Every Body's Story

Hanoi Exhibition, January 2020
We see ourselves in 2D; in our reflection, the mirror and in photos but it is rare for us to see our own form in 3D. It gives a whole new perspective and understanding of the body.

This series of casts presents women of different sizes, shapes and builds. Together they show that every body is unique and every body is beautiful.

Here are the stories of the 18 women who have had their bodies cast. They have shared their experience; how it felt to see their cast for the first time and how it impacted the way they view their body.
Being cast was a beautiful experience. It was peaceful sitting there as the warm sheets of plaster hugged my body and began to harden, slowly transitioning from hot to cool. Seeing my cast for the first time was a strange experience. That inanimate object was me? I could put my hands around it? It was a bit surreal. 

Growing up as a dancer in front of a mirror made me pretty self-aware of my body. It also brought a lot of harsh judgements. My torso has always been my least favourite part of my body, the one I struggled with the most to keep in shape. It is interesting to see myself in 3D, and see how tiny and surprisingly fit I am.

I was a little worried at first about the casting and seeing a freeze frame of my body. And the prospect of being naked/exposed was daunting. But I felt like it would be something good and positive to experience and I wanted to push myself to do, both physically and mentally. The whole experience was wonderful… relaxing and  therapeutic.

With my body it’s always been a love-hate relationship. There are parts which I will always wish were different/smaller/firmer… but I’ve grown to be more accepting, with age, and now I feel more thankful for it. I’ve shifted my focus to be less on aesthetics and more on how powerful and restorative our bodies can be.

I feel I have a generally good relationship with my body, although this hasn’t always been the case. It took me a long time to grow into my figure and especially to appreciate my boobs, I was always embarrassed of them as I thought they were way too big!

Now I love my body and I feel womanly, but I see it differently in my mind’s eye to how others see it from the outside. That’s why seeing my cast was so amazing: it reaffirmed beliefs I had about my body (yes, one breast is larger than the other) but also that the whole of it is beautiful together. I don’t think we often think about the whole – we tend to concentrate on (and criticise) individual parts.

Being cast sent a new sensation through my body. Very rarely do I experience new things outside of my routines I have set in my normal life.

Being able to feel , see and be a part of a new experience was like doing a drug for the first time. Being able to see my physical body and shape outside of living in it sanctioned some type of power inside, it made me able to say, ‘wow that’s ME!’

The warm feeling of the casting material as it touched my skin was relaxing, feeling my body adapt to it and during the setting phase was a new experience for me. To view my cast at the end was liberating. 

Most people only see what they want to see. Seeing my cast made me love myself again. I guess approaching my middle age years my body is constantly changing and this is something I’m very proud to embrace.

Seeing the cast for the first time was incredible. I had very close to that time been diagnosed with a number of health issues, I had lost an insane amount of weight and I was feeling quite dissociated from my body. Seeing my cast made me feel a lot better and more connected to my body and body image which I wasn’t expecting. 

I feel proud of the body I have and through my yo-yo self-esteem and health issues, going through this casting process made me feel good about myself.

My relationship with my body has always been about the unknown. I have always taken extra care of my body. Not for aesthetic reasons but for health. I was adopted and, until recently, I had no idea where I came from— what I carried in my body.

I feel like many people take for granted knowing what they carry in their genes, what foods suit them best, what types of cancer they should be extra aware of etc. Even hints of what they might look like when they are older. The experience of seeing my body cast was like an out of body experience. I got to look at my body from an outside perspective. It made me feel grateful and thankful to it. It has been a vehicle for me to interact with in the world. I don’t know what happens after death, if body and soul are separate, but even from a dualist perspective, I still strongly believe that my body makes part of who I am and I should always remember to be kind to it.

The experience was really nice and very comfortable. I’m sorry for chattering so much, I’m usually more quiet when first meeting people. The cast was really warm and it was an interesting sensation when it was coming off (sorry again for the giggling and the crack in the chest!). Seeing it was a new experience. I know I’m bigger, but I haven’t seen myself outside of myself before, if that makes sense? I thought I was much bigger than I am.

My relationship with my body has always been off and on and in the last two years I’ve been trying new things to feel more confident in, comfortable with, and accepting of my body. I’ve been nude modelling since college and continued doing it here in Hanoi, but being cast was an entirely new experience. After a life drawing class I see 2D drawings of myself, which can be variable to many things, depending on the artist. But being part of this project is extra special because I can see my body in 3D,  it’s realistic, and life-size!
I used to waste so much time trying to mould my body into something it isn’t. I am now in a far healthier place, where I see my curves for their unique beauty. I love being naked. But I still waver, it can be exhausting blocking out all of these external voices that try to define how you should be beautiful. The criticisms can be so much louder than the praise; whether from my mother, lovers, friends, strangers or myself. Part of my growth as a woman and a feminist is to trust myself, strengthen my voice and acknowledge that I have a crackin’ pair of tits.
Looking at my cast was surreal. It was interesting to see my body from an angle that I’ve never seen it from before. I only ever see myself naked when I’m standing in front of a mirror. Now I can look at a three dimensional version of me lying on my back! I am very happy I did this.

Growing up I had a difficult time with my body. I really hated it for most of my young adult life. It wasn’t until I hit my mid twenties that I realised that I would never be thin and I’d never look the way I wanted. I decided it would be easier to try and love and appreciate the body that I have. I started to focus on the fact that I am able bodied. Focusing on the fact that my body works and that it functions the way it should really helped me appreciate my body. I am currently at my highest weight, but I’ve never loved my body more. I’m so much more comfortable with myself and I try to project that in order to help others.

I feel like my body doesn’t fit the conventional idea of what the ‘perfect body’ is. But even knowing that, I am happy with how it looks and comfortable in my own skin. To see my cast was interesting because I’m used to seeing my body as a reflection in the mirror but it was different to be stood across from my body. It was surreal and familiar, I thought, ‘wow there it is, that’s me’.
I stood waiting nervously at the gate. I wasn’t sure what to expect. The studio was warm and welcoming with subdued lighting. As I lay there having the warm layers of plaster applied, I wondered what the result would be. The plaster gradually became cold and hard. Then suddenly, like a wave running up a beach, the hard shell came away from my body. I became free. The shell was removed and I looked at the beautiful cast hardly believing that it was me. The whole process made me feel good about my body and positive about myself.
The first full nude I saw was in a movie, where a young woman is filmed from below swimming in an oasis. This was the first time I saw the beauty of nudity and realised that’s when we are all more similar, more than in our daily glammed up or worn down outerwear. This gave young me a new perspective on my own body and made me reflect on the ideals I was brought up with.

What especially excited me about having my body cast, was something Ellen said about how we never see a 3D version of our body. This brought back the memory to the movie seeing a body floating from below, and how potentially this could be my only chance to see my body how it’s seen from someone else’s perspective.

When my friend mentioned she’d had her body cast, I thought, “what’s a body cast?” I had no idea. She explained. I immediately found myself very intrigued. My own reaction shook me. One year ago I would have run VERY FAST in the opposite direction!

It took me a day or two to realise the effect this casting experience has had on me. I realised I was comfortable enough in my own body to do this. If I hadn’t done this I don’t know how long it would have taken me to realise that. Seeing my body cast alongside others I can see the physical difference in all our bodies. Everyone is different but everyone is beautiful.

Getting the body cast done was quite a journey. From awkwardly oiling myself up, to lying naked while a plaster was layered over my breasts, to standing and looking at the finish cast of my body! It was such a good feeling to feel the cast separate from my skin. I felt like I shed my old worn layers to reveal a new me! And finally watching the finished cast sitting on top of pillows in front of me felt good to see myself from an outsider’s perspective. How I imagine the view of a butterfly would be to look at the cocoon it just broke out of!

That is not my body!” is what I thought when I was first shown my cast. Is that really what people see when they look at me? Sometimes our perception of ourselves can be quite self-destructive. Getting involved with this project is something that I’d never have imagined I’d do, it’s been a big step for me to start improving my relationship with my body. I’ve started loving my body as I should have done before, I’m really thankful to be part of this.


My body became a crime scene at the age of 3. 30 years later, I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve been sexually assaulted.

I do not see myself the way you see me. My perception of my body is warped and distorted. It’s based on what the world has told me to believe about myself: That I exist to look and feel good to others, and if I don’t, I have no right to exist.

Taking part in this project has allowed me to view myself, quite literally, from the outside in and inside out. The experience of seeing myself moulded according to form was terrifying. During the casting process, I was riddled with self-judgement and mortification that my body, so blaringly imperfect, would soon be on show for the world to see. On display to be judged as harshly as I judge myself. And yet, when the cast – which I innately recognised as an extension of myself – was removed, all I saw was a perfectly average body. No more or less than any other body I’d ever seen. A body as powerful in its ability to love and be loved, to heal and be healed, as every other body that’s ever lived.

My tummy has carried a child and gave him life. My breasts have nursed a child and give him sustenance. My body, my best friend, has been with me every step of the way as I walk the journey of my life, and though I’ve done so much to harm and abuse it, fuelled by an inner self-loathing, it nevertheless continues to support me, loving me the way I’ve always longed to be loved: Unconditionally.


My last boyfriend told me that he ‘wished’ I had a bigger bum, that he ‘preferred’ girls with bigger thighs. Small details about my body were criticised and scrutinised. I was made to feel it wasn’t enough.

Seeing my body cast reminds me that it is mine and it is up to nobody but me to decide how strong, sexy, confident and powerful I feel.

How comfortable I am in my skin should not be dependent on anyone but me. That’s what I’m thankful for through experiences of my body being violated, that they have eventually made me realise that I am enough and that I only deserve to share my body with someone who will love and respect it as much as I do now.

With special thanks to the women who have participated in this project; you are bold, inspiring and beautiful. Thank you for your openness and sharing your stories. This exhibition is a celebration of the diversity and beauty of women’s bodies, in all their forms.

Every Body’s Story is a project by Ellen Downes
Photos by Daniel Nuderscher