Neely Ker-Fox is a mother and photographer who struggled for nine months come to terms with her postpartum body after having her second child.
After Neely’s first pregnancy, she bounced straight back and liked her body more than ever, however, after her second pregnancy she found that she barely recognised the figure her pregnancy had left her with.
“My abs are separated from my pelvic bone to my sternum; I have an umbilical hernia in need of repair, and I’m currently in physical therapy due to back problems stemming from my abs being weak. I have stretch marks. I have sciatic nerve pain in my bottom. All this came out of left field after my perfect first pregnancy.
The days would ebb back and forth between grieving my previous physique, to truly understanding and battling to find strength in the fact that I’ve grown two babies in that body. One baby growing so quickly I can barely wrap my arms around her, the other baby wobbling as he learns to stand…each day taking them further from my womb, further from this place they used to call home. I’m still not there, not fully 100% in acceptance of this new body, but the days pass and I forget the details of that elusive pre-pregnancy body, and I cling to these moments with my babies that need me.
One day I won’t be needed anymore, little by little it’s happening each day. My oldest’s newest phrase, ‘Let me do that, I can do it by myself.’ My youngest nurses less with each passing month, and gains new motor skills that take him one more step away from me. One day they will stop reaching for my hand, they won’t need me to kiss their boo-boos, before I know it I won’t be needed anymore. But these lines, these battle scars of life… I will carry them with me until the day I die.
I see myself 20-30 years from now, resting my hands on this soft tummy of mine, sitting in an empty house remembering this season of my life, and with age and wisdom, the bigger picture will have played out and these insecurities I feel now will be but a laugh under my breath.”
Neely did not create the project to solely focus on motherhood, she intends for it to have numerous chapters with many different people with various backgrounds and experiences telling their stories, including men. She explains:
“Obviously women are more apt to be the victim of body shaming, or the seemingly rampant epidemic of mommy wars. But we as humans all have insecurities and we are all scarred, imperfect and flawed in some way physically and emotionally. Standing on the other side of this first endeavor into this project, I’m convinced people of all ages, genders, and races, people with differing reasons for struggling to find acceptance of their body image, could benefit from this. I want to see more diversity next time: postpartum, weight gain/weight loss, cancer, amputees, paraplegics… I could go on and on.”
To empower other women to be comfortable with being photographed in their underwear, Neely first stripped off herself to step in front of the camera to take similar pictures of herself. Neely wanted to know how the women would feel on the other side of the camera before she expected anyone else to do the same. She wanted to fully understand how they would feel taking layers of clothing off and being photographed in such a vulnerable position.
Neely concludes with a little note to the women involved, “I pray I have done you justice. I pray you see yourself through the eye of children, they know no insecurities, no judgement. They know love, and they think you are beautiful. If only the rest of the world could see that way too.”
Rachel: “This experience is a step forward for me, in hopes that one day I will accept my changed body, Exposure Therapy if you will. I begged and pleaded to God to allow me to carry my babies, and I am reminded daily of what I went through to have them.”
Erica: “I was so nervous to be a part of this project. I have always been a bigger woman and have never seen myself as beautiful. Since having my son, I wanted to do this to show him beauty comes in all shapes and sizes. I wanted to do this for myself too. I felt so comfortable and beautiful during the shoot. I will never forget this experience.”
Aerin: “We had a great birth, it went just how I wanted, but he turned out to be a tongue tie baby, posterior tie, upper lip tie and all. He was completely unable to eat from anything but a special nipple, and that with difficulty. He had two separate (thankfully brief) procedures and recovered from them. That was the only recovery time of any sort that I cared about. He’s drinking from a bottle here, but I’m happy to report that he’s back on the boob full time at four months, for the first time since he was born. Regardless, when I see these photographs, my takeaway is that we look happy and healthy. Which, I’d say, is the goal.”
Roslyn: “I absolutely loved being a part of this very important project, and I’m so happy my girls were able to experience it too.”
Casey: “I can’t imagine how proud I would be if some other woman out there, saw my postpartum self loving the skin I’m in and found a way to relate.”
Ashley: “Once I got pregnant, I was sure I would have no problem getting back to pre-pregnancy weight…which hasn’t been the case. But my life is full. I have the sweetest little chunk who fills my heart. I have a partner who is supportive and loving. I work. I play.”
Jenny: “I was so nervous to do it, especially after the meet and greet and I saw all the other beauties participating. (I don’t know why women compare ourselves to each other that way).”
Kacie: “I did this shoot for me and my children. I’ve always struggled to accept my flaws, but after giving birth to my daughters, those flaws seem more like beautiful marks of our journey together.”
Ashley: “I am loving life without obsessing about being a size six, one month postpartum. I want other women to be healthy, and well, and love life too without pressures of fitting an idea of beauty.”
Taylor: “It’s so hard to put into words how this experience has made me feel. If I had to sum everything up in one word it would be influential; this is something that I hope will have an impact on my daughter and her own body image for years to come!”
Kacie: “I hope that my daughters look back on this and know to judge themselves based on who they are, and not what anyone says or thinks about them.”
Roslyn: “I have struggled with body image basically since puberty. After leaving the shoot I had a sense of confidence I’ve never experienced before. I called my husband on my way home, and was telling how awesome the shoot was, and how great I felt.”
Rachel: “I walked out of the shoot with my head held high with a new confidence I didn’t know I had in me. From glancing at a few of the shots on the camera, I saw more beauty than I expected, confidence in being a mother (the kind my mom told me she see’s in my mothering but I couldn’t picture and was really unsure of) and most importantly that my daughter loves me because I’m her ‘ma-ma’ and that love is indescribable. She doesn’t care about anything else and her smile and mine in the photo say it all!”
Neely Ker-Fox explains, “This project is so much more than photos of stretch marks, or cellulite, it’s about women coming out of the shadows and discussing their everyday struggles in an effort to normalize, to empower, and to educate.”
Neely is following on from other similar groundbreaking projects previously created by Jes M. Baker and Jade Beal, both of whom I have been fortunate enough to cover stories and publish images for. As I have said previously, it is all of our tiny imperfections, flaws, quirks and characteristics that make us the so exquisitely imperfectly perfect and beautifully unique in this world filled with over seven billion people.
Bodies cannot and should not ever be compared, they each tell their own story.
For more, check out Neely’s website, here.
Author: Alex Myles
Editor: Travis May