December 25, 2008


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Hippo’s #1 Book of 2008
By Lisa Parsons

This is Who I Am: Our Beauty in All Shapes and Sizes, by Rosanne Olson (2008, Artisan, 115 pages)

Photographed beautifully, in all their wrinkled/smooth/skinny/flabby/short/tall/dark/pale/shy/bold glory, here are 50 ordinary women, doing their part to counteract the images of false, air-brushed beauty we see every day. Here is 32-year-old Sara, thin, reposing in a velvety chair, who says, “American women complain they’re being objectified, and then rush out to buy stacks of glossy fashion magazines and watch bad movies featuring the beautiful but talentless starlet of the moment.” Here is 95-year-old Alice, bright-eyed, white-haired, who says, “I’m too busy to dwell on problems.” Here is 64-year-old Kay, who says, “I feel overlooked, which has to do with age.”

We see women from all sides, lying down, standing, sitting; women with tattoos, women with scars; women totally exposed, women draped in sheer fabrics or covering themselves with folded arms. Some looking right at the camera, some not.

It’s sad that several of the women have absorbed the social pressures this book would seem to work against —19-year-old Jamie says, “Most women I know want their bodies to be the opposite of what they are,” and 33-year-old Kristine says, “I am not sure if I will ever accept or love my whole body” — but This is Who I Am is about honesty, and, well, there it is. And the undercurrent of awareness feels like a step in the right direction.

Author Rosanne Olson is a fine art and commercial photographer who’s worked for the likes of the New York City Ballet and Microsoft and has won many awards ( Her photos seem to capture something meaningful about each subject. This Is Who I Am, whatever else it does for you, confirms the idea that what matters most is how you see yourself. Check the preview at — Lisa Parsons