In Waleed Shah's intimate and revealing portraits, we discover each of his subject's biggest insecurity about themselves and the story behind it. The unfiltered series has kickstarted a major mental health and body positivity movement in the Middle East, going viral on social media.
Now the UAE-based photographer has released Rock Your Ugly: A Middle Finger to Toxic Beauty Standards, a new book that features a compilation of the portraits and stories of the men and women "brave enough to bare all and reclaim those parts of themselves they have struggled to embrace or hidden behind make-up and filters".
Why any of us should be deemed "brave" for simply being ourselves is beyond comprehension but in these unedited images of real people, we hear of themes such as child abuse, obesity, alopecia, vitiligo, cancer, drug abuse, self-harm, eating disorders, depression. Each story, gently drawn out by Shah, is told in the individual's own words.
The idea for the project came after Shah posted an honest photograph of himself on Instagram where he talked openly about his weight issues and how he felt about his own body; it got an incredible response and so he reached out to others to hear their stories.
In one image we meet Hanan Wehbi, as featured above, who says: "I had four ribs removed and two titanium rods installed". In another Luz Salem Villamil remarks: "It takes five minutes to check if everything is okay" – her portrait says it all. There's also a portrait of Kimberley Carey who says: "I've had Alopecia since I was 19 and now I'm 40, so it's been quite a journey. Alopecia is an autoimmune disorder where your body thinks that your hair follicles are a disease; hence, it decides to rid of them."
"The portraits reveal how damaging a chance word or off-hand comment can be on our confidence and how important it is that we be kind (to ourselves and to others) and reject toxic beauty standards," reads the book's description. "Waleed's message is that we are all struggling in silence with the same or similar issues and it's okay to talk about it, and be our real selves!"
Waleed Shah's Rock Your Ugly: A Middle Finger to Toxic Beauty Standards is now available from Amazon priced £29.