This Photo Series Is Empowering Girls To Do Away With Society's Labels

"The power in defining who you are lies WITHIN you."

As a society, we are constantly trying to put each other into defined boxes, but photographer Valerie Vaughn wants to do away with the labels. Vaughn, of Withunmind Photography, is helping Black girls and women define themselves on their own terms with her photo series Project Unlabeled: I Define Me


The project combines the power of the spoken word with empowering photographs. It aims to teach girls and women that you are only limited by you.

Vaughn, who is the mother of five daughters, told A Plus via email that she has always been passionate about empowering women.

"I am constantly seeing labels being placed on girls (and women, too) by their peers, the media, society, and even those that love them," she said. "Up to this point, I tried to do my part in combating this by helping to teach my girls, and those I had the chance to spend any time with, that they could do and be WHATEVER it is that they choose to be. I also used my camera to help reflect to them their true beauty and give them the opportunity to embrace it." 

Vaughn was inspired to take further action when she came across an inspiring Facebook post. From there, Project Unlabeled: I Define Me was born.

"While scrolling through my Facebook timeline one day, I ran across a spoken word video by an artist named Telesa Hines. I had never met her and and, up until that point, had never heard of her. The piece in the video was called, 'I'm Coming For You,'" Vaughn explained, "It was powerful. It felt like a personal call to action to me to ACTIVELY DO something. I had the idea of shooting five to ten Brown girls — all shapes, sizes, and skin tones — and having Telesa write and perform a spoken word piece to it. The final result of the project would be a video [below]. I immediately inboxed Telesa, and not knowing me from Joe Blow, she said she was on board. The voice you hear in the video is her, reciting her original piece for the project."

After putting out a call for models on Facebook for the shoot, Vaughn received 108 submissions. She decided to photograph all of them, even though her original plan was to only shoot five to ten. The resulting series features about 96 girls who were able to make it to the photo shoot. The video (below) puts the images to Telesa's words. 

After the shoot and the video, Vaughn stated that the change in the girls was evident, "Over and over again I received calls and messages from the moms of the girls that participated in the project. They would tell me about how their daughters seem to feel more confident and encouraged after the shoot and how they were even encouraging others."

"Several moms told me about how they could even physically see a change in their child by the way they carried themselves and even walked."

The name of Vaughn's project was something that was difficult to come up with, but it ended up being very significant. She wrote, "It was referred to as The Project. I joked it would be called Project No Name because I couldn't come up with one and also show support to the cause of NOT NAMING or labeling people, but allowing them to name or define themselves. That joke developed into Project Unlabeled : I Define Me because it's exactly what the project was and is. Taking off the labels and picking up your own definition of YOU."

This is the message she hopes everyone who views the photo series and subsequent video will take away from it. "Just like my hope for the girls directly involved in the project, I hope that EVERYONE who sees the video will see someone that looks or feels like them: Someone who has big hair like them or little hair; someone who is tall and thin or that has a few more curves or even needs a wheelchair to get around; someone who looks a little shy like you or who is bold and boisterous. " She added, "I want them to know that you can truly do and be whatever it is that you want. People will talk about you from the cradle to the grave, but despite what anyone says, what anyone calls you, the power in defining who you are lies WITHIN you."

In addition to the shoot, Vaughn created weekly Labeled Videos throughout 2016 about empowering Black women in the community. The goal was to show young girls successful and proactive women that look like them.

Vaughn wrote, "Though the target was our young girls with the Labeled Videos from this year, I've heard many stories of how they've deeply impacted not only the women sharing a bit of their story in them, but the many women who have viewed them."

(H/T: Upworthy)


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