Take a closer look at the photos on this page. Maybe you glanced at them quickly or moved on because they made you uncomfortable. Maybe you were turned off because the models don’t resemble Gisele Bundchen, Kate Moss or even those on the cover of this very magazine.

“There’s so much focus on being perfect and looking a certain way. There’s so much judgement,” said Alana Gordon, a local photographer who has teamed up with local author Joe Mogel to create a book that embraces positive body image awareness, Strength Through Adversity. “I don’t know if I can get rid of that, but I hope through this book we can help.”

BodyImage (4)Strength Through Adversity focuses on illuminating internal beauty, not the external, conformist type pushed out through both traditional and social media. The book is a collection of the stories of 40 men and women – ranging in age from 18 to 57 – who share their insecurities and messages of empowerment through personalized photo shoots and their own words.

“In our world, where corporate standardized patterns are set for everything, it’s becoming harder and harder to truly express yourself, right down to our very bodies themselves,” Mogel said. “I would like to think that this book will be a big step against the ever-growing homogenization of society, culture and the human form itself.”

BodyImage (6)Gordon initially came up with the idea about four years ago after sustaining a knee injury. “I stayed at a rehab facility and met some of the strongest people, whom most would look at and judge by their disabilities instead of getting to know them,” she said. “I wanted to tell their stories.” Due to timing and the severity of some of the disabilities, the idea was put on hold until this past spring, when Mogel, a friend and former colleague, approached Gordon with a similar idea for a book.

“For me, much of the idea came from seeing photo sets intended to build confidence about body image,” Mogel said. “While the intention was beautiful, I never felt like I was connecting to the models, who felt more like mannequins to me. I wanted to do a body image book where the personal experiences of the models would be the focus.”

That’s why in the pages of Strength Through Adversity readers will find so much more than a photograph; they’ll connect with a compelling story. “We had stories of people who are transgender, people who are covered in scars, people who have stretch marks, have recovered from eating disorders, people who have overcome a variety of abuses,” Gordon said. “These people are you, me and everyone. We can all relate to someone in this book.”

Mogel and Gordon held three different sessions this summer, in which participants were interviewed and given a personalized photo shoot; participants were allowed to dress and pose in ways they felt most comfortable and that best portrayed their vulnerabilities.BodyImage (2)

“I’m honestly just so honored that so many people were this brave to potentially let the world into their lives,” Gordon said. “There are things that I truly dislike about myself and would be uncomfortable sharing – never mind letting someone photograph – yet these people, as terrified as they were, came in and did just that. It was inspiring and gave me the confidence to love myself for everything I am. I think that’s the most amazing part of this book.”

BodyImage (3)While body insecurity was the catalyst for the project, personal strength became an overarching theme. For Gordon, one of the most memorable examples of courage came from a breast cancer survivor. “She chose to pose topless, exposing her scars on her torso,” she said. “We showed her scars, but honestly, it was absolutely stunning. It was like that with all the participants. I’ve never seen such bravery.”

Although most of the participants were female, Gordon and Mogel encouraged males to participate. “I think men are typically conditioned not to talk about emotions or insecurities, so it was a bit harder to convince them,” said Gordon, who learned that men and women aren’t really that different. “We’re all people who have something we’re insecure about.”

Mogel agreed. “While in my life I’ve felt some body image issues, I’ve mostly pushed them to the back of my mind and never even stopped to think about how other men think or feel about themselves. Meeting with, and talking to, other guys who have had issues with how they see their bodies was quite eye-opening for me.”BodyImage (5)

While both Gordon and Mogel set out to provide a comfortable environment and an outlet for people to discuss their most vulnerable attributes, the project became much more. “We didn’t anticipate that we’d be creating a community where people would really listen to each other and open up about such private things,” Gordon said. “This gave the participants the support to stand up and say, ‘No, I’m going to look my insecurity in the face and still love myself.’ From all the feedback, I’ve learned that it changed these people’s lives. It changed my life. These people felt embraced and free from something that has haunted them for so long. There’s nothing better that I could ask for.”

In the end, both Gordon and Mogel hope that their book helps people learn to judge less and accept each other more. “Love yourself for who you are, and love others for who they are,” Mogel said.

Strength Through Adversity is slated for release Dec. 6, with a release party planned for the same night. For updates, visit facebook.com/StrengthThroughAdversityBook.