Steve Rosenfield Builds Security Through Insecurity in ‘What I Be’ Project

What I Be project insecurity
Images © Steve Rosenfield

Insecurity is a big word. Most people are subject to it at some time in their lives. Whether the reason is a certain faith, a sexual orientation, a physical appearance or a simple choice, people are judged by others, according to an image they do not intend to project. Truths are hidden beneath layers of criticism and observations. How other people judge us plays a role in our growth and development. We develop insecurities. We become weakened versions of ourselves; we build upon our insecurities. A universal definition of the insecure person is the person who:

“Lacks confidence in their own value, and one or more of their capabilities, lacks trust in themselves or others, or has fears that a present positive state is temporary.”

Or the person who:

“Feels rejected and isolated … anxious and hostile; is generally pessimistic and unhappy; shows signs of tension and conflict tends to turn inward; is troubled by guilt-feelings, has one or another disturbance of self-esteem; tends to be neurotic; and is generally selfish and egocentric.”

What I Be project insecurity
Images © Steve Rosenfield

Is this common? Only one in five women is satisfied with her body. About 20% of teens will experience depression before they reach adulthood; 38 percent of boys in middle school and high school were reported using protein supplements and nearly 6% experimented with steroids; 40 percent of teens are afraid of peer pressure and 91% of teens have been the victims of bullying. All of these results showcase how drastic the state the world is right now. People are becoming more judgmental over time.

There is a rise in an otherworldly image of the “perfect” human. That perfect person, the one with the trifecta of privilege: he is a white, straight, American male. This is the ideal image to which any person would aspire. Whether this image has been spoon-fed to people through the media or through long-suppressed genes, inherited by us from our great ancestors, one can not be sure. We are sure that this spoon-fed image has led each and every person belonging to a category other than the aforementioned to feel “unworthy.”

Steve Rosenfield is a Boston, Massachusetts native and an avid rock climber, who loves music and has a creative, loving soul. He was a different person before he decided to work on this project, though. In Rosenfield’s words he was an arrogant, opinionated “jerk.” He was once aware of his flaws and insecurities, afraid to be judged and of allowing people to see his vulnerability. To become a more complete person and to embrace his own maturity, Rosenfield created the “What I Be” project. The title was inspired by a song written by the American poet, musician, and composer Michael Franti. Franti is also Rosenfield’s close friend.

Rosenfield started the “What I Be” project with the theme: Be You. The project speaks volumes of its creator’s message to allow people to look into other people and see who they really are and to put differences aside. The core of the project is to humanize everyone whose photo was taken. The project allows us to see the person out in the open, no longer obscured by their most prominent

What I Be project insecurity
Images © Steve Rosenfield

insecurity. We realize that with or without their perceived flaws, that person is human. We are all alike. We are all beyond our distinctive social, emotional or physical features.

Each participant is photographed with a word or two written on their body. These words represent something that they struggle with on a daily basis, yet that does not define them. Then, below each image are the words I am not my ______,” with the blank being a label that has emerged from the insecurity. In Rosenfield’s words:

“To eliminate any confusion, each participant will be writing a 500 word or less statement explaining how their insecurity has affected their life.”

The project started in 2010 and Rosenfield has photographed over 1000 people since. Images are categorized into various insecurities, ranging from mental illness, sexual abuse, religious belief, race and sexuality-to-sensitivity interests and personality. Among the 108 photos included, with an accompanying statement that describes the story behind the insecurity. One can only marvel at how courageous all of these people are. Pictures speak volumes about how people have suffered from being judged for their addictions, their body images, their genders, their religious groups and how far this suffering has taken them: Ellen 88, raises her middle finger with “Hitler” written on it and makes the statement: “I am not my number.”

Ellen is a concentration camp survivor. Her image won’t tell us the whole horrifying story but the power of her eyes gazing into the camera will tell millions about the resilience of her human spirit.

The “What I Be” project builds security through insecurity and tells us how connected we are to each other, despite our differences.


Written by: Jaylan Salah

What I Be project page

The “What I Be” project: courageous people exposing themselves

Facts about self-esteem



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