The Scoop: Body liberation is a movement that aims to free people from constructed judgments of how bodies should or shouldn’t look, and Body Liberation Photos is one of the forces in this movement. Founded by Lindley Ashline, Body Liberation Photos is a photography studio specializing in photographing individuals in larger bodies. Lindley talked to us about body liberation, her photography services, and the connection between photography and activism. Photography offers people in large bodies the opportunity to be seen in an empowering and therapeutic way.
“If You’re Fat, Then I’m Humongous!” is a research article published in 2011 by Rachel H. Salk and Renee Engeln-Maddox. The article explores a study that looked into the concept of “fat talk” among college-age women at an unidentified Midwestern university. The study found that one-third of the 168 participants engaged in frequent or very frequent fat talk. A majority of participants engaged in fat talk at any frequency.
The article explores fat talk in terms of the way it reinforces women’s body-related distress and urges reflection on the way fat talk also reinforces the mythical norm. The study showed that the frequency of self-reported fat talk was associated with greater body dissatisfaction and internalization of thinness as ideal.
Body liberation means different things to the people who identify with it, but the movement serves to free people from externally imposed ideas of what bodies should or shouldn’t look like. Body liberation is freedom from political and social systems that deem some bodies more worthy than others.
Lindley Ashline is a photographer and body acceptance activist who uses photography as a tool for empowerment and advocacy. She is the founder and owner of Body Liberation Photos, a photo studio specializing in photographing large bodies. To Ashley, photography is an invaluable tool for individuals to use to see themselves – and be seen – through a liberated lens.
“From the very beginning, I wanted to serve people in bigger bodies because I already had this grounding in what I now call the body liberation world,” Lindley said. “I wanted to do that both from an equity standpoint because there were very few photographers who were people in larger bodies at the time, but also from a market standpoint, in the sense that there were few photographers working with people in big bodies.”
Lindley’s Journey to Body Liberation
Lindley is based in Seattle and has been into photography since she was a child. “I originally did nature photography, and I always did photography as a hobby and really enjoyed it,” she said. Lindley said she felt she was too large to be a photographer and was discouraged by the lack of visibility of large photographers and models alike. The photography industry as a whole was exclusive and inaccessible.
“And then I started getting into plus-sized fashion,” Lindley said. “It was this absolute revelation for me, because for the first time in my life, I saw people with bodies like mine that were fashionable and stylish and trendy, and they were wearing bright colors and stripes and all these things big women are told they shouldn’t or can’t do.”
Lindley said that seeing people in big bodies wear whatever kind of clothes they wanted was inspiring, but she had a hard time imagining herself wearing some of the clothes they did. “I just sat there and went, ‘How do they do that?’” Lindley said. “I would tell myself that it was alright for their body type, but not mine. But, eventually, I started experimenting with that too, and started learning about the science of bodies.”
Lindley said learning about her own body and about human bodies in general in social media groups and from blog posts helped her understand her body better, which opened the door to truly loving her body. “A lot of these people, who were so confident in their bodies, were more educated than I was about body acceptance, the actual science of bodies, why diets don’t work for most people, and about loving their body, no matter what shape it takes at this moment.”
Lindley’s curiosity was piqued, and she began reading everything about body liberation she could get her hands on. As her interest grew, so did her discontentment with her current job. “I had this series of really crappy corporate jobs, and I got to the point where I was done,” she said. “I knew I had to do something different.”
Inspired by her lifelong interest in photography and her blossoming interest in body acceptance and liberation, Lindley began training as a photographer. She took online courses and began practicing photographing people. Eventually, she was establishing herself as a photographer for people with large bodies.
“Everything I did as I trained in photography was taking these mainstream photography things and adapting them for larger bodies,” Lindley said. “I stripped out the negativity, you know, things about hiding parts of a body or trying to make them appear smaller.”
To Lindley, photography and activism go hand-in-hand. “When you start a small business and a social media account, you need things to talk about,” she said. “And it just made sense for me to talk about all these things I had been learning about bodies and social justice. For me, those two things have always been intertwined.”
The Power Of Being Seen
The term body liberation may be an unfamiliar one to many people, but most people have probably heard of body positivity or body acceptance. Lindley said these movements have the same heart and a shared history. “In the 1960s, there were people who spoke about body size, and people who were inspired by the Civil Rights Movement to start speaking about body size,” Lindley said.
“Through the 60s and 90s, the kind of fat activism we’re familiar with today began,” she continued. “People began building coalitions and organizations, and one of them was the National Association for the Advancement of Fat Acceptance, which is still going today.”
The body positivity movement experienced a boost in popularity with the growing use of social media. And Lindley said that as the movement’s popularity grew, corporations became attracted to the label “body positivity” as a method to sell more products.
“People in the mainstream started to be more interested in body positivity, and corporations and influencers saw the opportunity to take parts of the movement and capitalize off them,” Lindley said. “This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but many of these corporations and influencers were telling people to love their bodies while selling them products designed to change them.”
Lindley said body liberation is about addressing the systems that deem large bodies unworthy or inadequate. “It’s about individual self acceptance, while also addressing the system, because breaking down and rebelling against the systems, and ultimately fixing them, helps us as individuals,” she said.
Body Liberation Photos works on an individual and systemic level. Through her photography services, Lindley helps individuals in large bodies see themselves through a liberated lens. “My clients come to me so I can help them see themselves in an honest and non-stigmatizing way,” Lindley said. “I’m bringing them in so we can celebrate who they really are and how they actually look.”
Lindley offers a Body Appreciation Photo Session, which is tailored to clients looking for a photography experience that celebrates their body exactly how it is. The Body Appreciation Photo Session is a custom two-hour session that blends portraiture, boudoir, and fine art nudes, which Lindley customizes for each client.
Redefining The Value of Beauty Through Stock Photography
“We’re unlike any other population in history in terms of the amount of images we see around us all day, every day,” Lindley said. “We see bodies that aren’t our own, or our family or friends, constantly and at a really high volume. Nobody else in history has been exposed to bodies in this way.”
Social media and other kinds of digital consumption expose us to more ideas and people than we would ever meet without these technologies. Seeing and taking in all these bodies, whether we realize it or not, often reinforces societal standards about what bodies should be.
“It affects us in a lot of ways,” Lindley said. “It affects what kinds of bodies children think are okay, what they see as good bodies and bad bodies, and how we feel about ourselves. The point is, images affect us, and they matter.”
It was with this belief that Lindley set out to create stock photography options that feature large bodies. “It’s important to understand just how many stock images we see in a day, so having stock photos available that represent more bodies than just a 21-year old white cis, fully abled, straight, thin, fair-skinned woman.”
Lindley started creating stock photography in 2016 alongside her personal photography services. She saw a need in the stock photography market for a wider diversity of bodies, and wanted to provide images of large bodies that weren’t stigmatizing or judgemental.
As part of her mission to provide visibility to people in larger bodies, Lindley offers a 6-month program called SEEN. SEEN. is a program designed to help individuals in large bodies build healthy self images by becoming comfortable with being seen. Lindley brings her clients from a fear, or even hatred, of being photographed to a feeling of empowerment in being visually captured.
Body Liberation Photos combines a variety of photography approaches with the goal of providing visibility to large bodies. “When it comes to our bodies, there’s nothing wrong with our bodies as they are, and particularly when those bodies are used to sell us things,” Lindley said. “When you look at the more positive depictions we have out there, it’s clear that photography can literally change the way people see themselves.”