18 Photos Capture The State Of Body Image Around The World

Photographed by Olya Ivanova 
As part of our Take Back The Beach initiative, Refinery29 visited six countries (Israel, Liberia, Russia, Iceland, Mexico, and South Korea) to find out how women outside of the U.S. feel about their bodies. It turns out, body positivity may have found a home in the mainstream conversation stateside, but, internationally, women are still finding new ways to discuss their bodies.
The lens through which these women choose to view their bodies varies by country. Where many of the South Korean women we interviewed spoke about their appearance in terms of health, the women we met from Mexico focused more on comments they've received from others (and why they choose to, for the most part, ignore those remarks).
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Across all of the interviews we had, however, we noticed one consistency. Whether it's Amanda in Liberia telling us that she tries to praise to herself as often as possible or Keren in Mexico saying that her opinion is the only one that matters, women around the world are making serious moves toward self-love, just like we are in the U.S.
Ahead, check out highlights from all six of our global shoots, then tell us what you think still needs to change about body image worldwide.
It's your body. It's your summer. Enjoy them both. Check out more #TakeBackTheBeach here.
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Photographed by Mayan Toledano 
Ray, Israel
"At a very young age, I began wanting to change myself. No one understood why I was so obsessed with my body. I was the girl that the boys were in love with and the girls were jealous of. But it was very clear to me that I was too big to be worth anything in the world, and certainly to be a dancer. I used to wish that one day I'd wake up petite.

"When my body refused to change, I was angry at it. I felt like it betrayed me. I disconnected from my body and from myself.

"Only in the last few years, when I started seeing new images and different representations of beauty, I slowly found a new loving relationship with my body. As I worked as a plus-size model and researched this topic thoroughly, I became more confident in the need for our society to see diversity in fashion so we can learn to accept ourselves and others.

"Today, I can speak to my body with love and enjoy compliments from others as well. Self-acceptance connected me back to my body and brought me back to being a subject who knows she's equal. It brings me a lot of satisfaction and happiness."

Meet all of the Israeli women we interviewed here.
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Photographed by Mayan Toledano
Aviya, Israel
"[I feel] positive [about my body] when me and my girlfriends go to the bathroom together at a party and we’re all enjoying our time together, taking pics and complimenting each other nonstop; thats my favorite thing."

"[A] less positive [memory was] when I was around age 12; I was a true tomboy. When all the girls around me started wearing bras and dresses, everyone thought I was a boy because of the way I dressed. It took me a while to take it as a compliment.

"When I address other girls' looks, I usually add some humor. When this subject is taken on a lighter note, I think it gets easier to look in the mirror with confidence; it makes it a little more fun."

Meet all of the Israeli women we interviewed here.
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Photographed by Mayan Toledano
Arian & Maya, Israel

Arian: "[The] best thing [is] whenever I'm naked with my partner and he literally says, 'I love your body.'

"I can't recall anything mean or offensive anyone's ever said, because it was never said by anyone I actually care for, only by people trying to hurt me, and I don't care about what someone like that would have to say, especially now that I'm grown.

"I'm always very aware of how I see other people's bodies, because I think it has an undeniable connection to how you see yourself. I used to be so hard on myself and had a very twisted body image, and I was always as hard on others, never out loud but I was very consumed by it. But once I let go of being so judgmental and hard on everyone and decided to be more positive in the way I see other people, I immediately started seeing myself in a better light. I'm 100 times more likely to say something positive to anyone because...negative stuff [will] just come back to me."

Maya: "The best thing was when I was told my body looks like who I am as a person and that it is compatible with my personality. It made me feel more connected to my body. The worse thing was when someone told me that I look weak.

"I always try to compliment the people around me, even if I don't really know them. I figure it's better to say something positive, because I know how good it feels to be complemented. Positive attention is always fun."

Meet all of the Israeli women we interviewed here.
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Photographed by Yagazie Emezi  
Emily, Liberia
"First of all, I thank God for giving me this body. You have to love yourself the most. People say that my body is okay, that I have a slim body. I say plenty things about people but, you know, you must look at yourself first before you criticize someone else. Women might talk about other people's bodies because of jealousy."

Meet all of the Liberian women we interviewed here.
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Photographed by Yagazie Emezi
Royda, Liberia
"I am a 5'1" and a half, curvy, thicker woman, and when I add five pounds, it may look like 10. In African culture, as soon as you gain a little weight, people tend to say, 'Oh, you're getting fat,' which they think is a compliment. You're getting healthier. But it becomes a subconscious thing for me that I'm gaining weight.

"The best thing someone has said about my body, which is actually kind of weird... as I'm aging more, coming more into my '30-year-old body,' as my mother likes to call it, I hear a lot of people saying, 'You look like you're a mother,' or 'You're ready to have kids,' which is an odd thing to say, but also an honor. I think one of the greatest things in life is to be a mother and to have children. I don't know what a body that looks like a mother looks like, but I'll take that one."

Meet all of the Liberian women we interviewed here.
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Photographed by Yagazie Emezi
Amanda, Liberia
"Someone saw me once and said, 'You know, you're dry. You're not beautiful. Your body is not good-looking.' It discouraged me, made me feel bad for that day, but, within myself, I [still] felt like I was the best. I'm good-looking, and I praise myself in front of many people.

"I've criticized other women. I've told one of my friends that she doesn't look good at all. I know it made her feel bad, but I had to tell her. Honestly, it's because so many people have done it to me, so I have to do it to her."

Meet all of the Liberian women we interviewed here.
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Photographed by Helga Nina Aas 
Agusta, Iceland
"The best thing that someone has said about my body is that it is strong, tall, statuesque, and flexible.

"The worst thing anyone has said to me is both that I am fat and that I am too skinny. If I have a tummy, they ask if I am pregnant.

"I think and talk about how other women’s bodies fluctuate. Sometimes, I criticize, but other times I am very giving if I see the other woman is hurting because of their weight. Nowadays, I think I seek out the positive and beauty of the person and focus there."

Meet all of the Icelandic women we interviewed here.
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Photographed by Helga Nina Aas
Frida, Iceland
"[I've been told I have a] great waist, hot butt, and that I'm sexy. [But] rumors about me being bulimic actually led to me taking anxiety and depression meds.

"I catch myself judging women for their figure, but I know all too well how that feels, so every time I do, I try to think about what's positive about their bodies instead of [what's] negative."

Meet all of the Icelandic women we interviewed here.
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Photographed by Helga Nina Aas
Thorbjorg, Iceland
"I would have to say that the worst thing someone has said about my body was, 'You kinda look like a porn star,' when they saw a picture of me in a bikini. I found it very offensive.

"I think that every woman is beautiful in her own way and that's what makes each and every woman perfect."

Meet all of the Icelandic women we interviewed here.
10 of 19
Photographed by Olya Ivanova
Masha, Russia
"I feel most beautiful when I’m inspired and loved. I don't quite remember being told anything unpleasant about my body, but I do get quite a lot of compliments from people. And I’ve put a lot of effort in getting to know my body, accepting it, and even cherishing it at some point.

"The first thing that I focus on when I meet somebody is their body — the way it looks and feels. I love hugging people. When a person is present in their body, you feel that right away. And then you meet. That’s really beautiful."

Meet all of the Russian women we interviewed here.
11 of 19
Photographed by Olya Ivanova
Ksenia, Russia
"The best things I've heard about my body were: 'You are tasty,' 'you have beautiful legs and breasts,' 'your skin is velvet.'

"The worst one was: 'You look like the mother of many children.'

"In other people's bodies, I pay attention to the details that I am interested in my own. I think each body is unique, and I appreciate this uniqueness. That’s why I participate in the art project Matreshkas, which finds, creates, and supports unacknowledged beauty."

Meet all of the Russian women we interviewed here.
12 of 19
Photographed by Olya Ivanova
Elena, Russia
"I was lying in bed with my boyfriend, it was the very beginning of our affair. Suddenly he said that it would be better if I start doing ab exercises, because he likes it when a girl's belly is flat, even concave. I was struck by his words and felt panic: It was pretty much impossible after giving birth twice to have a concave belly. I was blaming myself and felt scared he'd stop loving me if I didn't fulfill his wish.

"It's always a problem for me to buy the proper swimsuit, because my breasts are bigger than average. Once I spent a whole hour in the fitting room, putting on one swimsuit after another. My bosom looked unwillingly provocative in any cute bra, making me feel insecure. At last the shop consultant noticed that I was desperate. She whispered while holding out another swimsuit to me, 'You have a gorgeous figure.' I made my choice very quickly, and that beach season was my favorite, ever.

"I hate judgmental comments regarding human bodies, like, 'He is fat,' 'She is ugly,' etc. I wish not to think about people like this at all. But sometimes, these thoughts just come into my head and I feel disappointed in myself. Unfortunately, our appearance is predominant over everything these days. At the moment, my body is going through a big change, and I notice that I became invisible to men. I know it's normal. I am just pregnant. But I can't stop thinking, what if I always lived in a body that wouldn’t fit in any standards? To be honest, it's a very lonely feeling."

Meet all of the Russian women we interviewed here.
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Photographed by Alicia Vera
Lina, Mexico
"The best thing [I've been told] is that I have nice legs, but the worst thing is that I now have muffin tops in my belly. But those comments do not affect me at all."

Meet all of the Mexican women we interviewed here.
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Photographed by Alicia Vera
Brenda & Monica, Mexico

Brenda: "The best thing [I've been told] is that I have a nice body and that it looks good. The worst is that I'm a bit chubby or that I'm gaining weight. Hearing negative things has made me stop eating certain foods so that I can maintain my body. But hearing good things makes me feel great and cheers me up."

Monica: "The worst thing I’ve been told is that I’m fat. And I've been catcalled by young boys. Being called 'fat' makes me feel like I have to start taking care of myself, so that I can get skinny. Like, I have to go to the gym and all that. Being catcalled makes me feel uncomfortable, like I should be covering up. I criticize men a lot because they always want a beautiful face and a nice body. They always ask for a lot, when they aren’t even all that. Some of them are older, and could even be my father, but want a young woman like an 18-year-old or a 20-year-old."

Meet all of the Mexican women we interviewed here.
15 of 19
Photographed by Alicia Vera
Keren, Mexico
"The first negative comment that all women come across is being called 'fat.' The nicest thing I've ben told is that I have nice legs. On a personal note, I'm one of those people who think that as long as you love your body, and yourself, the rest does not matter.

"I'm usually one to not criticize at all, because I do not have the perfect body. I avoid making any comments because I do not have a body to brag about."

Meet all of the Mexican women we interviewed here.
16 of 19
Photographed by Sunmin Lee  
Ji Young Lee, South Korea
"A positive thing [someone's told me is] that I have a good figure. It makes me feel good.

"But, others have told me that, while I’m comparatively thin, my lower body is large — that I should lose weight there. It doesn’t make me feel too bad.

"Since I have a stockier lower body, I pay attention to people with athletic and long lower bodies. Sometimes it makes me jealous. If I see a person who’s fit, I think it’s because they worked hard to make it that way. And I should make more of an effort because of them."

Meet all of the South Korean women we interviewed here.
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Photographed by Sunmin Lee
Ju Hyun Oh & Moon Jyung Noh, South Korea

Ju: "A good thing I’ve heard is that, even though my body is small, I have a good figure. I appear firm and my skin is nice. That I’m…voluptuous (laughs). It made me feel more confident and it encouraged me to exercise more. As I’ve gotten older, I have the notion that to keep my body this way, I should make more of an effort to exercise.

"When I see women, I usually compare those who exercise and those who don’t... I think I tend to judge people who exercise more favorably."

Moon: "One good thing [I've been told] is that my proportions are quite good. A bad thing? That I have no waist, and my butt is flat. Hearing that makes me feel old, like I should exercise more. At home, I’ll make an effort to move around more, and stretch. I’ll look at TV exercise programs... These days it’s about looking healthy."

Meet all of the South Korean women we interviewed here.
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Photographed by Sunmin Lee
Sun Ae Han, South Korea
"[I used to be told] that I was so thin. But now that I’m past 50, I’m an ajumma [a middle aged woman] and I get stressed out about my figure. I try not to focus on my figure but on my health.

"I try not to get sick. I’ll walk in the park or go swimming. I don’t want to think about whether I’m too fat or too thin. Rather than make judgements about others, per se, whether I see a person who’s thin or someone who's fat, as long as they’re in good health, I think it’s okay."

Meet all of the South Korean women we interviewed here.
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These projects are featured in Body Talk, a photo exhibit presented by Refinery29 on display at this year's Photoville, which runs September 13 to 24. Body Talk explores the cultural variations of body positivity and the act of claiming space both across the gender spectrum and the globe, captured through the lens of female photographers.

Photoville is the largest annual photo event in New York City built from repurposed shipping containers, combining over 75 exhibitions, nighttime events, workshops and panels in Brooklyn Bridge Park. It is free and open to the public.
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