Recently I talked about censoring motherhood as it pertains to professional photographers and their clients. I needed to voice my opinion. You all took in what I had to say with Grace and I appreciated that so much. Today I want to look at the other side of that, and talk to you, the viewers and clients. Many photographers raised their hands in solidarity hollering "AMEN, SISTER!" and I know that there are plenty of us out there trying our best to give our clients tangible pieces of art that represent the love our clients have in their families in an unfiltered manner. During World Breastfeeding Week this year I released The "Breastfeeding Is..." Project. It is a photographic essay defining not what other aspects of parenting aren't, but what breastfeeding is. I plan to add more images to it as time goes on but released a set of nine to begin with.
This image in particular struck a chord with many.
And it didn't take long before I started reading and hearing comments along the lines of "FINALLY, a *REAL* picture of what breastfeeding looks like" "So sick of all those posed pictures" "yes, this is what *I* look like breastfeeding, I never have it together! LOLOLOLOL!!!"
And I shrugged and said to myself "Self, this is why you included this image, to be relatable. Mission accomplished. Breathe."
Just last week, Birth Without Fear shared this image below and it wasn't even ten minutes before the crowd called "foul"
"Unrealistic" they said "Wait til it poops" they laughed "No one looks that good!" they cried
And all I could think was "Yes, a real mom (who is a make up artist), nursing her real baby, with her real breasts, in their real nursery (that they've really had painted white for eight real months). How unrealistic." And, "What on earth are they feeding their kids if poop explodes out of their diapers and onto walls and ceilings and teddy bears?!"
So I sent in another image that was more spur of the moment to appease the masses (always a brilliant idea, hehe) And for the most part, it worked. Until it didn't and I started seeing the comments similar to those I've seen on nearly every image of a beautiful woman that I've seen over the last five years. "I'm happy for these beautiful, thin/fit women in the pictures I see everywhere, but it also just depresses me. I am disgusted by my not-fit-to-start pregnant body and there's nothing I can do about it, especially now at 27 weeks. I don't take or show pictures bc no one wants to see anything but this. Just know while many can see beauty and strength, many also can see inadequacy, shame, etc. within themselves from it. Just bein' real..."
And after posting this image last night I received another plea to show more "realistic" images portraying women who don't feel the way this woman looked.
And I honestly don't know how to respond to things like this. Because it isn't like I haven't thought of things like this. The photos I take, the photos I share, are the ones my clients hire me to take. I am not sitting on a mountain of pictures (and mullah) of women who I don't find "pretty enough," or "real enough," or "glamorous enough" to share with the public. My bio says that my style tip-toes the line between fine art and lifestyle photography and I attract the type of client that appreciates that. I have yet to have a client email me and say "I would like to pay you to take pictures of me in unwashed hair, yesterday's diaper explosion on my hip and my house in complete disarray. Because that's real and I don't have enough pictures of it on my iPhone." If they did, I can guarantee I wouldn't talk them out of it!
What few people remember is that as the viewer, and as the client, the responsibility to create the photos you want to see falls on your shoulders as much as it does your photographer's. Your photographer has the responsibility to possess the talent to capture and portray the beauty in your home, relationships, and yourself, not create it. You have the responsibility to be vulnerable. If you want to see 250 pound red headed mamas tandem nursing like you on facebook, if you are struggling to find the beauty in your unkempt laundry pile formally known as a living room, if that extra 5, 10, 45 pounds is keeping you from seeing your radiance - you should always see the value in whatever price tag your favorite photographer puts on his/her services. And on the flip side, if the weight of your self-worth is hanging on by a thread that is threatened to be snapped by the images you see on your social media pages - no amount of money you can spend on a talented photographer will validate you.
Would I love to travel the world telling the stories of women through my lens a la HONY, or Alice Proujans? I can't begin to tell you "Yes" big enough. Do I have the personal and financial resources to do this? As a homeschooling mom of three kids 5 and under, not right now. And as selfish as it may sound, I am giving you what my vision of breastfeeding is, through my clients stories. There is no possible way I (or anyone else) can tell every sorted detail of this relationship, this gift, this necessity that is breastfeeding (or on a larger scale, motherhood) I have been told to photograph breastfeeding women in lingerie to showcase breastfeeding women as "sexy" (despite my deep desire to desexualize this), I have been told to photograph breastfeeding women in "extreme" circumstances (despite the fact that rock climbing or horseback riding naked aren't really the *safest* things to do as you are breastfeeding your child), I have even been told to make my images "less obvious" so that I can gain more followers. I have been an artist since I can remember. "getting a picture out of my head" as my 5 year old says, has been something that I am constantly battling with. When I want to see something, if I can't find it, I will try my hardest to make it. If I can't make it, I will try and find someone who can. I cannot argue that there is some amount of bravery that is involved in that process, and I will be the first to admit that will I am introverted, I am a brave woman. And I am here to challenge you to really think about what you want to see in the world. What kind of beauty is important to you? Can you create it? Can you find someone who can? Can you appreciate it for what it is once you've found it? As far as my photography is concerned, this, right here on this website, is what I have to offer you - plus whatever you have to bring to me. Your vulnerability. Your love for your spouse and children. I, like most honorable photographers that I know, am not here to tell you what your love, life, or body should look like, only to show you what my client's loves, lives, and bodies look like. These are real women and their real babies and the real, precious, hard earned moments between them. Dressed up or dressed down, these are the real thing.
And speaking of the real thing - there has yet to be a "body image project" that has impacted me the way The Nu Project has. I first heard of it here on The Ma Books. It is inspiring and has made me feel more "normal" and exceptional in my own skin than any other photographic project I've ever seen. (It is a project of fully naked women in their own homes so please use your own discretion when/where/how viewing)