Have you ever proudly shown your kids your stretch marks? Do you let them squeeze your love handles when cuddling? Or, do you complain about your squishy thighs in front of them? Have your children heard you call yourself fat? The kind of body image parents have affects how accepting kids are of their own bodies. Of course, it can be hard for moms and dads to always be positive about themselves, but it's worth developing a good self image, not only for yourself but also to model for your kids.
After seeing a young friend struggle with body image and depression, Florida-based photographer Natalie McCain was inspired to start the Honest Body Project, a series of portraits of mothers showing their beauty and imperfections to their children, paired with their stories in their own words. "My goal with this project is to help mothers everywhere learn to love their bodies and wear them proudly in front of their daughters," McCain says. "Stop calling yourself fat. Stop shying away from being in photos. Stop body-shaming. Learn to love your body, and in turn, set a good example and start conversations with your children about how women really look."
Started just one month ago, McCain has already photographed two dozen mothers and has a list of more than 100 more signed up for the free portrait sessions. In addition to showing moms with real post-birth bodies holding their babies, the Honest Body Project also shows mothers with their toddlers and older kids.
"People tell me I'm beautiful often and it's honestly hard to hear. I usually don't respond and always think to myself, 'If only they knew what I looked like under my clothes.' I have struggled with body image since having my first baby in 2007 and, despite being married to a wonderful man who makes me feel beautiful every day, it is still something I deal with. I want to be thin. I want to wear bottoms in the single digits. I want a flat stomach without stretchmarks. Some of these things I can and am working on, but some may never be a reality for me. I need to learn to smile and say 'thank you' when given a compliment, and I need to learn to love and accept this body. After all, it gave me my three wonderful children, and for that I am forever grateful."
"My stretch marks don't bother me. They are a constant reminder of what my body did, and what it did was pretty sweet."
"The Honest Body Project is important. We need this. Our daughters and sons need to know what women look like – beyond a Victoria's Secret catalog. We are awesome and shouldn't give a f@%k if we're not perfect. If someone doesn't like it, they can look away. No one will make them look at these images, and if they look for more than an instant, this project will have served its purpose: they have, consciously or not, realized that every woman's body is a work of art. You are a work of art. You have a story. Be brave, be bold, tell that story. Go down in history. You are radical!"
"Being mom to all boys is an adventure. And terrifying. What I say and do will shape their view of women for their whole life. So mamas of baby girls, pray for me, I'm doing my best."
"I never expected my dreadlocks to be such a spiritual journey for me. I realize now that I had a really irrational attachment to my hair. It was long and straight and beautiful and I think I hid behind it for a long time. When I put in my dreadlocks, it was terrifying. And liberating! It made me realize that I am who I am, and my hair or my skin or my body has nothing to do with the person that I am inside. Take me or leave me, but I love who I've become."
"Sometimes I feel damn proud of my stretch marks. Sometimes they are a gross reminder that my body will never look the same again. I struggle with the idea that I will somehow return to my former pre child physical self. I look at myself in the mirror and my belly squishes over the top of my pants. I stand up straighter, suck it in, try a couple different angles and then say to myself, 'F**k it. This is what I'm wearing today. It is appropriate for my body because I just put it on my body.' Motherhood is not always beautiful. In fact it can be pretty gross and awful sometimes. I, of course, wouldn't change it. I love raising these fun, smart, crazy, wild, loving and kind children. They force me to overcome my own personal issues everyday. They love me unfailingly. They love me when I yell, when I feel worthless. They love me for me, for all of my imperfections and scars. They truly see the messy, forgetful person that I am, and they love me anyway."
"I started this project for so many reasons. She is one of them. I want my daughter to know that she is more than what size her pants are. I want her to stand up to bullies, to anyone who may talk about the way she looks, or the way her friends look. I want her to love herself. I want to show her that I am comfortable in my own skin and that she should be, too." —Photographer Natalie McCain
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Ellen Sturm Niz is a New York City-based editor and writer who stopped waiting to lose weight and wore a bikini last summer for the first time in more than a decade. Follow her on Twitter and Pinterest.