Today, equal parts excited and nervous, I photographed my first post-birth mother for my project ‘A Beautiful Body’. It was perfect that this project began with her, really. She is fiercely beautiful and as tender as a newborn baby. You would never know that under the thin layer of clothing that covers her body, she has the most gorgeous collection of stripes on her stomach and breasts in the formation of a sun from some undiscovered universe. Elsewhere her skin is taught, bronzed and firm. The tender place that she rarely exposes to anyone and remains protectively covered, like a woman beneath a burka or a mermaid under the sea, was silently revealed to me. It was right then I realized that I have in fact finally redefined my definition of beauty. Never have I seen anything more sexy than this body with is authentic story that has birthed and fed 2 perfect children. I couldn’t help but daydream a little into the future, wondering what it will be like to explore hundreds of images like the ones I took today while reading each woman’s story about her relationship to her post-birth body. It’s the medicine of being vulnerable and real that begs to be labeled ‘beautiful.’ It’s time, isn’t it?
When I myself stood up for the first time after ejecting, in one single push, a human out of my vagina, I truly understood what a Goddess must feel like. Barefoot on the cold white tiles, my legs were shaky yet determined to hold up a belly that still looked 41 weeks pregnant. I had just had 5 stitches sewn into my yoni, was wrapped in a makeshift paper-towel diaper, and in utter awe. Tears began streaming down my face as I glanced down at the empty pouch where my son had been curled up inside of me just minutes earlier. I closed my eyes and thanked my body like I had NEVER thanked her before. It was as if I was telling a new lover for the first time “I Love You”, that completely blissful feeling of giddy tenderness for a new human in ones life. I was in such admiration of what my body had just done and found myself speechless trying to explain how bad ass I thought she (I mean I) was.
I wonder if I should be honest with you. I wonder if I still have it in me to go on being vulnerable and tell you that there are many days I find myself wondering if I should have become a Mother, that maybe my body doesn’t make the hormone for me to function on so little sleep. I wonder if I should admit that there are times when facing the simplest of decisions paralyzes me: “Should I return the rented breast pump or go meet up with some other mamas?” My confusion could easily find me choosing instead to simply stare at my garden with nothing to say at all. I wonder if I should confess that I have struggled, at times, to feel gratitude for the amazing life that I am fully aware that I have. I wonder if I should admit all of this self-inflicted suffering and useless selfishness, and say it’s a major struggle to love this pudgy body? I wonder if you could understand that even as all of these thoughts wash in and out of my mind like warm waves on a central Mexican beach, my son Sequoia has taught me unconditional love? It is true. I have been a preacher of unconditional love for a long time, sort of convincing myself each time I stepped into that pulpit. But it is only now that I fully understand what it feels like to love another human unconditionally. And now I can confess to you that I also catch glimpses of loving myself unconditionally.
Through it all, I will tell you this: I am doing my best and everything is gonna be alright.
I have no illusion to look like the cheerleader I was in high school or even like the Ashtanga yogini of a couple years ago, with a figure that just might have received a stamp of approval from Vogue. What I don’t understand, however, is this inability to feel beautiful RIGHT NOW with this saggy belly and jelly-roll thighs. Why do I judge it? I mean, I had body image issues way before Sequoia’s birth, so this is nothing new. But it’s a fresh way to judge myself as something imperfect and label myself ugly. Why do I compare myself to that amazing mother who gave birth 2 months ago and is training for a marathon?? Why do I have a need to feel like a sexy young thing after having accomplished one of the most phenomenal miracles of the human race and instead embrace simply being ME? I birthed a HUMAN, for crying out loud! Shouldn’t I still feel like a Super Hero Human Maker these few months later?? Who am I REALLY trying to impress?
I continue to remind myself that self-love is a practice like learning how to talk. It takes time and dedication. And I can begin the practice RIGHT NOW. Why not? ’Life isn’t short just a lot of people waste it.’ I refuse to waste my life.
What if we lived in a culture that praised a woman because she was a divine authentic being with a rhythmical beating heart and an non-replicable message to share with our world? What if stretch marks and wrinkles and jiggly bellies and booties meant you were closer to The Divine? What if we celebrated each-other because without you there is no me? What if we truly believed that we were a collective of beautiful sisters with our unique shape, size, color, skin tightness and stage in life? What is more beautiful than an old woman with a map of wrinkles on her Goddess face like a collection of ancient stories? Or a sister with soft flesh and lines like a tiger that once gracefully stretched to make room for her son or daughter?
Everything is gonna be alright.
So here’s an invitation to you, Dearest Reader:
A few month ago I wrote a blog which included nude photographs of my lumpy and bumpy post-birth mama body. I had no idea how graciously it would be received! Hundreds of emails arrived from other mothers who were touched with what I had written and by my potentially socially unacceptable nude self portraits. I realized, with giddy excitement, that these women also wanted to share their stories. Some of them confessed that they had never shared the most painful details of their story with anyone until the moment they were writing me their email. This moved me profoundly and with each subsequent email, I cried.
That is where the inspiration for my book project was born: “A Beautiful Body” Nude Photographs and Essays of American Mothers. This is a call to all postpartum mothers (even those who are years past that moment). I want to hear each mother’s story: What was her relationship with her body before, during, and after her pregnancy? Did she feel beautiful, ugly, and everything in between? What emotional shifts, evolutions, and challenges did she experience? What was giving birth like? Did you feel like a Goddess or far from that, after birthing a human? Most importantly, what is one’s relationship to one’s body today? Do you value your authentic beauty? Do you feel even more beautiful after having your child, your children, or not? Is it still a struggle? Has society made it easier or more difficult to feel good about yourself?
And then there are our sisters who have the postpartum bellies but were denied the gift of having their baby survive. Yes, there are a lot of stories out there and the very best story of all is Gratitude. Happiness is a choice no matter how terribly we have been wronged.
Below is random work I have done over the last year to assist you in deciding if you would like to be a part of my book project “A Beautiful Body”. Either way, I thank you. Please share this with any woman you think would resonate with this project. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org and I can be reached anytime!