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a beautiful body project: a chat with photographer jade beall

Self-portrait by Jade Beall

Self-portrait by Jade Beall

How do we grow into our beautiful bodies when we don’t see real portrayals of them around us? A Beautiful Body Project uses photography and book-making to celebrate women who have bodies and stories and all things that maintain their beauty as they change.

This week we spoke to Jade Beall, founder of the A Beautiful Body Project, about her initiative and its potential to empower all layers of beauty.

Could you tell us more about the personal significance of this photograph and everything it has opened [up for you]? 

I wanted to make beauty out of my pain by a) making myself take those photos of my 5 week old post-birth body and b) sharing them with other women.  As a teenager I suffered from feelings of deep unworthiness. I had acne and I was unable to look in a mirror for nearly 3 years, unless it was by candlelight. Fifteen years later, I posted a series of self portraits of my semi-nude postpartum body on my blog in 2012 because 95% of women will not see ourselves reflected in mainstream media. I gained 50 pounds [22.6 kgs] with my pregnancy and that added to my personal history of oppressive self-loathing in a culture that praises mostly photoshopped images of women in media. I wanted to join the movement of redefining beautiful for self-empowerment, for women to feel validated and for the reshaping of media.

After my self-portrait blog post, hundreds of women from around the world wrote to tell me their story about their postpartum body and asked if I would photograph them, just as they were. A Beautiful Body Book Project began growing in the summer of 2012 with a collaboration of my photographs and the stories from the women photographed about finding freedom from feeling too fat, too skinny, too dark skinned, too pale, too wrinkly, too pimply or whatever other story inhibits us from completely loving ourselves, just as we are.

How would you describe the power of photography in sharing the stories of women? 

I think our culture is very visual. Especially the younger generations, we have been raised with visual stimulation from TV, magazines, and internet. We like to see. I think we tend to believe what we see. It feels good to BE seen. When we see ourselves in a photograph, there is a chance we might value ourselves a little more differently, perhaps with more love and more confidence if we lacked it before. Perhaps we will have more compassion for our mothers, our sisters and our spouses.

Where will we be able to find the collection of photographs? 

In my book, A Beautiful Body, which will be available in Jan/Feb of 2014. This is the website for the book: http://www.abeautifulbodyproject.com/

We also hope to continue with further volumes of books, as well as quarterly magazines.

How would you define “body positivity”? How do you hope to continue to make spaces for beautiful bodies in the future? 

For me, Body Positive is using one’s words in positive relation to one’s body and towards others. EVEN IF WE DO NOT BELIEVE it at first, it takes practice to re-write a lifetime of feeling un-beautiful, and I believe that words, in themselves, are very powerful. Instead of saying, ‘Oh, I hate my belly’ it’s body POSITIVE to say, ‘I love that my belly is irreplaceable and that I am committed to being as healthy as I possibly can be because I am doing my best every single day!’ Body positive is feeling so good in your own skin that one cannot help but show love and support to other women and be free from needing to compare, judge or offer anything but kindness!

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