Although she’s only 27 years old, model Sara Geurts’s rare genetic condition, Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, makes her skin unusually elastic, causing some people to think she’s almost twice her age. Ever since her story went viral last year, she’s been using her platform to empower other women who might not feel represented in the media. Now, alongside her life partner, photographer Briana Berglund, she set out to create a truly inclusive and diverse beach photo shoot, and the results are deeply empowering.
Through Instagram posting and direct messaging, Geurts reached out to different women to join her for a “Red Is Resilient” photo shoot and selected 13 participants, each of whom represents a unique group: curvy women, women of color, women with mental or physical disabilities, women with rare medical conditions, and women with vitiligo.
One of the models is student Sarah MacDonald, 20, who tells Yahoo Lifestyle, “We wanted to send the message that all of us are equal and beautiful in our own way. No matter where you came from, your ethnicity, body type, or health condition.”
MacDonald, who has a birthmark covering the entire right side of her body as well as some of her left, says she was surprised and happy when Geurts invited her to join the beachside photo shoot.
And, she tells Yahoo Lifestyle, hers wasn’t an easy road to self-love. She recalls growing up feeling like she never fit in. “There was a time that I would wear sweatshirts on the hottest of days just to cover my skin,” she confesses. “I dreaded summertime because that meant the possibility of wearing a bikini. I’ve been asked by so many people if I was in a fire, if I had poison ivy all over my body, or if I had hickeys everywhere.”
It wasn’t until MacDonald’s junior year of high school that she began to learn how to love and accept herself. “As a kid, I viewed it as this ugly part of myself, when in reality it is the most beautiful part of myself,” she says, adding that it’s why taking part in the photo shoot had such deep meaning. “It was such an empowering feeling to be standing next to all of these beautiful women with different backgrounds and body types. I wish I knew as a kid that one day I’d be involved in something so powerful like this.”
Another participant, body-positive blogger Carmen Rene, has lymphedema, a medical condition that causes painful swelling in the arms or legs. She saw the photo shoot as an opportunity to create awareness. “All bodies are beach bodies, and the standard of beauty we see every day isn’t the standard we should hold ourselves to,” she tells Yahoo Lifestyle.
Rene took the “Red Is Resilient” photo shoot a step further: She compared the group shot side-by-side with a bikini ad, with the goal of sparking a bigger conversation and of calling on swimsuit companies to expand on sizing and representation.
“Growing up, I don’t remember ever seeing a body like mine in a sexy swimsuit ad, and certainly not in a bikini,” she says. “This lack of representation furthered this idea that bodies like mine should be covered up, the idea that there was something wrong with my body. I wanted young women to be able to look at this photo and say, ‘Hey, my body looks like hers’ whether it was mine or one of the other amazing people in the group.”
Despite their differences, the models in the photo shoot share a united goal: to empower other women to feel beautiful in their own skin.
“The more you speak about your body in a positive way, the more you will begin to accept it and eventually even celebrate it,” Rene says.
The images are certainly being celebrated by women online, as they have inspired thousands of likes and comments. “Can I just say I find your attitude so refreshing!!! Finally a community of women celebrating ALL body types rather than comparing and putting down one body type in order to praise another. All shapes and sizes are beautiful,” noted one supporter. Another gave this simple shout-out: “Stunning photo with a proper representation of all shapes and sizes! Love this.”