naked couple embrace in lake
Photo: Wolf & Rose Photography
Photo: Wolf & Rose Photography

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“Body positive” photos do not warrant being fired

A Texan woman has lost her job over her viral engagement photos. We can’t handle women’s bodies when they don’t conform, says Rachael Sigee

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By Rachael Sigee on

Couples photoshoots aren’t for everyone. They have been known to fall into the same category as matching outfits and portmanteau joint names – just a bit naff. But one Texan company has taken such umbrage with an employee’s engagement pictures that they’ve fired her for being “inappropriate”.

In the photos, shot on the edge of a lake, Stephanie is wearing large bikini bottoms and a backless, strapless bra. Her fiancé, Arryn, is wearing only a pair of jeans. And Stephanie, like many women, is not a size zero.

Immediately, media coverage jumped on the “empowering” shoot and the pictures went viral, with commentators rushing to praise the couple for their confidence and chemistry, but Stephanie’s employer, Austin Bank Texas, wasn’t happy. They decided to sack her over the story on the basis that she was topless and therefore it was “inappropriate” for the “family oriented company” to continue to employ her.

Now, fair enough, it might make someone a little uncomfortable to see their colleague in this position. Some of us balk at the idea of even seeing our boss out of a suit – it’s like seeing your maths teacher in skivvies at Tesco.

But the thing is… the photos are pretty tame. There’s not even any sideboob.

The images, taken by Wolf & Rose Photography, capture the couple as they hold each other tenderly, kiss and gaze into each other’s eyes. They’re sweet, rather than sexy; tender, rather than titillating.

And Stephanie was more than happy to embrace the opportunity to talk body positivity, telling HuffPost about her journey to body acceptance: “I remember being in junior high and looking at myself in the mirror, wondering why my stomach wasn’t the way it was ‘supposed’ to be.

“Over the years, I’ve come to accept that I am always going to be considered plus-size. I push myself out of my comfort zone by wearing clothes that I love but aren’t in society’s mould of what is acceptable for bigger women, like crop tops, tight shirts, shorter dresses and shorts. I walk around with my head high, smiling, and show no shame in myself.”

One has to assume that Stephanie’s size and shape affected the decision to sack her. Firstly, the photos wouldn’t have gone viral in the first place if she was another slim, size-six woman – it’s precisely because people saw something different in the images that they shared them and commented.

If this was a thinner female employee doing a cheeky nude photoshoot for charity with a strategically placed chequebook, would the company have been so affronted?

Secondly, we are less comfortable with the bodies of women who do not conform to societal beauty standards. We’re even more uncomfortable with the idea that they might be desirable and have desires themselves. If this was a thinner female employee doing a cheeky nude photoshoot for charity with a strategically placed chequebook, would the company have been so affronted?

To make matters considerably worse, Stephanie and Arryn are now expecting a baby boy and her newly unemployed status leaves her without health insurance and paid maternity leave at a time when both are looking increasingly unstable in the US. Which isn’t a great look for a company that is so “family oriented”.

Stephanie says she had no chance to defend herself: "I gave over a year to a company that I worked really hard for and then to have them turn on me for doing something so positive, something that I was so proud of – to help myself as a woman – it was hurtful.”

Granted, Stephanie and Arryn’s photoshoot ended up garnering rather more attention than the average gallivanting in fields or paddling on the beach but, as yet, there is no word that Arryn has suffered a similar fate, but men’s bodies are not policed in the same way that women’s are. When we see women the size of Stephanie in the media, more often than not it is to shame them and judge them. They take up too much space.

In the good old days of America’s Next Top Model, there was a photoshoot that required contestants to don bikinis and pose with a male model for both a men’s magazine and a women’s magazine. It was one of the slightly less bonkers challenges since it involved no underwater submersion, tarantulas on faces or lying in a giant bowl of Greek salad (really). But the wider point was that women’s bodies, through a male gaze, are sexualised – the models arched their backs, stuck out their boobs and made direct eye contact with the camera. But from a woman’s point of view, they could be beautiful and sensual. And it was shot in sepia, so it was extra classy.

Stephanie and Arryn fall into this second category – it is no surprise that their photographer was a woman and the shoot is clearly primarily for them, before it is for anyone else. In this rare example of a woman largely avoiding vitriol and body-shaming online, in what was ultimately a fairly heartwarming tale, she faced judgement in real life instead. Sure, an engagement shoot is not everyone’s cup of tea, but there are certainly examples that display far more questionable taste than this.

@littlewondering

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