Tuesday, July 9, 2013

A Beautiful Body / Redefining Beautiful

A Beautiful Body Project

Redefining Beautiful: 

An Exploration Of Vulnerability As A Collective

She stood barefoot with a fresh pedicure showing blood-red toenails on the white paper backdrop in my downtown, air-conditioned Tucson studio.  She lifted her loose blouse over her head with shaky hands, tears welling in her honey colored eyes.  She was petrified.  Not only had she never shown a stranger her most vulnerable secrets that her clothing effortlessly hides, she had never been photographed nude.  She was determined despite her fear to help me shape a new definition of beautiful for herself and for countless other women in our culture.  She, like the hundreds of others who are coming together for my project ‘A Beautiful Body’ are my Super-{S}heros.  Together, we are creating a body of work that could be called nothing short of incredibly beautiful.

I have heard hundreds of stories now.  Anorexia, childhood bulemia, the mother told her she was too fat to be a ballerina, self-hatred, self-suffering.  Feeling unsexy because she perceived her nipples as imperfect, feeling unsexy because she lost too much weight after breast feeding.  Feeling like there was something deeply wrong with her because she only lost 5 pounds 9 months after the birth of her 2nd child.  Mourning the loss of her un-suckled breasts.  Sexual abuse, self-inflicted abuse, teenage and young adult drug addictions due to self loathing because she never felt beautiful;  breast cancer after the birth of a long awaited pregnancy, loss of a baby at birth with a wrinkly tummy to remind her everyday of what might have been.  There can be so many stories shadowing a woman in our culture.  We are, however, also incredible blessed with tremendous amounts of freedom and the ability to shape-shift concepts and ideas in our country.  We have the ability to feel worthy, to believe we are beautiful and to be a part of a community of people who wish to share beauty and joy in this world.
And then.
And then, if you are like me, you might indulge yourself in a professional pedicure a few times a year.  I walk into such a place overjoyed at the idea of 40 minutes to myself while someone makes my awkward dancing feet more pretty.  I sit down on the cushy-plasticy massage chair and dip my tired bare feet into the warm soothing water.  An unconscious, unnamed addiction causes me to hastily pick up a People Magazine and, with a zombie glazed-over stare, I (casually?) cautiously flip through the pages. But with each perfume-scented page, I feel increasingly more fat, seriously un-stylish with a need to compare myself to all the surrounding women including the generous soul scraping at my calluses.  Suddenly, I realize I have an oozing infection on a festering wound I was unaware I had on my previously healthy sense of self.  As I read about Who-Lost-All-Her-Baby-Fat-After-Birthing-Baby CreamPuff and Who-(gasp)-Was-Unable-To-Loose-Her-Baby-Fat and Who-Looks-Better-In-a-$30,000-Dress and Who’s-Divorced-Who I cannot help but feel small and powerless.  Thank goodness I only get a professional pedicure once in the proverbial blue moon.

Jade Beall & "Project: Beautiful Body"
It is in light of this that, three months ago, I knew I had to do this project, ‘A Beautiful Body,’ after writing and photographing a blog about my post-birth body. Only now is the the combination of my hard work and the courage of these timid and fierce women who have offered themselves and their stories that I am fully seeing the true magnificence this body of work holds for our culture of women and men.  I knew that untouched (what do you mean ‘untouched’?) nude photographs of American Mothers would be…  cool, maybe rebellious and possibly somewhat unprecedented.  I had no idea, however, that it would be so utterly breath-taking as it has begun to take shape.  It’s actually not until this very moment as I type these words, with my fussy 6-month-old baby nursing from my sensitive sore nipple and wringing the saggy flesh of my forearms, that I am beginning to understand this exhilarating feeling:  being vulnerable as a collective and wanting to shed pain and birth praise to authentic beauty. It is true for most of us, I’d say: we want to feel interconnected to each other while laying down the swords of name-calling and comparison.
The real buzz about my project, ‘A Beautiful Body’ started with this one photograph that I posted on Facebook:

In one month, I watched as my community of 500 followers on Facebook swelled to nearly 2,000.  This photograph was ‘liked’ over 3,200 times and shared 2,700 times within just a few weeks.  Thousands of emails began pouring in from all over the world.  And so even though I am-sleep deprived almost everyday caring for my baby boy Sequoia and have yet to secure funding, I humbly reply to the hundreds of story-rich emails while photographing as many as 10 courageous women a week.
I must confess, I am beginning to stretch thin. Saying mothers can multi-task, I now realize, is an understatement: In addition to this project and being a full-time-new mother, I am a massage therapist, a professional photographer, a dance teacher, co-founder of my dance/yoga/photography/events studio, as well as the co-founder of a budding sustainable clothing company called Fed by Threads that I run with my beloved, Alok.  All of these passions keep both he and I busy even in our dream-time, it seems.  Sometimes, I privately admit to playing out glorious daydreams of having a 9-5 job or being a stay-at-home mommy.  But each day, Alok and I rise with puffy eyes, I make us strong coffee and water the garden while he makes a delicious breakfast.  We then pile into the car with our baby boy and go to our studio to work on our dreams while Sequoia crawls around on the wood floor and listens to his echo bounce around the studio until he wails, the tell-tale whisper that he is hungry and needs my arms.
But guess what?  Even though I am puffy-eyed and think often of the softness of my pillow, those feelings are vastly outnumbered by the feelings of phenomenal excitement I have in producing this book. I wake up on my photo-shoot days with a smile on my face anticipating the women I will get to meet that day and what stories they might share with me, with us.   I wonder what sort of magic she and I will make out of the fear of revealing what our society craves to judge as less than.  I wonder how much beauty we will manifest together!
I am sharing with you a photo sampling of a few dozen courageous American Mothers (minus their essays).  These are not the final images that will appear in the book.  I hope they serve as a peep through the keyhole of our magical universe and hopefully inspire you to feel beautiful, just as you are, untouched, un-airbrushed.  Maybe you would like to join us too?  Maybe you too crave the redefining of our culture’s idea of beautiful?  There are so many stories and so much pain.  What many of us have forgotten, however, is that Pain is the twin sister to Joy.  Pain is one of the best sources of energy eagerly awaiting to be recycled into something magnificent: into Beauty.
Originally published on my blog www.JadeBeall.com on 9/7/2012

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