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November 15, 2020

As makers ourselves, we love to see people celebrating not just their creativity but also expressing who they are and celebrating themselves too. In the first part of an ongoing photography series, we've invited contributors to talk us through not just the technical side of taking a photo but the emotional side too.

First up is a guest post by Danielle Gordon of The Chachi Power Project, a passionate and creative Body Positive Advocate based in Edinburgh who is here to remind every body that they are beautiful. She's on a mission to improve everyone's body confidence through her writing, interactive workshops, talks, events and retreats. Here she writes about what it means to be a maker and be proud of more than just what you create.

- Ysolda

I studied jewellery and metal design at the art school in Dundee and since graduating I’ve played around with wood and metal and glass and wool and now my focus and passion lies within clay. Granted, I’m a bigger fan of the process than of the final product, but at least I like a lot of the pieces I now make. Until a few years ago the trouble I had liking myself transferred into everything I made. It is tough to see the value of a piece you make when you don’t see much value in the maker.

It seems that thinking negatively about yourself seeps out much further than you think… right into the tendrils of your full life and what you create. It’s bigger than just those, seemingly private, cold nasty words you say to yourself in the mirror. We think the way we feel about ourselves is our own battle and we are the only ones wounded when those sad thoughts ripple through our heads. But the way you speak to yourself matters and the effect is far reaching.

Life is generally much nicer when your self value is high. When you start to respect yourself and your body. That sense of self worth extrapolates out into everything in your life, even into what you create. It’s the reason the tag line to my project is: ‘change the world by learning to love your body’.

The start of my journey

My life changed completely when I did some self development work in 2016 and realised quite a few things about my body, my place in the world and what life actually is. When I realised that my body wasn’t a limitation but my access to a life I wanted to live, a lot changed for me.

At first I thought: ‘I’m sure I can have a good life despite all these ‘flaws’. Now, after nearly 4 years of being immersed in body image and equality work I realise that the ridiculous idea of naturally occurring human features being referred to as ‘flaws’, is the issue. Not my body.

At first this perspective shift helped me start being kinder; to myself, my body and other bodies. I started seeing myself differently. I started walking differently. I started surrounding myself with different messaging, different people. I started recognising our culture for what it is: so very toxic. It seemed like a dramatic perspective shift at first but this toxic culture is pretty powerful and I realised that if I didn’t work at it and keep up this way of seeing myself, speaking about myself and learning about why we all feel the way we do about our bodies, I was going to slip right back into those old behaviours.

A change in perspective

A full blown perspective shift is difficult to achieve without either; having a baby, suffering from a disease, going through a divorce, facing redundancy, or losing someone you love. But some of us desperately need a perspective shift to change the way we feel about ourselves and our bodies and perhaps pregnancy isn’t an option and the last thing we want is to wish for death, divorce and disease to be brought into our lives.

So I have a simpler 5 minute perspective shifter for you… if this can’t change the way you feel about your body then perhaps, at least, it can change your day or your week.

Imagine yourself at 90 years old. You are sitting in a chair, looking out at your garden, a warm brew in your hands. A life well lived. Many laughs. Many things learned. Hard times and good times. It’s cosy, it’s winter. Maybe you have a crocheted blanket over your knees. Perhaps you made it yourself. You are thinking back over your long life. You are full of wisdom. You have a lot of advice to share.

So share it.

What is your advice? What would that 90 year old tell you?

When I did this exercise for the first time, my 90 year old self dropped some bombs: dump him, tell people you love them, stop saying yes to please everyone… She also said: ‘Show up.’

Show Up

To me ‘show up’ means ‘be seen’. ‘Show up’ means figure out exactly who you are. It means ‘be unapologetic’. Unapologetic for who you decide to be and what you look like. It means embrace the mistakes you make and take responsibility for them. It means let children see you be defiant in the face of diet culture and beauty standards. It means ‘take up space’. ‘Show up’ means really SEE your inherent self worth, even when this culture and the voices in your head make that difficult. It means stick up for yourself. It means be proud of all the elements of your identity. In my case that means I embrace; the joker, the sensitive soul, the maker, the woman, the wannabe mother, the procrastinator, the impatient organiser.

It also means inspire others to do all those things too.

And that 90 year old wanted memories. She wanted mementos and photographs of her life.

Creating Memories

She wanted reminders of where she’d been, who she’d been with, what she’d made, what she’d found, what she looked like. She wanted love heart rocks from beach walks, pots which didn’t quite fire well in the kiln, cards and scraps of paper with special messages. She wanted pictures of herself and the ones she loved, photos of her when she was younger and how she’d aged and what she’d experienced.

That’s when I stopped deleting photos. I stopped zooming in and being critical of the way I looked in pictures and I started looking at the whole picture. Really seeing the people and the joy and reflecting on that moment in time. It’s when I stopped just taking pictures of the landscape and started taking pictures of me, in the landscape.

It’s when I started to photograph all the wonky pots I threw on the pottery wheel and asked my fellow potters to take photos of me and my hands and face covered in clay, looking perplexed or joyful as I made or mangled pieces. My photos now catch my pride and my woes. Me at my worst and my best. The process and the finished product. Because photos are important. Memories are important. What I create is important and who I am is important.

Photo credit: Lisa Gordon Scott

We need to remember that a piece is more than just the finished product. The magic is in the story. And that includes the maker.

And we all love a story. So why not share it? Perhaps you take a few snaps already of your finished piece but there is a reason we all love baking shows on TV and it’s not just to see the cake at the end. It’s the challenge, the ingredients, the recipe, the pitfalls, the triumph. I want to see all of it. And without knowing the baker, well, I’m just not invested.

Being seen as the maker is important. Being the person proud of wearing the final product is important. Seeing the mistakes when you’ve had to ask for help, is important. Seeing your passion for the materials and the technique is important.

Letting others see these aspects, whether they are buying your products or are makers themselves, is so valuable. It’s important to your craft, it’s important for your story, it’s important for young makers to see and it’s important to your 90 year old self.

That older person deserves those photographs and those memories.

Nothing in your story has to be polished

Now you may be hesitant because social media makes everything look SO GOOD and we don’t all have tripods and cameras and multiple lenses and the ability to pose in perfect light. I totally get it. And some people don’t like being seen and I really get that too.

But every step is just that, a step. Nothing in your own process and story has to be polished. Everything we do or create is just practice for the next piece (there is a life lesson for you) so that’s how you should see your cataloguing. Don’t take it too seriously. Start slow, give it a try, ask a friend for advice. Recreate something you saw online. Drape or position what you made over a bit of furniture, lay it out or even better: set a self timer and take a snap of yourself wearing it.

Be proud of what you have learned, be proud of your identity, be proud of what you create and be proud of what you look like.

Show your frustration and show your joy. And show yourself. We want to see you.

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