It’s 4:30am in Bagan when my alarm rings. Time to get out of bed, grab my camera and sandals and put my hair in a quick bun. A spritz of Chloé NOMADE on my skin and I’m ready for a new discovery here in the temple wonderland of Myanmar. I don’t want to waste time on my looks, sunrise won’t wait for me either.
Between thorny bushes and cobras
I’ve rented an electrical scooter to explore the 40 square kilometres and over 2.200 pagodas of the area. The paths are sandy and bumpy and suddenly a poisonous cobra crosses my way right in front of me. I stop the scooter, let her pass and drive on through an overgrown field with thick thorny bushes. The thorns scratch my feet and the mosquitoes also won’t let go of me. But I’m not intimated by all of this – as I know where I want to go and am willing to get there even if the road isn’t smooth and easy.
The first part of the track is sandy, but clear of obstacles.
But just two minutes later I find myself amongst thorny bushes and a cobra crosses my path.
And then it strikes me – is this how female travel is portrayed in our society? Or is it rather a different kind of reality, which is transported via our images on Social Media?
The beautiful photos vs. the reality of traveling as a female. There often is a huge gap!
Instagram vs. Reality
On Instagram the #Bagan hashtag comes jam-packed with photos of young women posing on temples, watching the sunrise and wearing floating dresses and colourful Burmese paper umbrellas. The theatrical illusion of these photos spares the details of what it means to get there or on a broader scale how it’s like to be traveling as a woman.
It’s hard to steer clear of clichés when posing for photos in Bagan.
How do you stay true to the realities of traveling as a female when you’re in front of the camera?
Menstrual cycles and other obstacles
Because being a female traveler isn’t just about being conscious about our looks. Or matching our menstrual cycle to see if it fits with the travel itinerary (or am I the only one doing this?). There’s more to it. We don’t get to just travel like men do. That’s a fact. If not in everyday life (like in strict muslim countries), than at least subconsciously there’s a difference.
Riding my own scooter? Damn right.
I don’t need to sit in the back and hand over the steering handles.
On being a female NOMADE
I get asked a lot if it’s safe to go to the places I visit as a woman. Or if I travel alone (spoiler: I usually don’t – I’m traveling together with my husband).
But: Nobody ever asks men these questions: “Are you traveling alone? Is it safe for you to travel there?”
99,9% of the times I’m behind the camera, but sometimes I let my husband push the trigger.
Yes, I know – most men also don’t face safety issues in certain countries – so it seems like an unfair comparison. But it shouldn’t be. There’s dedicated female solo traveling blogs, that tackle the issues a woman can run into when traveling to certain destinations on their own. I wish we would live in a world where these kind of blogs would be superfluous, but we don’t (yet).
And there’s more to female travel issues on many subtle levels as well – apart from safety concerns.
His and hers: Can a woman travel alone in Myanmar? Is it safe?
Questions I get asked a lot.
Looking good while traveling
When working with a brand like Chloé I had to ask myself if I want to be in front of the camera. And when I do, how do I want to look? I even bought a new dress. But also when we’re not producing photos like this – looking our best while traveling isn’t just a minor topic for females. We adjust our travel wardrobe to the destination, we get inspired by photos on Social Media of other women. The pressure is on.
Casually sucking in my tummy for these photos 🙂
We now feel pressured to showcase our best version of ourselves on Social Media all the time – and so we end up self-consciously taking 200 photos of ourselves at a place until we like one. And we end up putting on make-up before hopping on a scooter to discover century old temples.
We want to be this bad-ass Tomb Raider-esque explorer, but end up comparing our bodies to Angelina Jolie’s figure rather than striving for her will to learn about the world.
I prefer taking photos and exploring the pagodas, then posing for photos myself!
On not being super- (or wonder) woman
I can’t say, that I’m not affected by this. I’m definitely not superwoman. By now you noticed that I’m not in a lot of photos. That leaves room for interpretation, but mostly it’s not because I’m unhappy with how I look (although I should probably shed a few pounds 😉 ), but rather that I don’t feel comfortable letting go of my camera 🙂
I’d rather capture 1.000 photos like this, than have one taken of myself.
I love taking photos myself (and not OF myself) and I also don’t mind not having to care about my looks too much. I still get dressed nicely (for my standards) and put on perfume and some lipstick, but I don’t get up 30 minutes earlier just to look better in my selfies later that day.
That’s as good as it gets for me – especially at sunrise 🙂
“Putting” the girl in the photo
For this story I tried to overcome some of my very personal limitations. If you follow me on Instagram you know how much I criticise the female travel blogger scene for exactly this kind of replicated photography. The “put that girl in the photo in a dress” kind of photos.
I’m not a big fan of girls in floating dresses posing for travel photos…
Those photos don’t represent the wide array of female travel photography, but it seems they make up for an estimated 95% of female travel blogger content on Social Media. Heck, even male outdoor photographers who get hitched start putting their significant other in their photos (for “scale”).
Female travel photography
Now why does that bother me so much? Because it’s transporting an image of female travelers, that is very one-sided. As if all of us would constantly travel in floating dresses, trying to take the perfect romantic yet strong and empowered picture of us in each place we visit.
As if women wouldn’t want to discover a place, but be discovered.
I’d rather discover than be discovered.
The active role of female travellers all of a sudden gets transformed into a passive role again. From being a subject, who discovers, into becoming an object of discovery. And that makes me angry… I like being in charge, being self-reliant and damn, I like pressing my own shutter button! So yes, it’s a struggle for me to create photos like these.
For these photos my husband had to fight – for me to sit still and hand over the camera to him!
Changing our perception of female nomades
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to deny ourselves our femininity. It’s all about overcoming limitations that are attached to the image of femininity. And one way to change these limitations is to change our perception of women on the road, female travellers and nomades. This is where Social Media plays a crucial role.
See what I mean?
Female travel bloggers can’t just be active explorers & behind the camera.
They are almost exclusively the (passive) object of the discovery.
The responsibility that comes with every Social Media post
The way we as women represent ourselves online is the way society perceives us today. That is obviously a very general statement, but the impact is undeniable. Just look at current camera manufacturer’s ambassador programs all over the world – it’s most certainly not a 50:50 male-female-ratio (here’s one with 9 females vs. 50 male ambassadors, and here’s another one with 48 female vs. 452 male photographers).
When we portray ourselves on Social Media exclusively as pretty girls who adorn a landscape, we also portray our limitations in a way. We are making ourselves an object instead of portraying our subjective view on the world.
In a way it feels like these women had to care about their looks that day more than about truly immersing themselves into their discoveries and travels. So yes, that’s me critiquing my own photos in this blogpost in a way.
Do these photos represent the true me? Yes, in a way they still do. I picked the locations and angles for the photos and I edited them. I also wear this dress when I don’t get photographed. And yes, I put on pink lipstick every day – even when I hike a mountain. So this is me.
But then it also isn’t. The photos, that really represent me are the ones I take myself. They truly show my perception of the world, my voice and my passion. And this is what I also post on Social Media for the biggest part, even if it doesn’t “work” as well, because pretty girls tend to get more likes 😉
This photo represents more of myself than the photos OF myself.
How curating my Social Media feed has impacted my point of view
Having said that – I also try to find role models of female nomades, who represent women who actively pursue travel photography for my own Social Media feed. I discovered how curating my feed improved my happiness and point of view on female power. Opting out of cliché photos of female travellers (hence unfollowing many accounts even though their photos were objectively beautiful) was one step I took very consciously.
Now that I follow more female nomades like @erinoutdoors and @annapurnauna and joined the female photography collective @bellcollective I feel that Social Media ignited a new spark in me to become a better travel photographer and stop chasing Instagram-perfection.
Bell Collective’s vision is to challenge clichés about female photography.
Chloé NOMADE & my partnership with the #ChloeGirls
This whole story is my contribution to the #ChloeGirls collective, which I became a part of at the beginning of this year. Working with a brand like Chloé was something completely new for me, as I usually am not selected for these kinds of collaborations. When it comes to launching a new perfume brands tend to prefer different kinds of ambassadors.
Therefore I was happy to be selected to introduce the new Chloé NOMADE fragrance in Austria and find a different kind of approach towards the collaboration. It’s important for me to combine these kinds of projects with my responsibility as a female travel blogger and photographer and I hope you appreciate my approach. (You can also check my first story for Chloé from Namibia here).
Curating your Social Media feed anew
So this is my appeal to you,
fearless powerful traveling ladies: Check your Social Media feed and analyse what it is that you’re being served there. And then cross reference it with your personal need to be represented as a female nomade. Do you see yourself in the photos you have to digest every day? Do they empower you? Do they make you want to go out and explore the world with your own two eyes? Or do they make you feel less adequate or even unhappy?
Consciously analysing how we feel after using Social Media is the first step in the right direction.
And then I recommend to check out the wonderful female nomades I mentioned in this blogpost and give them a follow (if you don’t already). Because their voices need to become louder for things to change! And I promise, this will also make you a tiny bit happier 🙂