Rock Your Ugly photo series shares the raw stories of people's insecurities
Would you dare to bare your biggest body-related insecurity, with no makeup, no photoshop, no holds barred?
That’s what Waleed Shah asks people to do for his photo series, Rock Your Ugly.
Waleed was first inspired to create a series of images around body image after struggling with his own insecurities around his belly.
‘I took a self-portrait and posted it on Instagram but didn’t really do anything about till the summer,’ Waleed explains on his website. ‘I went on holiday, ate a whole bunch of junk to the point where my wife started calling me Pablo Escobar (referencing the belly). That was it. I read a book called “The Obesity Code”, applied it and dropped 10kg in 3 months.
‘I had wanted to explore other people’s body insecurities since then but never got around to it until a few weeks ago when I lost my best friend to cancer and wanted something, anything, to get my mental state back on track.
‘I decided to pick up this project and see it through it. The process was like group therapy. I would listen to someone else’s pain and share mine.’
For each photo, Waleed asked his subject to showcase their biggest body-related insecurity front and centre, and to share the story behind it.
We’ve shared photos and a section of each person’s story below, but if you’d like to read more you can do so on Waleed’s website.
‘My earliest memory of feeling less pretty than every other girl around me was when I realized my breasts were not growing regularly.
‘I was 14 years old and I was sitting around the dining table with my family, and my mom had noticed my breasts under my t-shirt shaped very oddly, and she asked “Sarah, what’s wrong with your breasts?”
‘I know that she meant well and that she probably thought I was wearing a funny looking bra underneath, but I got so mad and embarrassed that she mentioned it in front of everybody else. I didn’t know what it was, neither did she, we thought, hey! Late bloomer! They’re still growing!
‘But throughout the years, I visited many doctors, surgeons, and gynecologists, nothing was ever explained to me properly, I was misdiagnosed and not taken seriously. So because of my breast deformity, I started hating my body,
‘I had always been heavier than all my friends, I hated my brown eyes, I hated my bushy uncontrollable curly hair. I hated it all. I envied every single girl that walked my way. I would just look and I’d be like, “why don’t my breasts look like that?”
I did all sorts of treatments to straighten my hair, I wore blue lenses, and I went on every single diet or exercise program you can possibly imagine, the minute I’d eat a plate of pasta or indulge in food like any other human being would, I’d gain all the weight back and even more.
‘This lasted my whole life, up until the age of 23, I met a great cosmetic surgeon and she explained to me that I have a breast deformity called “Tubular Asymmetrical breasts.”
‘My case was a little complicated and it required two constructive surgeries. My whole family was kind enough to help me and support me with this, and I decided to go under the knife. This would be the first time I speak of my breast augmentation publicly, but yes! I got them done, and guess what? They’re hella expensive and I rock them every chance I get, because I never got to enjoy them growing up as a teen, and I only had normal looking breasts starting at the age of 24, that’s only 4 years ago.
‘So I love them, the scars, the experience, and everything that comes with it.
‘I’ve had Alopecia since I was 19 and now I’m 40, so it’s been quite a journey.
‘I’m the only one in my family that has it. I guess you can say I am the unicorn. However, there are plenty of men and women who grew up with this disorder.
‘But, to grow up with hair and then all of a sudden it decides that it doesn’t want to grow back was difficult to experience. A lot of people would tell me that it probably came from “STRESS”.
‘But when the Universalis stage decided to show up three years ago, I wasn’t stressed. So there goes that theory.
‘In 2012, I got so tired of worrying about my hair and living the “you have to grow it back to be beautiful” lifestyle that I went to a salon and they buzz cut it all the way down.’
‘I think I was around 14 when I started developing a skin condition called Tinea Versicolor. It’s a common fungal infection of the skin which results in discolored patches.
‘I was in a summer camp at the time and we were supposed to go swimming when one of the girls had noticed a big patch on my back and she said in a very disgusted tone, “Oh my gosh, what’s that on your back?!” I was in shock and started to panic thinking that it was an allergic reaction to something.
‘I told my mom about it and she took me to see a dermatologist. He looked at my skin under UV light (or something) and it looked so scary that my mom actually started crying.
‘I remember trying everything. There are different ointments, shampoos you can use and even pills. I’ve never tried the tablets though, I probably will at some point. Sometimes it actually completely clears up and my back looks amazing! Then other times it’ll flare up or it might stay that way for the entire year, even when it’s cold. It’s really unpredictable.
‘Then when I was about 24 I felt like I was fighting against something that’s going to be with me forever and there’s nothing I can do about it. So I thought, “I should start learning to love this, so-called, ugly part of myself.”
‘I’m 28 now and I started really paying attention to my mental health and I felt like this was really connected to it. From a physical standpoint, I don’t like the way it looks, but I also don’t like the way it’s making me feel; allowing it to control me.’
‘When I was 11 months old I was sleeping near my older sister, about 7 years older than me, my brother had a fever, so my mom was with him all night.
‘I fell off the bed and it was winter time, and my arm was resting in between the spaces of the winter heater. It took time for mom to wake up and come to me and that’s why my arm was burnt.’
‘I went through all the body types you can think of. I was skinny, I was fat, I was a power lifter but I was never comfortable with my body.
‘I had great physique as a power lifter but I couldn’t move. I was walking pretty awkward and sweating a lot and it just didn’t feel good inside.
‘The second I realized that it was how I felt and the vulnerability I experienced when I was honest with myself, I naturally started eating what was healthy for me. I stopped caring about the amount of food I was eating as long as what I was putting in my body was healthy.
‘With that came a natural realization of how beautiful I actually was. I was comfortable, I moved freely.
‘When I looked in the mirror I saw a beautiful confident, sexy man. My flaws on me were like rocks on a mountain.
‘My skin was better, my beard grew better and I had no cholesterol or blood pressure issues anymore.
‘The main thing that I tell people now is that the second you are vulnerable and honest with yourself you won’t have to force diets or other negative experiences. It will naturally come to you.’
‘I get bullied about my nose a lot, I keep getting comments saying “If you get a nose job, you would look much better.”
‘I used to be insecure about my nose when I was younger, until I watched an episode of the Tyra Banks Show back in grade 7. It literally changed my life and the way I look at myself and people. The title of the episode was “Rock your Ugly” which means: That specific thing that you’re insecure about, is the one thing that makes you unique, celebrate it, rock it and be proud of it, because every single one of us has an insecurity, if we keep trying to change and hide it, we will all end up looking the same.’
‘I have idiopathic scoliosis; we found out about it when I was 5. I had a really bad cough or something and was asked to get an x-ray of my chest done and that’s when they first saw that my spine wasn’t straight.
‘Nobody really knows why it happens when it’s idiopathic and not injury or puberty related.
‘I’ve considered surgery a lot. It’s a really risky surgery and can leave you paralyzed or with loss of feeling in various parts of your body.
‘I’m getting to the point where I want the surgery and I change my mind on the daily. A big deterrent for me, other than the risks, is the price – $120,000. I could afford it when I was younger through my parents, but considering costs I have now, I’d either have to save up a ton or figure out residency in Italy and try to apply there with insurance.
‘And that’s something that I do want for myself but then, on the other hand, I want to remember that morally I think people should be okay accepting and seeing different types of bodies and not just the same one every single day.
‘I think beauty is definitely subjective. My favorite moments are when I look at someone and I think they’re stunning but my friend looks at them and they’re like, oh, I don’t know. Yes, there are global standards of beauty like women with little noses and big eyes but for the most part, you don’t know what a person finds attractive.’
‘When I was a child, I fell off the top bunk of my bed and broke my chin.
‘As I grew older, my face started to grow towards one side and my chin started to go off centre. And it’s not a slight deviation, it was clearly visible, like, you can’t miss it.
‘These days it’s actually not that obvious anymore, because I had fillers done a few years ago. You really have to concentrate to see it and if I don’t tell you about it then you probably would never notice.
‘The fillers are just a quick fix and not a permanent solution. There’s a surgery that I could do but it’s quite major, expensive, and would cause a lot of bruising. The recovery time is really long and I’m just not in a point in my life where I’m ready to do that.
‘You know when I talk about my chin, I think about people who are dying and starving in the world and it makes me feel so silly. But then I get even more insecure about it because I can’t talk about it in fear of people judging me for this little thing.
‘But to me, it’s actually not little. It’s like when a child loses his teddy bear. It’s quite a big deal for the child but it’s insignificant the rest of the world.
‘So, maybe I’ll get the surgery done when I retire or something, or maybe I won’t. I have no idea. Maybe I’ll be at peace with it one day and see myself as a beautiful woman.’
‘So I have this scar on my body, which is about I think 20 centimetres. I have a congenital heart defect, which means I had it the moment I was born.
‘I got my first open heart surgery when I was just under a year old, then a second one when I was nine years old. I have like five or six different defects which no one in the world has in this combination. The second surgery replaced a valve for an artificial one, so you can actually hear my heart ticking like a clock.
‘Physically I can only do 70% of other people’s 100%. I get tired quickly and need more time to recover.
‘I want to do more but physically I can’t sometimes. I’ve learned to know my boundaries and listen to my body. I’ll take a break when I need to but sometimes the people around me also need to remind me to take it easy.’
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