Full Exposure: Grace Woodward
In an age where we are constantly bombarded with images of so called perfect lives and flawless women on social media and in magazines, it takes someone with balls to stand out against the grain and remind us what women really look like.
Grace Woodward is that woman, a veteran of the fashion industry (she’s only 43 by the way) her career as a stylist has seen her dress celebrities such as Florence and The Machine, La Roux and a personal favourite of hers, Karin Dreijer of Swedish band, The Knife as well as working as fashion director for The X Factor and creative director for The Sunday Times Magazine. Let’s not forget her time as judge on Britain and Ireland’s, Next Top model. It’s safe to say she knows what she is talking about when it comes to the fashion industry, so why, after nearly 30 years has she decided to talk out against an industry that has always been so close to her heart and her identity?
We captured Grace – totally naked - on her quest to show us what women really look like, with not a piece of retouching in sight, her ‘Body Of Work Project’ is a breath of fresh air in a sea of noise of the over sexualised female form we’ve been accustomed to.
Wow Grace, I’ve got to say I completely admire you and what you’ve been doing for over the last year but why did you want to strip off for Blowout?
Loads of reasons, when you are working on a self-propelled project its nice to team up with others. I set myself some parameters when I started the project, my MO is there would be no fashion tricks, no styling, no retouching, no specific work-out regime or diet before a shoot because that what I’ve done in the past, and to work with photographers I’ve worked with before. The reason for this, is to be provocative in the sense that I’ve retouched women in the past and I needed to set the story straight but this time I tell the stories by putting myself in the forefront. I’d love to do this project with other women but in terms of production it would be quite a challenge.
Why is this important to do?
It’s really important that people see an alternative out there on female to female representation. There are lots of different female representations but it's never that honest, we still never see raw images, there has always been some tampering with it. I did wear a small amount of make up on this shoot but didn’t do my hair. I really wanted to create high production fashion images but with my average body and I think that’s enough of a twist to get the project home to people.
I’ve been doing this project for a year and a half and in that time I’m starting to see a collective movement of energy.
How have people reacted to this?
It’s been nuts. Both positive and negative. For instance, I posted the cover of Tess Holliday on Instagram and it kicked off a huge shit storm with people saying I was a propagandist and I’m promoting obesity. My mother died of an eating disorder and I’ve struggled with my own body image all my life so it was really insane to read all these comments. I felt like; don’t tell me the covers of the fashion magazines we’ve been reading for all these years have been healthy.
However, on the whole the feedback has been incredibly positive, but what I’ve noticed is women tend to look at other women and compare themselves to them – I’m guilty of that. Most of the images out there are manufactured so basically we’ve been comparing ourselves to unrealistic images.
This has been such an eye opener for me but what I’ve really noticed is how utterly ingrained it is in every woman.
I know you’ve had some of your posts on Instagram censored.
Yes, Instagram can be tricky, they or someone had removed the very first photo of me and my son Larkin. It was devastating, as it was the first opening up of how I felt as a woman, finally getting to grips with my post childbirth body and self. The comments were a massive sign that I needed to explore the subject on a bigger way and not just for myself. What I’ve realised is that you can be as provocative and sexy as you want, that’s all fine but once you make it political it becomes a problem.
What would you like the outcome to be from this?
It’s been a very personal journey and what I realised is that at 42 I’ve been many things; I’ve been thin, successful, rich, fit and yet still very unhappy with myself and with many body issues. And of course that could have been a mixing pot of growing up with an anorexic mother and then going into the fashion industry which sent me bonkers.
I’ve always been so self-conscious about my body and would often let it ruin what should have been great moments in my life.
But what I’d really love to do is work with women and take what I’ve done with myself and take it out on the road and get a photo booth where they can take the pictures themselves but I teach them how to look great in images and learn to love their bodies. Once you’ve faced up to your fears it can no longer have a hold over you. Let me tell you, the first time I had to drop my robe and go naked, I wanted to vomit but it taught be that I am brave and I can do this. You’re then free.
Do you think stripping off in front of, essentially millions of people, helped you?
Very much so. I stopped consuming so much media. I unfollowed people on Instagram who didn’t make me feel good about myself. I needed to give myself some headspace so I could start hearing my own voice again and more space to be me. We have very little headspace in a sea of consumerism. We’re not going to be resilient 100% of the time but its about giving yourself a break from the negative noise in your head.
If I’m getting into that digital obsession again, I read a book to get out of that scroll hole and I find that’s a real good way to stop it taking hold.
The first time you looked at yourself naked, how did you feel when you looked at those pictures?
It was horrific, I’m highly critical about my body so I hated it. When I get pictures back from a shoot all I look at and still look at are the flaws. The ones I like are the ones that most closely resembled retouched pictures and it's no wonder as I’ve been consuming and creating perfected images of women for years. I’ve been reading Vogue since I was a kid and then on top of that working in the fashion industry, so I have a catalogue of perfected women in my head all of which I don’t live up to because I don’t have a different reference back to and THAT is why I’m doing this.
I wanted to make it uncomfortable because Art is uncomfortable and if it's too comfortable then it's just a vanity project.
I’m writing a book, it’s a memoir about my time in the fashion industry as well as looking at women. And I hope that I can take ‘Body of Work’ to the next level and maybe make a documentary about it or something.
I haven’t entirely left fashion so I’m working with Kitty Joseph to build a different type of business model for fashion which is slower fashion, faster delivery, more ethical and more inclusive and the bottom line isn’t all about profit, we are only here for a short amount of time so let's bring some joy to the world.
Wow, you’re busy!
I love being busy. I have a 6 year old, I’m 43 and I want to burn on through. I want to make sure the next 10 years are super dynamic and make sure women my age aren’t eradicated as they have been in the past.
Whether you like Social Media or not it’s clear it’s here to stay but one positive we can take from it is that it has created a platform for some mavericks, like Grace, to be heard and help to remind us what women really look like and that we shouldn’t be forgotten and put on the shelf after we’ve turned 40!
Words by: Kylie Olsson
Photographed by: Erica Bergsmeds