I don't think I've ever met a woman who didn't have some insecurity or dissatisfaction about her body and image. Whether it be too big, too small, too pale, too dark, or too anything else. It seems as though feeling truly enough is a very rare and fleeting thing.
We are all more than capable of celebrating the beauty we see in others, in whatever form resonates for us. For me the beauty is in images that capture moments of genuine laughter and joy, moments of strength and pride, moments of grief and vulnerability. In other words, the honest moments. The captures where the woman doesn't need to hide her true nature, where it all spills out unchecked by cultural and societal norms. I feel awed by those women, open and exposed in their powerful truth. I crave to be like them but the chattering in my head keeps me small and looking for ways to hide.
We're also very good at pulling other women down, even while we are admiring them for their courage. If we see a picture posted on social media, there's a voice which whispers 'who do they think they are'. That sees vanity not courage, that is so scared to join in it can only pick holes in a brief moment of pride, so as to reassure itself in its hidden dark place. I do this. I am guilty of this.
As a part of a strong Red Tent community, and being surrounded by women whose beauty literally astounds me, for the first time in my life I am able to see both sides of this process within myself and this year I've been fighting back. Slowly and inconsistently, I've been challenging the thoughts in my head, the clothes that I wear, and the way I see the world around me. I'm not 'there' by any means but I've had a helping hand. I've used my pregnancy as a vehicle, as a way to not be 'fat'. I have told myself daily as I stand in the mirror, 'I can't be fat, I'm pregnant!'. It sounds silly but its helped, because it gave me a brief enough reprieve to see my body in the way I see all the other pregnant women around me and in images. The female form is glorious, and pregnancy is just one of the ways it demonstrates its power. The female capacity to nurture, to create, to take so much within us and transform it into something new, doesn't just apply to the birthing of our race.
One of my secret wishes throughout all four of my pregnancies has been to have a photograph of myself. Just one which I actually liked, which captured that feeling. I know this is my last so I thought to myself, maybe just maybe...
I know a photographer who is more than just an artist, though that alone makes her a gift. No this woman is a healer, but her tool is her camera. Jessica took some pictures of my family last year. I desperately wanted to be in them but I couldn't do that, that would be vain and self indulgent, so I encouraged her to capture my children. She gave me a set of images which captured my mundane and showed me the beauty, and she caught me too. That gave me strength, it gave me physical proof that the beauty is there, I just needed help to see it. Hesitantly I asked for help and told her I wanted pictures of this my last bump, and on a rainy day in Croydon she took me by the hand, patiently and lovingly, and showed me myself.
I cried when I saw the pictures. I had felt so good on the day, the experience had been enough to fulfil whatever need I had, but the photos added more. But now the true problem... what to do with them. Alternately I wanted to hide them away as though it never happened, but then I wanted to plaster them all over Facebook and show people, 'look, look at me, look at what I did'. Neither were right, but it feels important that in some form they are out there, visible. That I am visible, that I don't allow that whispering voice of insecurity to take over and rise to a shout. So here they are, a few anyway and I hope that the strength, courage and beauty I feel deep down in my stomach, that once awakened cannot be extinguished, echoes within you.