Imagine revealing your deepest insecurities and flaws
to a complete stranger, then allowing that stranger to take a photograph of you with
your insecurity written on your body, then posting it online for millions of people
to view. It is an absolutely terrifying premise, but also an incredibly
empowering experience for participants.
The What I Be Project, created by photographer Steve Rosenfield, is a viral
website that is filled with thousands
of images of anonymous people who declare “I am not my (fill in the blank).”
This past week, Rosenfield took up residence at Scripps College and
photographed 40 students with their insecurities on full display.
The Scripps Associated Students (SAS) Speakers Committee sponsored
Rosenfield’s visit to campus after Senator Emma Knoesen SC ’17 came up
with the idea. Knoesen had looked at the project’s photographs and felt
like it would be a great fit for the Scripps community.
“For me, one of the cool things about the What
I Be Project is how it brings awareness to issues that are commonly ignored or
overlooked in our society and makes you realize the internal struggles that
individuals in your community experience on a day-to-day basis,” Knoesen said.
SAS President Marta Bean SC ’14 also expressed enthusiasm for the
“We think that Steve’s project lives up to Scripps’ mission of living ‘confidently,
courageously, and hopefully,’ and is a unique way for people to step out of their
comfort zone and learn about themselves and others,” she said.
Rosenfield first began the project because he wanted
to highlight people’s desire for acceptance.
“You know, I saw so many things on
the Internet or Facebook bullying people or making fun of people, so I just
wanted to create something that could go against that and let people know that it’s
all good to be who you are,” Rosenfield said. “I took the first image on Sept. 23, 2010. I put it up that night and it just got an immediate response. People
really enjoyed it, and I think they were just surprised by it and what it was
Although Rosenfield began by contacting 15 people to
model for him, the following thousands came from individuals, high schools, and
universities who saw his work and wanted to get involved.
“What kept it going
were the people that wanted to take part in it,” Rosenfield said. “It’s so relatable for people
and the response wanted me to keep going. What I love most
about it is talking to so many people and being real. Coming from a judgmental
world is hard.”
Scripps students who participated in the project made
declarations including “I am not my clinical depression,” “I am not my
stubbornness,” and “I am not my rape.” They also displayed on their bodies statements expressing their insecurities, such as “Yeah, I
may look happy,” “I’ll have the last word,” and “So it’s my fault?”
Because the photos are on Facebook with participants’ names
attached, the project provides members of the Claremont community and fans
of the project the opportunity to see their statements and reach out to participants to show
“It’s about our insecurities and things that scare
us to share,” Rosenfield said. “But I think people who come in to do it are wanting to do it for a
reason because they see how other people get responses and how empowering it is
to share that stuff.”
Morgan Weidner SC ’17 shared her photo on Facebook along
with a personal statement. Her photo is titled “I am not my cutting,” and “It
can happen to anyone” is written on her face.
Weidner explained that she felt it was time to share this part of her life that did not define her anymore.
“I’m a very open book and everyone knows a lot
about me just because I share a lot, but this is one of the things that I
hardly told anyone here, especially in my first year,” Weidner said. “I’m hoping that being open can help others be
real with themselves, even if they struggle with something that doesn’t define
In response, she has received hundreds of messages and affirmations of
support from friends, family, and strangers.
“I can’t do this anymore” was written across the arms and
face of Ella Wilson SC ’16. She described how the What I Be Project is a step
in her path to overcome her codependency.
“I chose to
participate in the What I Be Project because I am currently working on my
personal issues of codependency in my relationships,” Wilson said. “My codependency isn’t
something I am proud of, but it also doesn’t define me. I wanted to let others
who are codependent know they’re not alone.”
Choosing a concise phrase to capture a complex
insecurity proved difficult for Ellie McElvain SC’14, but she said she was able to find a phrase that felt very real.
“‘Why won’t you like me?’ hits exactly
on my irrational desire to please everyone,” she said. “I wish I could be more fearless and
less anxious all the time, but I’m so tied down by my worry about other people
disliking things I do.”
McElvain also commented on the power of the project as a whole.
“It was so heartening and breathtaking
to see the honesty and experiences of other Scripps students,” she said.
As the photos began to emerge online, students
across the Scripps campus reached out to show support for their fellow students
and signed up on a growing wait list to have their photographs taken.
“Everybody is scared—everybody,” Rosenfield said. “That’s the whole point of the project.”
To learn more about Steve Rosenfield’s What I Be Project, visit www.whatibeproject.com/images.