From the time where my memories begin, there are memories of a strong connection between my physical appearance and my worth as a human being. I wanted my ears pierced at 4 so that I would look pretty. I would walk around all summer in my bathing suit sucking in so that my abdomen would look perfectly flat. There was always this underlying feeling that I needed to do something, be something beyond myself to be good enough. I distinctly remember, in 3rd grade, hearing an adult comment to my mother “she is getting a bubble butt on her, huh?’ That was the first time I thought that I wasn’t able to do or be enough. Like anything we focus our energy on, the feeling grew and bloomed along with me and in no time I was a teenager. The feelings of inadequacy were stifling at times. I was never overweight. When I complained about my body, I was told I was just looking for attention or compliments.
Pointing out my flaws was the only way I knew to relieve the anxiety I felt about myself, but now I couldn’t do that out loud. The feelings grew and became an integral part of my identity, and guided me to make self-destructive choices. I had my third son the year I turned 30, and I focused all of my energy on exercising after his birth. I told myself this was self-care. I lost weight, got strong, and gained enough mental strength to change our life for the better. I believed I was worthy of happiness….but still because I had reached some number on the scale, could hold a plank for 2 minutes, could run 10 miles.
By the time I was pregnant with Felix, I was really struggling because I was at odds. I knew I needed a balance in my life that I didn’t have before, but I also felt unworthy as my body softened. I turned to mindfulness to find peace in what is, and that was the real labor of my pregnancy. During this time, I found Jade Beall photography and soaked it all up. These women were beautiful. As they were. When I saw the opportunity to participate, I jumped on it and didn’t let myself think about it at all. After all, I am usually only without clothes long enough to get in and out of the shower. I wasn’t sure what would happen, but I knew I would regret it if I didn’t go.
The energy in the studio was amazing and as soon as we walked in, I felt weight lifting off of my shoulders. I felt my lungs open and I could breath. As I looked around the room and admired all of these beautiful women, I was able to finally be as kind to myself as I was to them. By the time we stepped in front of the camera, I didn’t have to pretend. I was relaxed, at peace, and in love with my little baby. I was in love with the body that has carried me through life, through divorce, to deep love instead of bitterness. That has grown and fed 4 boys for 160 weeks of pregnancy and 55 months of nursing.
In those moments, I realized the theme of my whole life has been “excuse my…” Excuse my messy house when we live here with 6 children and have a newborn. Excuse my butt and thighs because I am too busy to workout 90 minutes a day. I realized I don’t owe anyone an apology. It has taken me almost 35 years, but I learned in that room that I am enough. I am worthy of love and happiness now. As I am. And for that I will be eternally grateful to the beautiful souls that shared that space with me. – Leslie
-Jade Beall is co-founder of A Beautiful Body Project and world renown photographer & author of the book The Bodies Of Mothers. To book a private shoot with her, email jade[at]abeautifulbodyproject.com