The "Beautiful Body" project celebrates hot mamas

Image: “Self Portrait with My Son 2012,” by Jade Bealle

Because all mamas are hot in their own way, photographer Jade Beall‘s new project “A Beautiful Body” invites mothers, both new and old, to celebrate their imperfectly perfect bodies. In a world of airbrushing, Photoshopping and self-loathing, how refreshing! In the coming year she’ll be hitting the road with her now five-month-old son, her partner and her dog in an RV, taking nude and semi-nude portraits of as many women as she can who are interested in participating (and there are a lot!). We recently asked her to tell us more…

How did you decided to do this project?
I began this project because of a blog I had created using a collection of self-portraits I took of my new-mama body. I photographed my postpartum body mostly because I had been accused by many women over the years in my community in Tucson, AZ, of only posting images on my photography website of thin, “perfect looking” women. I was deeply hurt by these accusations as I honestly do not see women in terms of skinny or voluptuous; I see them as perfect. I see my sisters as authentically beautiful, irreplaceable and perfectly unique.

Since I had gained 50-plus pounds during my pregnancy, I decided no better time than that moment to share my perfectly plump body with the world. I had no second thoughts about it. I drove my baby and my partner, Alok, to my studio and he helped me set up the lights as I was still recovering from some pretty bad stitches from giving birth five weeks prior. I took off my clothes and began photographing my naked body with tears in my eyes and hope in my heart that other women would feel better about themselves if they saw me stripped of all coverings while completely willing to share my vulnerability and what our culture would label as ugly.

Within hours of posting that blog, I received dozens of emails from women all over the country. They all wanted to tell me their postpartum story! It was then I understood that by being vulnerable one can offer the sweet medicine of self-love and acceptance. By being vulnerable, one realizes we all share pain and we all know joy. We realize we are more similar than not. I began photographing more mothers, posted a few images on my Facebook page, and that is when the emails began pouring in by the thousands from women who wanted to participate in my project, “A Beautiful Body.”

Do you have a publisher for this project? How will that work?
I am having a great time exploring all of my options! I have a number of conversations going with publishers but am also exploring the newer world of self-publishing. At the end of the day, I will allow as many people as possible to have access to the project! There are many grants out there and hopefully I will be able to nab one to defray some of my costs to visit as many mothers as I can all over the country.

Do you have set spots you’re traveling to or will you go where there are a bunch of women wanting to participate?
The response to “A Beautiful Body” has been beyond my wildest expectations. Thousands of women have written, called or mailed me their stories expressing interest! Each story draws my interest to a different part of the country and therefore my partner and I plan to pile into an RV and crisscross the country to connect to as wide a range of American mothers as possible. A sampling of current destinations is Texas, Colorado, Oregon, New York and California, as well our home state of Arizona.

Will you do all off-site shoots during one big cross-country trip or will you do it in several shorter trips over the course of the year? How will that work exactly?
The project is already in full swing at my studio in downtown Tucson, which also doubles as my dance studio, The Movement Shala, for West/Central African dance & yoga as well as Fed By Threads, our responsible apparel line that feeds 12 meals to hungry Americans from each uniquely designed item we sell, both of which I co-founded just prior and just after giving birth. I have thus far been shooting mothers in Arizona and have several more flying in from the West Coast to participate. Over the next 12 to 18 months, my partner and I will be finalizing our itinerary; we will pack up our baby and dog to hit the road. With my studio equipment tagging along for the journey, I will be able to do a combination of studio-style shoots as well as on-location shoots. Just thinking about it gets me excited!

We imagine you won’t be able to shoot everyone who’s interested in being photographed — how will you decide who you will photograph for this project?
So far I am responding to everyone who expresses interest in participating in my project, which is a task far greater than I ever expected! I have been asked by hundreds of mothers not only in America but in Italy, Norway, West Africa, Australia and Mexico to include them as well in this project. It’s a universal experience, I am learning, this relationship with one’s body after giving birth, and we all have a unique story to share. For now, however, I will simply start with the U.S. and leave the dreams of future international projects about mothers in my excited imagination. Even from all of the incredible, heartbreaking, inspiring stories I have already received, it is obvious that narrowing it down to 100-150 mothers and their stories will be a challenge! My hope, therefore, is to be able to include a broadening number of participants in the photographs and essays for blogs, etc. All the women who participate, however, will be able to have their final images once the project is complete.

Are you only interested in photographing women who are comfortable being totally naked, or will you work with partial nudity or nude shots that hide the woman’s identity? Will the women photographed be allowed to remain anonymous if they want, or are you interested in women truly owning their bodies and being proud of them without shame or hiding?
I am interested in photographing both nude and semi-nude photographs for this project. I want to create a space of complete ease and beauty and I want the mother to feel like a Goddess while she is being photographed by me. I will only include first names in the completed section of the selected women, and if she wishes to remain anonymous I honor her needs. My goal here is to reach a broad spectrum of women: those who are comfortable in their authentic skin as well as those who are terrified to share their most vulnerable part of life. I want to photograph women who have gained tremendous amount of weight during and after pregnancy as well as those who have experienced getting too thin afterward and everyone in between. I want to hear every woman’s story. I want to create a relationship for women that is far deeper than how much we weigh and how many stretch marks we have and how we compare ourselves to one another. I want to create a body of work that shows the wide spectrum of mothers and how we all undergo a powerful, physical and sacred transformation after giving birth.

Will the women who are photographed have any say in which photo gets published? (For instance, if they were unsure about nudity and wanted to see an image before it was included in the book…?)
All mothers who participate must be comfortable with the final photograph(s) used for the book, any online publications related to the book or potential extension projects. I would never publish something that a woman did not feel 100% comfortable sharing with our world. If she ends up not liking any of the photos, then at the very least we documented a very special moment in time and hopefully both she and I will be enriched by such a connection.

Interested moms can reach Jade through her website.


Photo credit: All images by Jade Bealle