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Shameless Photography: Body Positive Pin Up Girls

By Catherine Mhloyi--We all have our ideas and preconceived notions about what femininity is, but how often does that include women of all shapes and sizes, races, and ages?

Shameless Photography is breaking boundaries with their photos that depict their diverse clientele as pin up girls, often seen as the epitome of femininity and shameless sex appeal. Sophie, Carey and Maxine's work at Shameless not only redefines society’s ideals but also helps promote body-positive attitudes in both the viewers and the models themselves.

Catherine Mhloyi: What inspired you to start doing pin up photos?

Sophie Spinelle:  For as long as I can remember, I've been drawn to the iconic paintings of Elvgren and Vargas, but it wasn't until I was in my 20s that I met women who dressed like pinups -- and who played with the stereotypes that go along with it. I have friends in IT, in law, in car repair shops, who wear crinolines, stiletto heels and glitter to work.  Everyday, they are showing that just because you're a “girlie girl” doesn't mean you're not fiercely intelligence, skillful, smart, or powerful. When I started Shameless in 2009, I wanted to create portraits that would help women break from shame and see their strength and beauty. I thought it would be wonderful to create images in this style, and to help femininity feel playful and empowering instead of restrictive. 

Catherine Mhloyi: Has the idea always been centered on body-positivity?

Sophie Spinelle: Yes.  We made a decision early on that we would never changed the shape or size of people's bodies in Photoshop, and we've always been focused on making the photo shoot experience welcoming and affirming for everyone.  As you can imagine, most people are very nervous before their photo shoots!  It's a moment when insecurities and self-criticisms come to the surface. The instant a person steps into our studio, we work to show them they are welcome and safe, and reflecting back to them what is genuinely beautiful about them, both in terms of physical traits and personality. It's our job to bear witness to each unique person and help them see the beauty we see. 

Catherine Mhloyi: When did you first decide to become body-positive and what inspires you to share that with others?

Sophie Spinelle: I was lucky enough to have a very supportive and body-positive mom.  She was consciously trying to break the cycle of eating disorders in our family.  My mom was very judgmental of her own body, but she did everything she could to help me see that my body was beautiful -- and moreover, that beauty wasn't related to size.  Still, I found lots to criticize when I looked at my body and my face.  It took me many years to find a place of acceptance.  Once I did, I wanted to help other people break free of the cycle of self-judgment.

Catherine Mhloyi: Have people always been receptive of your work?

Maxine Nienow: We are so grateful for the communities that follow, love, understand our work and what we stand for, but I think there are still many others that see this as a very foreign idea. Some are afraid to be seen as vain for taking a stance in appreciating their beauty, some seem afraid to face the question of what they feel most insecure about, and others might never have had a creative outlet to explore who they are. But no matter what people's initial response to our work is, we hope to continue to inspire them as well as create a different possibility for self-love and expression.

Catherine Mhloyi: How has body-positivity enhanced your life and what is the main message you want readers to know?

Carey Lynne: Having a negative body image can affect almost every aspect of your life.  You may feel that if your body was just a bit slimmer or your hair was thicker all of your problems would be solved -- but that isn't true.  When you focus your energy on thinking your body isn't good enough, you leave little energy for other things if your life.  I spent most of my teenage years through early 20s doing just that.  It took me a long time to figure out that my body wasn't actually the one holding me back -- it was me. 

I realized that this image of myself that I thought I needed to achieve was just something I was fed by society.  I didn't need to look like anything other than what made me feel like me.  I began to spend less time obsessing about how my clothes fit, and less time thinking about how everyone around me was seeing all of my imperfections.  And in return I starting spending more time just being happy and doing the things I wanted to do and feeling confident about my appearance. 

At Shameless, I'm trying to spread that feeling of freedom to everyone I can.  I encourage people to really take a step back and think about why they are feeling these things about their bodies and if the things they are doing to change it are really worth their energy.  I think body-positivity is about loving your body as it is and taking care of it, not trying to change it into something some else tells you it should be.

Catherine Mhloyi: What's the most important thing you've learned from the women you've worked with?

Carey Lynne: I think the most important thing I have learned from the women I've photographed is that it is okay to be vulnerable and to share your vulnerability with other people. Our models are so brave!  They come from every walk of life and I get to hear such incredible life stories.  They share their fears, adventures, love stories and so much more.  I honestly feel that together, in the photo studio, we are working together to tackle something deeply rooted in women's lives that has held us back in one way or another for generations.  

Maxine Nienow: I have learned so much from both the similarities and differences we all share. Seeing these women emerge from insecurity and shame inspires me to be more brave and fearless. 

Catherine Mhloyi: Is there anyone you haven't worked with yet who you would like to in the future?

Carey Lynne: Oh, definitely! I have a long list but I will just name a few.  First is Gabourey Sidibe. I think she is so beautiful and such an incredible actress who has broken new ground for the plus size community in film. Second is Cindy Joseph, a gorgeous 63 year-old model and business owner.  Older woman are not represented enough in our media and Cindy is working to change the market for anti-aging products with her line of pro-aging products.  And lastly is Jamie Brewer! Jamie is such an amazing woman who is proving stereotypes wrong.  

Sophie Spinelle: I wholeheartedly second all of those!  Honestly though, we're just getting started.  I still get so excited every time a new booking comes in.  Every person who comes to our studio gives us a new journey and a new set of lessons.  Some of my favorite clients are really shy people.  There's nothing more fulfilling than helping someone emerge from her shell and become radiant and free in front of the camera.  I love helping ordinary people see that they are extraordinary.

About this blogger: Catherine Mhloyi is a Fashion Design student at the Art Institute of New York City. She is passionate about fashion, art, music, and poetry. An avid feminist, her mission in the fashion world is to change the way we sell our products to women. She believes that the fashion industry as it stands now plays a major role in the negative influences out there that damage the way people perceive themselves. Catherine hopes to one day become a designer for plus-sized women and an advocate for body-positive marketing in the fashion world.

Also by Catherine: 

Haters Gonna Hate: Body Positivity Superstar Nadia Afkhami

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