By NICKY CHAMP
It’s an amazing thing, pregnancy and subsequently giving birth to life – yet, somehow in our society we have reduced new mothers to abstract bodies, waiting for them to bounce back into shape and judging them if they don’t.
Take a look at the image above, a woman stands front on to the camera, her two children at her side, their small hands rest either side of her stomach, its shape evidence that she carried them both for nine months.
It was the image that started photographer Jade Beall’s photography book project, A Beautiful Body, and one that resonated around the world.
The woman, is Lulani Gray and she is only 29 years old yet has lived in shame of her belly for over a decade after having her first child. Previous to the image going viral she lived in fear of exposing herself in a bathing suit or to her partner.
When Jade Beall published a series of self-portraits of her postpartum body online and subsequently the one of her friend Lulani Gray (the image above) on her studio’s Facebook page, it was shared over 4,500 times and received over 7,000 likes, but more than that it started a movement.
Beall has been contacted by hundreds of mothers the world over asking to be photographed. Not only from America and Australia but Spain, England, Colombia, Brazil, Argentina, Peru, Mexico, India, Kenya, Lithuania, Czech Republic, Belgian, Japan and many more.
“I had no idea that so many cultures around the world would resonate with my project. I knew that in my American culture, post-birth mothers are often shamed for not ‘bouncing back’ and have little support for their possibly remarkably changed post-birth body.
“I am overjoyed to know there are women around the world who wish to be seen and that this project might offer them healing and empower them to feel beautiful,” Beall told Mamamia exclusively.
The images, along with a chronicle of each mother’s journey from low self-esteem to proud kick ass mama will appear in A Beautiful Body. The book is volunteer-based and crowd-funded on community site, Kickstarter. It didn’t take long for the project to reach its goal of $20,000 and within the 33 days the project was on Kickstarter it recieved $58, 425 from 1,092 backers. Beall plans to use the extra money raise to help people travel to her studio to be apart of the project.
The project has no doubt hit a raw nerve with women and mothers in particular, yet one of the most surprising things about reaction to the images has been from men.
“Husbands have written to me from around the world thanking me for helping them understand what their wife might be going through and for helping them expand their concept of a beautiful woman,” Beall said.
Beall believes we are facing an epidemic of women who feel “unworthy of being called beautiful”. And this feeling heightens after having a baby when enormous pressure and expectation is placed upon mothers to ‘bounce back’ into shape.
Of that culture, Beall believes the media is partly responsible, “Some media platforms shame superstars and sell a whole lot of copies to other women who are under the stress of being a new mother in a newly shaped body and feel as if they have failed,” Bealls says, and when combined with our society’s fixation of perfection “plastic surgeons eagerly await your phone call so that they can ‘fix’ that post-birth belly and lift your breasts because you have been told those features are shameful and ugly.”
Instead of ‘bouncing back,’ Beall believes we should be looking forward. “Being a mother is a game-changer, it can be the hardest job and also the most rewarding. I would never ever want to bounce back to my old life. Giving birth to my son and being his mother has been the most meaningful experience of my life.”
As for what’s next for Beall, she hopes to create many more books that help others “feel seen and feel beautiful”. There’s also an online media platform and quarterly magazine on the horizon and she hopes to take off around the world recording and photographing the stories of women from around the world and see how different and how similar body-image and post-birth mothers are from one-another.
“There are billions of beautiful women and irreplaceable stories. I want to hear them all,” Beall said.
And what of Lulani Gray, the woman in the photograph?
Beall says, “When the photo began going viral on my Facebook Photography Page, a really amazing healing started as she saw thousands of women chime in on how thankful they were for the photo of her belly. I see her wear bikinis at the pool now with an easy confidence.”
To pre-order the book (hard-cover, soft-cover, or e-book) you can do that here. If you want to take part in the project (Jade hopes to come to Australia soon) you can contact Jade Beall through her website here. And we’d urge you to share this post with every woman, mother and father you know.