ONCE UPON A TIME
There was a beautiful girl, my friend and muse Ukushu or as you may know her Khrystyna from this season America’s Next Top Model. You know, the one who I am certain is going to win this season. The insanely awesome blonde with the gorgeous Russian accent and all of the authentic and raw qualities that make a person so incredibly magnificent, ya that’s the one.
I met Ukushu when she was a baby model, just getting started and struggling to find her place in the industry. She needed portfolio work, I was madly in love with everything about her, it was a match made in heaven.
She was never a size 0 or 2 which was the standard for most bookings here in the San Francisco Bay Area, it’s a shitty industry with shitty and unrealistic beauty standards.
Ukushu was perfect as she was, but she was bumping up against an industry that told her she did not truly fit in and it was bullshit! Everything about what she embodied was incredible and still is. I am so proud of her and honored to have been part of her journey.
We bonded over being goofy, body image issues (“your beautiful don’t say that about yourself, no your beautiful you don’t say that about yourself”) fashion, skin care and community service. The friendship and bond we created while working so intimately together was beautiful and lasting to this day.
Over the years I have shoot her at a size 4-6-8, I watched her struggle fighting her body, her weight, her conditioning and it was difficult, it always is with every woman I see face this. We had several conversations about her embracing the beauty of her femininity, curves and body.
I thought it would be brilliant for her to get out of SF, move to NY and dominate the plus size industry (I knew she could) and here we are.
She is in the top four of America’s Next Top Model, more importantly she is an influential and extremely positive role model for women and girls of all ages shapes and sizes to love and accept their bodies, their hearts, their minds.
I have learned you can not hate yourself into loving yourself, a difficult lesson I have not mastered but I am working on, one that Ukushu is perfecting and one that we should all be aware of.
I would never in my lifetime have imagined that beauty standards and the industry would be so influenced by the voices of women like Ukushu.
This conversation and OUR VOICES are changing the game. Beauty is becoming (in the eyes of the industry) more inclusive of age, shape, size and ethnicity, that means this will trickle down to younger generations of women and start leveling the playing field, allowing them to love themselves instead of being filled with self loathing for not fitting the mold.
While I played a small part in this story it is an issue that is an integral part of what defines me as a woman and a photographer.
I KNOW YOU I WALKED WITH YOU ONCE UPON A DREAM
The times I worked with Ukushu were magical. She was the kind of model who was open to guidance, direction and coaching. With every shoot I had a vision (of course) and she would follow my direction and coaching, it was brilliant. She once told me that each time she had the opportunity to work with me she became a better model by understanding body language, emoting and posing and that no other photographer gave her the type of direction and feedback I did, that it was freeing and beautiful to collaborate with me. She also thanked me for how I made her feel free to be.
Recently I received an IG message from her:
“You are AMAZING. I’m so grateful for you, you have no idea. The way you made me feel, the way you make women feel is precious and inspiring.”
“Your beauty and love is my muse”
It is in times like this, great change and revolution, with comments, love and support that remind me, despite the great darkness over the last few years I can not stop, I can not give up, that I have a voice that matters and a gift I must share. My work as a consumer photographer, editorial photographer and educator truly makes a difference in the world. I have a gift, I have a passion and an opportunity to enhance the peoples lives who I touch in my work and everyday interactions.
THANK YOU MY SWEET GIRL
I am forever grateful for our friendship, for our work together and I am so #teamkhrystyna
You are an inspiration and such a bright light in this wild and wonderful world!