During National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, I wanted to highlight someone who is doing AMAZING work in relation to body image and motherhood. We don’t often hear about mothers and eating disorders, or body image issues after pregnancy, but Ashlee Wells Jackson of the 4th Trimester Bodies Project has an important story to tell.
Tell me about yourself and The 4th Trimester Bodies Project.
My name is Ashlee Wells Jackson and I’m the founder and photographer of the 4th Trimester Bodies Project. I began the project on June 9, 2013 with my image of myself breastfeeding my daughter, Nova, after a traumatic twin pregnancy where I lost my daughter, Aurora, to complications from Twin to Twin Transfusion Syndrome. What started as a photodocumentary focusing on the beauty of mothers’ bodies and self-healing, quickly blossomed into a worldwide movement celebrating body positivity and changing the dialogue about how we view our bodies especially through the lens of motherhood, childbirth, and breastfeeding. I brought my business partner, Laura Weetzie Wilson, on board to assist and do hair and makeup, and together we travel the world, capturing mothers’ beauty and stories to share.
Why was it important for you to feature beautiful and inherent changes brought to women’s bodies by motherhood, childbirth and breastfeeding?
The project exists because women are judged too crudely on the way we look and are often told we don’t measure up. Because no real person can compete with the tools in Photoshop and glossy magazine covers. And because motherhood is sacred and should be celebrated. We can’t normalize what is normal if we don’t regularly see what normal is. Our bodies are beautiful and they do change as we go through life, but if we mask, hide, or create falsehoods about that reality, we are cheating ourselves of living life in the now and loving who we really are.
Do you feel that motherhood in general should be added to the body image conversation online? How can we bring more awareness and acceptance to this topic?
I feel it is extremely important that motherhood be included in the body positivity conversation online and in life. Intersectionality and inclusion is paramount in understanding the complexities of feminism and creating the social change that we ALL need in the body positivity movement. Just as it is important to understand how race affects and is affected by society and plays a part in advancing equality, so too must we acknowledge that motherhood is a very real aspect of how some people view their bodies with relation to how society tells us we should look. So often women are told motherhood “ruins” them, “destroys” their bodies, “lessens their worth,” when we should be telling women that they are strong and gorgeous for creating life. We can only bring acceptance and awareness to this topic by talking about it and showing what motherhood looks like for everybody.
Do you find that women featured in your project have histories with eating disorders frequently, or that they have had difficult relationships with their bodies prior to motherhood?
We have worked with mothers in all stages of their body acceptance journey. Too often we find that women start hating their bodies around the age of 10 and it is an uphill battle from there. We find that stories of disordered eating regularly come up as something they struggled with either in their teen years or up until and sometimes through pregnancy. Every mother is different and sometimes pregnancy and postpartum can trigger disordered eating, but sometimes the power of giving life creates the change that is needed to overcome an eating disorder or set them on the path to wellness.
What would you say to women who are battling/have battled an eating disorder and may be afraid of the body changes motherhood could bring?
Every women’s story and struggle is so personal and layered, its hard to say just the right thing to help ease someone’s mind about pregnancy and disordered eating. We have many stories where a woman was struggling with the changes but focusing on the idea that her body is building a home to grow her baby and she needs to be there and be as healthy as she can be to help her baby grow, has helped her get through that hurdle of accepting the changes that are happening. Sometimes by focusing on what the baby needs from you as a pregnant mother can help you let go of the need to restrict or purge. I think education and learning about the reality of the changes and how the changes are necessary for a heathy pregnancy can help a mother refocus her thoughts and work towards allowing herself the space to be healthy. However, we encourage anyone who is struggling with disordered eating during and after pregnancy to talk about it and get professional help from a licensed therapist. We can’t say enough how much therapy has helped us individually and how important it is to get help.
Do you believe that childbirth and breastfeeding changes a woman’s relationship to their bodies? For better or worse?
One thing we have learned through this project is just how powerful motherhood is and how it so often strengthens the relationship between oneself and their body. We don’t always like every change that childbirth and breastfeeding can cause, but we continually hear how women are starting to view these changes as marks of strength, marks of a warrior, of remembrances of babies’ lives, of badges earned and bodies loved through the eyes of a child.
What has been your favorite story that you’ve shared with the world so far through The 4th Trimester Bodies Project?
With almost 1,500 stories under our belt, it is impossible to choose a favorite! We’ve made so many close friends and touched on so many important topics that I can’t pick one. I have a favorite for every occasion!
How can people support your project or get involved?
If you would like more info on how to get involved please visit our Participate page on our website.
Tags: #bodyboop, 4th Trimester Bodies Project, Ashlee Wells Jackson, body boop, body image, breastfeeding, eating disorder, eating disorders, moms, motherhood, mothers, positive body image, pregnancy, self love