Former Model & Actress Explores Pre-Conceived Notions Of Womanhood In New Photo Book

Image by Jamie Schofield Riva, from ‘Girlhood: Los and Found’, by Daylight Books.

Through conceptual imagery, intimate portraits, and reflections in writing from a wide array of women and girls ages 13-81, artist and former actor and model Jamie Schofield Riva presents an in-depth exploration of a world full of “preconceived notions of what it means to be a woman” in her new photography book titled ‘GIRLHOOD: LOST AND FOUND’, out August 2023 from Daylight Books. Her selection of images presents an assessment between generations of the intersections between cultural and social conditioning and messages about the female gender, and considerations of the implication of the stereotypes of femininity.

An interesting aspect to Jamie’s photographic approach was to combine photographs of lost objects in the street with portraits. These thrown-away items symbolically represent the unrealistic expectations and definitions of self that the female-gendered can accept or discard.

There are several portraits of her daughter included in the book, as well as writing, and Jamie assessed this project through the lens of a mother and how that contributed to some of the conceptual shifts as she immersed deeper into the work. The work reveals an honest look at some of the conditioned and subliminal ways social normalization in cultural messaging is absorbed.

Jamie reflects on the “synchronicities” she saw between some of the images of herself with the photographs she was making of her daughter. The book also includes photographs of Jamie’s diary, written when she was about the age of her own daughter now, and the content of some of the excerpts invites the reader to consider how some of the toxic expectations and “beauty standards” relate to self-image and definition of self at the very stage of life when those values are being formed. 

An insert mini magazine of archival magazine tears and photographs from her years as a model and actor also provide a different and very personal examination of the impacts of stereotypical messaging through continual exposure to unrealistic ideals that recur through vehicles such as social media, and the advertising and fashion industries.

It is a timely conversation to be having, and always a fascinating topic to dissect – what it means to be a woman and how we, society, and our culture defines or conforms to various expectations of femininity and womanhood.

Below, Jamie shares further insights behind ‘Girlhood’ and what this book means to her, in an interview with us.

Cover of ‘Girlhood: Lost and Found’ by Jamie Schofield Riva

What made you want to put this book together and explore the concept of girlhood in this way?

It was not really a conscious choice for me, but more like an innate desire and a driving force. It even effects how I see garbage on the streets! Looking back on my childhood diary entries that are featured in the project, I can see I have always been challenging the themes the book examines, even when I was in actual girlhood itself. A poem I wrote at age 11 could have been the artist statement for the project. This exploration continued through the years, and can be seen in the black and white self-portraits I made while studying photography in college.

Things definitely became more intentional and intense when I returned to the photo world years later in a more committed way, but now as a mother, raising a girl, as well as a woman in midlife and all that the aging process entails. My questioning began as a child, and there was really no stopping this work. 

Having worked as a model and actress, what are some of the main ideas or narratives from your career you have interwoven into this book?

I always had a love/hate relationship with both the acting and modeling industries. I am passionate about storytelling and creating emotional connection, so while acting will forever hold a special place in my heart for those reasons, I struggled deeply with being type cast based on my physical appearance, and having to play that particular game to get work when I new I had more depth and emotional life to share.  Modeling was even harder for me to swallow because I felt a sense of guilt knowing I was playing a part in the big machine feeding false truths to the world. I can clearly remember being in high school and looking at catalogs we received in the mail of women in bathing suits and lingerie, and then looking at myself and feeling awful I had the love handles they did not or whatever it was. They made me feel less than.

To think someone might look at my picture in a magazine and be given reason to feel that way about themselves was something I struggled with. I wish had more realistic, natural representations of a wider variety of females to look at when I was younger, and I certainly appreciate those types of images now as I’m aging. This is why I felt it necessary to incorporate self-portraits of my stretch marks, spider veins, and more into the book. It just makes us all feel better to see, it gives comfort, and that is something I can fully get behind and feel good about.

These frustrations also birthed the idea for the mini “poison” magazine insert you will find in the book comprised of magazine editorials from some of my old modeling jobs. I re-photographed and condensed them with a focus on the toxic messaging we are inundated with regularly from the media, a reminder that the criticism or idea of perfection we place on ourselves is often based on an unrealistic list of criteria someone else has force fed us. 

I also share journal entries from that same time that offer a look into what was really going on in the head of the girl who’s smiling face you see in the glossy ads. I hope this will serve as an opportunity to remind people not to believe everything they see. And maybe provide a sense of relief knowing we all struggle with the evil internal voice of self-doubt and judgment, and we are not alone in that, no matter how perfect the picture looks.

Image by Jamie Schofield Riva, from ‘Girlhood: Los and Found’, by Daylight Books.

How has motherhood and raising a daughter impacted or shifted your idea of identity and girlhood?

Motherhood in general completely changes your identity.  In some ways you are prepared, and in others it hits you like a truck, and you suddenly wake up one day not recognizing how you got there. When I became a mother I simultaneously felt an overwhelming sense of: wow I am finally aligned with my life’s true purpose and meaning, while also completely and utterly losing myself (another layer where that lost and found theme plays out I suppose). 

I hope this work facilitates open, honest discussions about motherhood, for all of it’s messy beauty, heart bursting joy and fear,  and incredible difficulty. When we can share our struggles without worry that it takes away from our deep love and devotion to our children, we can be better mothers. And this goes for all the dads reading this out there too, because, woah, parenting is hard!

I also hope it makes women feel they can openly share their feelings about not choosing motherhood, as this is an inevitable pressure any female will face from society. I always wonder how many women would choose motherhood if they were not informed based on cultural values that it would make them less of a woman. I gave my complete ALL to motherhood, and I am proud of that, but I also see how it was unhealthy in some ways.

As my children are getting older and naturally separating from me, it is creating space for me to come back to myself and find more of the balance I maybe should have implemented when they were younger.  As for raising a daughter, it is certainly a complicated experience, but it holds me accountable to act in accordance with my core values. I will not betray my true belief system in ways I might have before, because she is watching (what I do even more than what I say), and now my choices and examples will be crucial for her healthy development and future womanhood. 

Image by Jamie Schofield Riva, from ‘Girlhood: Los and Found’, by Daylight Books.

Can you share more about the idea of photographing lost objects in the street and compiling them with the portraits in the book? What is the symbolism or significance of this?

I have always been interested in finding meaning in or telling the story of something that, at first glance, might be overlooked. The emotional response I would have to these discarded objects and the pull I felt to photograph them began to align with the lifetime of feelings I had around being a girl, woman, and now mother, and awakened further my desire to speak out about them.

I feel Elinor Carucci puts it best when she writes in the book’s forward, “At times the images almost feel like evidence of the PTSD effect that the beauty industry has had on Jamie. It is everywhere: in every ad, Barbie doll head in the street, and broken mannequin. It is like it is always there, the haunting experience of being a professional model, or just a young woman, or just a woman.” 

The lost objects offer the opportunity to reflect on what stereotypical ideals we too can toss aside in the hopes of discovering who we are with out them. Sparking the idea that the baggage we carry from years of societal brainwashing can also be thrown away and left behind. It’s not always just about the losing and letting go however, but the finding as well. I am also incredibly passionate about moving forward the idea that beauty lies in everything, and the more we open our hearts and minds, as well as shift our trained way of seeing, we can find it in more places.

This of course translates to redefining beauty in terms of the female appearance, and how perspective shifts can help us achieve that for ourselves. If I could find beauty in the cracks, lines, and texture time had worked as an artist to carve out on the streets, why couldn’t I view the effects of time on my own face in the same light? If the imperfection and uniqueness of colorful spills and smears on the sidewalk can inspire and delight me, why can’t I allow myself to feel that way about my own body (or life), instead of making myself miserable to conform to societal ideals of perfection?

Through these images I am reminded to change my lens, and delight in myself in the same way. 

What are some of the societal expectations or preconceived notions about womanhood you hope to challenge through your work?

What I would like to challenge every person who comes across this work to do, is to ask themselves, am I making decisions for my life based on my soul’s honest, true desires? Or has my life and my identity been constructed and constrained by external influences that have caused me to lose sight of my personal truth. This work is an on-going freedom quest for me, and I hope it will resonate with others and send them on a similar journey. Because we all deserve to feel happy, peaceful, and free. In this body, and in this lifetime. 

Image by Jamie Schofield Riva, from ‘Girlhood: Los and Found’, by Daylight Books.

There is such an intense focus on youth and beauty for women, then the invisibility begins after a certain age. What kind of commentary do you hope to offer to this trend?

I love this question, as I have been living in the midst of what I refer to as a mid-life awakening over the last couple of years, but especially now. After having so many conversations with my children around the idea of not needing to conform to the pressure of, and taking so many self-portraits confronting traditional beauty standards, I began to realize something very important was lacking; in myself, the example I was setting for my children, and the project.

I still wanted to enjoy feeling beautiful! But on my own terms, and breaking it all down with this work has allowed for that. When my children watched me taking the self-portrait you will find in the book in a bathing suit in 2021, it brought up a number of great conversations. When my daughter got in the frame with me at one point we talked about the difference between finding power in our body, beauty, and even sexuality vs. being exploited for it.

I realized I also needed to show her the strength that comes in exuding confidence and the importance of self-love. When I began explaining to them my intention was to show the world women are still considered beautiful at any age, and my son (ten at the time) innocently said, “ya because they do not look their best after their twenties” (or something to that effect), well you can imagine the conversation THAT sparked, as well as the fire it sparked inside of me. 

The world’s view of women my age (45) and beyond does not match up with how I feel inside, and I am determined to change that. I have no intention of performing any kind of disappearing act. I feel sexy, and bold, with a new type of confidence that only comes with age and deeper self-knowledge. Why should I have to hold any of that back just because it is not existing in a younger body?

I love all the recent Sports Illustrated covers with older women on them. I have posted bathing suit self-portraits of myself on my last couple of birthdays, and I hope I do it every year until I can no longer click the shutter. We deserve to feel beautiful, valued, seen, and heard at any age, so I am not hiding now. All that our minds, bodies, and souls have been through to carry us this far in life should be celebrated, and that includes our wrinkles and softening skin.

Image by Jamie Schofield Riva, from ‘Girlhood: Los and Found’, by Daylight Books.

Given your career and your work right now, how are you working to break out of the norms and cycles forced upon women and girls regarding their appearances and choices?

I will touch on the first that comes to mind given the world of social media that the young girls today grow up in and experience as the norm. My 17 year old niece, Alex Riva, wrote in the commentary you will find at the end of the book that while scrolling through Instagram, coming across this project allowed her to “breath a sigh of relief,” and those words have fueled me ever since.

She goes on to say that the toxicity on social does not just come from looking at models and influencers, but it is created amongst ourselves, and she is correct. Social media is such a huge presence in most of our daily lives. I do try to create what I hope is experienced as a more positive and honest narrative, through raw truth telling and documentation of all aspects of life, not just the perfectly curated moments.

I have made a choice not to retouch, Facetune, or filter photos of myself for that reason (as tempting as it is at times!!). I would like to be part of a movement to normalize the natural face. And this is not said with judgment for people who do, heck I am only doing my best in this moment as we all are! But the fact that sharing our natural faces (or bodies) in the world feels like a challenge at all is sick to me, and while trying to recover from the things that have infected me with that idea, I too still suffer from the sickness.

The negative effects of social media are insidious and furthermore, life threatening. I put great effort into countering that, and I believe it can make a difference in someone’s day, and therefore life. 

We are seeing horrendous rollbacks of reproductive rights and attacks on gender identity right now across America. What messages do you hope Girlhood will impact in this landscape right now?

This work was made in the spirit of liberation and freedom, so it most certainly aligns with the need for every human being’s right to have autonomy over their own bodies, and the ability to exist in them peacefully and with pride. This work is my personal act in fighting many societal impositions, and I hope that inspires others to do so in their own unique ways as well.

Unlearning and deprogramming are on-going battles, and we can all do our part to shift perspectives, create a broader understanding of one another’s needs, and make the world a better place. That is my ultimate intention for this book, and I wish for anyone who reads my thoughts or looks at the photographs within it, to be given a boost of courage to also speak out and take action, even if it feels scary or impossible.

The goal is to inspire more conversations like the one we are having now! That is how real change is made. It is my greatest hope that anyone struggling against judgment of any kind, will feel supported by the pages of this book, and know they are not alone. 

You can pre-order a copy of ‘GIRLHOOD: LOST AND FOUND’, and see more of Jamie’s work on her website or by following her on Instagram. All photographs are copyright Jamie Schofield Riva from the book Girlhood: Lost and Found, and published in this article with permission.

Image by Jamie Schofield Riva, from ‘Girlhood: Los and Found’, by Daylight Books.