PROJECT SELF LOVE: Lincoln natives’ photography project aims to empower women

By Kayla Lasure

A photography project launched in Lincoln County has received attention world wide as the raw, unedited images of one group of women continues to spread across the internet and social media. 
Project Self Love was a movement created by Lincoln County natives Summer Muldoon and Paige Yocum, in an attempt to encourage individuals to love themselves for who they really are and not by their appearances. 
“We get judged by our appearances and the first impressions of our personalities,” Yocum said. “One aspect isn’t what defines us. There’s so much more to us as people. I wanted all of these girls to stand up and show that we can’t be defined by one aspect, physical or not, there’s so much more to us.”
The Self Love Project involved 23 women, ranging from ages 11 to mid-30’s, taking steps to overcome insecurities through a series of photos. The idea for the event came from a post Yocum and Muldoon saw on Facebook of a photographer who had done a Self Love Project. That’s when the pair decided to bring the movement to Lincoln County. 
Muldoon was the photographer of the event and had the ladies meet her at Logan Hubble Park wearing all white clothing. Those who participated were told they could show as much skin as they wanted or could choose to not show skin, the modesty level of their photo was at their discretion, Muldoon said. 
Each participant was asked to take two photos with messages they wrote on a chalk board.
“On their first chalk board they were supposed to write something that someone had said to them that made them insecure or hurt their feelings, something that was told to them regularly that wasn’t positive,” Muldoon said. “On the second board they were supposed to write something they believed to be true of themselves that was either positive about their appearance, personality or a talent they had. There was no coaching; it was just whatever they felt they wanted to express.”
To both Muldoon and Yocum’s surprise, only seven women of the 23 wrote down physical insecurities. Other insecure comments wrote on the boards included being told they are perceived as naive, too sensitive, were breast feeding for too long, overly strange, incapable of being a single mom and finishing school, not acting a certain skin color and were too young to be a mother.
Physical insecurities ladies wrote down included being told they would look more beautiful if they lost weight, asked how far along they are when they weren’t pregnant, told they would never be beautiful because they are fat or told they can’t be successful because of tattoos.  
One participant who wrote about her weight insecurity was Savannah Messer. Messer is a mother of two with a third on the way and has been told having children made her fat, she said. She chose to write this insecurity on her first board and wrote, “They’re worth it” on the second. Her children joined her for the second photo and she said she became emotional. 
“I had planned on canceling,” Messer said. “I was going to wimp out. I was too embarrassed. I didn’t feel like anything was going to make me feel good about myself.”
Messer said when she showed up for her photos she was wearing a sweatshirt and was too scared to come out of the cabin at the park. After some encouragement from Yocum and Muldoon, Messer decided to show some skin. 
“You feel vulnerable at first but once you do it and look back on it you’re so glad that you did,” Messer. “Sometimes it’s good to put yourself in a vulnerable situation. I never like to put myself into a situation where I’m vulnerable but I’m glad that I did.”
Being on the other side of the weight shaming, Cheyanne McClure decided to use her photos to overcome her insecurity of being told she’s too skinny. 
“It’s always been said that I was doing meth, I was anorexic or that no guy would ever want me because I’m nothing but skin and bones,” McClure said. “ A lot of people don’t see being small as a problem. Everybody wants to be small. Especially now though in 2016 it’s all about having curves and having the body.”
Participating in Self Love was McClure’s way of proving that regardless of her size she was able to still have two children. McClure’s first chalkboard message said, “Omg you’re so skinny. Eat a cheeseburger.” For her second photo she brought in her children and her board said, “Though I may be small, my body gave me everything.” 
After the photo shoot was done for the day, Muldoon went home and uploaded the photos unedited. 
“I wanted these girls to really see themselves,” Muldoon. “You’ll notice that a lot of the pictures are framed in really natural light and it’s a bright highlight. These girls are not only unedited but are in really bright sunlight. You can see their stretch marks, the pimples, their sweat, every little thing they could be picked on about. They stood brave and raw in that.”
The common feelings of the women after participating in the project were ‘empowerment,’ ‘being proud,’ ‘confidence,’ and overall just ‘feeling better about myself.’ Which, Muldoon said, was the goal of the project. 
“Our point was to teach people that whenever they are being talked down to is just to learn to talk to themselves with (positive) kind of language rather than the things that aren’t true and are negative,” Muldoon said. “Training yourself to speak lovingly to yourself was our whole point.”
As of Sept. 11, the original post of all of the photos had 94,000 shares on Facebook. Muldoon, Yocum as well as the women who participated said they are overwhelmed with the amount of support they have received from this project. 
“I can’t believe it. Especially since someone has done this before,” Muldoon said. “I didn’t expect it. It hit like 36 likes and 20 people had shared it in the first couple of minutes. I was like, ‘Wow, that’s really cool.’ I went to bed and woke up and my mom was like, ‘You hit 10,000 overnight.’”
Those who participated in the project have commented on how they’ve been receiving messages from people all over the world wanting to share their stories and thanking the women for being an inspiration. Muldoon said she has received messages from people as far away as New Zealand, Egypt, Amsterdam and South Africa.
With all of the positive feedback about Project Self Love, Muldoon and Yocum are going to try to do the event annually. This project also gave way to an idea of Muldoons’ to complete other photoshoots of similar nature. Her next venture will be a photo shoot for recovering drug addicts during October, which is also Recovery Awareness Month. 
The idea for this project came to Muldoon after she had a of couple women who were recovering addicts interested in doing Project Self Love but didn’t have a chance to attend. After growing up with a parent who struggled with addiction and losing a best friend to an overdose this past spring, she said the issue is very close and personal for her. 
“I just kind of realized how powerful their story could be,” Muldoon said.  “I just want to work in something that’s close to my heart. I feel like our community is flooded in drug issues right now.”
For more information about the upcoming project, you can email Muldoon at alenasummer@hotmail.com.