The 4th Trimester Bodies Project is so much more than images of mothers, so much more than seeing how motherhood, childbirth, and breastfeeding change our bodies. These images and the spirit and meaning behind them, change lives -- we see transformations beyond the physical in them. Ashlee Wells Jackson, creator and photographer of the project, has inspired women and allowed us to embrace our flaws -- to see them as precious parts of our journey, and to help everyone stop censoring motherhood.
Kelley Schmidt is one of the moms who was photographed for the 4th Trimester Bodies Project -- she was shot with her then 16-month-old daughter Lakyn (who will be 2 this month). Kelley has also just revealed that she is pregnant with baby number two due at the end of November. Her photograph is so inspiring, and I spoke with Kelley to find out more about this experience, motherhood, and how it has changed her, and her view on how our bodies change once we are mothers.
What made you decide to be photographed for this project?
I caught wind of it VERY early on -- when the project first started. I thought it was something so unique and knew that I just had to be a part of it. It was an amazing, new concept that I was confident would pick up speed and exposure. Not only that, it is something that really empowers women to embrace their post baby bodies and be proud that they gave life.
How has your body changed since becoming a mother?
Well, the first time around I did not have a lot change, but my boobs are not what they used to be. I nursed my first baby for a few months and that certainly took a toll on them! This was hard to accept at first, but now I can look at it in a positive light. I was giving my daughter the best start she could have; as well as an irreplaceable bonding time.
What are your favorite changes?
I am a little bit curvier than I used to be. I was kind of a twig before my daughter, but now I have more of a 'woman's' figure. It is amazing to know that my body was able to conceive, carry, and deliver a healthy baby girl and for that I am forever grateful.
How has your view of women, and women's bodies, changed since becoming a mother?
I am much more forgiving! I remember before having my daughter I HATED stretch marks. I was petrified that my body would be forever ruined by having a baby. Now, I look at each woman’s body and see they created life -- they performed a miracle and they sacrificed parts of their body to do so. That is so commendable in my eyes. And a age old lesson always comes to mind -- it is what’s on the inside that counts.
What would you tell your daughter regarding body image once she gets to the age she starts questioning hers?
I already think about that as she is 2 now and always watching and examining what I do. I want her to know that no matter what, she is beautiful, she is perfect. I want her to know that God created her just the way he planned and that she should embrace and love who she is inside and out! I would be devastated if I ever heard her criticizing her own looks or someone else’s for that matter. I want to teach her early on that everyone is unique and beautiful.
Why do you think so much of the media censors images of motherhood?
They are afraid to show the truth. They are afraid that people do not want to see what is REAL. They are afraid to show something that is considered 'imperfect.' It is not realistic to think everyone will 'bounce back' after child birth like celebrities seem to do. From the beginning of humanity, mothers have given birth and nursed their young. It is not a new concept. Why now the media is afraid of showing this is really a shock to me and honestly, a shame.
How do you think that can be changed?
It will be changed by proactive movements such as the 4th Trimester Bodies Project, showing that motherhood is a beautiful thing. As long as moms and their support systems stand strong and advocate for motherhood, society can only move in a more accepting, positive way. Change can only occur if people keep fighting for what they believe in.
Did the way you think about your body change from before and after you were photographed for the project? If so, in what way?
It really did! This photo captures the glow that I have as a mother. As a parent -- I am mostly behind the camera, not in front of it. I know how I FEEL as a mom, but this photo really captures the amazing relationship I have with my daughter. Both of our faces are just lit up so much that you can really feel the love radiating between us.
What three words come to mind when you see this photo of yourself?
Strong, Beautiful, Confident.
What kind of feedback/response have you gotten? From strangers? From your family?
So many people have supported the photo and project. I was part of it at the beginning, before it really got popular and now that people see it picking up speed, they want to follow in my footsteps and take part in it. It has actually surprised me how many people have said what a priceless and gorgeous shot it is. However, I had one stranger on Facebook tell me it was embarrassing and inappropriate. It bothered me at first, but I had to shake it off. Not everyone will agree with the project -- that is just life. But, it won’t discourage me from supporting it wholeheartedly.
Do you have a copy of the photograph? Where do you keep it?
I have not been able to print it out yet, but I have it as my Facebook profile picture. Many people -- friends and strangers alike -- recognize the photo from the 4th Trimester Bodies Project. It makes me feel part of a special group to have a picture like this! We are all on the same mission and that is incredible.
We sure are. Thank you, Kelley. Your photo is inspiring, along with your message. What a great project.
How has your view of motherhood and our bodies changed since becoming a mother?
Image via Paul Reynolds/Flickr