NewsUCA Farnham

Student challenges media’s portrayal of beauty with award-winning self-portrait

One of our Photography graduates is challenging people’s perceptions of beauty and the way that it is portrayed in the media with her self-portrait, which recently won the student photo competition A World of Unfairness.

Becky Dann, who graduated from our Farnham campus this year, has Scoliosis – a curvature of the spine which has meant that she has had to use a wheelchair for significant periods of her life. Her self-portrait ‘I’m Fine’, which she created in her third year, is aimed at challenging people’s understanding of beauty and the modern-day culture which suggests that beauty is something we should strive to achieve.

Becky says: “I think the media focuses too much on looking a certain way to be ‘perfect’ and people aren’t celebrated for being natural. The media portrays beauty as something you can achieve with diets, make-up and surgery, but it doesn’t portray beauty as something that you’re born with, something you shouldn’t change. This perception doesn’t consider the aspects of a person’s life where they can’t change things even if they want to. I cannot change my disability – it isn’t something that can be ‘fixed’ with make-up.

“My main aim when creating my self-portrait was to raise awareness and open people’s eyes to being accepting of everyone and yourself for who you are. I originally created my portrait as a way to shock people. I’m always being told I’ve got a pretty face but an ugly back. If people think that I am pretty then that should be enough, it shouldn’t be taken away from me because I am disabled.”

The photograph showcases Becky’s disability in an effort to not shy away from the taboo subject. Becky’s face, which people describe as beautiful, and her spine, which some have judged as ugly, are represented equally in the picture.

“My portrait challenges the way that beauty is represented because the image is aesthetically pleasing and not too dissimilar to the style you might expect to see in the media, but it’s an unconventional portrait because I have a very dominant spine that is shown in the photo together with my scars from previous operations.”

Becky says that creating her self-portrait illustrates her own personal journey to self-acceptance.

“Being at university encouraged me to become more accepting of myself and grow in confidence because the environment that I was in was so diverse. I have never been in a place where people have treated me like everyone else. I was always treated differently at school and told that I couldn’t do things, but university taught me that I can do anything I want to.

“I hope that my work can help others to accept their bodies for how they are. My body is something I cannot change and wouldn’t change for the world, it is part of me. I’ve learned to own it rather than hide it. I want people to see that just because I have a disability it doesn’t make me any different to anyone else.”

The competition was run by the website and the panel consisted of a number of high-profile judges, including Professor Stephen Hawking.

Becky Dann's self-portrait