Why I’m taking my clothes off on Thursday – 4th Trimester Bodies Project

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.

One of babies that has transformed how my body looks
One of babies that has transformed how my body looks

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.

6 thoughts on “Why I’m taking my clothes off on Thursday – 4th Trimester Bodies Project

  1. In theory, I agree with you. But public nudity, on or off of social media, for the world to see? It just seems prude.
    Definitely, we should be encouraging new mothers to view their postpartum bodies in a different light. Not to see themselves as fat or ugly but to see themselves and their bodies as beautiful and having done the best thing in the world.
    But what does any woman gain by seeing another woman naked? “Oh, she’s fatter and uglier than me, I must be normal,” – is that what she gains? “Oh, most are fatter and uglier than me.” Well, that’s nice.
    Maybe she’ll say, “All postpartum women are fat and ugly,” but she could also say that, and realize that, if we simply skipped the fancy clothes and makeup and took pictures of ourselves as we look after a day cooped up in the house, sleep-deprived, overworked, and taking care of a baby (and older kids). No need to go nude for it.

    1. I think the point is to redefine post-partum bodies as beautiful and functional rather than “fat and ugly.” The more of these bodies we can see and identify as beautiful, the more likely we are to think of ourselves as beautiful too.

      1. I agree with the purpose. (As I keep telling myself at almost 6 months postpartum. And I am lugging about 13 extra *kilo* around with me, from two pregnancies with bad eating habits. 13 x 2.2 = 28.6 lbs) But I don’t think that posting nude pictures on the internet – or anywhere, for that matter – is going to gain us anything, nor will it really help the people that we’re trying to help.

        It’s kind of like sitting on a park bench and taking off your whole shirt to nurse. Sure, we need to normalize breastfeeding. But the way to do it is by sitting, *normally* and nursing, and acting *normal* wherever you happen to be.

        So the way to redefine postpartum bodies as beautiful and functional is to be functional, and dress appropriately, and look beautiful – but in a way that society accepts as normal behavior in public (or online, or in newspapers).
        Take a picture of yourself in a housedress, exhausted, with your baby, and happy. And label it, “Gorgeous new Mom doesn’t need makeup and doesn’t need a diet, baby likes me just the way I am!” Or something like that.
        The biggest problem is that models make the rest of us feel like we’re “ugly”. They obviously look great – specially made clothes, hair done, makeup done. That’s not the way the rest of us look! But nudity is just going to make everyone mad (think Facebook and breastfeeding, where you hardly see any breast – ughhh). And nothing is accomplished by making the world mad . . .

      2. Aside from the disagreement over the “appropriateness” of posting nude (bra and underwear actually, sometimes just underwear, so it’s not nude so much as regular beach amounts of skin), I don’t understand what your comments are about and I don’t think you’ve understood how the project works. Did you look at any of the pictures on the website?
        It’s regular moms of all shapes and sizes, not professional models. The make up is minimal. Like very very minimal. And there is 0 photoshopping.
        And the reason they do a little make up and take professional pics is as a celebration not as a way of trying to make motherhood look fake.
        Mostly I think you’ve started a conversation about your own tangental thoughts on nudity and taking mom-selfies.

      3. I did. And I do get it. Regular moms taking pictures of themselves. Any photoshopping would ruin the point entirely. In your post you wrote “underwear”, so at first I thought it wasn’t including a bra. But still, beach attire isn’t what you wear to go shopping, and for a reason.
        Again, I agree with the goal. I just don’t think that publishing pictures of mostly-naked (or beach-attired, if you prefer) moms is the way to do it. And I did look around at the website.

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