In the summer of 2016, photographer Sophie Mayanne was working on a magazine shoot. Entitled “Behind The Scars”, it was a celebration of natural bodies and put Mayanne’s raw sensibility to the test. But the British photographer wasn’t satisfied with just a few models. She wanted to find more people — particularly women — who were willing to share the stories behind their scars.
“I felt I had put my foot through a door, and I needed to push it wide open and explore further,” Mayanne tells me. With that in mind, the photographer set out to explore how these supposed “flaws” can affect our lives and mindsets. This passion project soon turned into a fully-fledged campaign, using the same name as that initial inspirational photoshoot. Through Behind The Scars, Mayanne has now photographed over 300 people from all walks of life.
Each shot “is an act of self-acceptance, defiance, and love.” Depicting people who have been scarred in their natural glory, the photos are posted on Instagram alongside a story that goes beyond the visual to explain how people got their scars and just how they feel about them now.
The campaign is a lesson in accepting yourself. While some are more than happy to show off their marks, a lot of people with significant scarring will end up hiding their skin away for years.
A few of the stories are particularly heart-wrenching. Tales of scars resulting from years of self-harm and battles with cancer sit alongside images showing a woman whose body is covered in burns and another whose acne medication transformed her angry spots into painful keloids.
Mercy (pictured above) was the victim of a fire-related domestic abuse incident. “I got burnt at the age of 29, and it’s been a difficult journey coming to terms with it,” she told Behind The Scars. “The comfort I take from my scars is they make me who I am today. I call them my most precious, and expensive piece of jewellery I own. I have survived and if having my picture taken, and exposing my scars can help anyone else then that’s good for me.”
“Without the stories, the photos would be easily misunderstood,” says Mayanne. “The story itself can quite often create an internal emotional scar that for some people can be harder to deal with than the physical scar. I think it’s important to open up discussions around the personal journeys people have been on with their mental health.”
Finding willing models has been a lot easier than Mayanne thought. People — who have usually been following the series since its April 2017 inception — often approach her, leading to her doing shoots at least once a month in the UK. Mayanne hopes to photograph at least 1,000 people for the series as well and is already branching further afield, travelling to New York back in February for a special shoot.
The 24-year-old photographer has also been careful not to discriminate when it comes to age. From children to the elderly, Behind The Scars proves that even the smallest of scars can affect a person’s self-esteem, no matter their age. It’s something I’ve personally witnessed. While I only have a few tiny marks (the most noticeable being above my lip from the time I decided to swing on a gate), my mum has always been self-conscious about the leg scar that she was left with after being run over at the age of four. It’s taken her almost 50 years to show her legs without worrying what people think.
Barbara (pictured above) was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of breast cancer in 2014, and is one of the campaign’s oldest models. “Three surgeries and two chemotherapy treatments later, these are the scars I bear,” she told Mayanne, adding that it took her a long time to “finally embrace” her scars. “They document my journey and the courage and strength I did not think I had. Recently, I was told the cancer had returned. Surprisingly, I feel at peace.”
Injecting a sense of relaxation and ease into her shoots can sometimes be difficult, admits Mayanne. But she’s found a way to encourage participants to feel comfortable in front of the camera: “I normally have my dog at the studio as she’s great at calming any nerves. It’s important that anyone I’m taking a photo of feels relaxed.”
You may have noticed that each image looks particularly striking thanks to its unedited quality. In October 2017, Mayanne decided to abandon Photoshop and commit to leaving her photos unedited (save for a few lighting touch-ups here and there).
The reaction to this, and to the project in general, has been overwhelming. “I’ve had responses from all over the world from people who feel the project has helped them. It’s amazing how many people a set of photographs can touch,” states Mayanne.
Despite photographing hundreds of people, Mayanne believes that this story isn’t quite over. She is currently crowdfunding to continue the campaign and hopes to raise £5,000 to allow even more people from across the world the chance to embrace their bodies. As well as capturing the stories of more people in the UK, Mayanne hopes to take a trip round Europe in early 2019.
Her main goal, however, is to eventually produce a book. A beautiful tome of encouragement for men, women and children alike. I don’t know about you but that’s a concept I’ll happily buy into.