Photography and writing by Grace Elizabeth.
As a young woman growing up in a society where social media influences our lives more and more, I have seen the sometime shocking and depressing impact it can have on women. I speak for women in the case of my project (post partum women in particular), but I know that body image is not solely something women struggle with.
This project’s intentions were drawn two or so years ago, upon writing my BA Honours Photography degree dissertation on the objectification of women. I was most interested in the empowerment that women have achieved over the years in the fight against the male gaze, and the juxtaposition between women who combat this, or who work with it.
More so, I have always been a lover of accepting our bodies, although I can admit that, at 22 years of age, I do still struggle with my own. I would have done anything to have a big sister or female icon to make me realise that ‘normal’ isn’t really what is depicted in glossy magazines or Instagram posts.
In terms of what pushed me to focusing on motherhood and bringing this project to life, it comes down to a combination of two things: my adoration for newborn lifestyle photography sessions and my personal observations of my friends, many of whom have had children in to their late teens and early twenties, and seeing their relationships with their bodies.
A common factor across all post partum women I have photographed (whether for this project or newborn work, is that almost all of the ladies have struggled with body image. Whether it was a fleeting comment like ‘can you photoshop out my double chin?’ or ‘oh I’ve ended up with so many tummy rolls since being pregnant – better cover those!’ or something along those lines, the reality is, those phrases really stuck in my mind. As their bodies grew, adapted and ultimately changed, sometimes temporarily, sometimes permanently, it was clear that their body image had taken a hit. So, for this project, I wanted to focus on the changes they experienced by focusing on two dominant aspects: stretchmarks and scarring, the latter mostly from c sections, and I wanted to focus on drawing clear, in-your-face focus to them.
The actual output of the project lies in photographing a large cross section of mothers (and I should note, this project is in no way finished yet!) in their own homes, with their little ones (or pregnant bumps!), whether a few weeks post partum or years post partum, and decorating their beautiful scars with body safe gold paint.
This stems from the Japanese art of Kintsugi, something I stumbled across years ago during my GCSE art lessons. Kintsugi focuses on fixing and putting back together broken ceramics with gold, the idea being that the ceramic item, once broken, now fixed, was more beautiful than before. I loved this idea very much, but refused to apply the ‘broken’ aspect to my project, because after all, post partum women are not ‘broken’, and they do not require ‘fixing.’ Therefore, the Gold Dust Project draws upon the beauty of gold and their beauty in their wonderful scars and stretchmarks.
What has been most amazing to me, is the incredible response to this project. Every woman has been so on board with the idea, and has not only absolutely been behind it from the start, but they also have opened up to me in ways I couldn’t believe. From one woman’s positivity to normalise breastfeeding, to my almost therapeutic session with one lady, who had a love-hate relationship with her emergency c-section scar, to meeting two ‘scar buddies’ in the form of a wonderful c-section mother and her six year old little girl with Spina Bifida, whose reaction to seeing her scar painted in gold almost had me in tears.
Many of the women have so far spoken about their guilt towards disliking their bodies, but then their gratification to have their stripes, scars and marks, because at the end of the day, their bodies have done absolutely miraculous things, of bringing a baby into the world.
This project has allowed me to absorb as much as possible from these women, who are of all shapes, sizes, backgrounds and ethnicities, whilst giving them the therapeutic chance to discuss their pregnancy, issues that came along with it, body image, how they feel about their bodies and their experience as mothers. This project is as much about documenting beauty, as it is about learning, because I think we can all learn from one another, and as women, we can all support each other. I am proud to be able to help these women in this way and personally, even I feel more empowered to decorate even my own tiger stripes!
I am eternally grateful for their participation in this project, and for their unparalleled kindness in allowing me to document them in the most positive, empowering way possible. Many of these women have become friends and close supporters of my work, and I hope to continue this project, to meet more and more women, and to draw attention to the realness and authenticity of what it means to be a mother and a woman in this day and age.