August is Women’s Month and today we have the honour of celebrating women from across South Africa who fought cancer battles and raised little humans.
South Africa – Mother of twins Brittany Smith came up with an idea to highlight inspiring mothers and cancer survivors in South Africa. Brittany always battled with her body image, being bombarded by images of slim women in magazines and celebrities who dropped baby weight within weeks, she was terrified when she fell pregnant.
“Finding out I was pregnant with twins scared me, more for what my body would look like after I’ve grown two humans. I’ve suffered from a bad body image my whole life, and I was worried about how my headspace would be once I got my postpartum body.
It’s been the most incredible thing, I’ve never loved myself more, even though my body is so different to what it was. I’m so proud, proud of my big wrinkly belly and really not giving a damn of what people think! I shouldn’t be ashamed of my body, I should be praised for my incredible achievement.”
Brittany teamed up with photographer Michigan Behn to capture the essence of motherhood. The concept was to capture the mothers in all their glory; scars, stretch marks and all. The aim, to show what real women look like after having children.
Michigan hopes that her photos will inspire other women to be confident in the beautiful bodies they already have.
“Being a woman in today’s society isn’t always easy and we are under constant strain from the media and other influences that have created unrealistic expectations of what we should and shouldn’t want our bodies to look like.”
“I knew I loved the message and wanted to capture these brave, confident women showing other women out there that we are all beautiful, no matter what shape & size.
I’m not a mother myself but quite honestly, I felt a great sense of comfort and admiration by the end of the shoot. Almost like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. A weight of narrow-minded pressure that subconsciously had been taunting me.
I hope that any woman who sees these pics and reads this article feels just as I do now. Seeing what these ladies have gone through for their babies is beyond commendable!”
Including Brittany, sixteen women took part in the photoshoot. Michigan didn’t want overly posed images, just genuine moments between mother and child. She created beautiful memories that also convey a powerful message.
“I’m hoping this article helps women who are suffering with how they see themselves.Why in this age are we still so obsessed with looks, surely we have come long and far to realize that being a nice person is far more important than how you perceive yourself on the outside.
Love yourself, it’s so freeing and exhilarating! To finally let go of how the world sees you and to worry about how YOU see YOURSELF.
I want my girls to live in a world not by how you look on your Instagram page, and that the Paris filter is a necessity on every photo, but a world that embraces being REALNESS, confidence and kindness.”
“This shoot was extremely difficult for me. I hate photos of myself at the best of times. I felt very awkward and self-conscious but it was something I just had to embrace and do it. I never want my daughter to be ashamed of what she looks like and I wanted to set an example for her to be proud of her body no matter what.”
“The most important thing I’ve learned, is to embrace my body in a bikini and play with my kids on the beach. I have more confidence now postpartum. When I feel judgmental eyes on me or my own unkind thoughts, I look at my kids and they are just happy to be playing with me. That counts more than anything.”
“Being in the beauty industry and around models A LOT, or brides that are always at their “peak”, I was so hard on myself! But I’ve come to realize, I love my curves, my wider hips and my soft chest… because these made my two beautiful girls!
I got involved in this shoot because I see how hard my 9-year-old is on herself because of what friends say and how kids these days are horrible teased about their bodies. This comes from home! More moms need to embrace their bodies to empower their kids!
Women have always had pressure on them to be kinda perfect! Keep a clean home, have a good job, make sure the kids’ homework is done, be a good wife. We aren’t 50’s housewives anymore, and society has come a long way in this sense, but we still have the hidden expectations to be this perfect being.
These images changed my perception of my body completely! I now feel comfortable and happy with myself! I made two humans! Wow! I’m happy to embrace the lumps and bumps!
I was fortunate enough to have two natural births! Birth does not always go according to your plan! I will never forget bumping into my Gynae at his son’s wedding. I was working for the bride to be, and when he came to introduce himself, I stopped him in his tracks and said “hi Dr *********” he said “oh I’m sorry I didn’t recognize you” before I could stop myself I said “of course you don’t, you’ve only looked at my vagina” we both blushed and he’s never forgotten me again!”
“I was quite shocked and ashamed to be honest when I was unable to lose the baby weight as quickly as I would have liked, but I’ve also had an amazing support system in my partner, who has been amazing and loving my new body which has allowed me to enjoy my new body at any weight.
I wanted to give myself a challenge and to step out of my comfort zone. My daughter and I haven’t had a proper photo together, this was the perfect opportunity for that and to show her when she’s older what it’s like to have a healthy body image.”
“I did it for self-empowerment and ultimately for my son. With my son being bi-racial, it’s important to show him that he is perfect the way he is and for him to practice self-love and acceptance by leading from my example.
Social media has created an unrealistic expectation of how woman should look, the 2% determine what the 98% should look like. The majority kill themselves trying to look like what they see all over their Facebook and Instagram. Normalising all body types and teaching people to accept EVERYONE for their uniqueness.
I absolutely love the pictures! However, it didn’t change how I see my body.”
“Being in the fitness industry I see it over and over again that women feel they have to fit into this mould of physical/emotional/career etc perfection which is incredibly unrealistic. People have become so conscious of what they look like on the outside but not what benefits it does for you health-wise to be fit and happy. And that just creates even more issues with mental health as those expectations are just too high and people don’t know how to be happy. So yeah I don’t like the expectations placed on humans, in general, to look good because we’ve really lost our sense of apathy and humanity along the way.
The pictures are amazing. Michigan Behn, you are a Rockstar. She made me feel so comfortable even though I was standing in my undies in a garden in front of her and my baby’s nanny. But once my babe was in my arms I didn’t care! It’s made me appreciate what my body endured in order to bring my amazing little boy into this world!
Nobody warns you about pregnancy, what your body goes through, the hormones, the cravings, the changes. I still remember crying to my husband in the first trimester saying that I couldn’t do this. Hormones!”
“Being diagnosed with Cancer is a scary journey. Your body morphs throughout treatment where you are stripped of everything that you think or believe makes you beautiful. Loosing hair, eyebrows or lashes is a harsh reality and an emotional one too.
I was very fortunate to have had breast-conserving surgery however my one boob is deformed in shape and I have lost motion in my left arm. All these processes you have to go through made me realize that there is no going around acceptance but only through, breaking it open to allow the light to shine again. Sometimes a tough road to travel but a beautiful one when looking back.
I think to show women that their bodies are amazing, what it has endured both through childbirth and cancer should be spoken of from the top of the mountains. It has taken me 4 years to become comfortable in my skin, accepting what I look like but proud of what my body endured and got me through. I work hard on keeping myself fit and healthy and so I am proud of my body and the way it looks.
When I told my girls what I had done and showed them the images they were shocked and asked why. I said because I wanted you to know that no matter what you can be proud of the beautiful body you were given and never allow anyone to make you feel otherwise.
Any sort of major life change will bring with it challenges. Self-love and acceptance is a process. Be kind and gentle with yourself. Allow yourself to breakdown as through this process you will have the breakthroughs you need to find that self-acceptance and love. Keep shining your beautiful bright lights ladies. You are all gorgeous.”
“I was diagnosed before my second born with CIN3 cells on my cervix and I had to undergo a procedure (Colposcopy) which may have compromised a second pregnancy. Cervical cancer was the last thing on the mind and then suddenly reality hits you and you panic. Ladies/Mom’s you have to keep up with your regular gynae checks ups- my cells changed in 8 months from a clear pap to a pre cervical cancer, had a left it just a few months more. I shudder to think.
My second birth was beautiful but tough, my epidural failed so I birthed my boy of 4.3kg naturally. I secretly got my wish to birth completely naturally and I am stronger for it, my husband has been my rock and has helped me to realise my achievement and be proud of myself. His constant love and support helps me to be a better Mom every day and love myself.”
“I found the whole experience quite liberating. I don’t think I realised just how negatively I felt about my body until the first images came through and it was like a weight was lifted. Going through pregnancy and childbirth does change your body but that doesn’t mean the changes are negative, I am in awe of what our bodies can do, we should all be.”
Each of the sixteen women has an empowering story to share. We couldn’t share all of them but take a look at their empowering images below.