Portraits of choice

Updated: Mar 22, 2021 China Daily Print
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Working for an auto company in the capital, a 32-year-old singleton sits in front of a piano at home.[Photo provided to China Daily]

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Other than traditional paths to happiness, there are diverse lifestyle choices that women can now make.

Dai says her friend, surnamed Shen, was the first woman to be photographed for the project. Dai has known the 34-year-old freelancer for nearly seven years. When Dai visited her in her home in Shanghai in the summer of 2016, Shen was pregnant. Dai later learned that her friend got divorced. In the picture, although with a beautiful pregnant curve, Shen looked tense and uncertain.

Last year, Dai revisited Shen who has raised her child alone and moved to a new apartment. Facing the lens this time, she looked relaxed and confident.

"Having experienced different kinds of intimate relationships, I have learned to embrace the uncertainty and change in life," Shen says.

In Dai's eyes, the comparison of Shen's photos taken in 2016 and last year seems to show how a woman has grown up over the years.

Chen Yuanyuan, a 38-year-old college acting teacher in Nanjing, Jiangsu province, attracted the lens of Dai's camera for her independent attitude toward marriage. She has a pixie cut, indicating her independence. With her husband in Taipei, Chen has lived on her own for 14 years. She raised their child who is 2 years old on her own. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Chen has not met her husband for about a year.

For some women, marriage leads to a loss of freedom and less connection with the outside world. But Chen has tried to explore a new kind of close relationship, which is not about control or possession.

"For me, an intimate relationship is like acting. Actors take on different roles, learn from them and become a part of them," says Chen, adding that love, sex and marriage should be separated, because love should be pure, which can last for days or years.

Although she did not think of becoming a mother before she got pregnant, Chen says she has taken the baby as a gift from god, which has helped her to examine herself through the parenting process.

When she is with her child, she is a gentle mother. Facing the future, she is not as fearless as before. Last year, she had two surgeries, and the first thing that came to her mind was how to transfer the custody of her child.

Chen's marriage has made Dai think about the meaning of intimate relationships.

"From their stories, I see the power of introspection, self-acceptance and breaking barriers," Dai says.

"When you feel sad, lost or lonely, you are not alone, because many people have similar experiences and you learn how to let go."

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