Authentic Photography, Natural Bodies: A Beautiful Body Project

May 7, 2014 |
The Bodies of Mothers photo: Jade Beall

The Bodies of Mothers
photo: Jade Beall

There’s a hunger in the world for love, acceptance, compassion and understanding. There’s also a hunger in the women of this world—and definitely those imbued by the unrealistic dictates of Western culture and the media’s unrelenting notion of what “perfection” looks like—to find self-love in bodies that don’t match what is showcased on television screens, movie screens, billboards and in magazine ads.

Tucson photographer Jade Beall fed that hunger when she posted a vulnerable, nude self-portrait with her newborn son in 2012. The image went viral and, as she writes in her newly released photography book The Bodies of Mothers: A Beautiful Body Project, “Not only was this self-portrait helping others, it was a self-love catalyst for me too!”

Beall’s act of courage spoke to hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of women across the globe. Requests from women wanting to be photographed started pouring in, but how to pay for it? Her husband and business partner Alok Appadurai said they needed to launch a Kickstarter campaign and make a video.

Sitting in her office on 9th Street, tucked on the west side of their clothing shop Fed by Threads, Jade says, “I didn’t want to do the Kickstarter video because I didn’t believe that anybody would possibly back some chick from Tucson who had no photo credibility. And Alok said, ‘Let’s just do it. It’s just a video!’ So, we made a video and it has had almost two million views now, through YouTube and Kickstarter combined! And it just boggles my mind because it is a video I was so hesitant to make, I was so afraid it was going to be so amateur.”

That video ultimately raised $58,000 and sparked a worldwide media frenzy, starting with The Huffington Post, in early 2013. Beall’s story has since garnered coverage in over 60 outlets, ranging from the BBC, Yahoo!, Tucson Weekly and the Arizona Daily Star to The Guardian, Baby France, Mums & Tots to The Today Show.

At first, the coverage was a bit overwhelming, she says, but “it’s died down, it is mellow and perfect right now. But, it was also super exciting. I was not expecting it.”

While the media has mostly been accurate in their reporting, Jade says there were some words they used that “I wish they hadn’t, like, ‘This is what real mothers’ bodies look like,’ those words I don’t identify with and I don’t use. But, I trust that was what they needed to do and that’s their stuff, but overall, I feel really supported.”

Jade has a sweet, open, energetic and fun goofiness that is undeniably engaging. Her work with the mothers, women physically and emotionally exposing themselves in ways they may not have done before, has had profound impacts on her subjects’ lives.

“Her photography seems to transcend mere film or digital image. She seems to be able to capture the spirit or soul of the person she is shooting. Through her lens, everyone is beautiful. It’s a unique art that I have not seen in another photographer,” says Tucsonan Paula Randall, whose story and pictures are in the book. “I have learned that love is not something that we can compartmentalize into what we think it should look like. Love is absolute acceptance and compassion. It’s opening up your heart just a bit farther than you are comfortable with and stepping out of ego. Participating in the Beautiful Body Project has been amazing! I felt so empowered and still do.  It has reshaped how I look at myself and how I look at the world.”

Amy Michel was drawn to the project because she was pregnant with a girl at the time, and Michel “wanted a better society for her; to teach her (that) beauty comes from inside. I just want people to stop thinking that the crap we see in magazines and on TV is normal or attainable.”

Women of A Beautiful Body Project photo: Jade Beall

Women of A Beautiful Body Project
photo: Jade Beall

Jade’s tasteful, artistic, authentic photography is reminiscent of Peter Paul Rubens, the 17th century artist whose 1630s paintings depicted curvaceous women, with cellulite and rolls. Beall enthusiastically wants to capture the skin we’re in, “blemishes” and all. “I’m not going to Photoshop out varicose veins! ‘You had a breakout today? I’m photographing that!’ Because, it’s just part of the story and I think they are beautiful.”

Before starting A Beautiful Body Project, Jade’s previous photographs were of women that were not pregnant or post pregnancy.

Then, she was accused of “only photographing thin, white women. And, I didn’t agree, and I don’t agree that I only do it one way now. It’s not one way or another, it’s uniting. But it’s also, for me, seeing imagery of all body shapes and skin types. Un-Photoshopped. I want to see blemishes, I want to see pores, I want to see wrinkles! Wrinkles are a part of our skin, to erase them means erasing part of our lives away, the grief and the smiles!”

Beall says she had hit rock bottom when she took the self-portrait that cyber-spaced around the world. Her whole life she had lived with self-loathing for not having perfectly clear skin and a perfectly svelte figure.

“Luckily I was really successful in school and I did get through it, but I feel I could have done so much more if I felt confident and worthy instead of all this insecurity. And then I go into my 20s, after some therapy, and getting to kind of a good place, but then getting pregnant, gaining like 70 pounds, not shedding it, so, yeah, it was dealing with almost a life long habit of feeling unworthy and then reaching an all time low when I knew I was so blessed. And here I am, feeling like I want to die and I’m the ugliest person on the earth, wasting my precious time with those thoughts. And then took those photos and then, the truth is, for me, taking those photos, and working on my stuff with a life coach, all these different things, feeling better myself, but then connecting with each of these women and sharing each other’s stories and crying and together, each time they would feel better, I would feel better.”

The amount of coverage Beall has received, along with Tucson’s Body Love Conference organizer Jes Baker, seems to signal a paradigm shift to more acceptance of humanity’s diversity. “This is a part of a global movement that is happening right now. I don’t know how the stars aligned, when I had hit rock bottom, right at that time, that tons of body positive movement stuff was happening all over the planet. And especially here in Tucson—Jes Baker, The Militant Baker, and her huge campaign; our messages are different but very similar. My work went really big in Australia, because they are doing their thing too. And through social media, you can share ideas, and constantly growing from our own inspiration and wanting to empower one another. Sisterhood!”

Beall’s book, designed by Zócalo’s publisher David Olsen, “The Bodies of Mothers: A Beautiful Body Project,” celebrates a Mother’s Day release on Sunday, May 11 at Hotel Congress, 311 E. Congress St., from 9 a.m.-noon with a talk at 10 a.m. and music at 11 a.m. The 168 page book is $50 and is available online at and at the event. Upcoming Beautiful Body Projects include “Wise Women,” a collection of women over 50, and a photo project on couples.

Category: Books, Community, DOWNTOWN / UNIVERSITY / 4TH AVE