Changing Body Image and Self-Esteem with Pinup Art

A pinup painting of Linh. Iman's photo therapy process helps people see how beautiful they are.

A pinup painting of Linh. Iman's photo therapy process helps people see how beautiful they are.

My dream is to change body image and self-esteem in women for the better.

Through photography and pinup paintings, I help women see how gorgeous they are. I’ve interviewed several past clients about how my process of doing pinup portraits has impacted their lives and how they see themselves. The following interview with a client turned dear friend is part of a series I’m working on for a book about changing body image and self-esteem for the better.

Linh is our focus today. She’s one of the most beautiful women I’ve met and it’s been a blessing to show her just how stunning she is. I am still floored that she trusted me to help her heal from a trauma no woman should have to face. She is love and light in this world and I am so proud that she fought to regain her sensuality and self.

Here is my interview with Lihn about how the pinup portrait helped her build a more positive body image.

Iman: Before you met me, what did you see when you looked at yourself in the mirror?

Linh : A girl that never fit in. I wasn’t tall. I wasn’t blonde. I wasn’t the “All American Girl”… And I felt slightly damaged. 

Iman: What life experiences affected how you saw yourself and body image?

Linh : I was in foster care. I was abused by my family growing up. I was told I was never pretty enough and that I was never smart enough (among other things). Then in college, I managed to find some confidence only to have that taken away right after I graduated, when I was raped. That took everything away from me.  

A pinup photograph of Linh. Iman's photo therapy process helps people see how beautiful they are.

A pinup photograph of Linh. Iman's photo therapy process helps people see how beautiful they are.

Iman: What did you like when you saw your reflection or photos of yourself?

Linh : Nothing. I always found a flaw in all the photos I was in. I liked having my picture taken with friends. It felt safe to have my photos taken with other people because I was able to surround myself with beautiful people.

Iman: What parts of your body were you self-conscious about/worried about/insecure about?

Linh : My big head, I have an eye bigger than the other. My arms. My mid-section.

Iman: How did the things you were worried about affect your self-esteem?

Linh : It affected with how I acted towards people. I used humor as my wall to let people in and to not let people hurt me. I had the “you cant hurt me if I make fun of myself” idea. (Insert fart joke.)

Iman: On a scale of 1-10 (10 being awesome) where did your self-esteem fall?

Linh : 2 on a good day.

Iman: Please describe if your self-esteem and body image affected other aspects of your life?

Linh : I didn’t love myself enough to surround myself with good people. I dated people that were considered “hot” and hung out with “beautiful” club girls, but in the end they never got to know me.

Iman: What made you want to work with me?

Linh : I started to find some sort of identity in the Rockabilly scene. I thought that the perfect achievement to being an All American girl would to become a pinup. I was also on a path of healing. I’d found good friends. I’d started dating a good guy. I was volunteering with a Rape Crisis group. I was in therapy. I was fixing everything broken inside of me. I just needed to fix the outside. So, I googled you! Your photos of gorgeous everyday women turned into pinup Betties got me hooked! Then I noticed your Inner Beauty Project and knew that with your help, I could come full circle and finally be ok with myself.

A pinup photograph of Linh. Iman's photo therapy process helps people see how beautiful they are.

A pinup photograph of Linh. Iman's photo therapy process helps people see how beautiful they are.

Iman: Were you nervous? If so, what were you worried about?

Linh : I was really nervous. I was convinced that no matter what my big head and flaws would stand out.

Iman: How did you feel when you met me?

Linh : I felt like I’d met an old friend and a sister. We talked for HOURS!  And shared so much.

Iman: How did you feel while choosing your outfits and getting your hair and makeup done?

Linh : I couldn’t stop grinning when I walked into your walk-in closet of vintage clothes! I wanted to try on everything! And with your hair and make up team…oh gosh, I would NEVER have self esteem problems ever again if I could have your help every day.  

Iman: What thoughts went through your mind the first time you saw your reflection as a pinup?

Linh : I didn’t recognize myself. In a good way. I could see past the girl that was hurt and hiding behind other people. I never thought I could look like a healthy and happy woman.

Iman: The first time you saw a photo of yourself in the back of the camera?

Linh : I giggled and asked to look at all the photos because I wasn’t convinced that was me in the camera.

A fashion photograph of Linh. Iman's photo therapy process helps people see how beautiful they are.

A fashion photograph of Linh. Iman's photo therapy process helps people see how beautiful they are.

Iman: Did you feel a change come over your self-esteem and body image during the photo shoot?

Linh : I felt safe. Safe to laugh, relax and have fun. I was safe to be in my own skin without being judged by other people. Most importantly, I felt safe to say “I am beautiful” and not have that taken away.

Iman: How did you feel when you left the studio?

Linh : I was sad to leave the studio because I had made new friends. I was also sad to have to give the clothes back!

Iman: Did anyone else comment on a change in your self-esteem?

Linh : I don’t think anyone noticed my change, but I noticed it. I walked a little taller and smiled more.

Iman: Was it wonderful or difficult seeing yourself at your premiere?

Linh : It was both. I couldn’t wait to see the photos myself and I was nervous because I had brought my fiancé with me too. Because I was nervous I made a lot of jokes, but I couldn’t stop smiling either.

Iman: After your premiere on a scale of 1-10 (10 being awesome) where was your self-esteem?

Linh : Nine.

Iman: How has the experience of doing pinup photos impacted your self-esteem and body image in a lasting way?

Linh : I can see that I’m pretty in a different way and that “different” is ok. Pinups come in all shapes and sizes. When I’m having a bad self-esteem day, I get to look back at the photos and say that I’m just being silly because I AM a knockout. As a pinup, I can claim my sexuality and my sensuality as a strength. I’ve transformed them from weakness to strength.

Iman: What do you see when you look in the mirror today?

Linh : I see Linh. I see someone that WAS damaged. But with my inner scars fully healed, I can safely apply a coat of red lipstick, a strand of pearl necklace, and heels: I can conquer the world.

Iman: What advice would you give someone who is questioning their body image and self-worth?

Linh : There will never be anyone else out there that can walk your walk and tell your stories better then you. Own it. Claim it. Scream it. Embrace it.  

A pinup photograph of Linh. Iman's photo therapy process helps people see how beautiful they are.

A pinup photograph of Linh. Iman's photo therapy process helps people see how beautiful they are.

Iman: On a scale of 1-10 (10 being awesome) where is your self-esteem today?

Linh : Seven.

Iman: Think back on your photos. Which were your favorites and why?

Linh : Can I say all of them? Haha ok…The black and white one with the fur hat. Every time I see that pic I think, “That woman has great stories to tell and I want to hear them.” And for favorite photos, there’s a tie between the cherries and the one of me laying down with my eyes closed.

What are your own struggles with body image and self-esteem?

We all have stories we tell ourselves to keep us worried about our body image. Be brave. Share in the comments for get back some amazing support.

Iman

 

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Iman is a photographer who, through her unique process of coaching and photography, can show a woman what other people see when they look at her. She is passionate about teaching other photographers how to live and be a professional and making change in the world. She dreams of changing the way women look at their bodies and how the world defines beauty. She also thinks being an instructor on CreativeLIVE would be incredible. Iman battles Lyme disease and shares her unique view of dreaming while fighting for her health. Her post day is Wednesday. info@imanwoods.com Iman Woods If you aren't sure how to comment on this story, click here.

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  • I just love this Iman! I’m so glad we’re friends. You are giving a beautiful gift to women – and to the world. I wonder what photos would look like if they didn’t focus on our appearance at all – but focused on what we truly give the world? Hhhhmmmm. How would they look if our beauty had to be defined outside the outside appearance? Food for thought. Future photography idea?

    • ImanWoods

      I’m so glad we’re friends too! I love that we have the same mission with slightly different words and approaches. You’re going to LOVE my post tomorrow. It follows your brilliant question. I think it’s a fantastic idea for photography.

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  • I love this: “There will never be anyone else out there that can walk your walk and tell your stories better then you. Own it. Claim it. Scream it. Embrace it.” One day we will look back in our old age and see how beautiful we really were… wouldn’t it be better to see it now?

    Cath

    • ImanWoods

      Cath, I believe we have the very best teachers in the women around us. Everyone has triumphed over tragedy and has inspiring stories. That’s the beauty of a network of women. We just have to open ourselves up to other people’s stories.

  • theedecadentdiva

    This was so amazing!! Love your face LInh and am so glad i read this. I can totally relate to only taking pis with friends, and having a self esteem issue and using humor to deflect. You look so amazing and are my top All American Girl nest door… (well down the street) ;)

    Thank you again Iman for all you do for our gender, you’ll never know how instrumental you’ve been in my life as well!! Love you ladies!! Great Article!

    • ImanWoods

      Thank YOU! I’ll keep fighting. ;)

  • Aimee

    What a great story. So inspiring. When I see her, that is what I see. Hope, smiles, happiness, love.

    • ImanWoods

      Thank you, Aimee! That’s what I see when I see her too! Even through her text messages. ;)

  • This is such a wonderful way to help women gain confidence and really appreciate their own beauty. Wonderful interview and story Iman!

    I still struggle with body image even after losing so much weight. Things shift with losing that much weight (and being over 40!) so I truly work on positive gains in health and fitness to keep my own confidence up. This is not a bikini body, but there are so many other things it can do!

    • ImanWoods

      Heather, I do too even after losing all the weight I have. I understand! I also don’t have a bikini body, but I try to be proud. :)

  • I love Linh so much and I have always admired her inner and outer beauty! Her personality shines and she brings so much joy to those around her. Linh is the cutest little spicy Asian peanut I know!

    • ImanWoods

      She truly does shine and is the most amazing person. :)