“Two out of three of my friends have body image issues,” photographer Caroline Fahey told HuffPost. “Most girls I know do.”
In her series “Silver Lining,” the 22-year-old photographer unravels her own complicated relationship with her body in front of the camera. Her self-portraits, captured in bedrooms and bathrooms, backyards and hotel rooms, reject an oversimplified idea of body positivity ― one that implies a hashtag here or a selfie there can yield unremitting self love. Rather, Fahey invites viewers to revel in her moments of confidence, self-loathing and ambiguity, privileging not one above the others.
In one image, Fahey looks out at the viewer from the shower, the clouded-over glass obscuring the edges of her form. A small area of the door smudged clean reveals an egg-shaped sliver of flesh, a fog-framed abstraction that hardly resembles a human form. In another, Fahey bathes in an outdoor shower, while drops of water ricochet off her bathing-suit-clad form. She is Boticelli’s “Venus” in a bikini, both nonchalant and sensual as she gazes off-camera.
Fahey, who first became interested in photography after creating a pinhole camera her freshman year of high school, started snapping self-portraits as a college student at NYU. Her first series was about being a fat woman and the emotions her physical stature inspired ― as Fahey put it, “What it felt like to be bigger.” She soon found the subject made her peers react rather awkwardly.
“Talking about being fat makes people really uncomfortable,” Fahey said. “People really shut the conversation down or they say something like, ‘You’re not fat.’ But it was really important for me to challenge people, to make them talk about it.”
In 2013, Fahey’s relationship to her body transformed radically when she was diagnosed with a blood clot in her brain, the result of changing birth control medications combined with obesity. “It was extremely painful both physically and emotionally,” she said.
Then a sophomore in college, Fahey left school for eight months of recovery. “My eyes hurt, I couldn’t hear that well, I was very sensitive to light and sound.” The artist’s mother would temper her frustration with an uplifting mantra, reminding her that the pain she was going through had a silver lining, though for a while, Fahey was unaware of just what that brightness would look like.
“As time went on, I started to realize what the silver lining was,” Fahey said. “Me learning my health needs to be my first priority. Being healthy doesn’t mean losing weight and being skinny. It means being mindful of what you’re doing with your body.”
Oftentimes the narratives concerning “body positivity” and “getting healthy” do not overlap. Following her near-death experience, Fahey went on a strict diet and exercise regimen, attempting to love and accept her body as is along the way. There was no one goal, no simple answer. It’s this journey she documents in her “Silver Lining” series, a nuanced portrait of trying to better oneself and accept oneself at the same time.
“My project became about loving my body while also struggling with the emotions of being fat,” she said. “It’s more complex than just, ‘I love my body!’ Some days you’re going to feel really shitty about yourself, and it’s important to me that my photography reflect that. Sometimes I feel sexy, sometimes I feel hideous. It’s okay if some days you don’t feel good.”
Since publishing the series, which was also her senior thesis, online, Fahey has been inundated with support from other women, many of whom write anonymously, who too have difficult relationships with their bodies. The experience, Fahey said, has helped her feel more confident in discussing her emotions and struggles on a larger platform, even if it makes some people uncomfortable.
“At the beginning I was really shy and timid,” she said. “It would be very scary for me to have a conversation like this. But the more I showed my work, it started to feel seamless and easy. You don’t expect people to be going through similar issues as you, but they are.”