You may have heard of Emily Lauren Dick. She’s been featured in the Huffington Post, Daily Mail, Yahoo, Style, Mirror and several other publications to promote the Kickstarter campaign for her new book, Average Girl: A Guide to Loving Your Body. The book is a hybrid of photography (all of the models featured were photographed by Emily herself) and motivational activities intended to help young women work on their self-acceptance and body positivity. I recently had the opportunity to speak with Emily about the book, her work and her own journey with loving and accepting herself.
Constance: What inspired you to write Average Girl?
Emily: I decided to write Average Girl because it’s a resource that I needed but didn’t have growing up. After I went to university, I realized that there were some serious problems with why women are taught to dislike themselves and their bodies. I want to change this and I think it starts by challenging stereotypical notions of female beauty. I want young women to not only understand how and why we develop negative body image, but also to visually see and accept what ‘real’ looks like. When we stop judging others we can start to see how beautiful and similar we all are. If we understand why the media tries to trick us into hating ourselves (because they want to sell us things!) then we can take a step back and focus on what really matters.
C: Is the finished product anything like you imagined it would be when you first started?
E: It’s pretty close! I like to think that it’s so much better than what I initially started. I remember thinking in grade school that I wanted to start my own magazine for average girls—like me. I think I even tried to put out a few copies to my fellow students. Eventually my love for social justice and understanding brought me to university, where my creative side weighed in and my project began to blossom. The outline of the book has changed a few times but ultimately I’ve achieved my goal and have made a multi-purpose book. It has real women’s voices and opinions, research, hard facts, questions and worksheets throughout. Best of all: It features un-photoshopped women!
C: You’ve been featured in major publications such as the Huffington Post and Daily Mail. What has the response been like so far?
E: It has been incredible and so much more than I could have imagined! I’ve been working so hard to build a platform for this book and it’s finally receiving the attention it deserves. I’ve received both positive and negative responses but the important thing is that this project is creating conversation. All I want is for people to understand what I am doing before jumping to conclusions.
C: Do you think photography has made you think differently about what ‘real’ bodies look like, as opposed to what we see in the media?
E: I know how photo manipulation software works and I know that the media puts out very unrealistic images of women. They tend to portray only one kind of woman, yet those women aren’t even real because their images are manipulated. We’re our harshest critics and I believe that women will begin feeling better about themselves when they start seeing themselves in a positive way. I love getting to show women what they look like through my eyes and lens because I truly see everyone as beautiful. That was a very big reason why I wanted the women in the book to be photographed smiling – because smiles are beautiful. Photography has allowed me to show the world how beautiful real women are. Real women aren’t photoshopped and they come in a variety of shapes and sizes.
C: Was there any one client or session that made you think differently about your own photography practice?
E: I’ve had so many wonderful experiences working with so many awesome women that it’s hard to choose just one. They have all had an impact on me. Everyone has their own story, their own insecurities and they are all so brave for baring their skin for this initiative. To name a few favourites, I photographed a woman with fresh mastectomy scars, a 16 year old recovering from an eating disorder, a young woman with extreme anxiety, a very sexual woman in a wheelchair and a young woman who had a limb amputated after beating cancer. I’ve photographed mothers, friends, women who are happy with their bodies and women who struggle every day with self-acceptance. Each one of them reaffirms that my purpose is to be here doing this.
C: You have a Bachelor of Arts in Women’s Studies and Sociology from Wilfrid Laurier. Does having a sociological background influence your work in photography?
E: I took Women’s Studies and Sociology in university because I wanted to understand the social world. I always knew that I wanted to help people. After I graduated I took an office job working for a company that coordinates counselling for people in need. I didn’t have a creative outlet there so I moved on to a marketing position within my family’s business. This gave me the flexibility to pursue my dream of teaching women how to be more at peace with their bodies through writing and photography. My research and schooling absolutely led me to the path I’m on.
C: Growing up, do you think you struggled at all with body image or reconciling your own body with the media’s depiction of what women’s bodies “should” look like?
E: Definitely – it’s the reason that I started all of this. Insecurities that have been so deeply embedded in our development never go away completely, but I believe that by surrounding ourselves with positive body image resources and positive thinking we can become happier with ourselves. The things I have learned on this journey have strengthened my self-esteem and self-worth and I am more at peace and more confident in my body than I have ever been. Exposing myself to what real women look like just reinforces the fact that we are all uniquely beautiful.
C: What was the conversation like in your house about self-acceptance?
E: We first begin to develop self-esteem in our family of origin. It’s so crucial to have a supportive, positive example of self-acceptance from our families if we want to combat the way women’s bodies are portrayed through media and in society. I must say that my parents did a very good job at teaching me how to be happy with myself. They never made comments about what my body should look like and they defended me if others did. Though parents are only one source for learning ideologies about our bodies, they’re a crucial one. I wouldn’t be the strong minded, driven person I am today without having such a supportive family.
C: What’s some advice you can offer about creating meaningful change around the media’s portrayal of bodies, becoming more involved with body positivity activism or even just being okay with how an individual looks in the mirror?
E: There are so many ways that you can get involved in body positive movements: You can follow body positive websites, Facebook groups, Instagram accounts or even start your own! Studies show that you’ll feel happier with yourself when you’re surrounded by positive examples of body image. Try to support media outlets and companies that are actively trying to make body positive and avoiding photoshop.
Don’t forget to check out Average Girl: A Guide to Loving Your Body.
Read the rest of the summer 2017 issue and order it in print here.