What does a “real woman” look like?
By now, we’re pretty sure the slim body type we see in the media isn’t it. The truth is, there are thousands of women’s bodies that go underrepresented. Women who possess those body types often feel invisible—or worse, deformed.
Odessa Cozzolino, a photographer from New England, perceived this mindset in many of her female clients. She decided to do something about it: My Body Gallery, a website that aims to showcase real women of all heights, weights, and body types.
“I wanted there to be a place that would have honest representations of what real women’s bodies look like,” Cozzolino told the Daily Dot. “When women can see other women’s real bodies and understand what 130, 150, or 180 pounds really looks like, they can start to gain a realistic appreciation for the diversity of women’s sizes and shapes, and the beauty that is totally unrelated to a number on the scale. It’s often easier to see this in others first, but my hope is that it will translate to women’s self-image as well.”
On My Body Gallery, users can search by height, weight, body type (represented by an apple, pear, banana, and hourglass), pant size, or shirt size. They can also register to submit their own body photos, which can be shared on Facebook or Twitter.
One thing they can’t do? Leave comments.
I thought long and hard about the possibilities of interactions on the site and chose not to do it. I wanted this to be a safe place. I wanted women not to have to worry what other people were going to say. In short, I didn’t want to turn this into ‘hot or not.’
Because of these precautions, she said the site is completely troll-free.
Since the 39-year-old photographer launched the site in 2010, traffic has risen to 6 million unique hits a month. My Body Gallery has been featured on Jezebel, Yahoo, and Good Morning America. I discovered the site through its most recent traffic surge—from Reddit.
“Well, this is really interesting. I mean, the girls that weight what I weigh are still overweight, but they’re not the fat ugly slobs I think I am,” wrote redditor mellobeth.
“Holy shit, this just blew my mind. I have BDD [Body Dysmorphic Disorder] anyway so I always knew to some extent that my perception of myself was all wrong but this just changed so much for me,” wrote redditor Hufsa. “Seriously I am crying with happiness, I always thought my weight and height made me some sort of horrific freak but this changes everything.”
Now, Cozzolino is focusing on making My Body Gallery even bigger. She’s renovating the site so users will receive notifications when new images in their body type parameters are published. She said a game based on the site is also in the works. Her biggest project has been working on the My Body Gallery book, which combines her photography with body image stories.
However, her most important work right now, she said, is setting a positive body image example for her daughter.
“I make sure that she hears me talk positively about my appearance and my body,” she said. “I think that’s what we mothers often forget: that it’s not enough to tell our daughters that they are beautiful, they need to hear (and see) us treating our own bodies with love and respect.”
Photo by Odessa Cozzolino