This article originally appeared on VICE Canada
"Body acceptance is so fucking important."
The line comes from Sarah Culkin. She is one of the participants in a growing Facebook art project called This Is My Skin.
The new Canadian-based group involves ordinary people of all different squishy shapes and sizes posting Facebook photos of themselves wearing just their underwear. But it's not sexy, and it's not intended to be.
The group's popularity has grown substantially in recent weeks, like a "social media fungus," according to creator Patrick Sullivan. The page has gone from just 75 Facebook likes in late February to a touch over 600 now.
The Facebook group aims to promote body acceptance on both a personal and societal level by posting the photos with an accompanying passage detailing the subjects' individual struggles with their bodies. The write-ups are relatable and push against any negative connotations dealing with body image. So far, all of them have contained anecdotes of intimate truth, conversations we've all had with ourselves in the mirror.
All passages end with "My name is [insert name here] and this is my skin."
Culkin's post touched on being a girl in high school who was constantly surrounded by body image "conditioning, marketing, and pressure."
"I was too tall, my boobs were too small, I was carrying weight in the wrong places, whatever," she wrote.
About a year ago, Culkin discovered a "begrudging acceptance" toward her body. Basically, she came to the simple realization that life is too short.
"I just got fucking tired of worrying all the time about my body and how I looked," said Culkin.
While Culkin came to this realization before participating in the project, she still had to consider facing the obvious obstacle in the project: anyone could view her semi-nude photo on a public Facebook page.
The photos on This Is My Skin, however, aren't meant to be sexualized. "I'm not trying to be sexy. It's just a body," said Culkin. "If anybody tries to sexualize my body for me, that's their perversion and weirdness and not my problem."
This Is My Skin is the brainchild of 21-year-old Edmonton resident Patrick Sullivan. While working as a full-time barista, Sullivan decided he wanted to pursue something that was more involved than grinding beans.
"I wanted something to do with people and something that sparks conversation," he said.
After bouncing through a bunch of ideas, Sullivan landed on something he felt needed to be talked about publicly—body acceptance. But he knew that he didn't want to create another "accept yourself," Dove-like campaign. He didn't want to display or sell a product. He wanted to create a "megaphone or a stage," for conversation about body acceptance.
Though he is the creator of This Is My Skin, Sullivan doesn't think of himself as the head of the Facebook community. He merely sees himself as an aide working toward "igniting conversation."
That group members have recognized they share similar beliefs when it comes to their weariness of being told how they should look.
This Is My Skin's first poster, Joel Dinicola, knows he has been influenced by society to look at beauty in a specific way. "I've been socialized to objectify women based on their physical appearance as a result of society's normative representation of beauty," said Dinicola.
"This is something that I hate about myself and try to constantly change."
Dinicola believes that This Is My Skin is the perfect way to tell "beauty standards to fuck off."
While the concept is straightforward, the community is definitely something different for every individual. "It's a really enlightening thing that brings positive aspects for something that most people think of as shitty and negative," said contributor Haley Pukanski.
As a teenager, Pukanski went through some intense and grim situations. She used to feel a self-loathing toward her body—so much so that it resulted in alcoholism, bulimia, and an eventual suicide note.
But a lot has changed in her life since then and she has been cruising on the recovery road since those trying times. Her post on This Is My Skin has been an "empowering" release for her.
For Alexander Trivellin, This Is My Skin was the right place at the right time. He remembers having a conversation with someone very close to him about the person's struggles with body image. Trivellin realized that he had no advice to give because he was going through the same situation.
After posting, he felt an immense weight lifted off his shoulders.
"Since everyone I know has seen me with my top off, and I'm not dead yet, I don't really have to worry about it anymore," said Trivellin.
"Now, every time I get a thought like that I just think, They've already seen me. It's pretty great."
One aspect that Sullivan had to establish with the submission process for This Is My Skin is age. Recently, he decided it would have to be an "18-and-over" group due to the obvious reason of legality issues with youth and semi-nude photos.
The actual submission process is where Sullivan becomes the most physically involved. Whenever someone wanting to participate messages him, he takes time out of his busy schedule to try and meet with them and, most importantly, thank them. Still, Sullivan accepts submissions from people who would like to remain anonymous or wish to post a photo and passage on their own without a meet and greet.
If the meet and greet does occur, Sullivan will have a conversation with the participant about their personal story. He does this to really get to know them and to have them reflect on what they want to write in their submission. After the chat, Sullivan makes sure the participant is comfortable and they move on to the photo shoot.
Wherever the location (his place or theirs), Sullivan makes sure the participant is relaxed during the shoot in their underwear. He does this by keeping an open dialogue to keep the whole process feeling organic.
For Sullivan, his progress with This Is My Skin has been a huge learning experience. "This project really liberated me from that male objectification that I, like many males, fall for," said Sullivan. "Now I can just see someone in his or her underwear and there is no sexualization of it."
Even though the project is very new and based in Edmonton, Alberta, Sullivan has received messages from across Canada. He has no idea what's next for This Is My Skin, so he's not setting any wild goals. "Whether it survives is irrelevant. What is important is that body acceptance is being talked about with positivity and support."
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