This week, I'm celebrating my 35th birthday -- but more importantly, to me at least, I'm also celebrating the one-year anniversary of the completion of the Kickstarter campaign for my book. That campaign brought an unexpected euphoria of blessed attention and a slightly frantic body positive stardom.
Because I took some images of myself nude and 50 pounds heavier than I had ever been in my life, breastfeeding my 5-week-old perfect baby boy, as an attempt to redefine what beautiful means to me -- and because I then proceeded to photograph over 100 women who reached out to me wishing to redefine our concept of what is gorgeous, celebrating the skin that we are in -- I became the body love expert for a spell. A particularly memorable moment was the BBC calling me up for my thoughts on Kate Middleton's post-birth body.
I most definitely adored this attention, but I wasn't fully prepared for it. However, I did my best receiving the incredible blessing of some amazing global press, along with love and hate emails from strangers all over the planet, while raising my toddler and yes, photographing, completing and publishing my first-ever book.
I write these words from a rustic cabin in the very secluded mountains of northern New Mexico at about 10,000 feet, with a very slow satellite Internet connection and my toddler playing at my feet with two toy airplanes he likes to call helicopters. This is my first "time off," besides a few Sundays here and there, since this radical ride began. I have had some time to reflect about what I've learned in the past year, and I wanted to share it with you, the gorgeous folks who have made my dreams come true.
1. Feeling beautiful about one's precious self can dramatically improve one's successes in life.
This I know from experience. Now that I no longer waste hours and hours a day hating myself and my reflection in the mirror, I have so much more time to do really awesome things like empower women through a simple, gorgeous photograph. I still have days of wishing I fit into my old jeans, and I wonder where my jaw line has disappeared to, but those thoughts no longer paralyze me and I still feel worthy of calling myself beautiful, which makes me walk with more self-confidence and love.
2. When we share vulnerability, it inspires a whole lot of healing for people and helps heal our own wounds of not feeling beautiful enough, smart enough, lovable enough or successful enough.
When I shared a photo of myself with dark circles under my eyes and rolls and cellulite and (gasp!) called it beautiful, I was sharing a vulnerability that thousands of other women, unbeknownst to me, were yearning to see. They were yearning to feel that empowering human desire known as a sense of belonging. The images that dominate our lives are almost ALL photoshopped to make a rendition of what the beautiful model looks like. We have been trained to think that people in magazines don't have pores and wrinkles and cellulite. They do, and it's beautiful.
3. Anyone who wishes to feel and be called beautiful damn well deserves to feel and be called BEAUTIFUL!
Obvious to me and most of you, I am sure, but you all would not believe some of the emails I receive and the articles people send me going on and on about how not everyone is beautiful just like "not everyone can climb Mount Everest." Sure, there are some cruel people on this planet whom I hope I never meet and whom I probably would not jump to call beautiful. But all, yes ALL of the people I have ever met and whom I photograph are and will always be BEAUTIFUL if they wish to be. We are all nothing but irreplaceably beautiful and precious.
4. Photographing diverse body types of gorgeous people does not equal promoting obesity.
I have learned this year that yet another way people discriminate and shame fat people is to call them unhealthy. The way I see it, there is nothing more unhealthy than unkindness. Tell others that they are worthy and precious. Don't tell them they shouldn't celebrate the beautiful skin that they are in today.
5. Photographing women nude in the name of celebrating and helping women feel empowered in the skin we are in does not equal objectifying women.
This feedback that my project and my book are yet another way to "objectify women" has really hurt me in the deepest parts of my soul, because objectifying women is something I am not and never will be friends with. However, this response has pushed me to do some deep reflection on the work that I do and how I offer it to the world. Do I think bare and nude images of women are often used in the name of selling something, and do I think this is objectifying? Oh heck yes I do! I mean, how many scantily dressed or nude men do we see in the name of selling a car? (If you are watching the World Cup like I am, you probably have noticed the commercials in question). I am NOT DOWN for objectifying women, nor do I think all women should share nude images of themselves in my book or elsewhere to celebrate our beautiful vulnerabilities. I honor my sisters wearing their sacred burkas just like I honor my own self getting nude to show you that I am like you: perfectly human and in no need of photoshopping out my God-given cellulite!
6. ALL bodies -- yes, ALL bodies -- are gorgeous and worthy of being photographed and loved, whether they be covered or nude.
It's just the plain ol' truth.
7. Being positive with my words has helped me feel beautiful for the first time since I was 10 years old.
I no longer say/use negative words out loud. Sure, I still battle with an internal "you are not worthy" dialogue that I then practice shining love on. I do not, however, use negative words about myself aloud. Not in front of my toddler, not in front of my mother or sister or friends. When someone says, "Jade, you look so beautiful today," I say thank you and smile and force my old habit of wanting to reply "Oh no, I look like crap today" away, letting the compliment nourish my soul. I also use my words of kindness to deliver honest compliments and words of support to people I randomly meet and with my friends and family. The less we put ourselves down, the less our children will do it. Plain and simple. PLEASE, if nothing else, take away this simple practice from my post: Be free from saying you look ugly/too fat/too thin/too unstylish/old/worthless in front of your precious children. Practice loving yourself in your entirety so that our little ones can learn to love themselves!
8. I no longer believe that "I will be happy when... I am thinner/bigger breasted/less pimply/un-wrinkly/wealthier."
A dear friend my age just told me an hour ago she has terminal cancer. I want to in-joy my precious self today, not in some pre-determined thinner/fatter/more apple-booty future. I no longer own a scale to compare myself to yesterday's or tomorrow's weight. I am not saying you shouldn't own one, I am saying we must be free from anything that takes away our confidence. For me, one of those things was owning a scale.
9. Being kind and feeling beautiful about myself directly enables me to be kind and see all my sisters as irreplaceably beautiful.
We have been taught since we were ridiculously little that we are in competition with one another. This consumes precious time and energy with terrible feelings of jealousy, envy and being just flat out un-kind. When we "hate" another woman because we think she is more beautiful/successful than we are, we are directly hurting our precious being when we could be more abundantly impeccable with our words for empowerment, love and BEAUTY making.
10. A body positive and self love movement is for everyone -- and we need lots of cooks in this revolutionary kitchen.
One thousand and ninety two people backed my book project on Kickstarter, and that single campaign has completely changed my work and my path so that I can dedicate my time to empowering my "sisters." Because of my simple project, women and men from all over the world have been inspired to produce more "unphotoshopped' images of women to start the healing of loving ourselves in our entirety. Other radical sisters like my amazing Australian inspiration Taryn, founder of Body Image Movement, and my divine dear friend and inspiration Jes, a.k.a. The Militant Baker, are rallying their communities in the name of self love and interconnected kindness -- and hundreds if not thousands of more women from all over the world are dedicating their lives to feeling beautiful and wanting to inspire YOU to feel beautiful inside and out. The world needs us to be leaders of beauty and kindness. Let's show the world what beautiful truly means.