Smile Politely

The BARE Project: A journey to self-love continues

The issue of struggling with one’s body image is certainly not a new one. With unrealistic examples put forth by the media and a narrow idea of beauty exalted by society, people of all experiences feel the pressure to look a certain way. Thankfully, more and more people are taking a stand against this one-size-fits-all definition of beauty and promoting self-love and acceptance. Three women in the Champaign-Urbana community — Emily Ontes, Anna Longworth, and Alisa Greene — are making their own contributions to the movement through The BARE Project. Meant to remind us that we have the power to decide for ourselves what is beautiful and that it’s going to be unique for every individual, the BARE Project showcases photographs of unique individuals paired with handwritten notes expressing their relationships with their bodies.

Completed in August of 2014 and previously showcased at the Indi Go Artist Co-Op, the project is now also available for viewing online. Currently, only about a third of the content it available online, but the group will be updating and adding the rest of the photos throughout the coming weeks.

I spoke with Otnes, co-creative director and head of social media and marketing, and Longworth, co-creative director and photographer, to find out more about the project, the process, and the kinds of responses it has received.

Smile Politely: What is the goal of The BARE Project?

Emily Otnes: The goal of The BARE Project is healing — healing ourselves from society’s unfair expectations, from our own unkind words, and from the unhealthy idea that we are somehow not acceptable just the way we are. Everyone in our project was on a personal journey. The participants — as well as myself, Alisa, and Anna — were all there to experience kindness towards ourselves and to have a moment to reflect on the reasons we can’t always love what makes us unique.

SP: What kind of obstacles did you guys run into while starting this project?

Anna Longworth: At first, we weren’t sure what the best route to find volunteers for the project was. Knowing that it could be a bad idea, we turned to Craigslist. We were aware that asking strangers to pose partially nude sounds quite sketchy. We tried to word it in a way that explained the true meaning of the project and luckily, we got a great response. The process has had its obstacles, but it has been more than worth it. I don’t think any of us realized how much our little idea could actually affect and interest many people — and wasn’t such a “little idea” after all!

SP: Did every participant contribute both a piece of writing and a photo of themselves?

Otnes: Everyone submitted a piece of writing and their favorite photo taken during their shoot. The writings varied from poetry to personal essays to drawings! The personalities really shine through — some kept it simple with just a few words, and some poured their hearts out. Every single person’s [submission] was beautiful; there were definitely tears at the gallery showing, as well as laughter.

SP: You guys also contributed your own photos and stories to the project. How did that feel? Did you ever have doubts or hesitate about posting your photo?

Otnes: I felt very confident organizing and coordinating my end of the project, so when I stepped in front of the lens it was a completely different experience. I hadn’t realized how truly uncomfortable I was being, well, completely exposed in front of people. And then I had to look at myself from all these different angles, with no clothes on. A lot of my facial expressions were combinations of nervousness and shame. And that’s when I realized — this is why I’m doing this project. I shouldn’t have to feel shame just for looking the way I look, for being the way I am. For me, it affirmed my confidence that this project and the people in it are very important.

SP: And how have the rest of the participants responded to being a part of this project? Did you sense any change from the start of the photoshoot to the end?

Longworth: When photographing the participants, I noticed every single person seemed more relaxed by the time they left. Some were very nervous at first. I honestly can’t imagine being photographed in this way by someone I had never met — I have major respect for everyone who trusted me to do so! I tried to keep it lighthearted and fun, and I think that kind of atmosphere put everyone at ease. Many left telling us that they felt empowered and were glad they did it. 

SP: What about viewers’ responses? How has it been, and what do you hope they’ll take away from this project?

Otnes: They’ve responded well. Anyone who approached us told us how much they appreciated and responded to all the stories and photographs. It seemed to do good things for the people involved, whether they had participated or not.

Longworth: I’m still shocked and extremely thankful for the response of the community. I’m shocked by how many people it touched. We would receive messages from people thanking us for our boldness in creating this. And I want viewers to feel inspired. I want it to help loosen their judgements, feel more confident in themselves, and realize that everyone is human. Everyone deserves to be appreciated. We are not defined by our bodies, our failures, or our mistakes. My hope is that viewers feel inspired to work on loving themselves and others.


The group hopes to continue to expand The BARE Project into something bigger, either on- or offline, and possibly even as an annual event. For now, the photos and writings are available for viewing on the project’s Tumblr.

Photo credit: Anna Longworth

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