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Figures of hate

Stephanie de Leng's graphic new picture show reveals body parts, detested by their owners, which other cameras do not normally reach

Published on October 6th 2009.

Figures of hate

SKIN and hair is always smooth and radiant, not a blemish is to be seen; eyes are bright and muscles are toned and sleek.

Their enhanced images are splashed across every media outlet, proclaiming an impossible ideal to strive for

No, not Crufts, but the glossy world of girls on film. Easy mistake. The creatures in both parades are subject to similar levels of scrutiny, and the latest generation of magazine models is judged on the same exacting standards as any prize winning poodle.

And if they don't quite measure up, there's always Photoshop.

But wait. Aren't these girls, who agency scouts comb the world for, actually rather deviant? And isn't this manipulation of both their images, and our subsequent perception of perfection, doing the rest of us mere mortals a lot of harm?

Waterloo-based photographer Stephanie de Leng, whose portraits of city people frequently feature on Liverpool Confidential, says yes to all that, and more.

In fact, as “a reaction to the plethora of air brushed images foisted upon us by the media at every turn”, she is hanging a compelling exhibition of pictures that may shock, but will almost certainly make you look twice when they go on show at the end of this month.

Body Landscapes is being supported by the Liverpool Primary Care Trust and depicts the anatomical bits that their owners would really rather stayed under wraps.

However all have been persuaded otherwise, and while there are no names, no faces, each subject is letting the world in on a part of themselves, which they loathe, through Stephanie's lens: At one end of the spectrum, stark shots of stretch marks, feet, reconstructed breasts, tattoos and even a penis; at the other, hated hands, moles and ankles.

So it's not just beauty that's in the eye of the beholder then?

“One lovely woman was so shy about taking her clothes off and revealing her 'shame', that in the end I did too and we had a naked shoot together,” she recalls.

As a former international photographic model, Stephanie de Leng is well versed with the tricks of the fashion and beauty trade.

“The media seeks body types so rare in the general population that they are almost a freak of nature,” she says.

“Model scouts and agents are sent forth to the four corners of the world to track these rare creatures down. Once found, they are groomed and polished to perfection, photographed, and then buffed further in Photoshop. They have abnormally long legs, tiny waists and symmetrical faces sitting upon giraffe-like necks, not many of us can ever hope to look like them. Yet their enhanced images are splashed across every media outlet, proclaiming an impossible ideal to strive for. “

In many people, she believes, this can cause deep-seated unease and even depression.

“I decided that looking at humanity as it really is - warts, scars, cellulite and all – could be paradoxically uplifting,” she says. “I asked random people to confront their deepest insecurities. No judgment was made by me as to whether a body part was ugly or not; it was simply enough that the subject thought it was.”

Many images in Body Landscapes show (which are often more graphic than those here) may make the viewer gasp, she believes, yet others will make you wonder what the problem is. That is the point too, Stephanie adds.

“I have approached this project from the viewpoint of a landscape photographer, to reveal as much detail and definition as possible. So what you see is the worst it can get.”

Prepare to raise a (crooked) eyebrow.

*Body Landscapes, The Gallery, 41 Stanhope Street, Liverpool. Friday 30 October to 26 November.
*Debate chaired by Roger Phillips, “Body Image and The Media and how it affects our daily lives”, Victoria Gallery & Museum, Brownlow Hill, Liverpool, Thursday, Oct 29.


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AnonymousOctober 5th 2009.


Phil McCrackenOctober 5th 2009.

Hear Hear, these issues deserve to be raised particularly in this, the sunbed capital of the UK

Norman KennyOctober 5th 2009.


James Robertston JusticeOctober 5th 2009.

The stomach at the end looks like a face. Absolute shower.

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