10 Captivating Portraits Of People Who Defy Society’s Expectations, As Captured By Sujata Setia

Published 1 year ago

In a world where beauty standards are often narrow and unforgiving, Sujata Setia’s “Changing the Conversation” project serves as a powerful reminder that true beauty lies in the diversity of individuals and the unique stories that each person has to share. The photographer has given a voice to those who have been silenced and has created a platform to challenge society’s narrow perceptions of beauty.

Sujata Setia, who is known for her signature style of capturing emotional and authentic moments (see her previous projects here and here), has masterfully captured the essence of each person. Each portrait is a stunning representation of the person’s individuality and showcases their unique beauty. This project is a testament to the power of art to inspire change and challenge societal norms, and it serves as a reminder that beauty truly lies in the eyes of the beholder.

More info: Instagram | butnaturalphotography.com | saatchiart.com

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#1

Image source: butnaturalphotography

“101 Dalmatians. Cookie dough. Spotty Face,” those were the names my classmates secretly kept for me.
Growing up, I hated myself.
I hated everyone around me.
No one looked like me… I didn’t look like them.
I thought I was ugly… horrible.

Those feelings took me to a very dark place. My relationships suffered… with people I loved the most…

Until 3 years ago.

My children were the turning point for me.

I remember that day so vividly. We were going on a family holiday and I was picking clothes that would help me cover myself. I didn’t want to be seen…

…and I just asked my self this one question: “What kind of a role model am I to my children, if I can’t embrace who I am?”

I don’t want them to worry to fit in. I want them to be comfortable with who they are.

And so that day, I chose to be ME!

Hi my name is Cheryl.
I was born with congenital Melanocytic nevus (CMN).
These are my scars.
This is me. I love me. I embrace me. I wear me with respect, confidence and endless joy, for I… AM A CELEBRATION!

#2

Image source: butnaturalphotography

“A crucial part of this journey was for me to find shared experiences. A space where I could feel normal. I wouldn’t wish this upon anyone. No… never!

And so, for the longest time I lived with the understanding that I am different. Until I met Raiche and other burn survivors.”

@catrinpugh Catrin was returning from a Ski trip in the French Alps, when the coach’s brakes failed and the crash happened.

96% of her body suffered third degree burns leaving her with a 1 in a 1000 chance for survival. Following three months in coma, 200 surgical procedures and 4 years of rehab, Catrin defied destiny.

She recently graduated from @kingscollege.london and is now working as a physiotherapist while helping expand the horizons of this world through her work alongside the incredible @raichemederick_

Raiche was 18 months old when she was burnt in a house fire. Being a Black-British; female; burn survivor has come with its multiple narratives for Raiche. It is a story of marginalisation at multiple levels. A story of perceptions. The way you look, matters a lot in Black culture, so that was a long journey of acceptance for me… understanding, where I actually stand.

I felt like an outsider, but judgement was quick to come by from others as well. “Oh you don’t talk Black, you don’t act black” I was often reminded.””

Raiche and Catrin came together for this shoot so we could explore the concept of finding oneness in our differences. The role of finding our community, our tribe in helping us navigate the parody of life.

…to be… to feel… normal.

Together these two amazing women have and are continuing to help redefine “beauty” and normalise facial differences in this world.

I asked them what they feel about being called an “inspiration” ever so often?

“Ya! Im living my best life. I wonder sometimes when people walk up to me and say I inspire them. While I am just living my life… I somehow inspire. I guess it’s because scars have a beautiful way of telling a story… a shared story of many commons.”

#3

Image source: butnaturalphotography

She was returning from a Ski trip in the French Alps, when the coach’s brakes failed and the crash happened. “I remember thinking of my family in those last moments, just before the crash happened. The driver was a hero. He did not abandon the coach. He instead warned all passengers of the incumbent crash. He died but he saved all our lives,” recalled Catrin.

96% of her body suffered third degree burns leaving her with a 1 in a 1000 chance for survival. Following three months in coma, 200 surgical procedures and 4 years of rehab, Catrin defied destiny.

She lives… and she lives with elan. She motivates, she inspires and she initiates conversations that redefine “beauty”… that help in the expansion of humanity.

A few weeks ago Catrin visited a coffee shop with her mother and the lady serving there patted Catrin on her back. When Catrin turned around to respond the lady asked “Sorry! what happened to you?”

Politely and patiently Catrin lent her life’s narrative to that stranger in the hope that the next time she met someone with a facial difference she might consider not staring at them and then asking them a similar question.

For Catrin is way more than a 96% burn survivor. She is a young girl with a million dreams. She just finished her degree from one of world’s premium institutions – King’s College London. She now aspires to become a physiotherapist. Infact moments before our shoot Catrin finished sending off her application for a job opening, in the hope that she is chosen purely on merit and the amount of hard work she has put into achieving her goals.

She is a human. She is insanely fun and acutely thoughtful. She is a great listener and an incredibly articulate orator. She is a fighter. She is a movement. She is the voice and face for change; for normalising facial difference. She is all of this and way way more…

#4

Image source: butnaturalphotography

“My 9-year-old daughter returned from school one day and asked me if she is “beautiful.” As a girl child who grew up in a patriarchal society back in a small town of India, I have battled for all of my life with the constructs of beautiful or ugly; boy or girl; normal or abnormal, rich or poor, pink or blue… this world for me has always been divided in binaries, until my daughter started to grow up with a similar world view. And so, I started this series as an effort to work towards the expansion of humanity. A world without exceptions. A world that moves away from binaries. It is an ongoing series.”

“I have wondered what it would be like to have more than one child, if I need to hold them both tight at the same time,” James said as he laughed casually.

9 years ago, James lost his arm and leg in an accident.

Ashley is a congenital amputee. Which means that she was born with the lower part of her right arm missing.

“I didn’t want to have children because I thought I wouldn’t be able to hold her. How will I support her head while feeding? How will I tie her shoe laces? Or change her clothes… but it all worked itself out. Elara realises that mummy and daddy just have to do things differently. So she works with us on solutions.”

“You know how it is… with being limb different… you just have to be persistent.”

Ashley is a successful model and an advocate for families that have a limb different member. Since his accident, James has worked with Japanese gaming giant Konami to personally design and develop his own advanced bionic arm – earning himself the nickname Metal Gear Man. Since then, he’s become a speaker, BBC presenter and model.

They have the most beautiful 2-year-old daughter Elara, who truly is a ray of sunshine.

#5

Image source: butnaturalphotography

On 14 February 1990, flight IA605 flying from Bombay to Bangalore, crashed killing 92 of 146 people on board; three of whom were Tulsi’s mother, father and 5-year-old brother.

“I remember fighting with my brother about who will get to sit on the window seat and the next thing I hear was my grandma’s voice.

‘Tulsi your mum, dad and Kamlesh are no more.’

Next few weeks were a blur and then came the time to meet the new me.

Not the 10-year-old boisterous Me… but the orphan, burn survivor Me.

From there on the word “ugly” became my identity.

‘Who will marry her? Who will give her a job? She is so ugly!’ – that sort of became my narrative at 10. Growing up, job rejection letters stated my face wasn’t fit for the job.

Life forced me to sign on for social benefits. An incident that day changed my life. I was waiting for a bus to go to the job centre and a car pulled up right next to me. Next I heard 4 men shouting at me, ‘You are so ugly. You should have died.’

I came very close to giving up that day. I came very close to taking my life.

But instead I chose to NOT LET MYSELF DOWN.

I got on to the bus and reached the job centre to sign up. The lady there was just the most compassionate person ever. She made me realise that there is goodness in this world.

That was a turning point in my life. That’s the day I realised that maybe I’m not the most beautiful person in the world but I am certainly not ugly.

I chose to face my trauma and I healed myself.

I am now a reiki master. A spiritual coach. I help people with generational trauma and abuse so they are able to break that cycle. I am a model/ influencer/ speaker… things that my 10-year-old self wouldn’t imagine doing. Because she was told she was ugly.”

“Will you be able to hold that little 10-year-old You in your arms now and tell her with conviction that you will protect her?” I asked Tulsi

“OF COURSE YES!! I will protect her and together we will and are living our best life.” said @tulsidivine108

Today on #worldmentalheathday I share this story and I hope it gives you courage. Mental Health is not a punishable crime. I hope we are all able to normalise it one day.

#6

Image source: butnaturalphotography

“I was 16 when he spat on me… this boy who kept following me. That’s when I decided to start loving myself. It was a choice I made consciously.” she said.

When I met Hannah for this shoot, I had to give no instructions. She asked me simply what my purpose was and I said “a world without exceptions”. She then went and sat at the spot against the backdrop and looked straight at the camera and her eyes; her soul spoke back to me. This is her story.

“Hi. I am Hannah. I am 18. I was born with a rare genetic condition called Hay-Wells Syndrome. There are only about 30 other people like me in this world. My condition has left my hair, teeth, and skin undeveloped.

It all started in college… the bullying. Thats when we become self conscious and start noticing the differences. It was too much, just too much to bear. I developed an eating disorder as a result. I am still battling with it.

I remember retaliating if they bullied me. I knew deep down inside that it wasn’t my fault but I couldn’t stop myself. That is what the bullies wanted. They wanted power over me. They wanted to dim my light.

But instead I decided to dim theirs. I started to ignore them and their jokes. I have forgiven them because everyone deserves a chance to redeem themselves. Our younger self does not represent us as an adult.

If people stare at me now… which they do… all the time… then I just smile at them. I encourage people to ask me questions about my condition because I want to increase awareness about disabilities. That is why I became a model; so I could represent my tribe.

I want this world to become a collective union, where we can all embrace each others’ uniqueness. And until that doesn’t happen; I promise to never judge you, laugh at you, ridicule you or make you feel unworthy… even if you choose to not do the same for me.

Because I am Me. I am kind, strong, compassionate and filled with an inner glow. Because I am more than just a “rare genetic condition”.” ~ Hannah

#7

Image source: butnaturalphotography

“Hi. My name is Erika. I have Neurofibromatosis type 2, (NF2), a rare genetic disorder that causes tumors to grow on nerves, mainly in the brain and spine.

NF2 takes and continues taking, and while it does, we are left with physical losses like loss of vision, hearing and facial function, as well as less tangible ones like the loss of communicating with those we love, lost connections, relationships and opportunities.

Many people don’t talk about the importance of grieving these losses, just as one would grieve the loss of a loved one.

Processing grief is tiring and grueling but ultimately, it renews our strength. As we are thrown into yet another cycle of grief and loss, amidst surgeries, radiation and drug trials, we find slivers of hope.

So, we keep going, adapting, evolving and navigating the world we were not quite prepared for.

We celebrate life and advocate for ourselves and others. And though we continue to face the mental, physical and emotional challenges, we don’t do it alone.

We find and cherish our support systems – those who never left, but instead learned new ways to connect and communicate, held us up and never questioned our strength or our beauty, even if we might have done so, ourselves.”

#8

Image source: butnaturalphotography

“Hi, my name is Hattie. I was born with a congenital cataract and congenital glaucoma. This meant I required multiple operations as a baby leaving me with an enlarged black eye. Over the last few years this eye began to cause me pain and the consultant recommended I had it removed and replaced with a prosthetic, or the eye was at risk of rupturing and the pain would not ease. I have spent the majority of my life with a visible difference. I also developed psoriasis a few years ago, with red, sore patches of skin and nail changes. Some of these conditions result in stares and questions from strangers. I always try to keep an open mind to others’ approaches and feel I can now use it as an opportunity to educate and raise awareness. Over time I have grown in confidence, embracing my image and accepting its uniqueness, determined that my self worth will not be defined by my outward appearance. I hope for a world where individuality is celebrated and normalised and desire to be part of that movement.”

#9

Image source: butnaturalphotography

“I was told, my child won’t be born alive. At my 20 weeks pregnancy scan, she was diagnosed with a cystic hygroma – a fluid-filled sac that results from a blockage in the lymphatic system.

Doctors feared that the large cysts compressing her airways would potentially lead to fatal breathing problems at birth, and we were given the devastating news that Eden wouldn’t make it past the first day. But at 12.01pm on August 9, 2016, miracle baby Eden defied all the odds and was delivered by C-section in a room full of doctors, paediatric surgeons and nurses. She was born with a lymphatic malformation in the form of a mass on her face and neck.

Five years and nearly 20 surgeries later, Eden has kept surprising doctors and defying the odds to become a perfect, happy and beautiful little girl.

Since Eden was born, I have become her advocate in a bid to help kick the stigma of her visible difference and disability.

I won’t deny that unfortunately Eden has been subject to many nasty comments from trolls online about the way she looks.

But none of that will stop me from being my daughter’s voice, by standing up for Eden and everyone with a visible difference.” ~ Chelsea. Mother of Eden Sue (The girl who is ‘differently special’)

#10

Image source: butnaturalphotography

“In September 2013, Sassy lost her sight to a deteriorating eye condition called Uveitis Iritis. The vision loss started at 14 and she lost major chunks of it by the time she was 16. 8 years ago, she went in for an eye operation with the knowledge that the results could go either way. Her eye had had so many operations on it earlier that it had become too weak and damaged and there was a high chance that it could not withstand another.

Yet, the eternal optimist – Sassy, went in to the surgery with a positive mindset. Unfortunately however, she came out of the surgery, with blood over her eye… which meant that no light could get in.

Once the blood subsided… Sassy could see light or what you can call “light perception.” She can tell day from night. But that is all!

When we went out for her photo session, I noticed Sassy looking towards the sky… Her beautiful eyes were chasing the light…

The next five years were a rollercoaster of emotions for Sassy.

“I have been diagnosed with depression. I have taken it out on people I care about the most. I get angry and frustrated. And there are days I have truly wished that I could turn back the clock and never have the operation. I want people reading this to know that no matter what, you are not alone and that you will come out on the other side. Because here I am… telling you this story… BECAUSE I GOT PAST IT!!” She says.

“For years I was tethering on the edge between two worlds. The sighted world and the blind world.

As my world became darker. More shadow than light… I was left behind.

I was still me, I wasn’t different, but to others I was. I had changed.

With my future distorting before my very own eyes, I didn’t know which path to take. But with each step, it became a triumph, a celebration and a new milestone reached.

I face misconceptions, prejudice and discrimination. But I also face love, support, compassion and inclusion.

I see the beauty everywhere I go. I hear the laughter and I feel the joy.

Now I stand out from the crowd and I shine.

I carry the weight of who I am with pride. Everything I want to be and everything I can be.” ~ poem by @sassywyattofficial (The girl who sees light.)”

Saumya Ratan

Saumya is an explorer of all things beautiful, quirky, and heartwarming. With her knack for art, design, photography, fun trivia, and internet humor, she takes you on a journey through the lighter side of pop culture.

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Changing the conversation, people with unique features, photography, photography project, Sujata Setia, unique individuals
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