“I Woke Up Like This” is About Embracing Natural Feminine Beauty (Slightly NSFW)

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All images by Jillian Powers. Used with permission.

“I chose this time of day because it is the moment we begin to criticize and shame our bodies. It all started by photographing my roommate, Aliya, moments after she woke up. It was the day before her boudoir session and I wanted to test the lighting on her skin at a specific time in the morning.” says Jillian Powers on her series “I Woke Up Like This.”

Photographer Jillian Powers is a 21-year old wedding photographer located in Chicago, Illinois. She’s a hustler that spends all of her time building her business, helping others, and adventuring around the world when she can. So when she pitched us the idea of “I Woke Up Like This” we were quite intrigued due to it being a departure from the rest of her work.

“I Woke Up Like This” began in October of 2014 as a personal project but quickly grew into something larger than she expected. Jill now dedicates half of her time to building the project and traveling all over the world to do so. We talked to her about what the project is about and the portrait sessions.

Editor’s Note: Because we know lots of you read our site at work, we’ve chosen a couple of photos that your workplace may find a bit less offensive. However, we truly feel that “I Woke Up Like This” is a project that needs to be shared. And for that reason, we think that you should check out the full project.

Phoblographer: Talk to us about how you got into photography.

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Jillian: Some people spend their whole lives trying to figure out what it is they’re meant to do but for me it only took twelve years before I decided that photography was going to be my lifelong profession. I was around eleven when I took a trip across the midwest with my Grandfather for the last vacation of his life. He taught me how to use his film and digital cameras and demanded I document the entire trip. My grandfather is my biggest influence, he’s the one who put a camera into my hand for the first time when I was young. From there on out, I never stopped shooting. I’ve been shooting for ten years now and it’s been one heck of a trip trying to survive as an artist but it’s all starting to pay off. It takes time to reach that seemingly un attainable title of full time artist.

Phoblographer: Have you always been into portraiture? How did you get started?

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Jillian: I was actually absolutely TERRIFIED of people growing up. Ask anyone, my social anxiety was through the roof growing up. The only people I could photograph where friends. But once I turned sixteen, I was invited to shoot some work for a non-profit called Small Planet Big Plans. Only thing was, I had to pay my own way. At sixteen, you don’t really have resources for that kind of money and my parents were definitely not financially capable of sending me there…so I started my own business. I started doing work for un-godly low prices so I could book enough to pay for the trip. I ended up raising the funds and traveled all over the country photographing water sources for a well drilling pitch they were presenting to some big potential donors to the project. We pitched the donation proposition to a few people and the photographs apparently had a huge impact on the success of them. We raised over sixty thousand dollars and brought water to an entire town. From there, I knew photography was powerful and important. That photographing people opens so many doors to help others. I went from the girl who would get sick in a room of new people to the gal shooting strangers nude at her home.

Phoblographer: What motivated you to want to do the “I Woke Up Like This” project?

Jillian: Watching my friends tear themselves down. Watching any woman tear herself down, seeing others feel as low as I have felt. Which I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. I’ve always felt held back by my appearance. Whether I was a size zero, or a size 18 like I am now…no matter what size I was I was never enough for others.

“I was actually absolutely TERRIFIED of people growing up. Ask anyone, my social anxiety was through the roof growing up. The only people I could photograph where friends. But once I turned sixteen, I was invited to shoot some work for a non-profit called Small Planet Big Plans.”

 

The official story is the day I shot my close friend Aliya. We shot a few test shots of her nude in an area of her house at a specific time I felt the lighting was best. I was in love with the shots, but she could only focus on her flaws. Like many women. It got me thinking about how little we see our bodies nude, let alone nude bodies of women who aren’t the “perfect” size. I’ve struggled with my own happiness a lot in the past few years and when you struggle the way I have…you want to prevent others from feeling the pain you know. So I started this project to show women that their bodies aren’t supposed to be an certain way other than healthy. And healthy is different for every body build, it’s not a cookie cutter shape we can all fit into.

I figured, by showing every day women nude…I could reach those who don’t see their body type displayed and give them the message that they aren’t alone. That we hate ourselves for not being something we, most times, cannot achieve. That there are hundreds, thousands of body types. How could one be the ideal?

Phoblographer: What was it like explaining the idea to your subjects?

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Jillian: Most immediately relate to the message and contact me to shoot. I tell them that nudity is only taboo because we make it so. Nudity is not always sexual, it’s a natural way of being. Most are concerned with being on the internet but as soon as I tell them how much seeing their body can help others…they understand. They want to be nude all over the web. They want to help and be a part of this movement. Each participant represents the project as well. I’m beginning to be selective with who I photograph in terms of personality, as to avoid misrepresentation of the goal of this project. So to answer this more certainly, it’s like a persuasive essay trying to get some girls to shoot with me but with others…they just get HOW important this is.

“Nudity is not always sexual, it’s a natural way of being.”

Phoblographer: This project is about embracing beauty and body issues. With each series that you do, how do you feel you’re helping women become more comfortable with themselves?

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Jillian: We are shown one size, one height, and usually one skin color. Tall, size 2, white girls. Nothing wrong with that body image either! But to ONLY show a world of women that one body type is extremely socially irresponsible. I believe that by showing as many every day nude women as possible, I’m reaching all the women who don’t fit that mold. I’m telling them that they are NOT alone. Their body is not this disgusting, ugly, irregular thing. It’s normal to have rolls. To have tummy fat, loose arm fat, stretch marks, a big waist. I think by showing women bodies that look like their own, I’m helping them accept and love their bodies for what they are and not what they are not. And that is exhilarating for me. I cry almost everyday for how happy I am to have made an impact on the women who inbox me their struggles and how this project has helped them begin to love themselves. Basically, the reality of body types has greatly impacted the way women believe they “should” look. It diminishes the “perfect” body type and encourages body diversity.

Phoblographer: What are these photo sessions like and how do you get your specific inspiration for the photos in each series?

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Jillian: The sessions are calm, relaxed, and easy going. I try very hard to make sure the room is a warm temperature, the girls are welcomed into my home as a friend, and I chat with them a few minutes before we start to ease their nerves. I ask them what they’re most nervous about and reassure them that they will do amazingly. I play music, mostly Flawless by Beyonce and mellow or upbeat electronic music. Or whatever they prefer. We always shoot in the morning. They aren’t allowed to do their hair, wash their face, no makeup, and they must be fully nude for their sessions. Literally, they roll out of bed and head over. We shoot for roughly thirty minutes to an hour, and interview for an hour together. By the end, we’re friends. They feel energized and excited. Or nervous but thankful.

My goal going into every session is to shoot at least one back side shot for the web, one sitting down staring at me, and a full frontal full body shot. I do these all for a reason I’m not going to disclose. That’s going to be a surprise 🙂 But the rest is raw, natural, impromptu shooting. We go all over my home, outside when it’s warm enough. I look for unique light and even light to keep the set interesting yet focused on their body.