‘Celebrating what your body is:’ Ohio women create body-positive gatherings, photo shoots

By Nathalia Teixeira/Kent State NewsLab

After opening a modeling call for men aged 18 to 55, the body-positive photographer Whitney Brewer was astonished by the number of men who applied in the first hour after she announced it on social media. 

By the time she got to the last participant, she’d had to reschedule him five times because the weather wasn’t what Brewer expected for his photo shoot. She embraced the opportunity to photograph him in the rain — not knowing it would be the most surprising part of the experience for him. 

The model, William, appeared in the pouring rain, running naked through a field completely naked. 

For a man who was told he would never be able to run again because of his weight to run through a field in the pouring rain — this is freedom, celebration and joy of who he is, Brewer said. 

“Celebrating and making them feel special because they are really just celebrating the human experience and the human body and what it creates for us,” said Brewer, who lives in Columbus and sells body-positive portrait sessions. “Our bodies make babies, heal cancer, protect us from the sun and the elements. It’s an amazing thing. I think that’s when we can shift our perspective on it.”

Body positivity is looking at our bodies with an optimistic lens, loving them as they are instead of trying to improve them. Ohio women like Brewer and two others who run a pro-fat camp are changing this narrative by growing a movement to accept and celebrate their own bodies and help others do the same. 

“We all have weird visions of our body, right?” said Alison Rampa, the co-founder of Camp Roundup. “The society is set up to do that. It profits off of that.”

Alison Rampa and Erica Chiseck began talking about creating a pro-fat camp for women after they listened to a podcast that in one of its episodes talked about a camp where parents will send their kids to lose weight by putting them on restricted-calorie diets and forcing them to do a lot of physical exercises.

“I thought, ‘that’s terrible,’” Rampa said.“Camp itself, the experience of camp is a joy. I know because I’ve worked at a summer camp before and good things came out of these fat camps.”

Daydreaming about the summer camp she wanted to create for fat women, Chiseck called her to talk about the same podcast episode. 

Alison Rampa and Erica Chiseck. Photo used with permission from Rampa and Chiseck.

At the first meeting of Camp Roundup in Newark in 2022, they discussed themes like body positivity and acceptance, fat liberation and joy. 

“We knew that we wanted to have a safe place where fat ladies and non-binary people who identify as women could come and just feel comfortable in their own skin,” Rampa said. 

They had a cannonball contest where they could make the biggest splash, a disco where they dressed to the nines, a pool party, crafts to make friendship bracelets, yoga and meditation. All these activities were part of the experience to create a safe environment and simply have fun. 

“We hope to empower other women to be comfortable in their skin,” Chiseck says. “We wanted just to have a genuine camp experience.”

A compelling exercise they do at the camp is, through white pages and poster boards, women are supposed to write their favorite influencers, music, fashion brands, literature and other web pages and blogs they might follow. 

“If you curate a group of people around you and on social media that looks like you, I think you hate yourself a lot less,” Chiseck said. 

Rampa and Chiseck are releasing the second camp this summer and they had the 40 spots sold out. 

Chiseck shared that she sees a fundamental shift in the campers’ perspective of their own body image and acceptance.  For example, they encouraged other women who had participated in the camp to do more walks, so then they would be able to hike better. 

“When you start to feel empowered in your own skin, you feel that you don’t have to be skinny,” Chiseck says. “You just maybe want to be stronger.” 

Having negative body images of ourselves or trying to fit into a box of the mainstream standard body is tiring. 

“I hope our campers consider Camp Roundup a vacation,” Rampa says. “A vacation from worrying about our bodies and the outside world.” 

The goal is to keep the confident energy they got from Camp Roundup and bring it to their everyday lives, including social media. 

“Everyone wants to belong somewhere,” Chiseck says.  

Belonging is what Brewer wants to provide in her work as well. 

“Something that I’ve gathered in this work is we’re not alone,” Brewer says. “There are so many people that feel so secluded because they don’t feel supported and included. It’s wild to see.”

Brewer brought the idea of body positivity to her work after researching the difference between boudoir and body positivity photography. She found out that the French word means a woman’s sulking place, which for her meant a place where a woman goes to cry or be alone and upset. 

“My work embodies embracing the human body instead of running away from it,” she says. “I chose to rename [one of my services] Body Positive Photography because we are actually celebrating what your body is right now.”

Brewer goes beyond doing traditional work with photography by attracting authentic and vulnerable clients that trust her work to transform their lives. 

“I have been given feedback that they feel empowered,” she says. “ They feel like they let something go, almost like a release.”  

This story was originally published by the Kent State NewsLab, a collaborative newsroom staffed by Kent State students.