Stuff - Dominion Post: Striving for Generation Mojo by Carly Thomas June 2018
(Stuff and Dominion Post)
Mandi Lynn is calling for a stop to body shaming and she is joining forces with women from all over the country to create her film Finding Venus. Reporter Carly Thomas stepped into the circle.
It's the end of a long day. It's cold - country halls always are - and I am standing in front of a lighting setup. The black-eyed lens of a camera is looking at me. I am naked from the waist up.
I have three words written on my body - strong, capable, feminine - Mandi Lynn wrote them on me in silver paint. She is wearing gold and we sparkle at each other. The black-eyed lens winks at me. I am these words.
Another woman wipes black words from her torso - damaged goods, weak. She is not these words. The word brave takes their place. She raises her chin, her eyes are bullets, her face defiant.
And we have been brave, a hall full of strangers, daughters in tow, travelling from Whanganui, Palmerston North, Wellington and Feilding. We have all come because of one woman, her body-positivity film and her message that we can change the world.
And at the end of the day, laughing, talking in earnest, making plans, there is a feeling that a shift has occurred and it is a powerful one that we now want to urgently take out of this room.
It's why she does what she does. Lynn is driven to change the way women think about their bodies. She is beyond scared about the negativity in our girls and the way women are portrayed in the media. It's been a 14-hour day for her. I haven't seen her sit down once, but this is a battle that she is prepared for and she is not going to stop.
The reason to fight goes way back for Lynn. Originally from the United States, she was in the military for 10 years, where she was regularly measured and weighed. She now hates scales with a vengeance and she doesn't rate the images that we are thrown on social media either; as an award-winning photographer she knows just how unreal they can be.
Thigh-gap obsession, photoshopped models, unrealistic body portrayal, body shaming - "all negative, all destructive". Curves, wrinkles, stretch marks, post-breastfeeding boobs, wobbly bums - "all beautiful, all real".
"I went through a journey where I was so negative to myself, I didn't like what I saw when I looked in the mirror, I didn't look how I was supposed to look." But when her creativity, her time and her energy were getting sucked into a black hole of extreme doubt, she went on an "inner world tour". Lynn stopped worrying about "crap that didn't matter".
She decided that the world needed to be stopped in its inherited body-shame ways when her 5-year-old niece asked her, "Aunty Mandi, am I fat?"
"It was like looking down the barrel of a gun to have her say that at such a young age."
Lynn started researching and talking to women. What she found was that their self-esteem peaks at the age of 9, only 20 per cent of 18-year-old women are happy with their bodies and the body shapes and sizes splashed all over print and social media represent only about 5 per cent of the female population.
The other 95 per cent are represented here, in this hall on a cold day in Bulls. Many say they feel the pressure and the pain of those unreal statistics daily; others say they want to change it and all say they are worried about the next generation.
Lynn says her film and her work with women while making it are ways to change the conversation and to create the "generation mojo".
"What if our daughters and our granddaughters took it as a right to be happy in their own skin? What if it seemed really weird and ridiculous that you could hate your own body?" - Lynn meets the eyes of a teenage girl, her baseball cap shadowing her face - "this gift that has been given to you so you can do cool stuff in the world."
There are smiles at that - sly, shy ones from the teens and a wide encouraging one from Lynn. "That's the generation mojo. That's the generation we want to not worry about this stuff.
"What I want is to call on mothers to face our own stuff so that we can show our girls a different way. And I don't know how to make it all stop, but I know it's possible. If we can dream it, it can happen."
The "stuff" and the "crap" are here with us in this hall. We divide into mums, girls, tweens and teens and we are asked questions and told to step to the line if the answer is a yes. It becomes clear that the adults have all felt hate towards their bodies, that we all judge others and many would rather look different than they do.
Our teens are the most affected - they move as an entity to that centre line, a union of negative thoughts. All have been called a nasty name, they have all felt pressured to look a certain way and they all worry about the way they look.
The girls under 10? Well, they think they are awesome, they see beauty in others and they all dance their way up to the line when they are asked if they feel more in their bodies than their minds. They are so far free from the "constant noise of negative thoughts".
We belly dance in a circle, we do yoga and we learn from a nutritionist that diets "absolutely do not work, they just don't". We listen, we write down our "crap", we crumple the pages into an insignificant ball while our kids chit chat their way to being instant friends.
This bunch of strangers share food, we swap ideas and plans on how to take this out into our communities and we do what a group of women do well - we laugh uproariously, we support each other and we create a joint energy that almost hums.
And then we get to here, standing half naked in a cold hall with a woman who is not only writing the word strong on my arm, she is handing on her trust and her absolute conviction that we, as women, can change the inheritance of shame.
Mandi Lynn received funding from Creative Communities for the Finding Venus: Rangitīkei Style day and has backing from the New Zealand Film Commission.
The Daily Mail - Femail - EMILIA MAZZA March 2018
'Am I fat?': The shocking conversation that sparked a woman's body shaming art project after her five-year-old niece made the heartbreaking remark
- Mandi Lynn revealed her five-year-old niece was the inspiration for her portraits
- She said that her project is aimed at helping women increase body positivity
- Ms Lynn also runs workshops to help promote confidence among women
- She said there had been mixed reactions to the work, said sizism is alive and well
An artist is out to change the way women perceive themselves following a 'shocking' conversation with her five-year-old niece about her body.
Wellington-based Mandi Lynn, 45, revealed inspiration for her photographic project came after she was standing in her kitchen on Christmas Day in 2016 when her niece walked and asked her 'am I fat?'.
'Of course she wasn't,' Ms Lynn told FEMAIL. 'But the fact she was concerned about it, really shocked me.
'It made me wonder about what has happened in society where a five-year-old is actually worried about this?'
Photographer Mandi Lynn (pictured) revealed that a shocking conversation with her five-year-old niece, as well as her own experience, was the catalyst for the project
Touching on her background, Ms Lynn said she had undergone a personal journey that involved her learning to love her body as it was.
Additionally, she said her mother and sister had also struggled with body image issues and that these sorts of problems appeared to spread like a 'virus' among families.
'I wanted to know if this was something isolated to our own family, or if this was something on a broader scale,' she said.
Ms Lynn explained this encounter, along with her own experience, became the catalyst for a photography project aimed at promoting body positivity among women.
Ms Lynn's project is aiming to capture images of 600 women and once this is complete the work will be shaped to represent a 'great big heart'
'Every day we see between 400 - 600 photoshopped images, she said. 'So what if we had a collection of images that showcased 600 real women?
'The aim of this exhibition is for you to be able to look at these images, see what is underneath, and go "this is okay".'
When she completes the project, Ms Lynn revealed the multi-image work will be shaped to represent a 'great big heart'.
The aim of this exhibition is for you to be able to look at these images, see what is underneath, and go "this is okay",' Ms Lynn said
The artist said the process was a cathartic one for many woman who had long struggled with body image issues
According to a report by Dove, in Australia almost 90 per cent of women suffer the effects of low self-esteem as a result of how they feel about their bodies.
The US-born Ms Lynn, a former Navy lieutenant, nurse and now-turned award-winning photographer, said the aim of her project was to help women of all ages see themselves in a better light.
'It's a cathartic experience because so many women are walking around feeling ashamed about their bodies.'
Women taking part spread gold clay on their torsos before posing bare-chested for the photographer
She explained the process her subjects underwent before being photographed for the series:
'First I ask women to write down three words they associate with their body,' she said.
'I then give them a make up pencil and ask them to write these words on their body, which we then discuss.'
'I am filming women while they are doing this for a documentary and I'm in tears almost the whole time,' she continued.
'There are women coming to this who have mastectomies, who have had severe surgery and some with an incredible disability - and they are all learning that a body is just body'
'I give them wet wipes to wipe off what they have written and I give them a golden marker to write new words they want to have associated with their body.
'Then I cover them in golden clay, and take their photo.'
Since the project's beginning close to a year ago, Ms Lynn has aimed to share one image per day via social media using the hashtag #everybodyisatreasure.
The images that are shared on social media feature an 'every body is a treasure' word-strip.
The images that are shared on social media feature an 'every body is a treasure' word-strip
'There are women coming to this who have mastectomies, who have had severe surgery and some with an incredible disability - and they are all learning that a body is just body.
'Instead of treating it [the body] like it's something that has to be shamed, instead, becomes seen as something to be treasured.'
'And that's why the exhibition is called 'Everyone is a treasure', and that's the message I am trying to get out.'
The artist said: 'Instead of treating it [the body] like it's something that has to be shamed, instead, becomes seen as something to be treasured'
As well as her work as an artist, Ms Lynn offers 'mojo' makeovers' - a service where she styles women from hair through to make up so they look their best before taking their photo.
'In these sessions, what I often found was there was a lot of hesitation around being photographed,' she said.
'The women are coming to me because it's a safe space to honour them but we have to work through a lot of body shame to get them to the point where they relax enough to take the better photo, to really showcase their inner beauty.
'They are so worried about their outside, the inside has a hard time coming out.'
Ms Lynn revealed that it can take a lot of work to get women to relax enough to allow their inner beauty to shine through
So far the photographer has taken 200 images for her 'Everyone is treasure' project and travels to parts of New Zealand offering free workshops on body positivity.
There are also pop up exhibitions of the collection as it stands, where members of the public are invited to see the photographs.
Those who have viewed the images have expressed mixed opinions, Ms Lynn said.
'Some people say it's awesome, and some people walk in and say that was more than I anticipated.
According to Ms Lynn, reactions to her work have been mixed: 'Some people say it's awesome, and some people walk in and say that was more than I anticipated'
'I have had people stand there and say "wow, I'm not alone" and some stand there and judge.
While she said she tries not to put too much stock into people's reactions, she said hearing what some have to say indicates to sizism is, and continues to be, an issue.
'Sizism is very similar to how racism was 50 years ago where people had absolutely no problem making horrible racist comments out loud and in public,' she said.
'It's the same with those who feel they can make really nasty comments about women's bodies in public.
There are those that think this is all about celebrating fat when it's not it's about celebrating our bodies and taking a more reality-based view, said the photographer
'It seems so pointless, and they are totally missing the point of the whole project. Would they say that to their mother, or their sister or their best friend's daughter?'
'They think this is all about celebrating fat when it's not it's about celebrating our bodies and taking a more reality-based view.
'In the end, it's about health at every size, and it's about being kind.'
More information about Ms Lynn's project can be found here
Stratford Press Jan 2018
A film which will help women find greater compassion for their bodies is being directed in Eltham next month.
The documentary will be filmed during the Finding Venus Body Positivity Festival which aims to promote body positivity and self love.
Upper Hutt photographer Mandi Lynn is bringing the festival to the Eltham Town Hall February 16-18 as part of a wider art project which helps women accept their bodies.
The festival will include an exhibition of Mandi's work as well as a range of body positive and creative workshops and an "Everybody is a Treasure Luscious Order of the Golden Shield" Photoshoot.
The photoshoot will involve Mandi taking photographs of women aged over 18 who have had their nude torsos covered in golden clay. Mandi hopes to collect 600 images of regular women to counter balance the 600 photoshopped images of a narrow group of women portrayed in the media everyday.
"I have made a magical golden clay that I give to women. When they well up the courage to cover their torso with it and step in front of my camera, an alchemical process happens. They begin to see their body as the treasure that it is. Maybe not immediately but the seed is planted. I want this experienced by over 1000 women across New Zealand."
Mandi has already taken around 100 images of New Zealand women which will be displayed alongside the images of Taranaki women at an exhibition open to the public on the Sunday.
Mandi - who won the 2017 Epson/NZIPP Iris Professional Photography Awards Creative Photographer of the Year Award - has been selected to make a short film as part of the the New Zealand Film Commission Fresh Shots programme. The programme seeks to support promising film-makers to develop into feature film-making artists.
"We went nuts when we found out. I couldn't believe we were picked out of that competition ... but honestly it is a story that is begging to be told and so important that we do."
Mandi says it will be her first experience directing and the 15 minute film will document her family's reaction to her art. Her mother and sister will be part of the documentary and she hopes that it will be a prequel to a feature length film. She aims to stir up her family's "body shame history" and address how they are going to stop it spreading to the next generation.
Mandi is bringing the festival to Taranaki thanks to a help of a South Taranaki Creative Communities Scheme grant and she has also secured funding to take it to the Pirongia and Bulls. She says the goal is to take the festival to smaller towns in the hope the movement will make a larger impact than it would in cities.
Mandi says she is positive about her own body after 40 years of beating herself up. She sees no point in wasting time worrying about her body when she could be putting her energy into creative endeavours. She is looking forward to the festival and taking photos of Taranaki women.
"It's for women to get back in touch and be compassionate with their bodies."
The Finding Venus Body Positivity Festival is being held between February 16-18 at the Eltham Town Hall. For more information go to www.iamfindingvenus.com
Dominion Post Rachel Thomas Feb2017
Mandi Lynn collects photos of 70 diverse women for body positivity movement
Wearing nothing but a maxi skirt, Kerie Sutherland giggles as gold clay is slathered on her chest.
Sutherland is one of about 70 women filing through an Upper Hutt hall on a sunny Sunday and baring her chest for photographer Mandi Lynn in the name of body positivity.
Sutherland's five month-old daughter, Zoe, sits nude in her mother's arms, digging her tiny feet onto her mum's belly.
"There's no way I would have done this before [Zoe] came along. I think once you realise your body is no longer just yours, it's easier to get over it," Sutherland says.
Women's self-esteem peaks at the age of nine, and by the age of 18, only 20 per cent are happy with their bodies, Lynn says.
The Te Marua photographer spends a full day photographing the women of all ages and sizes for her exhibition and social media campaign titled, #everybodyisatreasure.
"You look in politics and in the world and there's this masculine power. We're wasting our energy worrying about our lumpy butts."
Her mission is to empower women and embrace the diversity of bodies beyond the trim and taut figures usually portrayed in mainstream media.
"It was just invigorating to see it and see all the diversity," she says after the photoshoot.
"You had grannies, you had a woman who had had a mastectomy, you had these fit women and these gorgeous, luscious women, and it was absolutely stunning.
"In the back we had a section for people who were happy to be interviewed and we ended up bringing chairs in and made this big circle and there was just boobs everywhere.
"For some people you could see it could stretch them, but I think it relaxed them being in this community of women."
Lynn's partner, Craig Thompson, sits outside the room processing photos on a laptop in a cafe where a man is playing God Defend New Zealand on a ukelele.
The project has moved him, he says, flicking through photos of women baring scars or stretchmarks alongside those with athletic and toned tummies.
"I think if you have some dislike or hatred of your body, you're not really living," Thompson says.
Lynn will share one image per day via social media using the hashtag, #everybodyisatreasure, and she intends to add to the collection as she travels the country.
"Hopefully we can keep having these shoots and generating these images and have that normalcy going out there."