As a mother, photographer and feminist, Ashlee Wells Jackson is making a tremendous difference in the way that women view their bodies with her inspirational story and her 4th Trimester Bodies project.
The goal of the project is to photograph women in their natural states and refrain from airbrushing, resizing or retouching the photos in order to bring a brand-new outlook to body image and to celebrate "the good, the bad and the ugly that come with motherhood."
"We don't work with models; we work with everyday women," Ashlee says. "All women—as they look before my camera, they look in the gallery."
Ashlee, who grew up in a house where nudity was never shamed, has never agreed with the way society portrays the idea of perfection. She has always been very comfortable and proud of her body. And as a boudoir and pinup photographer, Ashlee never understood why women she photographed only noticed their flaws and didn't embrace how beautiful they were. But she began to identify with these women when her self-image was damaged after experiencing complications during her second pregnancy.
Ashlee has three children: 8-year-old son Xavier and 19-month-old daughter Nova Emery. Nova had an identical twin sister, Aurora Eisley, who was stillborn due to Twin-to-Twin Transfusion Syndrome.
After returning home from a beautiful honeymoon with her husband, Ashlee had a second trimester screening where her doctors discovered the terrible news concerning her twin girls. She was forced to undergo an experimental surgery in a desperate and last hope to save both her babies. At 24 weeks, Ashlee had an emergency C-section and delivered both girls, who were "only the size of the children's toy Sophie the Giraffe," she says. Doctors were not able to save Aurora.
"I went from a healthy, capable, strong, physical woman to feeling helpless. I felt like less of a woman," Ashlee says. "My job as a mother was to keep my babies alive, and I hadn't done that."
One day in the shower, Ashlee noticed her stretch marks, a giant scar and a body that didn't feel like hers anymore. She cried when her husband touched her. She felt ashamed with herself and her body until one day she realized she wasn't okay with the way she felt. That's when she took her place on the other side of her camera and photographed herself in her true form, sparking the idea for 4th Trimester Bodies.
"The ultimate goal is for women to see themselves as beautiful the way they are now, not how they looked in high school or after hitting the gym," Ashlee says.
She hopes to grow the project and take it to as many cities and countries as possible to be able to tell stories of women from every region and get rid of the stigma that says, "If you're any less than 'perfection,' then you're worthless."
Ashlee is expecting the release of her coffee-table book series early next year. If you are interested in modeling for her, visit the 4th Trimester Bodies site for more information and a list of tour dates.