In two days I will strip down to my underwear and pose for a picture. I’m participating in the the 4th Trimester Bodies Project, the brainchild of Chicago mom and photographer Ashlee Wells, a series of portraits showcasing what mothers’ bodies look like.
Like hundreds of women who have all ready been photographed for the project, I will shed my clothing as an act of vulnerability and of self-love. I will show the world (well, anyone who follows 4th trimester bodies and me on social media at any rate) my belly flab, my linea nigra, my stretch marks, my discoloured belly button, my heavy sagging breasts. In the same picture I will show my wide hips, strong legs and arms, and smiling face. If my kids cooperate, if they are receptive to standing in front of the camera with me, I will be photographed holding the precious results of the major changes my body has undergone in the past few years.
I decided to sign up for this photo shoot because I believe in normalizing the glorious spectrum of post partum bodies. Even as a confident woman who champions positive body image I struggle to embrace what has happened to me physically since becoming a mother. Seeing proud, beautiful photos of other mothers baring it all has helped me tremendously. I want to be part of that.
But what about the nakedness? What if I choose to go topless? Maybe I will be breastfeeding, or maybe not if my daughter isn’t hungry. I have been thinking about the sexuality and the functionality and the beauty of my body as the day of the photo shoot draws closer.
In the context of my marriage, I do want my naked body to seduce my husband. I do believe my breasts can be sexy. As can other parts of my body that will be visible in the pictures.
My body is also very functional. My breasts are large right now because they are full of milk, I use them to feed my daughter. My hips are wider than they used to be because I have pushed two large babies through them. My arms carry little people and enormous amounts of laundry.
The same body can be sexual and it can be practical. This is a duality that society rarely captures, rarely sits comfortably with. I think we need to reassess how we think about our bodies:
1) Our bodies are not objects – they are not a static thing. Bodies evolve, are affected by the world around them. Bodies are not apart from our humanness, our self, our soul.
2) A body part cannot be inherently sexual, all body parts are multi-functional, sex being one function of many. Do you know how hard it was for me to process the duality of my breasts when I started nursing? I felt so strange and “wrong” to be feeding my innocent baby with parts of my body that society had told me were purely carnal/seductive/sinful/titillating. I struggled to reclaim the functionality of my breasts, THEIR innocence.
3) We need to learn to see our bodies and other bodies in context. The context of my boob (yup, that’s the word I use) when I whip it out at the park to feed my baby, is not the same as my covered breasts at church, is not the same as my breasts (covered or otherwise) when I want to get close to my husband. When my grown son sees the pictures from this photo shoot, I trust that I will have taught him to see a woman holding her children, a naked body celebrating its functionality. That there will be no hint of sexuality in his perception because that is not the context of the picture.
4) We need to reject manipulative representations of our bodies. Here I’m talking hyper-sexualized advertising, photoshopping gone mad, pornography, images that slut shame or fat shame, and things of that ilk. Just no. Reject any representation of a body that limits our bodies to sexuality. Reject any representation of a body that tells us there is norm to live up to.
So that’s why on Thursday I’m going to stand in front of a camera in my undies, probably nervous as heck, but ready to let the jiggly bits have their day in the sun.