Safe and Sexy
A photo essay on the choices women make about what they wear Isabelle Massey, 40
I was raped when I was eight years old. It wasn’t because I was sexy at eight years old — but it makes you learn fast. That was part of my education. I grew up in a poor neighborhood in Montreal so in my teen years I was already conscious of danger. When I got pregnant, I didn’t want to live in Montreal to raise my daughter. I feel safe when there are people close by — and if I’m with my boyfriend or daughter, it changes. With clothing, if I’m in black clothes I feel protected be-cause black is more discreet. You’re noticed less. When I’m in nature, it wakes up my senses. Summer as well . . . the wind on your skin, the sun, it wakes up our sexuality a bit more than winter. I like my legs. When I wear a short skirt, when I’m with my partner, I like that, and he finds it attractive as well. I use my hair as well to communicate that I’m more sensual. Sexuality is simple, I find.
This past summer, Sarah Hughes travelled to Halifax, Quebec City, Victoriaville, Toronto, and Winnipeg to photograph women in two outfits of their choosing — the first one “comfortable and safe,” the second “attractive and sexy.” She then invited each of her subjects to talk about these dual identities. The fifteen women here are a representative sample from a larger work entitled Persona Project: Safe & Sexy, in which Hughes explores the considerations at play in women’s choice of clothing, revealing the influence of personal history and social convention. The photographs are based on early anthropological portraiture Hughes saw while working at the Smithsonian film archives, as well as “before and after” series popularized in magazines in the 1990s — both of which feature head-to-toe frontal perspectives. Viewed collectively, the women’s individual personas come into sharp focus.
Canada & its place in the world. Published by
the non-profit charitable Walrus Foundation