Let your Light Shine Through: Celebrate Your Natural Beauty

As young as I can remember, my father always made it a point to tell me I was beautiful, just as I am. He was completely against me altering my hair from its natural state and wearing make-up as a necessity.

Despite my dad’s positive reinforcement, I went through a period of not feeling very beautiful. I was at the beginning stages of puberty and it wasn’t an easy time period. Besides that, when I looked in magazines and viewed TV the “pretty girls” didn’t look anything like me.

After a few years I grew to see the beauty that my father embedded in my head. And although I did perm my hair as a pre-teen, 5 years later I cut it off and went back my natural.

Hearing such positive reinforcement from the first man in my life, prepared me for what I believe would have most likely destroyed me. Society.

My project,
Feminine Transitions: A Photographic Celebration of Natural Beauty, is a photography book that promotes the importance of self-love for our authentic selves as women.


I started off photographing younger girls before moving on to increasingly older women. At the beginning of each photo shoot, I asked the models to pose without accessories such as earrings, necklaces and nose rings with the exception of a few, since they recently received a piercing. 

My objective was to truly express the bare beauty of each model without distractions.

I vividly remember looking at one of the older women through the lens of my camera and feeling displeased. At that moment, I was unclear about the issue. It took me awhile to realize that my hang up was with her makeup.

I couldn’t see her skin. Her makeup filled in the natural lines on her face, and gave her an unrealistic appearance.

Realizing that her cosmetics hid her face, I politely asked her to remove it so that I could see her authentic beauty. From that point on, my project embodied a new focus.

My original idea for Feminine Transitions was to simply create a photo book celebrating the beauty of females young and old. The topic of make-up never occurred to me prior to this day.

After that day, it became a requirement that all models remain bare, free of makeup, accessories, or wigs for the photo shoot. All images are also free of digital enhancements (NO PHOTOSHOP).

Unfortunately, this prerequisite became the deciding factor to those who chose not to participate.

It was then I realized many women had serious issues with their self-image. For several, not being able to put on their “face” was a huge problem.

My intent was not to cause any discomfort. I simply wanted to create a photographic celebration of womanhood in their organic state.

Those who decided to participate desp
ite their hesitation seem to discover a part of themselves on a deeper level. As they took off the mask they had been wearing for most of their lives, they felt the sensation of freedom.

To make each woman look as subtle as possible, it was necessary for them remain simply bare. So I requested that they pull their shirts down below their shoulders.

Some of the models felt comfortable enough to take off their top completely. When they did, they felt a growing sense of release. Quite a few of them said to me, “I felt like I took a load off my back.”

There was an emotional significance attached to the bareness in the photographs. The women became vulnerable. There was only the individual and the camera — nothing in between.

It is quite obvious that our society plays a major role in perpetuating a negative attitude towards aging. Commercials, magazines, advertising, and even doctors do an effective job of marketing “age defying” products. 

I will never understand why growing old is considered taboo, particularly in the United States.

In spite of this, even while being bombarded with such negativity, we must take responsibility for embracing our true selves and not look to the media to do it for us.

When we do, we will help the younger generation develop a healthier view of aging.

Thankfully other artist and some companies are promoting material to encourage positive self-esteem. I believe we are at the peak of a natural beauty evolution.

It is my hope that Feminine Transitions will be an aide in this progress by bringing forth a movement of change in the confidence of females in all age groups.

As girls and women we experience the bulk of pressure when it comes to accepting our physical appearance. We’re constantly told by society that our bodies, our faces, our skin, our graying hair, our weight and height are not good enough.

My mission is to foster a woman’s love for herself and encourage women to believe in their own beauty, despite what we are being fed. We must also acknowledge that our mind may be our own culprit.

Upon reflection, I know now that Feminine Transitions is a tribute to that little girl who is constantly told by society that she is not beautiful. I want that girl to know that she is beautiful, just the way she is.

And for the older woman who hides behind her makeup and colors her gray hair, I want her to take off her “mask” and be free to celebrate the changes that come with aging.

And finally to the senior woman who feels that her wrinkles are a negative reminder of growing older, I want her to know that each line is a story map of her soul and her wisdom. I am not alone in honoring you and looking up to you for guidance.

I want every woman, young and old, to know that you are beautiful, just the way you are.

Let the radiance you were born with shine through.

by Alyscia Cunningham

Adapted from “Feminine Transitions: A Photographic Celebration of Natural Beauty" published in Advocating Creatively: Stories of Contemporary Social Change Pioneers.