These photos celebrate the beauty of body diversity. Thank You For Playing With Me challenges the relentless quest for a so-called ideal of beauty.
Throughout history, women’s bodies have been dictated by others. In her groundbreaking bookThe Beauty Myth, Naomi Wolf writes that “women feel guilty about female fat because we implicitly recognise that under the myth, women’s bodies are not our own but society’s.” In the Victorian era, particularly in the mid to late 1800s, women were encouraged to be ‘plump’ and ‘round’, as it showed men that they would make good mothers and were ‘sexually available’. In the 1920s to 1980s, the ideal female form shifted towards thinness as the figure of the female sex symbol had “trimmed down dramatically” during this time. As beauty standards continue to change, women change along with them, turning themselves inside out in order to be seen as “beautiful” in the eyes of others. This exact struggle was the motivation behindYolanda Y. Liou’s latest photo book,Thank You For Playing With Me[co-published byStockmans Art Books].
Shot over three years from 2019 to 2022, Thank You For Playing With Me is an intimate look at two plus-size models, Enam Ewura Adjoa Asiama and Vanessa Russell. Liou first came across Asiama’s Instagram in 2019 and was blown away by her confidence and charisma. It was the type of confidence that Liou struggled to have about her own body due to her upbringing in Taiwan. “Growing up in Taiwan, I was consistently exposed to the relentless beauty standards that prioritised being skinny”, Liou tells Dazed. “This obsession led me to believe that I was never beautiful enough, and consequently, I felt unworthy of love. I constantly sought ways to conform, believing that only then would I be accepted and appreciated.”
When she first got into photography, she was still trying to capture what society defined as beautiful. “It was a reflection of my struggle with low self-esteem regarding my own appearance,” Liou confesses. However, over time, she started to question her reasoning for this and realised that beauty standards do not have to make her or anyone else feel powerless. “I’m a photographer. I create images. Images don’t create me.”
Thank You For Playing With Me follows Asiama and Russell through times of joy, grief and childbirth. We see the pair braiding each other’s hair, doing each other’s makeup and cuddling. The photo book feels like a sneak peek into their private world; one filled with love, pleasure and acceptance. “When we wrapped [the photo book], I didn’t feel tired at all!” Liou exclaims. “Instead, I was filled with an overwhelming sense of warmth and joy, as if I had spent the day playing with my sisters. I expressed my gratitude by saying, ‘Thank you for playing with me!’ and that ultimately became the title of the book.”
Liou’s main aim with this photo book is to help people embrace their individuality: “It’s crucial to highlight that there’s a vast diversity of body types, and we are all human beings. By showcasing this diversity, we hope to offer people a broader spectrum of representation and empower people to embrace their uniqueness. If we can witness more diversity and see that others look like us, it can set us on a more positive path much earlier in life.”