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How did you feel about your body right after giving birth? For most of us, pregnancy and childbirth leave us feeling like our bodies have been "ruined," or at least altered in ways we're not altogether thrilled about. But what if we could change that? What if we could see our post-baby bodies as powerful and beautiful? Pinup and boudoir photographer Ashlee Wells Jackson has made that her mission. Her 4th Trimester Bodies Project is a series of photos showing mothers' bodies in all their post-baby glory, seeing them through a loving, empowering lens.
So how did a pinup photographer end up focusing on post-baby bodies, anyway? We talked with Jackson to find out what her inspiration was and what these photos mean to her subjects.
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Jackson began the project soon after becoming a mother herself. She experienced a very traumatic pregnancy and labor that left her struggling with her strange, new body. But she'd been thinking about issues of body image for women even before then. Through her work photographing everyday women looking to transform themselves through pinup photography, Jackson gained an innate sense of how women feel about themselves. No matter what her clients looked like, how traditionally beautiful or otherwise, everyone seemed to have body issues. Everyone felt they had flaws.
After Jackson had her baby and conceived the 4th Trimester Bodies project, she knew that in order to find subjects, she'd have to "pull the trigger, too." So the first photos were self-portraits. She posted her photos on Facebook (she didn't have a website yet), and invited her friends to join the project. She assumed it would be hard to get volunteers, but to her surprise, other women were eager to join the project. "It grew organically from friends, to friends of friends, and so on."
It could also have been her approach. Jackson has no screening process. "We don't ask a lot of questions," she says. All you have to be is a new mom willing to do a session. Once a subject arrives for a shoot, they start off slowly. Jackson has her subjects' hair and makeup done (lightly) even though most of the portraits are taken from the neck down. The hair and makeup session gives her a chance to visit a little with her subjects, and helps them get more comfortable and bring their guard down.
By the time Jackson goes to take the actual photos, her subjects are feeling more comfortable with the shoot, and it takes just a few minutes to take those photos. Then women stay to live-edit the photos with Jackson, giving them more of a say in how they're represented. It becomes a truly collaborative project.
And then the results -- not only are the photos arrestingly beautiful (as you can see), it's a "really empowering and transformative experience for all our subjects," Jackson says.
Do you think you could ever feel comfortable posing for a photo like these?