By Alesandra Dubin
August 07, 2015
Honest Body Project maternity shoot

Florida mom-to-be Brittany Dykstra took to the beach in a strapless flowy black dress for that pregnancy rite of passage: a photo session of the baby bump. She shared the resulting images on Facebook and looked forward to friendly feedback from loved ones.

Instead, what she got was a lot of hate and hurtful comments. The 25-year-old plus-sized mom-to-be was ruthlessly body shamed on social media, with commenters saying that she's unhealthy or endangering the baby, or that maternity photos are only for skinny women.

After sitting with her deeply hurt feelings for long enough, Dkystra decided to seize her strength and respond to the haters. She joined forces with photographer Natalie McCain, whose Honest Body Project is meant to champion women in their bodies of all kinds. The two found each other after McCain reached out to a local mothers group asking for plus-size mamas to take part in her maternity series "because it was very important to me that I included all body types in the series," McCain told "Pregnancy is beautiful, no matter what size or shape you are! Brittany responded and I was very touched when she shared her story."

In the new set of photos, an empowered Dykstra appears in just black lingerie, cradling her bump, showing off stretch marks and all.

McCain posted a black-and-white image from this new set of images to Facebook, and it quickly went viral—which we can all only hope serves to silence some critics who would body shame a pregnant woman (or any woman!).

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It turns out Dykstra's pregnancy has actually been pretty brutal: She'd had a recent miscarriage, barely finished grieving, was shocked but excited to find out she was quickly pregnant again—and then got slammed with debilitating hyperemesis grandvum that casued her to vomit 30 times daily. Through McCain's website and high-profile social media, Dykstra's been able to tell more of her story.

"I'm 35 weeks pregnant and just last week I had maternity pictures taken to celebrate this horrible, but beautiful pregnancy. For the first time in about 35 weeks I felt beautiful, and was so excited to share this moment with my friends and family. Later that day we got the sneak peak pictures back and I posted them on Facebook thinking my friends and family would think I was beautiful and would love them, however that wasn't the case. All I received were negative comments about how huge I am, about how unhealthy I am, and about how they think my baby is going to be a 10 to 12 pound baby by the looks of how much I weigh. I literally went in the bathroom and cried for hours. It's so hard being plus size, pregnant, sick, and getting negative comments about the way I look. If I'm happy and accepting of my body, why can't everyone else just be happy for me?!"

That's a darn good question. Of course, McCain, whose photography project is all about celebrating women's bodies and strength, asks the same one.

"It is such a heartbreaking thing to go through body shaming, especially during pregnancy when you are supposed to feel most beautiful," McCain told us. "I love maternity photography because it is such an important time in every mothers life to capture on film. I wanted to share that all women should feel comfortable and confident in their skin, even during pregnancy!"

The good news is, response to McCain's photo series depicting Dykstra and other pregnant women suggests there are tons more people out there who love and embrace the miracle of pregnant bodies than who disparage it.

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"The feedback to the maternity series and the project in general has been amazing," McCain told us. "I hope the project will continue to grow and help mothers everywhere feel more confident and comfortable in their skin. I hope that this love for your body during pregnancy will carry over to postpartum as well."

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Alesandra Dubin is a mom to one-year-old boy-girl twins. She's also a Los Angeles-based writer and the founder of lifestyle blog Homebody in Motion. Follow her on Facebook, Instagram, Google+ and Twitter.

Photo: Courtesy of Natalie McCain and the Honest Body Project