Photo by The 4th Trimester Bodies Project, Written By Amy Pence-Brown
I recently did something pretty brave. I stood downtown Boise with a sign and markers, stripped down to my black bikini, and blindfolded myself as a fat woman promoting self-love. You may be one of the over 129 million people who saw a video of the moment that has gone significantly viral on the internet, seen me on CNN, or read about me in USA Today. My body positivity comes from a lot of places – how I grew up, my stellar academic training, my voracious reading appetite, and being a mom.
When you get pregnant, your body begins to change in extraordinary ways. Your heart, your belly, and your hips grow miraculously during those forty-ish weeks of creating and nurturing a baby. It’s harder to fathom how that body continues to change and morph after delivering your sweet child, though. You bleed for weeks/months, it hurts to sit on a chair, your boobs are gigantic, your nipples crack, your hair starts falling out, you cry at the slightest thing, you never knew exhaustion like this before. Sometimes you look at yourself in the mirror and do not recognize this love-struck but tired mother. Months go by, and you don’t feel ‘bounced back’ like you expected/heard about. You feel completely different and, surprisingly, maybe, you look completely different. That can be hard to take.
Enter the 4th Trimester Bodies Project. Young mom Ashlee Wells Jackson was a boudoir/pin up photographer in Chicago when she got pregnant with twin daughters, losing one to a medical condition. That traumatic experience left her scarred, both emotionally and physically. In her boudoir work, she sees women who don’t like their bodies as they are and often request of her, the photographer, to smooth things over and cut imperfections out of the resulting photographs. She told the Huffington Post in an article in 2013, “I see beautiful, inspiring, real women on a daily basis who struggle with their body image because they don’t feel they measure up with who the media tells them to be. I feel like this is even more poignant in mothers who often feel like their bodies have been ruined when they should instead be respected for creating, sustaining and nourishing life. So much more needs to be done in our society to embrace body positivity and normalize breastfeeding. … So, I started with my story and it has exploded into a beautiful thing from there.”
Ashlee and her business partner, Laura, started photographing mothers in simple black bras and panties with their babies, children of all ages. They loosely define the term ‘4th trimester’ as any period in your life of motherhood after your child(ren) are born. This photo documentary project celebrates the way our bodies change – from scars to loose skin to stretchmarks to breastfeeding. While they typically shoot in Chicago, the women have travelled doing photo shoots internationally and have a forthcoming book. I can’t recommend checking out their website, gallery and Facebook page enough. The more diverse types of bodies we see and the more normalized images of motherhood are in the media, the more beautiful our postpartum bodies will become in our own eyes.