From adolescence into adulthood, photographer Jade Beall struggled with body image and acceptance. She found it difficult just to look in the mirror, she says, “unless it was by candlelight”—which is why it’s most curious that Beall began posting semi-nude images of her postpartum body on her blog in 2012. Turns out, she didn’t have to change the way she looked—it was about how she saw herself.
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After years of negative thoughts, Beall found herself at a time when she was proud of her body. “I really loved being pregnant,” she says. “For the first time in my life, I showed my midsection. I loved my belly, and I felt powerful.” It was after giving birth to now 2-year-old Sequoia that Beall began to feel those negative thoughts creep back in. “I gained 50 pounds with my pregnancy, and that added to my personal history of oppressive self-loathing in a culture that praises mostly Photoshopped images of women in media.” She felt disappointed in herself, right after a time when she felt so strong—after all, growing a tiny human is no easy feat.
Beall decided to let go of her fears in favor of supporting millions of women who must have felt the same pressure she did to look a certain way, even after just having a baby. “95% percent of women will not see [themselves] reflected in mainstream media,” Jade says. “I wanted to join the movement of redefining beautiful for self-empowerment, for women to feel validated and for the reshaping of media.”
Shortly after that day in 2012 when Beall laid bare her slightly larger body, soft and beautiful and freshly postpartum, people began to take notice. “Hundreds and hundreds of women thanked me for showing a body that resembled their own,” she says. “[They] wrote to tell me their stories… and asked if I would photograph them, just as they were.” Beall received global coverage, which baffled her. “[It was] a complete shock,” she says. “Apparently a whole lot of people are unaware that there are women in this world who don’t ‘bounce back’ after birthing a child, and who are not Photoshopped from their stretch marks and changed hips and breasts.”
As her collection of brave, beautiful mamas began to grow, the Beautiful Body Book Project was born. “[It’s] a collaboration of my photographs and the stories from the women photographed about finding freedom from feeling too fat, too skinny, too dark-skinned, too pale, too wrinkly, too pimply or whatever other story inhibits us from completely loving ourselves just as we are.” The first volume, The Bodies of Mothers—which was 100% crowd-funded— is due out this spring. Beall has plans to expand to more volumes, covering topics like aging, cancer and other illnesses, women of color, and more.
Most of the women Beall has photographed echo her sentiments regarding pregnancy. “It is the post-birth body that they are unsure how to love,” she says. “We rarely see imagery of women depicted in a beautiful light whether she has stretch marks, or wider hips, or a belly that still hangs as if a baby were still inside… our culture has forgotten how to praise a woman for her beauty as an irreplaceably beautiful human who has given life.”
It is Beall’s hope that the Beautiful Body Book Project will bring all women together, regardless of shape, size, or color, to feel empowered. “Industries and mainstream media no longer have exclusivity over how to showcase women in our culture… nor are they the main curators of digitally altered imagery of women anymore,” she says. “All of us have a way to share beauty with each other, to help our young girls have truthful and inspiring role models.”
More than anything, Beall just wants women to accept their bodies—that means every stretch mark, belly jiggle, and lump or bump in the road. “Please don’t buy those magazines that want to sell you the drama of which celebrity has bounced back and which one hasn’t,” she says. Instead, Beall encourages women to seek out support from those around them, following blogs or other websites that foster a feeling of self-worth. Her blog at ABeautifulBodyProject.com features stories and pictures from women discovering their own beauty and reveling in the journey to get there.
If Beall could say one thing to every new mother out there struggling to accept their slightly larger thighs or slightly less perky breasts, it would be this: “Sister, you are beautiful, and you are not alone.”
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