Cathy Ronalds Photography » Portrait, head shot, family, event and wedding photographer servicing Melbourne and surrounds

I’ve listened to one too many phenomenal women loathe their bodies. Friends and sisters, you know who you are. I’m here to share a self portrait of my own body. It’s a line in the sand for all of us.

I recently watched the Australian movie Embrace. It left me with a strong desire to connect with women and to celebrate women knowing we are so much bigger and better than our body loathing. I’ve been heavily inspired by female photographer Jade Beall who celebrates diversity in her work, particularly mother’s bodies. I’ve been connecting closely with some really inspiring women friends lately. And I have fire in my belly.

Why should we:

Worry about the size of our thighs?

Wait to accept our bodies once we’ve lost weight?

Find something new to loath if we do lose weight/tone up/get fit?

Worry that someone might feel repulsed by us?

Make excuses for the ‘condition’ of our bodies {“it’s because of birth/pregnancy/hormones/medication/thyroid/injury,” etc..}

Obsess so much about food and exercise – things that can be enjoyed?

Accept everyone but ourselves?

Let other women’s body insecurities and rules invade our minds?

Allow anyone to criticise another woman’s body?

Feel righteous about thinness and disapproval for those who are not?

 

Why should we give any credence to these thoughts, when:

There is so much more in this world – so much joy, so much pain, so much to create, so much to embrace, so much to learn, so much to give.

To do so brings us down as a whole. (Are we not connected and stronger for focusing on all of us – not just one of us?)

The strict codes we apply to ourselves are inadvertantly applied to our fellow women.

We could instead be supporting one another’s lives and endeavours.

 

As a photographer, I have only ever photographed ONE woman who was not nervous about having her portrait taken. Many women have shared terrible burdens with me about their body image, some have cried. I don’t want our daughters growing up with the same cruel voices in their heads.

When I uploaded this photograph, yes, I saw things I didn’t like. I wanted to clone, soften and fix.. but I didn’t. I’m going through a full and abundant season in my body and in what I am creating in my life. I’ve been thin and I’ve been fit. And I realise now it doesn’t matter what size we are: the inability to accept our body remains. Friends: I don’t care what your body looks like, I want to know what passions burn inside you, what you think, what you feel, what moves you to tears and how you express yourself.
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In my portrait, I see the woman in me and the woman who is in you. I want the shadows and light my body has shaped here to remind you how beautiful and diverse we all are, and more importantly, how deeply feminine we all are. It represents all of us.

Photographing women is a passion for me. I want to continue to show women what we see beyond their body – their authentic self.

This has been heavily inspired by Maya Angelou’s poem Phenomenal Woman:  (click to hear her recite it.)

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.

I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size

But when I start to tell them,

They think I’m telling lies.

I say,

It’s in the reach of my arms,

The span of my hips,

The stride of my step,

The curl of my lips.

I’m a woman

Phenomenally.

Phenomenal woman,

That’s me.

 

I walk into a room

Just as cool as you please,

And to a man,

The fellows stand or

Fall down on their knees.

Then they swarm around me,

A hive of honey bees.

I say,

It’s the fire in my eyes,

And the flash of my teeth,

The swing in my waist,

And the joy in my feet.

I’m a woman

Phenomenally.

 

Phenomenal woman,

That’s me.

 

Men themselves have wondered

What they see in me.

They try so much

But they can’t touch

My inner mystery.

When I try to show them,

They say they still can’t see.

I say,

It’s in the arch of my back,

The sun of my smile,

The ride of my breasts,

The grace of my style.

I’m a woman

Phenomenally.

Phenomenal woman,

That’s me.

 

Now you understand

Just why my head’s not bowed.

I don’t shout or jump about

Or have to talk real loud.

When you see me passing,

It ought to make you proud.

I say,

It’s in the click of my heels,

The bend of my hair,

the palm of my hand,

The need for my care.

’Cause I’m a woman

Phenomenally.

Phenomenal woman,

That’s me.

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  • Amber - This is beautiful. Thank you.ReplyCancel

    • cathyronalds@gmail.com - Thank you, Amber, I’m glad it resonated with you. xxxReplyCancel

I stumbled across this quote by Meryl Streep:

I think the best role models for women are people who are fruitfully and confidently themselves, who bring light into the world.

It resonates so strongly for me – does it for you? For women to be equal I think we still need to acknowledge that any discussion about women being bold and empowered does not equal man hating. And I fully acknowledge that I have the privilege of feeling this way because I didn’t grow up under an oppressive regime; I was able to go to school and university; I was able to choose who I married; I was able to choose when I had kids; and I’m allowed to write this.

As I’ve grown as a person (in this privileged life) I have learned that most of us are all simply people with a basic desire to be good people. And we can all embody admirable feminine and masculine traits. I’m not talking about a love for shoes and a love for V8’s. I’m talking about something deeper – traits like compassion, intuition, the ability to see and understand all sides, patience, wisdom and warrior-like strength. These are positive feminine and masculine traits that we can all embody. To strive for empathy, self empowerment, compassion, and to step up to a challenge makes us whole as a person. (Yes, I’m stumbling into Jung’s theory here.)

I think in order for women to be equal in our society, we need to value all of these feminine and masculine parts. So, on International Women’s Day, I want to share some images of men and women I know who embody the best of both. I hope it helps illustrate my point: let’s all be the best version of ourselves, male and female and respect one another.

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This is my husband, Diamond. He is softer and more compassionate than I am. He forgives more readily than I do. When up against people who are difficult, he always manages to find empathy for them. He is good at finding a middle ground with people. And he is good at digging holes for me in the garden because his arms are much stronger than mine!

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This is my friend Alice. She may have a soft voice but she is extremely independent and the fiercest feminist I know. She is always pushing herself out of her comfort zone and is motivated by high principals.

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These are my friends Dom and Briar. Dom is a deeply compassionate person, I admire him no end. He is excellent at his job working on State government policy. Humility comes first, with a dash of self deprecation. Briar has experienced unique challenges in her life yet she sits comfortably with both the good and the bad and everything in between. She holds it, steps up and moves forward with her chin up and that soft part of her firmly intact.

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This is my artist friend, Emma. She is a single Mum to two high energy boys. She parents creatively and with humour, somehow being inventive with her boys even when exhausted. She steps up to challenges every day while pouring her soul into her delicate, beautiful artwork.

 

 

 

 

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I have been doing a lot of portrait/head shot work recently. While every session is different, a common theme for my clients is nearly always around disdain for their appearance. This pains me – that we all collectively feel that we are not measuring up to some silent standard.

Enter Sonya Suares, who bucked my assumption that she, too, was self conscious about her body. She is an actress/director here in Melbourne. Yes, you can see how incredibly beautiful she is from the images below. She is stunning and incredibly photogenic. But she is different because she accepts and loves her body for its *purpose* and not its appearance. And I’m sure you are thinking ‘easy for her’. But, it’s surprising how she came to feel this way. This is her story, in her words…

“The variety of ways in which women internalise/ experience body-loathing is something that staggers and offends me. Weirdly, it’s not something I have personal experience of – I’m not entirely sure how I dodged that bullet.

It’s not that I felt entirely comfortable in my own skin as a child or teenager: I have chronic/ severe eczema, which quite literally made that impossible. In fact, it was probably an inverse logic of feeling excluded by beauty tropes and myths. Early on I decided – and had lots of third party confirmation – that I was not remotely physically attractive. There was even a classroom chorus reinforcing the point when my Year 8 French teacher made the kindly but ultimately misguided decision to draw attention to me as “belle”. So I sort of rolled with ugliness as a given circumstance, somehow didn’t attach a lot of value to looks (beyond feeling it was a bit of a shame that the chaps I fancied were impervious to my charms) and focused my energies elsewhere.

Of late, this reaction, which was not at all an intentional strategy, seems somewhat of a minor miracle. I am enraged at the consistent message that women’s bodies are ornaments rather than vehicles and that their first priority at all times should be how they present themselves for public consumption. I’ll be damned if I don’t dedicate the next 20 odd years to making sure my daughter doesn’t inadvertently absorb the ‘drip, drip, drip’ of this toxic message. I have limbs that work and every day my body carries me through my life, doing all the things I ask of it. It does its best with dance routines, speeds me to the trains I’m perpetually running late for and has twice delivered us beautiful, healthy children complete with their own idiosyncratic little bodies. I’m so grateful for my quirky and imperfect vehicle and the life it makes possible for me.”

Sonya wanted her portrait to portray her experience and intelligence. Not just a pretty face. I could have shown you many other images from our session that show her pretty face, but I will share just the ones she chose, because she knows herself. She is sassy, smart, assertive. And she just so happens to have a beautiful face, too.

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My family and I spent Christmas in La Havana, Cuba. It was our Christmas gift to one another. It was also my 40th birthday and I wanted to ring in the new decade with an adventure. The trip was initially quite complicated to plan, as we lived in the USA then. Travel to Cuba for the purposes of tourism by a US resident or citizen is technically illegal. Though Cuba is very close to the tip of Florida, our trip involved three flights and many hours of planning to determine connections between limited carriers at affordable ticket prices.

Our kids had previously travelled internationally quite a bit but this was their first true experience of poverty and independent travel in an underdeveloped foreign country. My husband and I have traveled that way many times previously, but this was also *our* first experience travelling this way with our kids.

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Ella made a friend and they entertained one another during the lengthy wait for our bags at La Havana airport.

We had a pretty rotten first 24 hours in the country: Charlie came down with croup and started vomiting on entry into Havana airport; our lift didn’t show at the airport; and we couldn’t find our accommodation. We quickly realised just how dependent we’ve become on mobile phones and the internet. It was like traveling in the 1990’s all over again. My husband managed to figure it all out while I kept the kids occupied and by the end of the next day we were at last settled in the casa we had booked.

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Charlie looking miserable with croup.

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Off to our casa particulares in an old 50’s wagon.

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Walking through the labyrinth hallway to our apartment in Old Havana.

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Simple kitchen in the apartment in Old Havana.

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Restoration began on an old historic building here then ceased.. The scaffold has long since been engulfed in vines.

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Old Havana.

 

My husband and I had developed a *way* of traveling together pre kids that we loved. Wandering streets slowly without any particular plan or aim. Meeting people, chatting (the inevitable charades!), generally just following our noses. *Cue the screeching brakes*. Our kids complained loudly the minute we started this.

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We took a stroller for the kids. Ella was 5 then and enjoyed sitting on the front for a ride. I’m sure her legs could’ve taken her much further than they did.

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Our friendly hosts.

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Taxis waiting for a customer. Beautiful Spanish tiled apartments.

We soon discovered there are plenty of things for kids to do in La Havana. There are cheap, government-run theme parks around the city that local families love. The parks were run down and rickety but our kids were in heaven. A train ride for one US penny! We met and chatted with super friendly Cuban families. It was a buzz watching our kids play with Cuban kids, despite their language barrier. Our trip became a whole new experience because of this and it took us away from the touts in the tourist areas. And the kids then allowed us an hour or so of wandering the streets here and there, too.

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A friendly family we met at a theme park downtown.

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This woman looked bored and a little sad when I first approached her. She was delighted when she I realised it was really *her* I wanted to photograph. Her job was to take tickets for the bouncy house behind her.

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The kids playing at a park close to our accomodation.

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Tired, old, scared looking carousel horses – but our kids loved them. Another ride at a theme park.

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I loved these women. They were cleaning the grounds at the theme park and did it with such personality and character. In charades I told them this, also telling them they are strong. I love these exchanges when traveling. And I’m working on it at home, too.

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Construction worker having his lunch break. Such a beautiful face amongst all the mess.

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Street art depicting hunger. Cuba went through very lean times economically during the 1990’s – many Cubans lost up to 1/3 of their body weight. Trees establishing themselves on the balconies of run down terrace apartments.

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Kids playing in the street. Ella asked ‘why do they play in the street, and not their backyards?’. Such a simple observation opened up a great conversation about poverty and how incredibly luxurious her life is compared to these kids, and most others in the world.

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Old ladies having a chat, they were enamoured with the kids.

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I had fun with these guys. A street haircut. Love the lady walking by in the background.

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Checking out at the supermarket, the light was pretty. And I do believe that ‘reality is extraordinary’, as Mary Ellen Mark said.

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Old cars everywhere. Not because it’s cool, but because the economy has forced Cubans to make do with what they have. They are broken down on the sides of roads all the time. Most Cubans would prefer the new cars we drive. But they attract tourists and earn those car owners a good income.

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I suppose letting your kids play with stray dog puppies is not hygienic, but our kids were besotted with them. They lived under the hotel we trekked to for internet (though it rarely worked).

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Sea baths, Cuban style. An old hotel development, slowly decaying and being taken back by the sea. A ruined section of coral reef. Old derelict buildings in the background. A seawall too unstable to walk on.

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Kids fight whether you’re at home, the supermarket or on the Caribbean coast.

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Bus stop in Old Havana.

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Meat market on the outskirts of Old Havana. This guy told me information about Australian history I had no idea about. Despite their sad economy and infrastructure, Cubans enjoy an incredibly good education system.

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Ella decided on the next outing: a horse and carriage ride (priced for tourists accordingly!).

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I love the signs of change in this image as my husband wanders through the scene. Overflowing garbage and some guys sitting with cell phones. The current leader is choosing to ignore those who bring technology into the country. Check in at Mexico City was eye opening – mounds of boxes of new TVs and gadgets heading into La Havana with passengers.

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Stray dog sniffing the breeze, Old Havana, Cuba.

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Walking through the streets of La Havana, Cuba.

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Little mall, Old Havana. This lady caught my eye. Her slightly sad and bored expression as she waited for service.

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Riding in vintage convertible in Havana, Cuba.

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Always the juxtaposition. This propaganda set on top an old dilapidated building.

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A little exchange with a small family selling some old junk in this little shop. The batteries they charged too much for were long expired.

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Evening stroll.

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Lots of uncertainty!

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Tired kids, one on Diamond’s shoulders and the other on my back!

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A tired kiddo.

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A tired kiddo and Diamond yelling ‘watch out!’ as I almost backed into a bicycle taxi.

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At a theme park. A lady washes her things at her backdoor, while kids sit through a rather slow ride.

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Theme park ride operator. I’m not sure what the gesture means but he was a friendly guy.

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Tickets for this were ‘expensive’ – US5c for a few minutes of jumping. The Cuban economy runs with two separate currencies. The government currency was needed for these theme parks.

 

Since our trip, President Obama and his family visited, sending a clear message that the US government will ignore the embargo on travel. There will no doubt be a huge wave of US tourism to the small nation now. I fear a little for the division this will create in Cuban wealth – between those in the tourist industry and the rest of the population. The country isn’t well equipped for larger scale visitation right now, but tourists sensitive to the country’s history and needs will bring much needed money to their economy.

It’s well worth the effort traveling off the beaten path with kids. Hearing my daughter reflect on the trip and speak with empathy on the poverty she saw is incredible. And I figure that taking the kids to the supermarket can be equally difficult some days!

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  • elaina borchelt - Cathy! These had me captivated!! We’ve longed to visit Cuba and fear that we won’t make it before the big wave of American tourism. We can only hope that it won’t have a hugely negative impact. Thank you for sharing!ReplyCancel

    • cathyronalds@gmail.com - Elaine, thank you so much. Yes, I hope people visit in a sensitive way like you say, and I hope you manage to visit soon!ReplyCancel

Today I want to share with you a good friend of mine and her family. I photographed them last September in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Larkyn and I connected instantly as friends because we both love to share.. laughs, tears and everything in between. The real. The funny self-deprecating. The embarrassing. The in-the-trenches Mum stuff. And now that we live back in Melbourne, Australia, I miss her.

She has a great eye for art, design and style. She is an interior designer – check her out. She is friendly, big hearted, open minded, generous and fun. She married her best friend, Billy. I wish I had her legs.

Our session ended up at a completely different location to the one we had planned, that’s a long story that is funny in retrospect. We ended up in Red Butte Canyon, with some beautiful light. And here she is, with all her boys.

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