Think about all of the times you have been critical about yourself. All of those negative thoughts picking out every perceived flaw as you look into the mirror. All of those times we have tried to morph and change our bodies to fit the ideal image society has forced upon us.
In yoga philosophy, ahimsa stands at the core and foundation of the practice. It is the practice of nonviolence. Now you might be wondering, why are we talking about yoga and nonviolence in a blog post about loving yourself in your pregnancy and post-partum pictures? Please hang in here with me.
Physical harm is a grosser form of violence easily seen and understood. However, nonviolence has many subtle implications as well. The negative thoughts and feelings we have in relation to our bodies is just one form of violence.
According to the Mental Health Foundation, 41% of women who had been pregnant said they felt more negatively about their body image after pregnancy compared to before they were pregnant…Many pregnant women report a shift in the way they relate to their bodies across pregnancy, from a focus on appearance to a focus on ability and functionality. However, they also report pressure to continue to adhere to traditional bodily ideals, particularly around weight and returning to their pre-pregnancy body shape following childbirth. Indeed, reviews of the research have found associations between increased body dissatisfaction, postpartum weight and depressive symptoms during pregnancy and new motherhood.
This is where ahimsa, nonviolence, comes in. Love and compassion lie at the core of nonviolence and I tend to think of those words rather than nonviolence. Because, if we’re cultivating love and compassion, we’re not going to want to do violence, right?
Finding this love and compassion for ourselves enables us to be forgiving and lenient. We still see our perceived imperfections, sure, but with kinder eyes. By practicing this sense of compassion, we can hopefully come to accept all the pieces of ourselves.
Where fear creates harm and violence, love creates expansion and nonviolence and the true safety that we seek.– Deborah Adele
What’s this got to do with photography?
Photography in part captures how you look and feel.
Maybe you’ve never liked the way you look or feel in photos. Maybe you have, but since pregnancy and then birth your body has changed so much that you hardly recognize it or yourself anymore.
But the bigger and more important part of photography is that it captures a moment in time.
You will be 30+ weeks pregnant probably feeling like you’ve been pregnant forever. Barely able to remember life pre-pregnancy. What’s it like to lay on your back or front again? To sleep a whole night without getting up to wee?
You will have recently given birth to your precious baby, but missing the intimacy of having them inside your womb. To feel those gentle movements and maybe not so gentle kicks…
6 months later, a year later, 5 years later, where did time go? It went so fast…they’re driving??
If I can recommend anything, it’s to make space to have these glimpses in time photographed by someone who sees the emotions you want to remember.– Annie Montgomery
Photos help document your journey into and through parenthood so you and future generations have something to look back on.
My mom has a photo album with all of my baby pictures in it. It’s pink with white polka dots and some white lacy fringe. When I open that album and flip through the pages, I love seeing what she looked like. I see her beautiful smile and the loving looks that she and my dad share. I see her exhaustion, but also her complete and utter strength. I see us playing. I see moments of us with my grandparents. I see family. I see love.
Some photos I look at (when I’m slightly older) and memories come flooding back from that time at Disney World or that time my brother and I stole my mom’s Diet Coke cans, shook them up, and made volcanoes in our sandbox…
What I’m trying to say is…
no one cares about your ‘flaws’ except you.
As a photographer, I can’t magically produce photos of you that you will love if you don’t love (or at least practice neutrality towards) yourself first. If you don’t like your legs/arms/belly/chin/insert body part here in that photo your friend or partner took, chances are you’re not going to like them in the photos I take either. And no, I can’t Photoshop you.
So how can you love your pregnancy or post-partum pictures if you don’t love yourself?
The stats are there. In a society where one in 5 adults in the UK say they have felt shame because of their body image in the last year, it is more than likely you’ve found it hard to love yourself at one time or another.
Now, I’m not saying we all need to love our bodies. That is a big ask, and for some, it is impossible. What I would like to suggest is body neutrality, or body acceptance without pressure.
The first option you have is to look at the bigger picture.
The story of your journey into parenthood. The moments that are represented within the photographs. The emotions, mood, and intentions behind the images.
Can you remember those kicks?
Can you remember the soft touch of your newborns skin?
Can you remember the first bath, first laugh, first steps, first picnic?
These images will transport you back in time to those moments. You could poke holes at how you look, but instead maybe you’ll hone in on the overwhelming love you felt looking down at your baby inside your womb or the newborn baby in your arms.
Practice body neutrality
The second option is practicing body neutrality. This won’t happen in the short duration we have together during a photo session. This is a lifelong process and practice.
It’s made even more difficult if you’re having a particularly difficult pregnancy, or have had a traumatic birth.
Without forgiveness, we carry guilt like a heavy burden around our hearts. Guilt holds our love for self and others hostage and keeps us bound to a one-sided expectation of the human experience.– Deborah Adele
Not everyone will experience pregnancy or birth in the same way. It’s important, therefore, that our love or acceptance of self comes from an internal place. Our tendency to compare our journey to someone else’s, to seek external validation of our worth and of ourselves creates ripples–tiny acts of violence–that have huge impact.
The language we use is important. How often do we report our failings, engage in self-loathing, and try to “fix” ourselves? In our daily lives, can we be more aware of the ways in which we speak about our own and other people’s bodies in casual conversations with friends and family?
Can we practice kindness? Can we practice compassion? Can we practice ahimsa?
There will always be the people that want their photos to show a highly styled and curated version of their pregnancy or parenting. There will always be the people who hire someone to Photoshop and change their bodies in post production to fit an idealised image. A version that covers up and hides imperfections. I prefer the version that embraces. That recognises the absolute strength of your body to grow a human being and birth it into this world. The version that’s real.
The best way to love yourself in your pregnancy and post-partum pictures is to love (or accept) yourself full stop. Look at the bigger picture. Let go of your expectations, forget about perfection and embrace the journey.
If you’d like me to document your journey in all it’s glory, get in touch.