What would you show us if we told you to rock your ugly? Well, Waleed Shah asked Dubai residents just that as part of his Rock Your Ugly project. The photo series explores mental health and body image through unedited photographs of individuals showing off their insecurities, as they tell the story behind each. But don’t misjudge Waleed's intentions – this isn’t another body positivity campaign. While the stories emphasise the impact insecurities can have on mental health, the main focus is on the individual’s process of turning negative thoughts into acceptance.
Photographer Waleed Shah was motivated to start the photo series because of his own struggles with confidence, and while he’d always wanted to explore others’ insecurities, he didn’t start until his best friend passed away and he found himself in need of a project to get his mental health back on track. Waleed described it as a form of group therapy, where he was able to share his own story while listening to the stories of others.
The participants include Lotus Habbab, who burned her arm when she fell against a heater as a child. However, Lotus has since embraced short sleeves and says it’s now become the part of her body she feels least insecure about. Huda Shahin tells the story of breaking her chin as a child and the insecurities that followed, as it healed slightly off-centre. She admits that Rock Your Ugly is the first time she’s ever shared her story outside of her close circle of friends, because of its impact on her confidence, and she’s still working towards making peace with it.
Well-known influencer Saskia’s issues with self-confidence arose because of childhood bullying, where she was made fun of for her features – a trauma that led her to consider plastic surgery. After speaking to a therapist, Saskia acknowledged the damage her negative body image was having on her mental health. She still edits her nose in photos, and that’s something she says she’ll continue to do, but now she doesn’t let it get in the way of her happiness.
UAE musician Hamdan al Abri also joined the project to share how battling Seborrheic Dermatitis (a common skin condition which causes redness and flaky skin) damaged his self-esteem. Because it's mostly apparent on his scalp, Hamdan constantly wore hats and worried people may say he has a disease. Now, since recognising that symptoms are exacerbated by stress, he’s focussed on living a healthier, stress-free lifestyle that’ll not only improve his symptoms, but his overall happiness and well-being.
Rock Your Ugly’s participants all state that their perceived flaws, while intertwined with personal stories, stem from society’s obsession with physical appearance and the unrealisitic standards of beauty. Waleed Shah hopes that these brave participants’ stories can change how people see themselves and ultimately help them realise that the most important thing is to be happy within yourself. Plus, that ‘flaw’ you’re insecure about? It’s what makes you unique – celebrate it.
- The Rock Your Ugly project is ongoing, so if you’d like to participate you can contact Waleed on his Instagram, or here via his website.