American Beauty Photo Series Features Empowered Subjects Rather Than Sexual Objects

by Olivia Harrison

You’re probably familiar with the iconic image of Mena Suvari laying in a pile of rose petals from the film American Beauty. It’s one that screams sexuality, passion, and pleasure. Now, one San Fransisco-based photographer has re-imagined this iconic image to empower women and embrace all different types of beauty. 

In Carey Lynne Fruth’s American Beauty photo series, she encouraged her volunteer models to step into flower scene as “self-possessed, empowered subjects rather than sexual objects.” In the film, a middle-­aged man fantasizes about a thin, blonde, teenaged girl. Ruth’s subjects were a refreshing departure from that over-used image of sexiness. According to Fruth, “They were asked not to perform as models, but to be authentic in their sensuality, vulnerability, and complexity. The images are meant to speak about real life sensuality and femininity, and to push the paradigm of beauty standards in the U.S. by representing women of different shapes, sizes, ethnicities, and ages.” In place of the red rose petals, Fruth chose to use lilacs, which were meant to represent beauty, pride, and confidence.

Most of the models are people Fruth knew either from working with them before at Shameless Photography or through body positive and burlesque communities in San Fransisco. “I was not only looking for diversity but also for people who believed in the message of this project.” Two notable participants are Denise Jolly (photo 5) of the Be Beautiful Project and Sonya Renee Taylor (photo 6) of The Body Is Not An Apology.

About the series Fruth writes, “Body acceptance is important. To some it may seem anti-feminist to create images that deal with the idea of beauty at all. But I think that we are creating a channel for women to re­-envision themselves. When women come into my studio, I want to prove to them that they ARE as beautiful as they always feared they weren’t. By stepping into a fantasy dream girl world and by letting go of that fear, they free themselves up to direct that energy they once wasted on telling themselves that they weren’t good enough to elsewhere in their lives.”

These images are powerfully alluring, and they make me wish Fruth would photograph me in a pile of lilacs. 

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Carey Lynne is a San Francisco based artist and photographer.  She currently works at Shameless Photography creating body positive pin up, retro boudoir and old Hollywood inspired imagery.  Carey’s personal work mainly revolves around abandonment, decay, destruction, and solitude. See more of her work at

All images via Carey Lynne Fruth

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