When Hazel Blake was a child, a destructive phrase was uttered around her in the schoolyard: “pretty face, pity about the body”.
A bigger woman all her life, Ms Blake has had difficulties with body image for as long as she can remember.
A photographer and digital artist, Ms Blake found comfort behind the camera — but it wasn’t until she was in her late 50s that she turned the camera on herself.
She was working as a digital artist when she stepped in front of her own camera for the first time.
“I just thought, I have to learn how to photograph myself,” she said.
Slowly revealing herself to the camera
Ms Blake’s first self-portraits were deliberately blurred, showing her wrapped in a sheet.
“I just thought — that’s the best I can do,” the Broome photographer said.
“But very slowly I began to show a bit more and unblur the pictures.”
After a few months of practicing her self-portrait photography, Ms Blake decided to share one of her photos online.
However after posting her first photo, she was inundated with comments from women celebrating her work.
“The next minute I had hundreds of comments saying how amazing it is, how brave I am, and all of the women in the group were so pleased,” she said.
Seeing her own beauty for the first time
No longer blurred or hiding behind a sheet, she captured herself wrapped in a thin sheet of gauze with a crown of branches she made for herself — her exposed torso illuminated against a wall.
After over five decades of struggling with her body, she decided to use her photography skills to help other women feel more comfortable in their own skin.
A strong feminist, Ms Blake said becoming a body-positive photographer was a natural progression for her.
“Being in a bigger body all my life gave me a real awareness of the type of politics around bodies in our society,” she said.
“My paths just merged together to make me realise ‘this is what I’ve been moving towards my entire life.'”
‘Unhide yourself’ – a message for women
Just as Ms Blake had to ‘unhide’ herself from behind the sheet in her first portaits, she uses her photography sessions to encourage other women to do the same.
Client Rachel Cuddihy said she remembered Ms Blake repeating the phrase “unhide yourself” throughout the day.
Ms Cuddihy said she was nervous going in.
“My mother always jokes she has more photos of me on my wedding day then she had the rest of my life.”
But the experience of being photographed by Ms Blake was one of transformation.
“Even before you have seen the photos, you walk out of there floating on air,” she said.
After her shoot, Ms Cuddihy booked her two daughters in for their own photography session.
“I wish I had met someone like Hazel when I was my daughters’ age, which is why I wanted them to have their photos with her,” she said.
“At the age they were at the time, 18 and 21, it gave them a good boost and a realistic picture.”
Ms Blake said despite a culture of looking in the mirror, women often had distorted perceptions of their own image.
“Somehow we are not seeing ourselves,” she said.
“Even though many women look in the mirror and continually appraise themselves, that somehow seems different from just seeing yourself and being able to move into liking and accepting what you see.
Ms Blake believes we need to broaden our definition of beauty and allow women to define beauty for themselves.
“Not by men, not by media, not by commercial enterprises. I think that [beauty] is everything.”
An intangible quality, for Ms Blake, beauty is beyond the physical.
When it comes to recognising her own beauty, Ms Blake said every day was different.
“I think body love is like enlightenment — it comes and it goes,” she said.
For Ms Blake, it is about acceptance.
The camera as an empowerment machine
For Ms Blake, the camera is a tool for empowering other women to feel the same.
“I think it’s an opportunity for women to be more mindful of their body image and their self-talk and influence young girls to have better, more realistic perspectives on their body,” she said.
“I didn’t have that when I was growing up and that’s what I want for girls.