Jade Beall is a photographer 'on a mission to redefine the idea of a beautiful woman's body'. She recently took a series of photographs of her post-pregnancy body, five weeks after her baby was born, and posted the photographs on her blog. In response, hundreds of women wanted their photographs taken too, and Beall is publishing a book in January featuring photographs of more than 70 mothers.
What's your reaction to this? Do you find it shocking?
As a woman and a mother, my reaction is one of admiration. I have to confess that I wouldn't have the courage to put my own body on display like that.
But why? Stretch marks are a testimony to the fact that a woman has borne children. Children are a beautiful gift, so why do we go to such lengths to hide the effects that carrying them has on our bodies?
Fear. Fear of people's reactions. Fear that people will think we are ugly. Fear that people will think that we are less than perfect. Many actresses, models and pop stars appear to bounce back to their pre-pregnancy shape very quickly. How many of us 'ordinary folk' can say that we were able to do the same? The media bombards us with images of the perfect body, and if we don't feel that we are up to scratch – which, let's face it, none of us are – we are left feeling inadequate, not good enough.
It's curious that we should lay so much worth upon our appearance because the New Testament really gives us no reason to do it. In the Old Testament we are told what almost every major character looks like – 'beautiful' Rebekah, 'handsome' David and 'hairy' Esau! But we don't know what any New Testament characters look like – except Jesus, and he was probably physically quite unattractive – 'He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to Him, nothing in His appearance that we should desire Him' (Isaiah 53:2). Perhaps, just perhaps, God is trying to tell us that it really is what is on the inside that counts.
I spent many years of my life feeling distinctly less than adequate, not good enough, trying to conform in order to fit in – and not only physically. Yet it didn't work – no matter what I did, I still didn't feel that I was good enough. I wasn't comfortable in my own skin.
It took me a long time to realise that I have been created to be unique, to be an individual, and that there is no one else who looks like me, who has my personality, my abilities, my ways of doing things, on the face of the earth. I tried for too many years to be like other people instead of embracing who I had been created to be, to be what I thought people wanted me to be instead of allowing myself to be me. I was unhappy, and very lonely. Because I didn't accept myself for who I was, I couldn't allow other people to accept me either, and I ended up pushing them away.
I believe many women – and men – suffer from pressure to conform, pressure to be 'acceptable', to be the same as everyone else, or to be what they think others are telling them to be. This pressure may be voiced in all sorts of ways, but ultimately we choose whether or not to listen and bow to it. The media may suggest what it thinks is perfection, but we have a choice whether or not to accept it – or whether to listen to what God is saying!
Over a long time, I gradually came to understand and embrace my God-given uniqueness. Bit by bit I started to trust people, to let them in, to allow them to get to know the real me, and to my surprise, they – like God – actually liked me! This gave me more confidence to be myself with others and Him, and very slowly, I began to climb out of the cage that my low self-esteem had trapped me in for so long.
Stretch marks may not be 'beautiful', but what they represent – bearing children – surely is. In the same way that no woman should be ashamed of these signs of fertility and abundance, so no one should be ashamed of being the unique and beautiful person God has created them to be. He is not interested in how pretty or good-looking society tells us we are, and following His good example we should not let thoughts about our appearance hinder us from revealing on the outside who we really are on the inside.
Nicki Copeland is a wife, mother, freelance editor and part-time Theology student. She is also the author of Less than ordinary? My journey into finding my true self. It is the story of how she was set free from low self-esteem and cripplingly low confidence. Less than ordinary? My journey into finding my true self is available from CLC & Gardners and online in paperback and electronic formats.