin! Pursue a physical, mental and emotional health ... a balance of mind and body. Revel in your personal glamour and stop comparing yourself with the idealistic dreams of an ad campaign. After all, YOU are the target audience. You’re the one stepping into the electric pink cloud of perfume and lace in the middle of the mall. Own it!

This series is dedicated to every woman who dreams of being a Victoria’s Secret model, especially to all of you who don’t realize that you already are one. Celebrate everything that makes you unique. And show everyone around you the reality of your beauty.

Todd Merrifield
January 2012

So Many Thanks to ...

Model Shonda: purple and white sets
MUA/Hair: Heather Spataro

Model Kate: blue and black rhinestone sets
MUA/Hair: Heather Spataro

Model Maggie: mocha set, white polka-dot set, and brown tights
MUA/Hair: Heather Spataro

Model Carleen: floral print set and lavender tunic
MUA/Hair: Heather Spataro

Model CJ: red babydoll set
MUA/Hair: Stacy Nelson

Model Laurenda: white and black set
MUA/Hair: Stacy Nelson

Model Margaret: black and red set
MUA/Hair: Margaret

Model Alexandria: pink and black babydoll set
MUA/Hair: Heather Spataro

All wardrobe items from Victoria's Secret.