A Bare Beauty Interview: Rachael Schirano and The Unearthed Project

Through the process of realizing, and sharing this project, I have become connected with some pretty incredible people who actually happen to be doing the same thing(in their own ways of course). The Bare Beauty Project initially began as a personal photography project(the Beautiful Woman Project), and I am continuing this as The Bare Beauty Sessions. But as I was made aware of more and more women out there doing such similar projects with such similar messages, I found myself in place of not just wanting to share my work, but wanting to share ALL of theirs as well. You see for me this wasn’t about me and my art or my ego. From the very beginning of it, it has been about my kids. It has been about helping the 21 year old version of myself battle an eating disorder. It has been about my family members who have battled addiction. It has always been about everyone, and so, naturally, that is what is has become: OUR SPACE. There is power in numbers, and the more people we can get to share these positive messages, the better the chance of changing the face of beautiful we have.

My first interviewee is an Illinois based Photographer by the name of Rachael Schirano. She and I made our acquaintance through an online photography school, The Define School. I have never met her personally, but for the last almost two years, we have been in regular contact because of the amazing alumni forum that we are a part of. Rachael lives in Bloomington, Illinois with her husband and 4 children; an eighteen year old and 6 year old triplets.

Rachael has started a personal photography project called ‘The Unearthed Project’. Here she tells us about it, how it began, and where she hopes to take it.


BB: Let’s talk about Unearthed, and where you got the inspiration to start this..

RS: Ummmm, I feel like it’s kind of something that’s always been there. I don’t feel like I need to wear makeup all of the time, I’m not afraid to go out in public without it, but I feel like we all have our masks. Whether it be makeup or hair or whatever. But I’m actually very struck by people who are afraid to go out in public without makeup on. And I have also known people who have masks in the way of needing to be in control, to be ‘perfect’, and watching how that effects them physically and emotionally. It’s exhausting. And how that translates into relationships with everyone around them, how it prevents them from getting really close to anyone and it makes me really sad. You can’t develop a relationship with your guard up.

BB: No, no.. it’s impossible.

RS: And I also know some people who have been through some very traumatic, life-changing events who are still just hiding behind their old habits and old ways, still in the miserable jobs just because they pay the bills.. It’s really hard to watch them go through that. And I’m watching this and it changed something in me. And so, even though these are two totally different masks, like one is showing perfection, and the other is hiding behind the familiar, it was kind of like, what happens when you strip all of that away? And you’re just left with this, what’s underneath it, you know, who you are at the end of the day. When you come home, and you take off your makeup, and you put up your hair, (or you take down your hair). Who you are then is who you are. When you’re comfortable. You know, it’s not about being against putting on masks, or dressing up, it’s about being ok with what’s underneath that and sharing that with the world.

BB: Yes, it’s about owning who you are, whatever that is. Taking ownership of it.

RS: Yes, and I think it’s about the running away. People use masks to run away from what they don’t want to face. So regardless of whether it’s plastic surgery or hair extensions or makeup or making sure that your house looks perfect, or staying in a job that makes you miserable because you don’t know what else to do, because it’s comfortable, because you don’t want to face having to make changes.. whatever it is, acknowledging it and knowing it I think is just power in and of itself.

I like to get dressed up and put on makeup and go out. It’s fun! It makes you feel pretty! I’m not opposed to it, I just think that there’s this increasing awareness that that’s how we should be all of the time.

BB: Yes, absolutely. I used to feel like I needed to wear makeup all of the time. I have really light eyelashes and I remember feeling unattractive without mascara on. I felt like I always needed to wear it, and I think some of that came from having a mom who always wore makeup. And now that I’m older I don’t want my kids to not ever see me go out without makeup. I don’t want them to be ashamed of their blond eyelashes and to feel like they aren’t beautiful without mascara and eyeliner on, or feel like they have to straighten their curly hair. I have to wear my curls if I want them to wear theirs, you know?

RS: You actually hit on a really good point there. Even just talking about being a mom, and all of the things that go along with that. The pressure, the stress, the exhaustion from just trying to take care of the kids and the house, and the job or whatever, and the pressure to always eat organic, and then the criticism you get from others because you do eat organic.. strip that all away. The labels, and the expectations, and the mom-label, strip away the wife label, strip away the friend and the sister and the daughter label, underneath all of that, you’re still a person. At the end of the day, you are a person with dreams and desires. It’s kind about getting back in-touch with that too.

BB: Yeah, which is very emotional.

RS: It is.

BB: So what is your message? If you were to say it in one or two sentences..

RS: One sentence?? (laugh)

BB: Ok, a short paragraph.

RS: Ummm, you know, it’s kind of evolved. The more sessions I do, the more it becomes about the women I am photographing. I send them a questionnaire, and they fill out the questionnaire. I have had every single person who has done this so far say that those questions alone are a catalyst for change.

BB: Would you mind sharing an example of one of the questions on the questionnaire?

RS: Ok, here is one of the questions: “what are some of the stories you tell yourself that you’d like to change?” They have to be honest here, and this sparks a huge transformation for these women, as it’s really just women I’m working with right now. And then, I spend like an hour or so with them, photographing them. We start fully made up, like they normally would for a photograph, and then we go through the undoing. And I don’t even know that that part is necessary for the documentation, but I find that the process of it really helps them.

BB: Well, for me, seeing the one session you had posted that actually showed the whole undoing, because of course I’ve been to your blog and looked at your work, (laugh), I liked it. I felt that seeing the whole process of the undoing was impactful.

RS: I know the process of it is important, I watch them go through it. It’s bizarre, I mean, because they can’t see this, I’m sure they feel it, the people I’m photographing, but this weight falls off of their shoulders. Like, they’re nervous at first, I’m mean who isn’t (in front of a camera), but after a while they kind of forget and they just become themselves. And at the end, I get these bare-faced, beautiful portraits of people just laughing or talking, and it’s just really beautiful.

I actually want to take it a step further now, and take them outside and just get like completely dirty and muddy, or be drenched in rain, whatever it is, to take it that step further. To get back in tune with nature..

BB: Well, yeah, and with the title of your project being ‘Unearthed’, there is a definite connection being made there.

RS: Yeah. I mean the thing is, everyone is so nervous at the beginning, and I know what that feels like

BB: Oh God, I hate being photographed!

RS: Me too!


BB: I have had photographers tell me that I’m great in front of the camera, but that’s just because I understand what looks good, it’s not because I’m comfortable, I know which way the light will be most flattering..

RS: I know I don’t want to be looking straight on!

BB: Exactly!!


RS: So anyway, we walk through the whole process, and we just talk

BB: about the questions?

RS: Yes. And we tap into some of that stuff, and I document it, but then it always feels sort of incomplete after that. But there’s not much more I can do from there, you know? So that’s why I want to add that next step, like, let’s just go out in the mud and get totally dirty. And let’s see how beautiful you are when you’re surrounded by dirt. Something that isn’t often though of as beautiful, and how your beauty contrasts with that.

BB: That’s awesome. I can’t wait to see some of those sessions.

RS: Yeah me too!

BB: So essentially your goal is to unblock that part of a person, to feel free to be..

RS: Yeah, I mean, I want people to be ok with who they are, like we talk about that, being ok with who you are, being happy with what you have, focusing on what you do well, but then we’re also constantly inundated with how to be better and how to do better and how to improve, and I feel like it’s really hard to let go of that. It’s really hard to just be ok with who you are, and to want to share that with the world, it’s really hard. I want women to see that they’re beautiful, first of all, but I also want them to see that the reason that they are beautiful is because of who they are, not the masks they wear.

BB: Is there something about yourself that you feel insecure with? A mask you struggle to keep off so to speak?

RS:  My weight has always been an issue for me. But i feel like that’s an obvious answer, because isn’t it for everyone? Even so, it is the topic i have struggled with the most. I have never been skinny, though at one point in my life I thought I had to be in order to be loved (or even liked). I gain weight easily and I feel like I sometimes use it as a mask to hide from people. I suppose it has become one of the stories that I tell myself… I am the fat girl and that’s just what it is. Over the years I have realized that in order for me to maintain a healthy weight and positive body image, it cannot be about numbers. I have been working on eating well and being more active for the past few months and it has made a huge impact. Though I weigh only slightly less than the most I ever have, I love myself far more than I ever have.

BB: So what does beauty mean to you?

RS: I mean, beauty is skin deep, but there’s so much more that is beautiful about a person than just what you see. You know, it’s the light that shines through someone’s eyes, or the emotion they show when they are happy or sad. I did lifestyle family sessions for years, and I heard women over and over and over again say to me, the pictures are great, but I hate myself in them.

BB: That’s so sad. I have actually had that experience a couple of times already, comments about weight, or people asking for me to over-edit their images to change the way they look. They actually make phone apps that can ‘photoshop’, so to speak, your photos, slim down faces, shrink noses, whiten teeth.. it’s actually kind of disturbing. It’s like are we ever actually seeing the real version of anyone anymore?

RS: Yeah, I notice that a lot of times when people are photographed and touched up, even if it’s just blemishes and under the eye brightening, they don’t look like themselves. There’s no life in their face, there’s no expression. That’s kind of where it’s really weird to see someone photographed really and wholly and who they are. It’s so beautiful, and then to see it touched up or not even touched up but ‘prettified’ beyond recognition, even if it’s just all of the makeup put on, not that it’s bad, it’s just that.. you can also be beautiful without all of that. And I guess that I just feel that that side needs a voice. The undone side needs a voice, because you can be beautiful and be undone.  I can’t tell you how many times I have had women tell me that their husband or boyfriend tell them all of the time that they find them beautiful without makeup, but they just don’t believe them. I mean, these are the people who are in love with you, and they’re telling you you’re beautiful without all of that! I just want people to fall in love with themselves. Without all of the junk piled on. And realize, it’s ok to pile the junk on, but you have to love what’s underneath it in order to be happy.

BB: Yeahhhh I love that. That’s it.

So, your future goals with the project, where do you see this going? You had mentioned possibly starting a kickstarter? Would you like to see this become a book?

RS: I’m not totally sure yet, I see it going in the direction of a documentary, but I don’t know a lot about film making, so I’m actually taking a class on that right now. I worry that that might take away from the intimacy of the sessions though, so I’m kind of on the fence about that. I know it needs to go somewhere, and the response was a little bigger than I had initially expected.

BB: I too have had a similar response from people. People want to be a part of this kind of stuff. I think the message really does resonate with a lot of women, even more so if they have insecurities they are struggling with because I think, we all want to love ourselves, right?

RS: Yeah. And I think it’s one thing for Dove or these other large companies to put out a campaign like that. You’re still essentially dealing with hand picked women. They are picking certain features that photograph well, and that’s ok because they are big companies and that’s what they are paid to do. But I think the reason why what you’re doing and what I’m doing, and what anyone else who is doing something like this, I think the reason it resonates so strongly is because it’s just, it’s everybody. It’s not hand-picked. It’s whoever wants to participate. Everybody wants to be ok with who they are. Everyone wants to be loved for who they are, even if they put a mask on. ~



Rachael’s Project can be seen here: The Unearthed Project




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