As women, we’re all familiar with the ugly phenomenon of body shaming. But we gotta say, for all the grief and pressure put on women and girls from a young age, it seems mothers have it the worst. Thanks to magazines boasting about and hating on certain celebrities who either snap back to pre-body baby in 2 weeks (i.e., Victoria’s Secret models who are under contract to maintain a certain body weight), or those who don’t, the rest of society now has this impression that mother’s bodies are fair game.
Thankfully there is an army of mothers globally who are taking a stand and saying “no more” to body shaming in powerful and unique ways. Some of the issues that come under scrutiny include weight, childbirth, and even breastfeeding. Let’s be honest, the majority of us have come across at least ONE news story where a mother was shamed publicly for breastfeeding her child. Censorship of mother’s bodies is standard fare. Yet strangely, we’re OK and have been brainwashed to think this image is “normal”:
So we are committed to promoting messages and projects that stand against the harmful trends in our culture that tell women their primary value comes from their appearance, and if they don’t adhere to it, they deserve to be shamed. We applauded photographer Jade Beall who created the ‘A Beautiful Body’ project where she captured a series of mothers with their children proudly showing their bodies, stretch marks, excess skin and all. Because motherhood IS something to celebrate despite what pop culture says in its subtle advertising messages.
Now we have another powerful body image project to get excited about, one that has a similar mission. The 4th Trimester Bodies Project was created by photographer and mother Ashlee Wells Jackson from Chicago, who wanted to give women a reason to stop following societal trends of criticizing their bodies and learn to love themselves and set a positive example for their children and others around them.
The idea came about after working with various women at her photography studio and overhearing them talking negatively about their bodies – a very common occurrence amongst us female folk unfortunately!
When Ashlee was pregnant with her twin girls, she had a complication which ended up being very serious. During the second trimester she learned the babies had Twin-to-Twin Transfusion Syndrome, something that is commonly fatal. The babies ended up having emergency surgery, and sadly one of them died.
The other one, Nova, survived and today she is a healthy 3 year old. While Ashlee was recovering, she started thinking of herself as a failure, and even used the same type of language about herself that she heard other women use in her photography studio.
That’s when it hit her, she needed to make a change and help other mothers do the same.
“I decided that I don’t want this to be my dialogue. I don’t want my children growing up with a mother feeling this way. I don’t want it to be my dialogue with my husband — or myself,” she told WGNO.com.
In 2013 the 4th Trimester Bodies Project was created and Ashlee was determined to replace the negative images about mothers bodies with positive, empowered ones, coupled with powerful words of love and acceptance.
“The project exists because women are judged too crudely on the way we look and are often told we don’t measure up. Because no real person can compete with the tools in Photoshop and glossy magazine covers. And because motherhood is sacred and should be celebrated,” Ashlee writes in a description on the site.
“Regardless of how our babies get here we should be proud and, regardless of how we choose to feed them, we should be able to feed them where we choose whenever they are hungry. This project exists because women and men and society need it. Because our sons and daughters deserve more. Because we deserve more. Because we are beautiful – stretches, stripes, scars and all,” she added. You can read more about her personal journey in depth here.
So why the “4th trimester” label?
“Technically the fourth trimester is the first three months after a baby is born, but for Jackson and Wilson, it’s the transformation of one’s life into a mother — and that never ends,” writes Steven Marlborough from WGNO.com.
Altogether, 1000 women have taken part in this important project, all who are in different stages of their motherhood and accepting their bodies.
“A lot of women [say it is] a transformative process. It’s a big deal to step into a space and show your vulnerability and be photographed in your underwear. They have a sense of relief, of ownership. Some clients do make that shift to see themselves as beautiful,” said Ashlee.
How is this kind of project and Ashlee’s message not the dominant in our culture?! We LOVE what she is doing for herself and other women! Dear media, this is what happens when you fail half the population by telling us we aren’t good enough the way we are.
If you need any further proof of how ridiculous it is that women are shamed for breastfeeding in public specifically, please watch this satirical PSA by mom and cooking show host Kristina Kuzmic who created a video outlining some compelling reasons why women shouldn’t do this. The video has over 3.3 million views and was posted online in June 2015. Doesn’t this say something about what a controversial and highly talked-about topic this is?
Well done Ashlee for powerfully using your journey of motherhood and pain to encourage other women to embrace all aspects of their lives (see more images from the series here), and thank you Kristina for spelling out how bogus it is that ANYONE would shame a mother for doing what is natural, despite all the photoshopped breasts we see in media and advertising on a regular basis.
Mothers for the win!