Motherhood certainly takes an emotional toll, but its physical impact is often the more enduring legacy. Yet rather than embrace the change, Georgia-based photographer Neely Ker-Fox of Ker-Fox Photography, felt many women were ashamed of what their bodies had become.
"As a photographer, a woman, and a mother living in a postpartum body, I am acutely aware of clients’ desires to be Photoshopped," Ker-Fox wrote on her website. “I wish these women could see themselves how I see them, how I’m sure their children see them."
Inspired by similar efforts from photographers across the country, Ker-Fox sought to do her part to shatter the stereotypes "of what women's bodies are supposed to look like." The result is the "Perfect Imperfections" project, a series of portraits of women, mothers and children in all their un-Photoshopped glory.
Ker-Fox knows the subject matter intimately, writing how she came out of her first pregnancy "obnoxiously unscathed." Her second, however, took its toll.
"[W]ith my second pregnancy I barely recognize this new body I’m living with," she wrote on her site. "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."
Ker-Fox conducted the "Perfect Imperfections" shoot at her studio at the beginning of May. She charged $165 for the sessions with all the proceeds, some $3,000 worth, donated to local charities. Participants received three digital images.
She admitted she felt "immense anxiety and pressure" asking women and mothers to appear, vulnerable, before her lens. But the interest exceeded her expectations. She initially sought to photograph 12 subjects and ended up with two packed sessions highlighting 16 subjects with 10 more waiting in the wings.
To put subjects at ease, Ker-Fox told us via email that she first put herself in front of the camera. "First and foremost I got in front of the camera myself to truly feel the vulnerability that those participating in this project would. Funny enough, being a photographer for nearly seven years has not made me any more comfortable in front of the camera." She also organized a meet-and-greet where all the participants sat down together to share their stories.
"I think it was refreshing to everyone in the room to look around and see body types of varying sizes, colors, histories, scars, marks, yet to see that we were all alike in so many ways," Ker-Fox said. "Fundamentally we are all beautifully flawed. So that evening instead of comparing the differences, we celebrated our sameness, that deep down we all have insecurities. I think everyone left that night with far less apprehensions as to what to expect at the studio the following days. They were given a chance to get to know me, ask as many questions as they wanted, and find kindred spirits searching for the same answers. We felt empowered."
The day of the shoot, Ker-Fox spent 20 minutes before each session talking to her subjects.
"We had to trust each other. I felt an immense responsibility to handle them with care, yet to build them up so they could see just how beautiful, and perfect, they truly are," she said.
Ker-Fox turned out to be far from the only person to make that discovery. She told us that the Friday before Mother's Day, she sent the photo series to "numerous media outlets and never heard a thing. Then two weeks later it got picked up by Cafemom's sister site, TheStir.com, after [an editor] found my email in her spam folder...From there the Huffington Post picked it up and then it spread like wild fire and went viral."
As Ker-Fox was quick to admit on her site, it's not the first such project to highlight a more realistic standard of beauty, but it certainly is an encouraging trend.