VANCOUVER, Wash. – A photographer from Vancouver, Wash. created an idea that has now become an Internet sensation and inspiration, with more than 2 million views.
"I just wanted to show it's okay to be yourself. It really, really is,” said Leslie Carpenter. “You can be strong and you can be beautiful."
Carpenter didn't take the photo to make money. Instead, she wanted to make women feel better about their bodies.
More: See photo on Facebook
That message was very important to the busy mother of three.
“I thought, ‘what if I stepped away from my glamor photography for just a moment?’ I could focus on women in general and their beauty," she explained.
As a fashion photographer, Carpenter usually photo-shops and air-brushes, even when her subjects are already near-perfect.
But this special photo project had no touch ups. She spent three months selecting the women who became her models, after a post on Facebook.
“They all wrote out a paragraph story and submitted about what they went through in their life," she explained.
One of the stories read, in part, “I've always been a big girl… They would call me smelly, fatty, jumbo; all sorts of really bad things."
In the photo, Keri Atkins wears some of those nicknames, as each model used body paint to communicate their lifetime of labels.
Model Candy Lane wore the word “worthless.”
"He would tell me I was worthless trash - that I was stupid and ugly," her story explained.
"I want to help women understand it's not okay for someone to treat you that way," Carpenter said.
The women also wore a single word over their hearts, describing how they felt about themselves. Candy chose “sweet.” Keri used “unique.”
Carpenter’s project has generated more than 2-million views, with thousands using words like “inspiring” and “fantastic” to describe the photo that Carpenter simply calls “beautiful.”
“I have a daughter who's 4 and I wanted her to know that I did something meaningful and powerful and she can look back and say, ‘Mom, you did something important. You did something with me,’" she said.
Therapists have also contacted Carpenter, wanting to use the image to help young girls. She said she won’t sell it, but asks anyone wanting copies to make a donation to a charity of their choice.