When Daiva Juodelytė was 22-years-old, white spots appeared overnight, covering her arms, legs, and face. After being diagnosed with vitiligo, a condition that causes people to lose pigmentation in random areas of their body, her self confidence was wrecked.
Separately, Vaida Virbalaitė was pursuing fashion design and art history, hoping for a career in fashion. On her first day of college, someone said: “You are too fat.” Humiliated, Virbalaitė eventually became anorexic and bulimic.
These two young women, along with 10 others, became the inspiration for an online photography project, “We. Women,” which highlights Lithuanian women’s struggles with body image. Created by actress Beata Tiskevic—with the help of Modesta Kairyte, a communications specialist and Neringa Rekasiute, a photographer based in London and Vilnius, Lithuania—the project has gone viral worldwide. The women have been invited to exhibit the photos in Los Angeles and London. More importantly, the project has sparked a conversation in Lithuania about the nature of beauty and body image; one writer even called them the country’s “feminist hope.”
The women used Facebook to collect hundreds of women’s stories about their body image and self-esteem. The 12 women selected each represented a different body issue, including anorexia, bulimia, fat-shaming, skinny-shaming, aging and breast cancer.
The ultimate goal of the project? To explore the question, "What is a beautiful woman?", the founders say.
“Our society and media is saturated with images of ‘perfect’ and ‘standardized’ female bodies … our goal was to take back at least a little bit of public sphere and show real, un-Photoshopped women looking into the mirror,” Rekasiute told TODAY.
Rekasiute's black-and-white photos —as sleek and artful as a fashion shoot — capture the women, in their underwear, as they first look into a mirror. The women, of all ages and shapes, wear only their bras and panties in the photos. Each picture features a woman, peeking into the mirror, with her back to the camera. In the background, her face peers through the mirror, showing her expression as she takes in her almost naked form.
Stretch marks, scars, and tattoos on each woman’s body are exposed.
The now 31-year-old Juodelytė says that even five years ago she wouldn’t feel comfortable posing in her underwear, but she has since grown to love her “spots.”
“I’ve accepted my body but there a lot of women who [haven’t],” she says.
In some ways, the project is body-positive payback for Virbalaitė's work in fashion magazines after graduation. She had become complicit in selling one beauty ideal: using Photoshop to make already slender and beautiful models look skinnier and flawless, she says.
“These 10 years of being in fashion, creating and organizing beauty standards, which influenced lots of young women, most[ly] injured my own life,” she says. “All the time I was fighting with my body and never was happy about my life.”
The now 38-year-old Virbalaitė has overcome her eating disorders and works with women to find clothes that make them look amazing.
“It’s about beautiful things that may help women to feel comfortable in their own bodies, whatever they [look like],” she says.