Along my right wrist lies two hair-thin scars that can only be seen when you fixate your full attention on them. Someone at first glance would never be able to notice them, but I tend to glance at them every day. I can’t help it, they’re a daily reminder of the past: the trials and tribulations of high school; eating disorders; the self-harm addictions; and how strong I’ve become since those scars formed six years ago.
Our scars are a constant reminder of the journey we’ve been through, no matter how deep or thin they may be. These darkened patches and lines are more than just an overproduction of melanin—they’re physical figments of the past, and remnants of how far we’ve come. These permanent marks are what led Sofie Mayanne to create her viral photo project, Behind The Scars.
“I met this model during a test shoot and he opened up to me about all of his scars,” Mayanne says. “There was something about that that I found really interesting, and it kept creeping into the back of my mind and I wanted to explore it.”
From what was supposed to be a 10-photo series, grew a 450+ collection of portraits that show a plethora of scars, and the tales behind them. From thick surgical cuts to ultra-fine scrapes, these photos emulate the fragility of our bodies—both physically and mentally—and the endurance it has as well. Mayanne’s latest project shows that we are much, much more than our outer shell can portray, an important note we all must remember in this skin-deep world.
Below, we talk to Mayanne about Behind The Scars, the body positivity movement, and more.
Why focus on scars?
“To me, there’s something really interesting about human skin and how much it can change, and how different we are from each other. And we also tend to have emotional stories related to our scars. I think it’s something that everybody can relate to, because most people have in some for or another, a scar. Whether it’s something as small as a scrape on the knee, or a larger-scale one from an appendix removal, we all have them. It’s human, at the end of the day. We all pick up stories from these scars and these marks. It shows that our skin is really fragile, but it’s also incredibly capable of healing from pretty intense trauma.”
In a sense, a lot of physical scars can represent an emotional form of healing.
“They are quite associated links. Even some of the smallest scars can represent quite a big story as well. They’re a part of someone’s history, and they’re linked to memories. They have a physical representation of a range of emotions.”
How have the people you’ve photographed resonated with you?
“It’s pretty much impossible to say that just one particular story resonated with me, because I’ve taken 450 portraits now and each one is different to the next. You connect with everyone you photograph on a personal level, especially with the kind of portraits I’m taking. I meet people with a variety of scars: surgical, people dealing with terminal cancer, just a variety of really intense subjects. So, it’s really hard to say that just one person has had an effect on me; they all have. There is no story that I forget, because each person I take a portrait with is not forgettable. It’s an emotional experience, and some people are revealing their scars for the first time, whereas others are more confident to really open up about their journey. It’s such a broad project, each story is just as important as the next.
In so many different ways, these people have heavily impacted me in such an amazing way. There are things I appreciate more; I’ve learned about the emotional ties of photography. An image has such an impact on someone as well, and I feel honored to be able to share so many stories from different people. Some of my subjects are well aware that they’re not doing well, a few of them don’t have much time left, and it’s amazing to see people feel so positive and willing to give when they’re in such an intense place in their lives. Just through the people I’ve met, I’ve opened up my mind a lot about life.”
We’ve come so far in body positivity, but scars still have such a stigma and we keep trying to erase them. Why do you think that we have this subconscious shame with our scars?
“I think with beauty in general, there are still a lot of things that need to be undone. We’ve been told for several years that perfection is beautiful, but in reality perfection doesn’t even exist. One person’s normal is completely different from another’s; it’s entirely subjective. I think it’s really deep-rooted in society, and to change that we need to see more images of different people, which includes scars and disabilities. We need varying body types, ethnicities, and backgrounds because the more we continue to normalize, well, normal people, the more we can appreciate beauty in different ways.”
With social media, the “body positivity” movement has become pretty shallow. People with use #bodypositive on extremely FaceTuned, Photoshopped images. It’s counterintuitive.
“I think sometimes you’ll also find people who only want to take the body positivity movement to a certain extent. That’s not how it should work; I’ve seen comments from different people who are very pick-and-choose with the way they perceive the movement. ‘X’ is okay, but ‘Y’ isn’t. They can only take it to a certain amount, but will leave others out of the conversation. For example, some people will comment on others being ‘too fat,’ which isn’t fair. Body positivity means representation for all, not just one subsect of society. There are a lot of things that people just don’t understand yet, and there’s still a lot of work to be done as well.
I’ve been really lucky in the fact that the images I’ve shared has formed a positive community of sorts. I think people are engaged with the images in quite an interesting way. They want to learn more; it’s actually quite rare for me to get a negative comment on Instagram, which is extremely unusual because receiving hate has become a norm online. The content that I share has formed such a sincere audience.”
So, how do you think the online body positivity movement is thriving, and how is it flawed?
“I don’t hugely follow online, because I’ve been buried under a rock doing my own work. But, I think there’s a lot of body positivity activists online that aren’t always genuine. People are starting to learn this, and it’s starting to get harder to understand what’s real and what isn’t. For example, if someone claims to be ‘body positive,’ and then tries to sell you diet pills to lose weight, that’s not genuine. Those aren’t the right people to follow or give attention to, but it’s still a new thing that we’re learning, the general public hasn’t fully made these connections yet. Diet culture is such a huge industry, and it’s so powerful and filled with an influx of money from both men and women. But, I think you can learn that you can eat intuitively and exercise, but you don’t have to punish yourself for the way you look.”
After working on “Behind The Scars,” plus your outside projects, how would you define self love?
“This is one thing a lot of people ask, and a lot of people assume it’s really easy and formulaic to achieve, as if one day you’ll just suddenly wake up and think, ‘Oh, I love myself today.’ The reality is that it isn’t like that at all. A lot of people don’t love themselves, but they’ve found a neutral space of not hating yourself. The reality is you probably don’t love yourself everyday, either.”
What’s the message you want to send to the world through your work?
“I don’t think you have to take something away from it; just look at it. If it makes you feel uncomfortable for any reason, then you need to address why you feel that way. We all have different opinions of what beauty is, so I don’t expect everyone to look at my work and think everyone is beautiful, because it all comes down to personal taste. But, I think if you look at someone and feel uncomfortable or offended, then you need to ask yourself why and what is triggering you in that manner. You can learn something about yourself and others just from seeing these photos and reading the stories. When you see somebody on the street, our minds go to immediately judge someone. We all do it at some point because we’re all human. But what makes us do that? Can we unlearn this, too?
Standards have been embedded in our minds, which is why many of us can be quick to judge. They’ve been around for decades, how can we unlearn all of this toxic thinking?
“I think you’ve got to constantly keep your mind open. We’re learning all of the time; you’re going to make mistakes. Sometimes you’re going to cast judgement on someone and then realize that you shouldn’t have done that. I think it’s just important to recognize that you do that, and then question yourself and your inner thoughts. If we don’t question, we don’t learn, and then we don’t change.”