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  • Emilie Surrusco

One survivor’s reaction to 12 magazine’s “Victim of Beauty” photographs

The latest controversy in the world of beauty magazines involves a Bulgarian publication called 12. Their recent issue features a photo spread  entitled “Victim of Beauty” that depicts models with severe cuts and bruises who are wearing H&M skirts and clothes by label Capasca. As the online uproar grows, the magazine’s editors stand by their work with this explanation, according to Joann Pan’s blog on Mashable: “Quite frankly, we do not think that there is a person, who will see the photographs and automatically assume that violence is okay…Yes, if someone is hyper-sensitive to trauma, we agree that this shoot may provoke their inner demons, invoke unpleasant memories, and we apologize to anyone who feels offended by it, this was not our intent,” they wrote.

As someone who is, as they say “hyper-sensitive to trauma,” I wish I had the luxury of the reaction that so many have had – ie. “this is an example of beautiful fine art photography” or “the makeup job is really impressive” or even “this spurs an important conversation.”

True, my face never looked like any of the models in 12 magazine’s photo spread. But what those photos don’t convey is the pain that persists inside long after the outside has healed.

True, no one forced me to look at those photos. As a journalist, I thought I could go there and see them as a trained practitioner of objectivity. Sometimes I forget that even more than 15 years after my abuse, it still holds me tight in its grasp. Or sometimes I like to push myself to see if I can will it away, to see if I can control it instead of it controlling me. Every time it proves me wrong.

There are many intellectual ways to interpret this photo spread, and I will leave the question of whether what they did is wrong or right to the various voices who have opined – for a few varying views go herehere and here.  For me, as a survivor, I look at those pictures and all I can do is succumb to the visceral response that comes, often when I least expect it.

That response goes something like this: It starts with what can only be compared to being kicked in the stomach, then sweat rolls down my back, my throat begins to close, my mind races and I go back to the girl who was trapped. My muscles contract as my body tries to create a protective cocoon, and my mind feels heavy as I will away the tears. Even as I fight it, the pain shoots down through my throat, my stomach, my groin, my legs, my toes. It stays there, growing stronger, pulsating, spreading, my body shakes as I fight it.

It’s never a convenient time to cry, to give into the pain, to let my body follow the course that was set long ago. I’ve become very good at tamping it down if I have to go to a meeting or feed my children or take a phone call. As I go about the daily doings of my life, it lives on inside until I have a private moment. Then I can look out the window or hold my head in my hands and let the tears fall. Yet, even as I allow the tears to come, the pain lives on – I long ago learned that once it’s started, it has to run its course before it will go away again. I have only learned how to live with it, like another being, coexisting, feeding, growing.

So here I sit, hyper-sensitive to trauma, and think about how 12 magazine’s editors wash their hands of my pain with their apology to me. And all I can say is I only wish it was that easy to will my pain away.

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