For those of you who don’t know – and I think it’s safe to say that nearly all of you do, since I posted and linked to a picture of myself stripped down to nearly nothing – last month I was a participant in Ashlee Wells Jackson’s 4th Trimester Bodies Project. I was one of hundreds of women who were lucky enough to snag a spot in a very illustrious project; the market was very unforgiving, as hundreds if not thousands of women vie for a slot in each city this project visits, and only a couple dozen people get in; and it just so happens that I was one of them. Make no mistake, though; I wasn’t chosen – I just happened to be a quick clicker who moved swiftly through the registration process online. My timing was right, and so I got in. That’s all there was to it.
I waited with great anticipation for my photo shoot to come, and when it came, there wasn’t a second that went by that didn’t live up to or exceed my expectations; while the skilled and stunning Laura Weetzie Wilson worked on my hair and makeup to make me look and feel beautiful, Ashlee made her hard work look effortless as she prepared my heart and my surroundings for what was unquestionably a defining experience in my life. Sitting with the two of them in a small hotel suite in downtown Minneapolis cracked me open – it broke my shell and called forth a wave of words, of emotions and tears as I talked earnestly about my experience with conception, pregnancy, childbirth and motherhood; and all the while that I spoke, I was gifted the opportunity to listen; to commiserate, to empathize, to ask questions, to laugh, to feel loved and understood and as though I was part of a greater whole. And indeed, whether or not I had ever had the chance to meet and sit with Ashlee and be photographed by her, I knew and I know that my place in all this is no more valuable than any other woman who’s conceived, birthed or raised a baby. We all share a common bond, and I believe it’s of utmost importance that we remember to acknowledge this.
Those of us who’ve participated in the project are all part of a private group on Facebook, meant to support, uplift and surround one another; it’s a place where each and any of us can ask questions, air grievances, or offer words of advice or encouragement within a community of others who share one or many common experiences – the least of which being our involvement in this project; and I’ve so loved being a part of it. Except these women, who’ve come together to collectively build this strong, beautiful and powerful empire were divided yesterday when some were notified of being chosen to be featured in Volume I of the book series, and the rest became deflated upon realizing that they weren’t. And the group page kind of …erupted. There was joy, surprise, and elation, and then there was – understandably – great disappointment. Many of the women who aren’t being published in the upcoming first volume seem to have felt cheated; a number of people didn’t realize being published wasn’t a given right, others questioned whether their photos or stories were sub-par, and others yet just forgot to celebrate the incredible news that a book is being published (A book! Is being published!) – that Ashlee’s hard work and dedication is coming to fruition in a bound book that we can hold in our hands! – because they swept any notion of celebration aside in order to air their great disappointment. Women were openly upset, and even wondered whether their bodies weren’t scarred, striped or stretched enough to have warranted a spot.
And I had to look away. I had to close my computer and get up and walk away because the explosion of fiery estrogen was almost palpable, spewing off that page. Whereas I usually enjoy reading what everyone has to say and seeing swooping wings of support envelop the women in this group, the advent of a rising-up of those who were vs. those who were not chosen in this group – whether unintentional or not – suddenly became just way too much.
There are 150 women whose photographs and stories are being featured in this book, plus Ashlee’s herself, and it so happens that I am one of them. When I agreed to participate in this project, it was made clear to me that while there was a chance I’d make it into a book, it was certainly not a guarantee; and by no means whatsoever did that possibility or eventuality define my reasons for choosing to get involved. I loved the idea, and I so hoped that my story would one day make it into print and garner a greater scope of reach, but this was not remotely why I got involved. When I was notified of my having been chosen, I was elated; I was completely without words. I’m honored to have been picked, and I’m constantly in awe of Ashlee and her vision and her work; but being published is nothing more than one more blessing piled on top of the mountain of gifts I’ve been given by even just sitting in a room with this woman. To have sat with her, been smiled at by her, and looked square in her eyes is to have been blessed by her.
And so to think that there are women in this collective – women who’ve also had this pleasure – who put such a defining line down the center of being on a page in a book felt so incredibly dismaying. Every single one of us are featured in a growing online gallery – our photos and our stories have been shared already on numerous platforms, and have yet to be featured in various touring galleries, and in all sorts of other collections in articles, reports and other social media pieces – so to suggest that any one of us who didn’t make it into a published volume is not good enough, not stretched or scarred enough, not interesting enough or not powerful enough is ludicrous – it’s discouraging, it’s disheartening, and it’s fundamentally untrue.
It’s time to take two steps back and marvel not only at the magnitude of Ashlee’s work and her footprint, but at the breathtaking beauty of each and every woman featured in this great project. If not for the 4th Trimester Bodies Project, how many of us would still be looking at our wrinkly, stretched tummies, our caesarian scars or our saggy breasts and thinking they’re less-than? How many of us would not have realized what an honor and a blessing this scarred, stretchy skin is? To realize the power of the female body is to acknowledge just how intrinsically beautiful we all are. It’s only in participating in this project that we’re given a platform from which to communicate our hearts and our experiences and our exhilaration and our love. Each and every one of us is brave, is powerful, is a beautiful pillar of strength for countless women all over the world. We should be nothing but gratified at having been granted the opportunity to strip down to our skin and hold our sweet naked babes close to our bodies while love radiated out of us in every single direction.
Each woman – each photograph – offers its viewers an outstretched hand of hope and inspiration; each one is a message that we as women are beautiful at our deepest core: our hearts.
So please; I implore you – marvel at these women. These photographs. These pillars of beauty and strength. And know that you, as a woman and a mother, are every bit as powerful. Your wives, your sisters, and your mothers. We are all this, at our very foundation.