Founder Laura Jane interviews photographer and creative director of The French Fry creative agency Ally Lindsay about body image, photography and getting her first tattoo.
Laura Jane: Can you tell me about the history of your body image?
Ally: Right away, most people think that the shape of your body is what is hardest but I feel like what I was most concerned and focused on in high school was my acne. I had severe and consistent acne and had to go on Accutane.
It is weird to think about now—I had this really bad acne but I didn’t really realize it until my mom said that we should go to the doctor and have it looked at. It runs in my family, on my dad’s side, but my mom is definitely more vain. She was worried for me. Your parents want to protect you as a child, and it might not seem that nice at the time but it was needed. You know how you see yourself everyday in the mirror? As a kid, there is an innocence there and pointing out that something might be a problem is difficult for a kid to hear.
I remember I was a cross country runner and when the team got the photos back, I noticed that I didn’t look like myself. I was red and blotchy everywhere. I remember when I went on Accutane, my skin was coming off and pealing. After I was on it for a while, everyone in school, my close friends even, said they could see this huge difference and it was weird because I couldn’t help but wonder what they thought before it had started to clear up.
LJ: You’ve been taking photos since your youth. How has being a photographer played a role in your body image?
A: Doing self-portraits helped me gain confidence. It was an artistic confidence, like an intelligent confidence. I wanted to see myself as attractive and with photography, you have the power to manipulate and play. For my first self-portrait, I had just seen the Ocean’s 11 movie, it was my favorite. I liked the glamour and the swankiness of the casino. For the self-portrait, I wore my sexiest prom dress and caked on the black eyeliner. In self-portraiture, there is an element of art. I was becoming these other things. You can become something else.
Self-portraits can give you confidence. It’s why people love the selfie. I mean, everyone has opened their cell phone camera at some point and has seen themselves from weird angles and hated it. But with the right angle and the right light, it can be awesome. Now when I take self-portraits or even selfies, I kind of want there to be an element of my personality in it, not like when I was in high school when I was trying to be someone else. Back then, I didn’t have much of an identity yet. I knew what I liked but I didn’t know who I was.
LJ: And what about being a fashion street photographer? How has that played a role in your body image?
A: I think when I first started photographing New York City models, I would feel really bad about myself. I would think, I never realized how short or stubby I am. In Michigan, I’m pretty. In New York, I’m cute. I would go to fashion parties and think, Oh cool, I’ll meet a guy. And then, I’m like, there are all these goddesses and I’m a little doll. It gave me an awareness. I guess I’ve come to terms with it. As I’ve gotten to know models as real people, some of them have told me that they feel like freaks. They feel like they can never wear heels. They are just people too. They aren’t trying to have this model identity all the time.
I don’t do cleanses and I don’t try to lose weight. I am happy at my current weight. I know that if I starved myself, I could be that skinny. It’s weird because it’s something that you think about but it’s different than actually doing it. It’s a constant process. I’m very aware of it still when I photograph people.
Fashion week makes me feel bad about my style. I feel like I can’t afford to wear some high end things. Every fashion week when I shoot I go through an identity fashion crisis. I feel competitive. A lot of people at Fashion Week are getting clothes handed to them. Then I go home and think about what my style is and what I want to change or try harder at. When I first started, I was running around eight to twelve hours a day in heels and in pain. I now wear comfortable shoes. My goal when I get dressed is to be comfortable. I like documenting outfits and I like wearing great outfits when I’m doing it. I usually want there to be an element of, ‘Oh, I’m having fun and look how my personality shines through.’
LJ: I know you’ve recently gotten a few tattoos. How has that changed the way you think about your body and your identity?
A: It’s funny getting your first tattoos at 28. I got this crown, it was from a document my grandfather had when he was a sailor in the Navy. My mom was so upset. I guess my mom is criticizing me about my body and I keep thinking, it’s not your body, why do you feel so hurt and upset by it? It’s hard because I feel like I’m hurting my mom by getting them but I also know that I want these tattoos. I’ve always felt comfortable with myself and when I think about having a family, I think about being a mom and identity issues and what that will be like.
I know who I am and I know what I want. It confuses me now days because my parents are questioning who I am. They asked me why I poked a hole in my nose. My parents have generally had a harder time with my septum piercing then with my tattoos which is shocking to me. I love my parents so much, and I don’t think they realize they made this happen. They gave me these thoughts. The feeling of being able to be who I am, it’s from them. I’m a super feminist, and I know that’s from what my dad taught me. I know it’s environmental, it’s not innate.
I do understand where my parents come from, growing up in the Midwest. They have an association about tattoos and piercings and there is an assumption someone with tattoo is trash. Now days, it’s artists, musicians, people finding different ways to express themselves. It’s so different now, a woman can be beautiful and feminine with flower tattoos coming up her back.
When my sister was 33-years-old, she went to Atlanta to get these incredible tattoos and I saw that as really validating. Someone I knew and respected and loved got tattoos and she’s not a bad person. I had seen other people who have tattoos and I loved them but I never pictured them on me. One of my friends, eight years ago, said, ‘I can’t believe you’ve never had a tattoo because you’re so into fashion and style.’ I had never thought of them like that.
LJ: How has social media played a role in your body image?
A: I feel like social media has helped me develop my personal brand which I’ve then translated into a company. I get actual work from my Instagram. I find it very positive. I haven’t gotten a lot of criticism. I haven’t gotten any harassment or anything. A lot of young girls follow me and when someone comments that something is cool, I take it as a huge compliment.
I remember loving that I could create a world that you couldn’t see without a camera.
LJ: What advice would you give to women to help develop their own body confidence?
A: I had some negative people around me that made me feel like I should dress a certain way or they made me feel bad about what I ate. I’m not afraid of having fries or ice cream, but they made me feel bad about it.
After being around that, I can tell when someone else is going through something that is getting into my bubble. You feel weird and you’ll feel pressure and you know that you want to cave. That’s the powerful thing I think. You can acknowledge the pressure but choose not to give into it.
I’d say go with your instinct. Don’t listen to that voice. That voice is everything else and what everyone has said about you. You know who you are, you can tell when that other voice isn’t you.
It’s about not comparing yourself to other people. I think thinking about other people—that’s the most detrimental thing you can do. I think finding a few things about yourself that you love and telling yourself that you love that is so important.
Someday, I’m going to look worse than what I look like now. I know I’ll miss what I look like now and I’m going to think, wow I really wish that I didn’t torture myself so much.
This interview has been edited and condensed.