Confronting Self Images

The images from the photo shoot arrive, and what Clara Barnhurst gleans from them about her self image.

I have put together a few of the photos that I particularly like from our shoot. I hope you are happy with them, but let me know if not.

I don't have the emotional energy to look at these right now...

Sorry you’ve been feeling bad. I’m around if you need someone to talk to.

​Daisy Cox works quickly. It’s expected, this exhibition is meant to go up in a few months; no time to hang about. I was recovering from another article about growing up and not ready to look at them; the process sometimes sends me places that are difficult to leave. To complicate matters, my feelings from the photo shoot the week before were still a bit raw and I hadn’t expected to see the images so soon.

As I wrote previously, I came away from the photo shoot with a lot to think about: considering my own vulnerability, how far I’m prepared to go (turns out quite a way), and what that step costs me. Is it worth it? I don’t know; that’s part of the risk. In a way, thinking it over now is a bit late - the pictures are taken.


The aim here is nothing I don’t do every day: to normalise transgender people. To stay visible, to be whatever I am, and to make the fact that I’m transgender unimportant yet known. Modelling for a portrait or two is a new way of doing it, but it sometimes feels like my whole life is focused on casually coming out. Daisy came to me with a crazy, mostly formed idea to do the same in art and I was intrigued.

Part of me didn’t want to look, but that was foolish thinking. The pictures were there and they were going to be used. I may as well continue being an active participant, seeing as I agreed to participate at all. Backing off now just isn’t me.

Daisy gave me another reason to be nervous:

I wanted to ask you - would you be happy for me to paint 3/4 view ones?

Well shoot. I replied and told her to go ahead, but I waited a couple of days before I finally looked at them with my fiancée. I opened the files up without ceremony and an offhand invitation.

Why am I torturing myself? was my main thought, but the images came up and… they were all right? I think. Actually yeah, this was OK. I could see things I didn’t like: I want more boobs. I want hips. My belly isn’t that flattering - joked that I looked a bit mannerist. But actually, this is OK. If this is what I look like mostly naked then I can handle that. I’m content. Wait, what?

That is new.

Seeing myself as others see me isn’t easy, a friend reminded me as I chatted to her about it. She’s so right. We are our harshest judges - a fact I keep reminding my friends and clients. We also never take our own advice. We can know all the things and even tell people the right things, but still do the wrong things. This is particularly true when confronting self image.

My self image is pretty healthy since transitioning. I like how I look. I enjoy making myself look better and I’m happy to share pictures around. I’m beautiful and I know it, but in that slightly self conscious way that means I try not to make a fuss. I honestly believe everyone is beautiful - it’s why I enjoy drawing faces. My favourite thing about myself is that I look like my mum. I’m not great about receiving compliments. All that said, I’m not in a hurry to stare at myself naked in the mirror.


Seeing these images confronted me with a new way of seeing myself. This time last year, my body was physically not what it is. My breasts were only just budding - they weren’t there. My belly was bigger, though I was the same weight as I am now. My face had fat in different places. I was a lot more awkward with makeup. Every now and then I get a Facebook memory and it catches me out. I don’t look like a different person, but it’s clear I’ve gone through a big physical change.

It’s obvious, I know, but this shape is new to me. Just the other day I was sat at a coffee shop and I went for my phone. I paused and realised I had boobs. ‘Oh yeah, those. Forgot about those.’ My mind is still catching up with it. Just puberty, right? The stuff just happens. Everything feels natural and normal, but now and then my brain stops me to point out that thing, or those things.

I tried to explain this to Daisy at the shoot as I was getting dressed, but I remember trailing off. It was too hard to focus my thoughts and feelings at the time. But that was the crux of it: this body I have isn’t like it was. Of course it’s not new, exactly, but different enough to create mental dissonance - even positive change can trigger these moments where I just have to stop and assimilate.

And, as before, I find myself surprised at how willing I am to share it. My body is a work in progress, yet finished enough. That’s what seeing these images tell me: I am content in myself and happy to share them. I guess that’s about as much as anyone can expect.

No. 1-8
Clara Barnhurst
Clara Barnhurst


I also have to say that the assertion that the risk of transitioning is 'near zero'. is laughably false. Nowhere is safe. I live in a relatively safe place where girls like me are beat up and attacked in the street. Other parts of the world, police will detain you - sometimes indefinitely - and it's not a crime to rape a trans woman.

People lose their homes, friends, family..... this is an extremely risky game.

Clara Barnhurst
Clara Barnhurst


At some point I'll go ahead and write about what I think of as my 'transition germ'. There are common feelings, but thoughts on risk weren't there. Consideration of whether it was worth it never happened and I don't know what's to come but I can't imagine I ever will sit down and wonder if I should have not.


I appreciate what you both said. I was initially intrigued by the article because all too often I am impatient with my transition and appearances in photos. I’m in early days but...

Clara Barnhurst
Clara Barnhurst


OK, but here I really was just talking about the project, which is quite thought provoking and makes a lot of feelings. Transitioning is a whole other animal with a different set of questions for me.


"it's interesting you took it as a metaphor for transitioning"

I saw it as the same, I do not view transition as strictly the physical, I believe transition is a very long process physically and psychologically, this was your first pro sitting as Clara. We all interpret things based on our own past experiences and those of others.