Beauty in Black and White

Junior Kaitlyn Steele poses for Project Beauty.

Bradyn Johnson | The Chronicle

Girls at Mason High School are taking a shot at disbanding beauty standards.

Project Beauty was founded in 2017 by Cincinnati photographer Thomas Nguyen to help young girls to embrace their true selves through photos that do not edit out any sort of bumps, bruises or blemishes, and depict the model in their most natural state. Nguyen’s inspiration for the undertaking stemmed from a couple of seniors on his photo team going through difficult times with self-image, and Nguyen did not want to be a bystander in this situation, so he decided to help these girls discover their true beauty through photography.

Before the girls come in, there are certain requirements that they must follow before taking part in the photoshoot. For instance, they cannot apply makeup, wear bright colors or make distinct facial expressions. Girls are also made aware that the photos will not be shown in color, but rather, in black and white. According to Nguyen, this choice was made to help enhance each girls’ natural features.

“I want to really focus on the expression and the soul of the person,” Nguyen said. “Keeping all black and white keeps everything leveled.”

To participate, potential models must complete an application that enters them into photoshoot consideration. The questions on the form ask applicants about topics such as the meaning of beauty or the importance of the campaign. Nguyen said that the application is not on a first-come, first-serve basis, as he chooses who takes part in the project through an analysis of the answers provided. 

“It’s based on the girls that I feel would benefit most out of the campaign,” Nguyen said. “I look for those that will be impacted by Project Beauty more.”

Most of the girls that undergo the photoshoot have never participated in one and are usually not sure how to pose or act. Juniors Sophia McMahon and Kaitlyn Steele modeled for Project Beauty in March 2022. McMahon said that she was unsure about the entire process at first, but quickly changed her mind due to the friendly environment that Nguyen created.

“I have never modeled before,” McMahon said. “ He just kept reassuring me that I was doing good.”

When taking pictures, Nguyen said he does his best to ensure that the inexperienced models are as comfortable as possible, guiding them step-by-step throughout the photoshoot process. By giving the girls different poses and props to work with, Nguyen wishes to show the models different images of themselves. 

Throughout the hour-long photoshoot, those in front of the camera are encouraged through each photo. Ngyuen said that he hopes to put the girls at ease when they come to his studio so that he can produce quality images.

“They judge it by their experience,” Nguyen said. “If they had a good experience, they know the pictures are going to come out well.”

McMahon said that she first saw this campaign on social media, and was quickly intrigued. She instantly knew that she wanted to be a part of the photoshoot process, not just because of the pretty pictures, but because of the message behind them.

“I always saw pictures on instagram from people I followed,” McMahon said. “His pictures were so good.”

The main goal of the shoot is to show young girls that they do not need fancy clothes and makeup to be beautiful. Steele said that she felt more self-assured after being picked for the shoot because the project is such an amazing campaign that showcases so many talented, beautiful people.

Steele said that, once she got her pictures back, she remembered negatively focusing on little details or perceived flaws. However, she noted that she soon realized that, to truly go along with the meaning of the shoot, she had to embrace her genuine self.

“It made me feel very confident in myself,” Steele said. “Getting recognized and feeling accepted by someone that takes so many amazing pictures. The second I went in there, I felt so welcomed, and like I was a part of something bigger [than myself].”

Photo contributed by Thomas Nguyen