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Photographer unveils new book, "The Bodies of Mothers"

Jade Beall/Beautiful Body Project

Jade Beall/Beautiful Body Project

Jade Beall/Beautiful Body Project

Imagine stripping down to nothing and letting someone take your picture.

Scary, right?

Now, imagine doing it just a few weeks after having a baby.

Unimaginable?

Maybe to some. But photographer Jade Beall wants to remove the fear from this scenario and replace it with love and awe in her new book, "The Bodies of Mothers."

The coffee-table book is the latest manifestation of her empowering body-image effort, A Beautiful Body Project, and features nude photography of women in all stages of motherhood.

The text accompanying the raw, black-and-white images is written by the subjects of her portraits. They powerfully narrate their thoughts not only about body image during pregnancy, but also through trials such as cancer, miscarriages and stillbirths.

No stretch mark or sag is retouched. No wrinkles or blemishes disappear with the photo-editing magic prevalent on magazine covers.

"We have been trained to compare ourselves to Photoshopped imagery of women, and that is very disempowering," Beall says. "Many of us have the 'I will be happy when I am thinner/have no cellulite/richer/wrinkle free' mentality. Happiness truly comes from loving the moment we are in and not the futureā€”that is to say, loving ourselves entirely right now."

The 160-page book is the latest extension of Beall's Beautiful Body Project. The movement aspires to reshape body image in mass media, build women's self-esteem and explore vulnerability.

"I try to help women see themselves in a truthful, love-filled image and begin the practice of loving that which we have been trained to hate: cellulite, wrinkles, stretch marks, post-birth changes," she says. "I know from experience that when we can love ourselves in entirety, loving this world and being successful is much more easy and enjoyable."

Like so many women, Beall developed a negative self-image at a young age.

"I learned to loathe my body when I was 10 years old. I was in awe of media and how 'clean' all the women in commercials and movies were," she recalls. "I learned to want to be somebody else and despise my own skin."

She's not alone. Studies show female body image takes a massive nosedive between girlhood and motherhood.

Students, especially women, who consume more mainstream media place a greater importance on sexiness and overall appearance than those who do not consume as much, according to DoSomething.org. Moreover, 95 percent of people with eating disorders are between the ages of 12 and 25.

As adults, nine of every 10 women are unhappy with their bodies and resort to dieting to achieve ideal body shapes, DoSomething reports. For many, it's impossible. Only 5 percent of women naturally possess the body type typically portrayed in popular media.

Beall hopes sharing her subjects' personal journeys and brave photos will inspire other women to let go of what they think they should look like and love the bodies they have.

"It is only in the last few years and through this project that I have learned to love this skin that I am in and worthy to call myself beautiful," Beall says.

For Beall, evolving toward a more positive body image meant turning the camera lens on herself.

"I did my own nude self-portrait that I took five weeks after my son was born, 50 pounds heavier than I'd ever been and deep in postpartum depression," she recalls. "I learned that when I'm vulnerable and willing to put myself out there ... my willingness to be truthful with where I am in my life helps other women feel seen and inspired, which then helps me to feel seen and inspired and connected to this world in a more meaningful way."

Other women similarly reveal their true selves under the gaze of Beall's camera. They reconnect with the things they love most about themselves, and the focus on extra pregnancy weight or mastectomy scars dissipates.

"Every woman that walks into my studio has a different history, a different story held within the molecules of her precious body," Beall says. "The women who are drawn to collaborate with me are choosing to see themselves, maybe for the first time, without self-judgment, self-loathing, without fear."

She hopes their bravery spurs a cultural revolution of sorts.

"They are choosing to make truthful images with me in the name of self-love without the need to Photoshop out our irreplaceable beauty," Beall says. "I have opted away from a photographic culture of airbrushing. The women I shoot aren't flawed. Instead, my work seeks to counterbalance the powerful influences of media, consumer culture and voices of deficit that permeate so many women's inner thoughts and keep them from living the meaningful and powerful lives they were born to live."

But learning to love yourself and your body doesn't happen overnight. It takes work.

"Loving oneself, for many of us, is a practice," Beall says. "Most of us have been loathing our precious bodies for many decades. As a photographer, I encourage and coach women to see images of themselves with love and with a new definition of what is truly beautiful: our irreplaceable bodies and soul."

Maybe you're ready to love your body a little more, but not quite ready to disrobe and step in front of a camera? You can still start your own body-image reboot journey. Little steps and little changes can get you on the path to self-love.

"Smile at your reflection in the mirror," Beall says. "Pretend you are 4 years old looking at yourself, back when you had no question in your mind if you were magnificent or not."

And while you're at it, grab your daughter and help her learn to love her body as well.

"Use kind words about yourself in front of (your daughters) and about other women in front of her," Beall says.

If her transformation is any indication, she may be on to a winning strategy for changing body image with the project and book.

"For the first time in my life, I don't hate my rolls and pimples and my ash-colored hair. I'm not a prisoner to my scale," she says. "I love me today, and this allows me to spend all that time I used to waste loathing myself on things that make for a better life for me, my son and the women I work with."

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