Sep 1, 2023 • 6 min read

How Ashley Used Print To Break Beauty Standards | Mixam

Here’s how a professional photographer put body positivity in the frame for her debut book.

How Ashley Used Print To Break Beauty Standards | Mixam

Coffee Table Books do more than look good. Whether you print Coffee Table Books for office spaces, living rooms, or quite literally your coffee table, they’re considered staple decor for home and work environments. They’re guaranteed conversation starters and cover a range of subjects, from fashion to art. But the best Coffee Table Books are the ones that embody the broader conversations around the topic they cover.

For photographer Ashley Fenison, there is a clear link between the discussions surrounding the body positivity movement and her debut Coffee Table Book My Body is Art. Body positivity is a social movement that denotes the acceptance of all bodies and physiological differences while challenging modern beauty standards and social constructs. Functionality and health are the main points of appreciation, not physical attractiveness. Having struggled with body image at a young age, Ashley picked up a camera in her teenage years and later honed her creative skills in San Francisco. She is now the face of her brand, Thirdeyelens, and uses photography to help her subjects embrace how they look just as she has.

Her book is profoundly personal and exploratory. Made to “[capture] the human body in its raw, natural form...”, Ashley’s book demonstrates an optimistic attitude to various body types, shapes and skin tones, regardless of race or gender. Coffee Table Books often have a free-flowing display of photographs, but in Ashley’s case, the models featured in the book influenced the overall book structure. She asked each model to reveal the area or body part they were most insecure about. This allowed her to group the shots and arrange them into dedicated chapters so readers could truly appreciate each photo. Every picture is printed in greyscale, giving a soft, atmospheric and intimate focus on every roll, scar and stretch mark. It also invites readers to view the photos without expectation or prejudice and provides a healthy, unpressured space for contemplation and self-reflection.


We spoke to Michelle to discuss her book, process and experience printing with us in more detail: 


Ashley, why did you want to make a Coffee Table Book?

I was craving a new way to express my art and the importance of sharing empowerment and self-love. Being a plus size photographer who has struggled with body image and previously had very negative thoughts about my body, I wanted to help others heal those wounds too and make them feel beautiful and that their body is art. While photography has been a huge contributor to my healing journey with my body and for my clients, I have the honour of photographing people in a boudoir style where, after a shoot, they get to see their bodies in a new light, love themselves, and celebrate their bodies. I came up with the idea of offering these empowering photos in a book form to reach more people and to help change our definition of beauty. 


Why a Coffee Table Book and not a Photobook or a Zine?

I personally love collecting photographers’ Coffee Table Books. They’re great display pieces where anyone who looks at them can see the vision and quickly get the message the art is telling. I wanted my images to be big and seen in all their glory, so I chose a larger Coffee Table Book that could be a key focal piece.


Photographer Ashley Fenison in her studio

You showcase your work online, of course, but what was it about print as a medium that appealed?

I am a big believer in printing your photos. Yes, having them online is amazing and very accessible, but that feeling of touching and seeing your photos up close, in your hands, is a totally different experience. As I said, your body is art, so you should print your photos for everyone to see.


How did printing your own book help you contribute to the discussions surrounding body inclusivity and positivity?

Printing this book will give more opportunities for people who don't live around me that I can't personally photograph to feel seen and see an entirely new perspective on different types of insecurities. The book's message and photos also open up more conversations about body confidence and positivity, which is a great step towards changing beauty standards.


“I've had such an overwhelming, positive response to this book...”


Tell us about your process, from the editing to the book design to the final draft.

The process was so smooth! The book setup is easy to follow and put together. Even when I had trouble with the few fixes to the book, Mixam’s customer service team was incredibly helpful and kind! I had some trouble figuring out how to add a bleed to the cover, but when I called for help, they went ahead and fixed it for me and sent me multiple videos and helpful tips to learn how to do it myself. They made this experience so lovely and stress-free. The process of editing my book was excellent from start to finish.


What was your first impression of your books when they arrived?

When my sample book arrived, I was so eager and excited to see it. Once I did, I let out a deep sigh of relief. I worked for months on this project and was nervous to see what the final product would look like. It was better than I imagined - I was so impressed with the quality and final look!


What’s the feedback been like from the public?

I've had such an overwhelming, positive response to this book and the series. From people telling me that they are inspired to create their own Coffee Table Book to messages from people who have also struggled with their own insecurities and that this book was what they needed to see or hear - it all means the world to me!


What advice would you give to other photographers looking to print their work?

I recommend taking your time and using Mixam's resources. From the customer service calls or helpful videos, they are accommodating and will make the process much easier.


You can learn more about Ashley and her work by visiting her websiteInstagram and TikTokAnd for more news and inspiration, check out the array of posts on Mixam's Blog and visit our Support section for helpful guidance and advice on all things print.


Image Credit: Ashley Fenison

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