You can find all sorts of images of women in nearly nothing on social media. And while some of the photos are meant to titillate, others are meant to send a message to women that in spite of what society tells us, our bodies are beautiful — regardless of how they look. The body-positive movement has a home on Instagram, and Rukiya Newton is pushing the conversation forward with a photo shoot that brings body acceptance and pride in one’s heritage together.
Newton is of mixed race (Afro-Caribbean and white British). In an open and honest interview with Yahoo Beauty, she shared that there was a time in her life when she struggled with being comfortable in her own skin. “I grew up with my white family, as my dad and black family were absent. I grew up with cousins who did not look like me. Having a larger bum than my cousins confused me and made me feel incredibly uncomfortable. I felt as if my skin color was a burden more than something to be proud of. I’d often pull down my top and wear baggy jeans to cover my bum.”
Fast-forward some years later, and instead of seeing her skin as a burden, the 24-year-old decided to embrace it and motivate her friends to do the same by coming together in a photo in black underwear, wearing little to no makeup, kneeling with their backs to the camera. “I didn’t want anyone to be styled, as I think we’d all look a bit uniform. I wanted everyone to portray what they thought was nice,” Newton says.
The U.K.-based Newton posted a second photo, in which the ladies face forward, smiling and laughing. She asked her friend Kubared to write a short piece to accompany the image. In the post, Kubared reflects on her personal experiences: “As a black woman who’s pretty much been fat all my life, my lifelong journey with body positivity has been coloured by society’s general aversion to fat people, as well as black women. …
“I can’t thank Rukiya enough for bringing all of the models (yeah, I said models) together in the way that she did, and while getting your kit off in the name of body positivity may not work for everyone, I can assure you that making moves to appreciate all that you are whenever you can, works wonders. #blackgirlmagic.”
Below, Newton discusses the shoot, the response to it, and why this project was so important to her.
Yahoo Beauty: What was the inspiration behind the photo shoot?
Rukiya Newton: I was tired of despising the skin I was in. I was tired of my friends complaining that they were fat. I have lost weight on many occasions, and I still hated the skin I was in because I had a negative relationship with my body. I wanted to find beauty in my back fat, my cellulite, and back smothered in acne. I decided for my 24th birthday that I would take the plunge and undress in front of my friends to embrace [who I am]. Days leading up to the shoot, I experienced several anxiety episodes as I was petrified for the commitment I had made.
Why do you think it was important to share a photo like this on Instagram?
I think it’s important to share a picture like this because it is relatable. Instagram is polluted with women with flat stomachs and tiny waists. As black women, we are expected to dislike our skin and our body shape unless it’s sexualized. I wanted to represent the majority of women I know.
How do you feel about the reactions and comments you’ve received because of the photo?
I am absolutely overwhelmed by the response I have received. I hope I have inspired at least a couple of women to have a positive relationship with their body.
Who are the other models in the photos? How did you go about selecting them?
The models are my friends, regular girls like myself. None of my friends look the same and I love that!
Why do you think so many other women are afraid to embrace their bodies?
I think women are taught to hate themselves. I grew up around my mum shying away from events because she was too large. We are not allowed to accept the flaws society hands us.
What are your feelings toward how black women and body image are portrayed in mainstream media?
Black women in society are portrayed to either be angry or sexualized. I believe this photo challenges that, we look strong and proud of our melanin and curves.
Do you plan to do any other photos like this in the future? If so, what concepts are you planning for those?
I plan on getting more people on board, as the response has been amazing. If it gives someone the confidence to wear something different or change in front of another female friend without the routined quick change to avoid any attention, my job is complete!
Why did you choose to release these images now?
I chose to release the pictures in January because January is the month everyone goes to all lengths to commit to changes with their bodies. I wanted to challenge young women, including myself, to commit to loving themselves this year!
Has there been any negative feedback? If so, how does it make you feel?
I’ve had a few Internet trolls who have focused on me and my friends being fat. Unsurprisingly, they have sexualized our bodies and believed we were getting naked just to be naked. We’ve also had a lot of comments about us being fat and that we were promoting obesity. I can assure everyone I believe everyone should eat healthy and exercise. I am certainly not promoting obesity. I refuse to hide my body from the world because it offends everyone.