About women who are unhappy with their looks.

Portraits Outi Törmälä, texts Venla Rossi

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“The anxiety was there every day. I was thinking that maybe I shouldn’t even go to the store or take out the trash when I look like this.”

This project got started on the 13th of September 2016, when photographer Outi Törmälä posted on Facebook:

I’m looking for women who are unhappy with the way they look for a portrait project.

The first response came within two hours.

Törmälä is a photographer specializing in personal portraits. In recent years, she has noticed that it’s becoming harder and harder for people to step in front of the camera.

It was this notion that sparked this project, eventually named Can I Go to the Store Like This? About women who are unhappy with their looks. Törmälä received messages from dozens of women of different ages, from different parts of Finland. She photographed them for over two years.

The aim of the project was to encourage discussion of this phenomenon that touches almost everyone but is at the same time nearly invisible. In the era of social media, both one’s appearance and photos have become ever more important. It invokes pressure and increasing dissatisfaction.

“Some may think that being unhappy with your looks is a shallow thing, but I don’t see it that way. This is a big issue”, Törmälä says.

Törmälä did not give her subjects any special directions. During the long photoshoot sessions, they were allowed to talk, but for a lot of the time they were quiet. Some cried, others found it difficult to breathe. Sometimes they were goofing around.

“I would like the pictures to show all the emotions they have about their appearance and their relationship to it. Many are ashamed that something that is supposedly so superficial could bother them so much. In these photos, you don’t have to act strong and cheerful about it, but you can show your sorrow”, Törmälä recounts.

Can I Go to the Store Like This is not meant to be a therapy project but a combination of art photography and journalism. Still, Törmälä has been thinking about how the medium of photography can provide an experience of an accepting gaze for the subjects. A lot of the participants found the photoshoots empowering.

In addition to the photographs, there are narratives from each participant. In them, they tell in their own words how it feels to hate yourself. The interviews and texts are done by the journalist Venla Rossi.

“Worrying over one’s appearance has influenced the life of many women more dramatically than I could first have imagined. They’ve left a lot of things undone or unpursued. One of the participants told me she chose to do a PhD because she thought that if you can’t be pretty, you must at least prove you’re smart”, says Rossi.

In Finland, when it comes to looks, there’s a strong appreciation of natural beauty: people often say that a woman is at her most beautiful after sauna. It’s normal to go out in public in snow pants and without makeup. Even TV hosts are made up in a way that they wouldn’t appear particularly made-up.

Some of the participants of the project felt even this ideal of natural beauty is restricting. It may make them feel guilty for wearing makeup. What if you just don’t like yourself “the way you are”? For the photoshoot, they were asked to arrive as they wanted, with or without makeup.

The pictures and texts on this website were first showcased in Gallery Lapinlahti in Helsinki 5.–23.9.2018. A few days before the exhibition opened, the Helsingin Sanomat Kuukausiliite magazine published an article about the project, showing a selection of the photos.

Outi Törmälä (born 1971) is a photographer based in Espoo.

Venla Rossi (born 1986) is a journalist based in Helsinki.

For more information and interview requests:

Outi Törmälä, outi@quiet.fi, +358 40 558 58 59

Venla Rossi, venla.h.rossi@gmail.com, +358 50 309 29 66


Read the stories

HS Kuukausiliite article on the project