From Plastic Surgery to Gender Reassignment: Searching for the Perfect Body

Hannah, 20 years old. Lip fillers, breast augmentation, bottom, body liposuction, rhinoplasty.

Michelle Sank

Michelle Sank is interested in young people and the issues they face.

One of her early projects, called “Bye Bye-Baby,” explores the way boys and girls interpret their understanding of masculinity and femininity. Following suit, her more recent series, “In My Skin,” deals with the pressure young people feel from media and pop culture to achieve a specific physical standard.

John, 19 years old. Transgender female to male. Now gender-neutral.

Michelle Sank

Jason, 19 years old. Body Builder.
Michelle Sank
Ellie, 21 years old. Tattooist.
Michelle Sank

“Social consensus in Western society today is particularly focused on physical beauty and achieving and maintaining the ‘perfect’ face and body,” Sank writes on her website.

Sank said this has been a problem in previous generations, but that today’s young people are exposed to more images than ever before on the Internet. She said she hopes her series makes viewers “question the pressure that is created around this ideal for perfection at such a young age.”

That pressure manifests itself in different ways. Some of the young people Sank photographed for the series have had or are considering having cosmetic surgery. Others are recovering from eating disorders or suffering from body dysmorphic disorder.

A few are transgender and have had sex reassignment surgery. Sank said she hopes to show that transition as “a positive experience for young people who have struggled to conform to a gender that is alien to them all their lives.”

A handful of her subjects don’t fit into any of those categories, like Roland, a young man who dresses like Lady Gaga and occasionally assumes her identity when he leaves the house.

Roland, 19 years old. Alias: Lady Gaga.
Michelle Sank
Nicola, recovering from anorexia, and Rachel, breast augmentation. 20-year-old twins.

Michelle Sank

Sank shot almost all of her subjects in their bedrooms. “I wanted the rooms and the objects within to express the individuality of the subject and to become metaphors for a way of life,” she said.

Sank said she looked for people to photograph by advertising her project on forums. Finding her subjects was initially difficult, but often photographing one person would lead her to others. Once they understood her subject, Sank said, they would agree to pose.

Hannah, 17 years old. Botox.
Michelle Sank
Cambell, 16 years old. Transgender male to female.
Michelle Sank
Saraya, 20 years old. Full body liposuction and lip fillers.
Michelle Sank

Though her subjects look different from one another and face unique issues, Sank said they all share something in common.

“For me, it is all about acceptance and changing one’s body to achieve that,“ Sank said.