When I was in the U.S. military, fitness was a huge part of my life. It was impressed upon me by my Combat Camera unit. After being injured while covering the conflict in Iraq, I began to rehabilitate my body slowly. With a cervical spine trauma, upper extremity nerve damage and traumatic brain injury, fitness was limited to what my body would permit. I learned to listen to my body and grew accustomed to habitual, holistic pain management.
As my healing progressed, I pushed my body further and tried new things I’d not done prior to being hurt such as sprint triathlons, Warrior Games and even ran a full marathon. Just when I was gaining momentum, I had my first seizure. Honestly, I had no idea what happened. One minute I was talking to my husband in the car, the next I was sitting in an ambulance. I got scared and backed off rigorous exercise. During my fitness lapse, I packed on the pounds.
As a professional photographer, being fit is important. It’s not about vanity. It’s about necessity. I shoot six to eight hours during any given Veterans Portrait Project event and I’m up and down constantly – a test of anyone’s endurance. That doesn’t even factor in the two hours before and after the shoots that are spent hauling gear, setting up equipment and testing lights. All of those activities require strength and stamina. At any rate, I needed to get back in the saddle. That’s exactly what I did too. I started a seizure-suppressive diet and joined an all women’s gym near my house.
A time-lapse video of the fitness portrait session. Shot with a Nikon D7500 at 6 second intervals, 60 fps, Auto ISO, Manual Focus, Auto White Balance supported with Manfrotto Tabletop Tripod and Micro Ball Head Kit. Video by Stacy Pearsall)
The women I’ve met at the gym have inspired and motivated me over the last year. They’re your gal-next-door kinda women who come from all walks of life; one’s a driving instructor, one’s a schoolteacher, one’s a realtor, one’s a stay-at-home mom and so on. It doesn’t matter whether they just worked a 10 or 12-hour day; they’re in the gym pushing their bodies. To me, they’re fierce, strong, powerful, motivating women.
While watching the motion picture Wonder Woman, I saw the actors portraying the fierce Amazonian women of Themyscira. In the behind the scenes video extras, I discovered they were real women – real athletes. I was impressed by their strength and power.
That night I began to think about the women in the movie. Most are dedicated solely to their athletic fields such as kickboxing, cross fit, bodybuilding and the like; that’s their job – they don’t have traditional 9-to-5 jobs like my gym mates and me. That’s when I became doubly proud of my friends at the gym for creating the space in their lives to be fit.
I wondered if my gym mates knew how incredible they are. When they looked in the mirror, did they see what I see. Most women being self-conscious and self-deprecating, I doubted it.
I thought, “They have to see if for themselves.”
My plan was to photograph them, so they could see the fruits of their labor. The next day at my morning workout session, I asked the gym owner, Kindal Boyle, if I could set up my studio and take portraits and she agreed.
I wanted to show the world what fitness looks like. I wanted to showcase my everyday-heroes. I wanted to let these ladies know that I see their strength, that I appreciate their dedication and that I’m inspired by them.
I pulled together my gear:
- Nikon D810, NIKKOR 105mm
- Four Elinchrom BXRi 500 compact flash heads,
- Elinchrom Rotalux Stripbox 14×35”
- Elinchrom Rotalux Squarebox 39”
- Two 8.25” reflector dishes
- Four 12’ Manfrotto Alu Master Air-Cushioned Stands
- Two extension cables and two power strips.
I showed up before the first class of the day and set up my gear in the back of the studio. Most of the women felt unworthy or inadequate, so they shied away from the opportunity. I wasn’t surprised. They didn’t see in themselves what I see in them every day. Thankfully, a few of them dug deep and participated. I photographed nine ladies total over the course of two hours.
As they walked into my location studio, they all stated how they weren’t photogenic. Most were skeptical. Some said they didn’t have a body part that was camera worthy.
I chatted with each of the gals and coaxed them into sharing with me what they felt was their biggest asset. Some said their core; others said their upper body. Based on their inputs, I asked them to perform certain exercises that would showcase their strengths: step-ups, curls, kettle ball snatches, squats, push-up and isometrics poses.
By the use of light, body position and muscle activation, I captured their attitude, power and strength. During the process, I showed them the preview screen with their pictures. They were shocked to see their muscles and body in full, glorious, spectacular display.
One woman said, “I didn’t realize I have calf muscles like that.”
I’d done it! Through my pictures, I’d created a mirror from which they could see a positive body image reflected. One after another, their faces lit up. I could see the doubt shift to confidence on the spot. It was incredible.
Photography is such a powerful tool.
It was an amazing, positive experience for me. Apparently it was equally rewarding for the ladies too.
Friend and client, Stacy Pearsall, took pictures of the ladies and me from This Time Fitness, says Kindal Boyle. Her passion is outstanding, and I was almost brought to tears at the pictures she took of my clients (& friends). These women, who have grown so confident since walking through the studio doors, were brave enough to get outside of their comfort zone to show some skin, show off their muscles, their hard work and smile the entire time.
No one was thinking about stretch marks or cellulite, or rolls, says Kindal. It was about what the body can do and the journey it’s already accomplished.
Positive body image doesn’t come every day, explains Kindal. It’s taken me over a decade to appreciate this body of mine for what it is and what it can do. We only have one [body], I had to learn to love it instead of beating it up.
You can feel vulnerable in front of a camera or you can feel brave and beautiful, says Kindal. Every woman deserves to feel special, beautiful, strong and confident. Stacy made that happen for several of us. And I’m not going to lie… these pictures are badass and I’m damn proud! Also motivates me to continue to challenge myself as I’m finally feeling like the confident woman that I deserve to be!
I didn’t do this shoot for money, exposure or advertising. I did it for the women who’ve motivated me, empowered me, and lifted me up. I wanted them to see how I see them – beautiful, powerful, strong.