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An Interview with Hazel, Founder of "This Is Me"

Can you tell us a little about ‘This Is Me’ and what sparked the initial idea for the event and collection of images?

This is Me is an all female naked dip in the Ocean. We are creating a transformative event that celebrates and puts the focus on who we are not what we look like. It’s an empowering opportunity to see that every women is unique and beautiful whatever body shape. It gives those taking part the chance to see themselves as beautiful too.

Along side the event I am collaborating with artist Leah Crossley to build a collection of beautiful, empowering images of women being confident, happy and feeling free.

The first time i skinny dipped it took a bit of a gulp to strip off and run in to the sea. It hadn't come with complete ease but the fear of missing out on the fun was stronger than being worried about my wobbly bits. Leah captured some images of myself and fellow friends skinny dipping and when i saw Leah's images I had to ask myself why I had had any worries at all. I looked strong and healthy and it turns out I love my back!

Skinny Dipping is an amazing experience, i felt free, liberated, happy and connected to my body in a new way. I wanted to share this experience and wanted to capture more images that might empower other women. Images of real women, to stand against the bombardment of photoshopped women and the unattainable ideas of 'one size fits all' beauty.

My body shape and looks aren’t represented in magazines or on TV. And I’m not alone. It puts a ridiculous amount of pressure on a young woman to look a certain way. It also puts the emphasis on what you look like and what you wear not who you are, what you do and who you are to your community. That’s crap and its showing up in schools with young girls developing eating disorders & low self esteem on the rise. Magazines are basically designed to make you feel ugly so you buy more stuff. Everyone is unique and beautiful. Thats' the message we want out there in the world.

Can you tell me a little more about what type of work you and Leah do as artists and body activists?

I'm a performer and theatre maker and Leah is a visual artist. Leah is artist in residense at the National Theatre Wales. This is the first project we have collaborated on together as artists and body activists, although both of us have been working creatively long before this. We are enjoying learning together, as we move forward; learning about where our project sits within larger debates, social change and body activisms.

I co-founded Likely Story Theatre company in 2006. In 2012 we started exploring how we could make work in an all female collaborative process. I recently created two pieces of work in response to some of the work I'm exploring with Likely Story.

The Most Beautiful Girl In the World looks at when and how we lose the child who runs and play's without a care in the world about what they look like or what anyone else thinks.

Wash away Mask is about getting caught up in the marketing and advertising ideology of unattainable ideals of beauty.

Until I started investigating my own relationship with my body and to the word beautiful i had no idea how insipid the ideals of beauty had been for me. I realised i saw myself as ugly becasue i didn’t look like those ‘women in the magazines’ I wore makeup as a mask all the time. It protected me, it covered my flaws, it gave me armour, it cost a fortune! I didn’t even stop to ask what i needed the armour for! As i chipped away i began to form a new more accepting relationship to my body and boy am i happier as a result!

It makes me angry that we are tricked in to feeling shitty about our body and our looks. I have some friends who can’t bear to see themselves in the mirror or to see themselves naked. It makes me furious. This is my opportunity to create something positive from that frustration. We are added more voices to the debate of body-image.

Do you think these images of healthy, happy women of all different shapes and sizes will help other women to become more comfortable in their own skin?

The images are doing exactly that. The images are a part of this conversation. To empower other women to be happier in their own skin or at least to stop and think about it and ask them selves if they aren't why aren't they. They are beautiful images and the woman look normal, comfortable and at ease. It's interesting seeing different body shapes. I may be biased because I know and love them all and love Leah's work. So far it has only had a positive response. T

We held an exhibition at Baranabas Arts House is Newport. The images sparked conversatiosn between younge and old, a group of younge girls from West Wales visted the exibition, loved the images and sat and talked for hours about body image and magazines and how to have a better relationship with their body. That's what its all about.

here are lots of images in magazines that can leave you feeling disempowered, frustrated and not good enough. How many women don't go out for an evening with friends because none of the clothes they have look good on them. These images capture something. Women being naked both physically and metaphorically. We hope that more women are inspired to take part in the event. Thats were the real magic happens.

Do you have a favourite images so far?

The image of me and my mum made me cry the first time I saw it. I feel full of pride, joy, and sunshine when I see it which is why its going to be July. At the beginning of last year mum was diagnosed with Breast Cancer. Thankfully she now has the all clear. It was a year of fear, sickness, pain and tears. I am so grateful that she is still here. When mum got in to the sea she was hysterical with laughter! She has never done anything like this before and full of excitement, joy and swimming goggles on her head, she was jumping up and down in the sea shouting 'Im so Happy'. Me and my sister strode out of the sea either side of mum hand in hand. We all had huge smiles on our faces. Leah captured that moment and created an image with the warm glow like the sun around us. I love it.

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