A Beautiful Body: photos and essays of American mothers

January 7 | Guest post by Jade Beall
All photos by Jade Beall.

She stood barefoot with a fresh pedicure showing blood-red toenails on the white paper backdrop in my downtown, air-conditioned Tucson studio. She lifted her loose blouse over her head with shaky hands, tears welling in her honey colored eyes. She was petrified. Not only had she never shown a stranger her most vulnerable secrets that her clothing effortlessly hides, she had never been photographed nude. She was determined despite her fear to help me shape a new definition of beautiful for herself and for countless other women in our culture.

She, like the hundreds of others who are coming together for my project "A Beautiful Body" are my Super-{S}heros. Together, we are creating a body of work that could be called nothing short of incredibly beautiful.

I have heard hundreds of stories now. Anorexia, childhood bulimia, the mother told her she was too fat to be a ballerina, self-hatred, self-suffering. Feeling unsexy because she perceived her nipples as imperfect, feeling unsexy because she lost too much weight after breastfeeding. Feeling like there was something deeply wrong with her because she only lost five pounds nine months after the birth of her second child. Mourning the loss of her un-suckled breasts. Sexual abuse, self-inflicted abuse, teenage and young adult drug addictions due to self-loathing because she never felt beautiful; breast cancer after the birth of a long-awaited pregnancy, loss of a baby at birth with a wrinkly tummy to remind her everyday of what might have been.

There can be so many stories shadowing a woman in our culture. We are, however, also incredibly blessed with tremendous amounts of freedom and the ability to shape-shift concepts and ideas in our country. We have the ability to feel worthy, to believe we are beautiful and to be a part of a community of people who wish to share beauty and joy in this world.

Three months ago, I knew I had to do this project, "A Beautiful Body," after writing and photographing a blog about my post-birth body. Only now is the combination of my hard work and the courage of these timid and fierce women who have offered themselves and their stories that I am fully seeing the true magnificence this body of work holds for our culture of women and men.

I knew that untouched nude photographs of American Mothers would be… cool, maybe rebellious and possibly somewhat unprecedented. I had no idea, however, that it would be so utterly breath-taking as it has begun to take shape. It's actually not until this very moment as I type these words, with my fussy six-month-old baby nursing from my sensitive sore nipple and wringing the saggy flesh of my forearms, that I am beginning to understand this exhilarating feeling: being vulnerable as a collective and wanting to shed pain and birth praise to authentic beauty.

It is true for most of us, I'd say: we want to feel interconnected to each other while laying down the swords of name-calling and comparison.

I am sharing with you a photo sampling of a few dozen courageous American Mothers (minus their essays). These are not the final images that will appear in the book. I hope they serve as a peep through the keyhole of our magical universe and hopefully inspire you to feel beautiful, just as you are, untouched, un-airbrushed.

There are so many stories and so much pain. What many of us have forgotten, however, is that Pain is the twin sister to Joy. Pain is one of the best sources of energy eagerly awaiting to be recycled into something magnificent: into Beauty.

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  1. I'm a mom of 2. Like so many others my body before my children was 'perfect'. A small waiste, flat tummy, effortless. Now I have a pooch and my hips are wider, my breasts hang lower and my hair is always a mess. I'm learning to love me in whatever form I take. I'm also learning that my partner loves me more in my new body. My imperfections are a reminder that I give my whole self to motherhood. Can't wait to buy this book and see what so many other women have to say.

    24 agree
  2. Today starts with some love and pride in this strong mama's body thanks to this post. Channeling my inner superwoman is not a bad way to start a Monday.

    11 agree
  3. I've seen something like this before and wish I had never lost the link. It was a great resource for confidence on those days when you are feeling bummed out about how you look. This is such a beautiful project and just the reminder I needed today.

    1 agrees
  4. I'm in my 39th week of pregnancy w/ my first child, and only in the last couple weeks after the baby dropped have I developed the dreaded stretch marks. It's been hard to see my beautiful belly "marred" with blossoming bruises and stripes, knowing it will never be the same again. This post came at the perfect time for me.

    5 agree
    • The same thing happened to me, and I too was so upset. But now that my son is born I like my stretch marks. They are a reminder of what my body accomplished, proof that I grew a human being that is now out in the world.

      2 agree
  5. I love this combination of beautiful, vulnerable and powerful images, with Jade's wonderful writing. I am looking forward to her book as well!

    3 agree
  6. Jade, I really love this body of work and would really love to speak with you about an exhibit in San Francisco with my arts organization Femina Potens (www.feminapotens.org). Would be great to work some workshops or panels into or around the exhibit. My mind is churning. Lets talk. Gorgeous and powerful images. Madison – email is feminapotens@gmail.com

    4 agree
  7. I love this! I just had my first baby 2 and a half months ago and I am defiantly struggling with my new body. This is beautiful! I actually live in Tucson. :) I hope to see more!

    1 agrees
    • You live in Tucson?? PLEASE come see me. I have 7 pieces 2×3 feet photographs up right now in my studio/gallery/boutique. We are here mon-fri 10-5. And… wanna be photographed? 435 e. 9th st 85719 with love,

    • I live in Tucson, too! I just saw this post from a friend on fb from a different state. ;)Thanks for the post!

      1 agrees
  8. Thank you for sharing these beautiful images and your inspiration behind them. As a first time mom, I was unprepared for my post-baby body. It has taken me a while to learn to love my new physical self. But now that I do, I can say I'm more comfortable in my new skin than I ever was pre-baby. My body grew and nourished my little one, and now that he's earth side, my body still nourishes & carries him. Women's bodies are incredible!

    2 agree
  9. I love this. I was never a super small person but bearing and birthing two babies has changed my body so it will never be the same. But I not the same as I was before I had children. I heard a beautiful line once that said stretch marks are the stripes we earn for bringing life into this world and they are well deserved. We should see them as a rite of passage, not as something to loathe. Nice work on these photos. Raw and beautiful!

    2 agree
  10. Thank you. My kids are newly grownup, but I still remember the shame I felt after my physician berated me when I hadn't returned to my pre-pregnancy weight six weeks after delivery of my first child.Your work puts things in proper perspective.

    2 agree
  11. I too struggle with my physical appearance just 3 months after the birth of my 4th child. I'm blessed to have a husband who reminds me almost daily that he thinks I'm beautiful. My favorite comment recently was, "if you doubt you're pretty, just look at your daughters. They're gorgeous and they look exactly like you."

    5 agree
  12. I've struggled with losing the "baby weight" after I had my first child since he was born…….3 years ago. I use to look in the mirror and wish my wrinkled belly would just go away. I've realized that those are my mommy marks and I now wear them proudly……especially after reading this. Absolutely beautiful and inspirational! Keep up the AWESOME work!! :)

    1 agrees
  13. I am a proud mom of 5..2 normal birth and 2 c-section..i have twins boy and girl…am so proud to be a mother..my wounds are worth it…my youngest is 11 months now and am happy with 45kg…felt much better now..i workout 2 hours, 3 times a week…am back to my ideal weight, fit and tone..people won't believe that i have 5 children..hahaha thanks to my Personal Gym at Home :)

    1 agrees
  14. I loved this so much and as a photographer myself I wanted to share this on my FB pages, well I have been blocked from using my account because of it……..I just want you to know that I personally LOVED this and I am sure I will be blocked again because I WILL re-post it LOL I am rebellious I guess hahahah
    Thank you for show this beauty & art :)

    2 agree

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