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Students Wear Their Insecurities — Then Lose Them

What i be female
What-I-Be-group
(L-R front) Lauren Balsamo, Zachary Davis, Noelani Rodriguez, (L-R back) Ashley Olafsson, Joanna Donaldson, Leah Henry, Julianne Mosher, Michelle Olakkengil

It may not be cool to be insecure, but it is definitely becoming cool to admit that you are. Stony Brook is the latest in a growing number of universities, high schools and student organizations taking part in a program designed to acknowledge the fact that everyone is insecure about something — and owning that is empowering.

The program, called, What I Be, is the brainchild of Sacramento, California-based photographer Steve Rosenfield, (Ganesh Photography) who travels from locale to locale by invitation, to find out what those insecurities are — and help students reveal them in a public way or as his slogan goes, “building security through insecurities.”

“It’s a way for people to acknowledge their insecurities and know they are not defined by them,” said senior political science major Leah Henry.

Stony Brook students Noelani Rodriguez and Lauren Balsamo found the original photos of the project on a Tumblr blog, and after doing some research, thought that participating in it might help students here become more comfortable with their shortcomings and more apt to open up about them with others.

“Once Lauren got in contact with Steve via email and expressed interest, I immediately pulled some strings on campus by speaking to Residence Hall Director Zachary Davis about the program. He told me to contact Gina Vanacore (Associate Director of Residential Programs),” said Rodriguez. “Without her sponsorship and help this project would not have been possible.”

“My students were passionate about it so I supported it,” said Davis.

What-I-Be-maleBy April 8, the “What I Be” photographer was booked. “Once the contract was signed, Noelani and I reached out to everyone on campus, faculty included,” said Balsamo. “We sent them the flyer for the program electronically, printed flyers and posted them at every residence hall and bus stop, made a Facebook page for the event and advertised in classes by word of mouth.”

When Rosenfield arrived here he sat down with students and asked them to reveal their biggest insecurities or secrets and helped them put together a “I am not my ______________________ “ statement. He then took a Sharpie and wrote the students’ chosen words on their chosen body parts, usually the neck, forehead or hands. The marker was removed by wet wipes after the photographs were taken. Their photographs then appeared on the program’s Website, linked to Stony Brook Facebook.

“More students expressed interest in participating once they started to see the Stony Brook students being tagged on Facebook at Ganesh Photography,” said Rodriguez. By the time the pictures were put up on Facebook the waiting list had grown considerably.

“I wrote on my arm and my statement was, ‘I am not my curves,’ said freshman psychology major Ashley Olafsson. “My message focused on my insecurities with body image, because if we don’t fit society’s beauty standards we often face ridicule — if not from others than from ourselves. I realize from taking part in the program that beauty standards no longer exist to me. We are all beautiful.”

Freshman psychology and philosophy major Michelle Olakkengil was bothered by a friend’s recent comment about her acne and she chose “You’d look a lot better without that,” as her statement.

Junior journalism student Julianne Mosher participated in the project and decided to write an article about it for The Stony Brook Press. “Everyone has skeletons or demons in their closets that prevent them from doing something or living life happily,” she said.

“It will definitely boost the confidence of any student who participates. If you thought you were alone before you will realize you are not,” said Mosher.

“The only guideline the photographer asked for is that we be honest and that our words come from a genuine place,” said Henry. “All of the students who participated are extremely brave,” she added.

Davis said that 80 percent of the 66 Stony Brook students who participated were female, six percent gay men and women, six percent transgender and eight percent heterosexual male. “We had representation from all over campus and tons of different ethnicities and backgrounds,” he said.

It appears that there is already enough interest among the student population for a reprise next year — and Rosenfield said he plans to be stopping back then when he visits the East Coast.

For a more in-depth look at Stony Brook participants visit the Facebook page.

— Glenn Jochum; group photo by Glenn Jochum

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