Jessica Alvarez
Instagram: @jess.a.photographer

I started this project by focusing on the harassment that young women receive from men in this current generation through social media. This was and still is an important issue I know every young woman my age has to deal with.

However, on Saturday, April 3rd, I was sexually assaulted and the experience absolutely broke me down. I had become vulnerable enough to show photographs of my body before this incident, more confident than I have felt in years in my own skin. But now, I can’t help but feel that confidence slip away, as my body no longer feels mine to control. I’ve heard stories from many women, including close friends who have been sexually assaulted before, but I never truly understood the trauma that those people have to deal with afterwards. It’s still taking me time to heal, as I find support through family and friends.

I am being told that it “wasn’t my fault”, but I know I continue to ask myself “what if?” What if I had ignored the guy who I didn’t know clearly had sexual intentions? What if I had more confidence to walk away from him? Or what if I was even able to just say the word “no”?

These questions might always be floating around in my head, or maybe someday I’ll be able to forgive myself for something I shouldn’t be ashamed of. As my project takes a deep turn, I find it important to reflect on this experience, as it’s something that I can’t just ignore and move on from so quickly. I had to take a week off of photographing at all after the incident, as I could barely get out of my bed, or even take care of myself. I figured by the time the next weekend would roll around, I would have had time to heal and start photographing my body again. But as this is a new experience for me, this was not the case, and I couldn’t imagine putting myself in front of a camera again in a while. I wondered who would be comfortable in front of the camera while I am trying to tell my story, through photographs of my friend from back home, who had a similar experience and has grown from it. Her story was inspiring, and I one day hope to feel happy in my skin again like she is. I photographed her and her girlfriend’s bodies to both show their vulnerability and protectiveness. I want to show the impact sexual assault has on our emotional stability, our vulnerability, and the control we may or may not have.

One of my influences was Ren Hang, whose work focuses on sexuality and censorship. His photographs depict many nude bodies, often in strange poses or with grotesque imagery. He also deals with identity and mental health, which can be included in my work as well. Like Ren Hang, Shen Wei also grew up in China where he was brought up conservatively. There was not much room for self-expression, which he eventually works on in his photographs. In his series, “Almost Naked”, he captures his subjects in a vulnerable setting, letting their emotions and body lay bare. Another big influence is Jen Davis, who explores body image and her insecurities in intimate self-portraits. She believes that her insecurities come from the fact that women have come to believe that they must be thin in order to be desired and deemed beautiful. I can personally relate to this statement, and I feel it falls along the lines of my project. As a current younger artist, Petra Collins is a big inspiration of mine. Not only are her photographs beautiful and whimsical, but she is also taking the female gaze approach to her artwork, as am I. Her one series, “Coming of Age”, depicts growing up as a female in this modern day, which corresponds directly with my project. Even though sexual assault is not a new issue, the ways in which it comes about and how it’s handled afterwards are specific to my generation. Lastly, although she is not very well known, Sophie Mayanne creates beautiful work of people, all shapes and sizes. Her most well known series is called “Behind the Scars”, where so far she has photographed over 400 people who have all sorts of scars. Her campaign encourages people to have self love and acceptance, which I believe is a big part of this artist statement. I started off making work like Sophie’s, and I aspire to be confident in revealing those imperfections of my body once again.