Photographing the Self in Herself

The Toronto photographer Jennifer Toole has come a long way since teaching herself photography using YouTube tutorials. With her background in creative arts, studying musical theatre at Wexford Collegiate School for the Arts in Scarborough and a degree in creative writing from Montreal’s Concordia University, she progressed through a a series of professional photography jobs, including house photographer for Toronto’s Northbound Leather, and later Soho House. Eventually four of Toole’s images were published by Vogue Italia.

                                                                                                                         Photograph by Jennifer Toole


As you can see, Jennifer Toole’s work does not conform to the stereotypical manufactured images of the female form. It is naturalistic and uncompromising in capturing real beauty. It is therefore no wonder that she, in collaboration with Australian actress Caitlin Stasey, co-founded the website , which showcases nude portraits of Ontario women photographed in natural light.

“Herself is a gesture to women for women by women; a chance to witness the female form in all its honesty without the burden of the male gaze, without the burden of appealing to anyone. These women are simply & courageously existing, immortalized within these photos. Within their words, their experiences and stories are offered on Herself in the hopes of encouraging solidarity – that maybe we as women will take comfort in the triumphs of others rather than revelling in each other’s defeats. Let us reclaim our bodies. Let us take them back from those who seek to profit from our insecurity.” -Caitlin Stasey


“I feel weird and abnormal for having hair, for having zits, for having to reapply deodorant, for having to pee… Women are not real on TV and in ads they are just an image.” -Chelsea Photo by Jennifer Toole


This site, and the work done here, breaks the confines of contemporary cultural views of the female body. It humanizes the models with personal interviews and images that are not restricted to commercial body images that re-enforce a set of values, beliefs and ideology designed to sell products based on the aspirations of manufactured beauty.

Post-natal yoga – become the woman you never were ! Did this model even give birth ? Yes,  this is a real ad, that is as close as it gets to reality.


The battle for a healthy realistic expectation of the human body of all genders is ongoing. The business of fashion and “beauty” products drives Mass Media in numerous forms, from advertising to entertainment. Breaking through this heavily financed culture and the constructed reality that supports it is no easy task and Jennifer Toole’s work must be both recognized and commended. Besides links provided in the post, you can see more of her work on her blog, dailytoole.



Jennifer Toole by D. Gillespie







Marketing a Value -“No Retouching Photos”

The Canadian clothing retailer, Jacob, has announce it will institute a no retouching photos policy (PDF). This  news was covered by the Toronto Star and Fashion Magazine . The policy is a clever  ad campaign that promotes a positive  social image in connection to the brand without offering  a lot.

While the new policy will limit the amount of retouching done to photographs, it does not remove all retouching. For practical photography and advertising purposes this is understandable. The perfect model and the perfect photograph are often ideals that can only be achieved through the use of photography techniques and darkroom (digital or old school) manipulation. As mentioned in the two linked articles “The company will still erase uneven skin tone or scars and will correct colours.”

The company wants to present itself as  socially responsible, with marketing that will  promote a healthy image of the female body. “By adopting an official policy and broadcasting it publicly, we hope to reverse the trend in digital photo manipulation that has become excessive in our industry,” says spokesperson and Communications Director Cristelle Basmaji. “Our decision to never reshape the bodies of our models is particularly innovative for our JACOB Lingerie campaigns.”

In their press release they state :

The basis of the new “no retouching” policy is to promote an honest and realistic image of the female body.

The Toronto Star quotes Cristelle Basmaji, Jacob’s director of communications and marketing,

“We’re trying to be as realistic as we can. At the same time, the customer expects the image to be aspirational.”

These aspirational images are directed to a specific target audience, “the 25- to 34-year-old career woman who likes modern classics, whether she’s a lawyer or a school teacher.”

This campaign and the articles are an excellent jumping off point to have your students explore the issues of body image, photo re-touching, advertising techniques,and the media principles of values, beliefs and ideologies, target audiences, and constructed reality.

For other examples like the Faith Hill on the Redbook cover Photo Tampering Throughout History.