Belantes’ Jiyu (“Freedom” in Japanese) is a self-portrait photo series that explores body insecurities. She was born with a slight curvature to her spine that creates an indent on her right side, caused by scoliosis.
Belantes is of Filipino descent. She is thin, short and wears gauges in her ears. There is a slight curvature to her spine that creates an indent on her right side caused by a spine abnormality called scoliosis.
Belantes is a Navy brat who moved to Japan when her father was stationed there for five years. She turned to photography out of loneliness in high school. Besides daily shoots, she was a designer for her yearbook.
Talent takes center stage and Belantes became the go-to photographer for sports and the first choice to shoot special events.
After seeing artsy nude photos on Tumblr, she decided to turn the camera on herself.
“The blogs I followed on Tumblr were just a lot of exposing the human body,” she said.
Not all of it was nude photography as erotica, she said. Some photos captured the essence of certain body parts and their shapes, which sparked inspiration in her.
“What if I can do something with my body and not only showcase the artwork I have on myself, but that your body can be your own piece of artwork regardless of your color, shape or size?” she recalled asking herself.
Belantes un-knowingly started down a path of greater self-understanding.
Empowerment through revealing imperfections is at the core of Jiyu, but she said she was conflicted about displaying her body online.
“I did not want to put them up,” she said. “I had asked my friends. I showed them the pictures and I was like ‘Guys, should I put this on here? Like, is this too much?’”
This inner conflict fueled Belantes’ message. As she started doing the series she realized stretch marks are okay. She also found peace in her curved spine.
“I was always self-conscious about it, so I did not really like to go out to the beach or show my body like that because I did not like how this side of my body looked,” she said.
Jiyu played a big role in accepting herself, she said. Her shots reveal stretch marks on her knees, the tattoos on her arms, chest and breasts.
Her biggest step to coming to terms with her real self, she said, was coming out to her parents as gay. She said she was afraid of her parents’ reaction. Her mother was not always supportive of the way her daughter dressed or behaved. After her coming out, her parents gave her an unusual amount of love and care that she said she was not accustomed to.
“So you’ll still love me even though I’m not straight?” she asked her mother.
“Yes of course, we’ll always love you no matter what,” her mother responded. “As long as you’re happy, then that’s all that matters.”
Belantes said she hopes other LGBTQ students have a similar experience.
“Maybe me putting this out there will make people relieved that they’re not the only ones who have it,” she said. “It might be strange, but think of flaws as necessary traits that help make everyone unique and should not cause alteration.”
Her grandfather, a more traditional man, was not as tolerant.
“I have never liked (dressing girly),” she said. “My grandpa used to give me crap for looking like a boy or playing with the boys.”
Belantes struggled with the judgment of her grandfather, she admitted, sometimes dressing the way he wanted her to avoid criticism. Pretending to be someone else made her realize she was not being true to herself.
“Why do people care so much?” Belantes said. “Why can’t you just let them be?”
Belantes changed after moving back from Japan from a girl desperate for acceptance to a content young woman with short hair, tattoos and gauges in her ears. There was no hiding behind girly clothes to please her grandpa’s old-fashioned sensibilities.
“Just live your authentic self, because that is all you can be.”