Moms Open Up About Being Judged In Intimate Photo Series

"Words matter. They hurt."

Photographer Natalie McCain has made headlines with her “Honest Body Project” ― a collection of intimate postpartum photos of mothers, along with powerful text captions about their experiences with parenthood and body image.

In her latest series for the project, McCain tackles a topic that mothers know all too well: shaming and judgment. “Speaking Out” features six moms who have experienced criticism for their bodies, relationships, parenting choices and more.

“People are so quick to judge and shame others without thinking twice about how it may make that person feel,” the photographer told HuffPost. “Words matter. They hurt. The women in this series are sharing their stories about being body shamed and judged for various reasons.”

McCain found the six participants through a Facebook callout. One volunteer was the mother of a close friend. “She’s a mother, a grandma, and a seriously kick-ass person! She wanted to be a part of the series and share about how she’s been judged her whole life for having a big butt,” McCain explained.

“Her photos ended up being some of my favorite that I’ve captured because she was so proud of her body and it showed!” McCain said of photographing her friend's mother for the series. 
“Her photos ended up being some of my favorite that I’ve captured because she was so proud of her body and it showed!” McCain said of photographing her friend's mother for the series. 

“Her photos ended up being some of my favorite that I’ve captured because she was so proud of her body and it showed!” she added. “What was once a feature she didn’t like and was ridiculed for is now a feature she embraces! We should all learn to embrace our bodies and forget about any ‘flaws’ we’ve been told we have!”

Ultimately, McCain hopes her series makes people stop and think before they pass judgement on others.

“Everyone is so quick to judge others,” she said. “But we never know what someone has gone through and to judge them is wrong. I want people to realize that it is never OK to judge another mama when you don’t know her full story. Parenting is hard enough without being shamed for every little thing you do.”

Keep scrolling for more photos and quotes from “Speaking Out” and visit Amazon to preorder McCain’s upcoming book of stories and portraits from the first two years of The Honest Body Project.

Natalie McCain/The Honest Body Project
“My youngest son was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in March, out of nowhere. It has been a difficult thing to cope with, but we are making it through. Then come the comments... The questionable looks when I tell someone that he’s diabetic, comments like, 'Well it's because you have diabetes right?' No, I do not. 'But you had to have had at-least gestational diabetes…' No, I did not. Not with any of my children. 'So, what did you eat while you were pregnant for this to happen?' Nothing I ate caused this. 'So, it’s just because you’re so overweight?' No, it has nothing to do with me being overweight. 'It’s because you gave him formula?' Still nursing my now 3-year-old. 'Is he just that lazy?' He is not a lazy child, he is a very active little boy. But they continue, that it must be because of my size, I must have done something to make this happen to my little boy. I didn’t eat right, or sleep right, or exercise enough while pregnant with him. My body did this to him. And because my body is the size it is, my son will have a hard time because he will grow up to think being 'big' is OK and that will make his condition more difficult."
Natalie McCain/The Honest Body Project
“I can’t leave Hunter with anyone, his condition is too new. I have to check his sugars every three hours and hold him down to administer insulin anywhere from two to six times a day. This is an auto immune disease. Your pancreas makes insulin, which is a hormone. His body, his pancreas, doesn’t make insulin. This is no one’s fault. It could happen to any child. Why does everyone think it’s all about my weight? What does MY weight have to do with my son’s condition? NOTHING! I could have been 5 ft 7in and 120 pounds, then would it still be my weight?"
Natalie McCain/The Honest Body Project
“I have always been a bigger girl, I have been through the ringer I was an addict (going on 10 years being clean, all because I found out I was pregnant with my first), I have lost my self-worth when I allowed a man to continue to beat me because I didn’t think anyone could love me at my size (that stopped when my oldest stood up to him). We have been abandoned by people whom were supposed to love us. Finally, we are happy, I am happy, I am out of my dark hole, I am trying to make improvements in my health not just my weight. And then the slap in the face of little man’s diagnosis. And it all comes running back. I want my children to know that I am strong, and I want the world to know that diabetes is not all about weight! And even if you do everything right, breastfeed, formula feed, skinny, or not, work or stay home that bad things can still happen. We need to support each other no matter what our size is, no matter the circumstances.”
Natalie McCain/The Honest Body Project
“I have always been a 'skinny girl.' For as long as I can remember I have been told I have no butt and no boobs, no curves at all. I’m just skinny. Some people didn’t realize the impact those words had, some even thought calling me skinny was a compliment. Worst of all were the people who said it with the intention of insulting me. All along I wanted the curves that other girls had, and all along many of them were cursing their curves and longing to be 'skinny'.”
Natalie McCain/The Honest Body Project
“When I am pregnant I am told 'oh you’re so tiny!' in the beginning, and later come the 'Wow! you are really big! Are you sure it isn’t twins in there?!' (I know I’m not the only one that’s heard that.) I get the impression that people even have a skewed perception of what a pregnant body looks like and that those come in all shapes and sizes just like every other body. We really need to get this on size fits all, faux, airbrushed, photoshopped body out of our heads and start seeing the real beauty that exist in all of us. And in the meantime it would be so nice if people would just learn to keep their comments about other people bodies and the way they look to themselves.”
Natalie McCain/The Honest Body Project
“No matter what, none of us will ever be good enough for this world. The grass isn’t ever greener. You’re either too skinny or too fat; your butt is too big or it’s too small; your breasts are too big or not perky enough or you’re flat chested; you’re too muscular and look 'manly' because you work out or you’re fat and lazy because you don’t work out. You will never be good enough for them so we have to be good enough for ourselves. We will never completely change the cruel nature of this world, but we can fight it. We can continue to show people everywhere that there is something beautiful in people of every shape and size and that, in fact, the most beautiful thing is that we are all so different. We can continue to encourage each other to see ourselves through loving eyes. We can love ourselves and set good examples for our children. And for those who say 'loving yourself is great but being overweight isn’t healthy' and similar comments, what I have to say to you is that being too skinny isn’t healthy either, and neither is starving yourself, or obsessing over calories, or even working out too much. And most of all, hating yourself isn’t healthy at all. It’s always great to strive to be healthier, to eat better and to exercise and all of those things, but you have to do it for YOU, not for other people. And don’t forget to love yourself every step of the way.”
Natalie McCain/The Honest Body Project
“I am a gregarious, smart and funny person. I also have a really big butt. I didn’t know I had a really big butt until I was in the 5th grade, and that’s when several other girls made sure they told me I had a big butt; every day, several times a day, as meanly as possible. They called me Ducky Butt and Bubble Butt (which I hate to this day) and said I walked very suggestively to get the boys’ attention. (Mind you, as a 10-year-old, I thought boys were gross and couldn’t understand why they would say this.) They would follow me down the halls at school, jeering at me, and terrorize me in the bathrooms to the point where I wouldn’t go to the bathroom at school at all. None of the teachers or school staff did anything to stop them. I don’t remember these girls’ names, and I barely remember what that first ring leader looked like. I mostly remember the ridicule, and wondering what I had done to deserve it. And our family moved a few times as my dad’s job changed, so I attended three grade schools, one middle school, and two high schools, from Florida, to North Carolina, to Tennessee, and back to Florida. And in every school, I was ridiculed for my big butt.”
Natalie McCain/The Honest Body Project
“I wasn’t fat. I was a really fit kid; rode horses, bicycled for miles, walked a lot, lived on a farm, etc. So, I was fit, muscular, and healthy. (Unlike now!) And had a big butt. Girls tormented me, boys kept grabbing my butt, (and getting slapped,) and carnival workers and horse show judges were always commenting about my ‘junk in the trunk’. Even the fashion industry told me I had a big butt. Skirts were always 3” higher in the back, and pants just didn’t fit; either the waist was way too big, or the seat way too small. While my waist was 21”, my hips were 46”; wide hips, big butt, and a sway back. Not the fashion ideal!”
Natalie McCain/The Honest Body Project
“I tried to hide it; big shirts, long, full skirts, never walk away from someone, dark pants, stuff like that. I even talked to a plastic surgeon when I was in college about reducing the size. Imagine my surprise when he said, no, he could not; he would have to remove muscle, and that doesn’t lead to being able to walk well. So, I was stuck with being forced to be a hideous freak. And so, made jokes about it myself. It led to a big dent in my self worth, and I figured, if I couldn’t be the pretty one, I would be the funny one, with a great personality. Right about the time I had come to the conclusion that I was grossly deformed, Sir Mix-a-Lot came out with my theme song, 'Baby Got Back,' and I realized that maybe my butt wasn’t so gross after all. And suddenly, the big butt was the big thing to have! Butt not big enough? You can by underwear with extra butt cheeks added in! I was stunned! More songs followed, Queen’s 'Fat Bottomed Girls' got lots of air play, movies hired actresses with booties, and jeans now fit.”
Natalie McCain/The Honest Body Project
“You hear so much about the trials of the big breasted woman. But very little about the big butted woman. I wonder, why that is? Anyway, we need to protect children. If you see someone picking on a child or young adult, call them on it. Beyond that, I don’t know what to do. And if you have a body part that seems out of the normal, it’s not! Don’t listen to negativity, even if it’s disguised as positivity; the reverse insult. As for all the people who picked on me, I’m shallow. I would say, 'HA! Now my butt is in style, I’m cute, and I married a NASA engineer! What about you, ya mean old bitches???' OK, I wouldn’t say that. But I’d think it.”
Natalie McCain/The Honest Body Project
“I felt very heartbroken that others could not see what I see. That they could not get past the fact that yes we are two females but we love each other. I have grown to be such a stronger person than I was seven years ago. I know how to get past the looks and whispers. Thankfully it does not happen often. I wish I could say to all the people that have judged me in the past is to look past the gender. Look past what is normal to society. Look at the love. Look at the happiness. Look at our family. This is 2017 and there is a new normal. I am so lucky to be living in this day and age and not have to hide who I am and who I love.”
Natalie McCain/The Honest Body Project
“The worse experience I have had was talking to a bosses' client about this new place her family was opening for a wedding venue. She showed me photos and told me all about it. She said they were going to be opening soon. Which was perfect because I was not getting married for another year. After she left I told my boss to ask her about the place. My boss told me that her family will not let same sex marriages happen at their venue. I wanted to cry and I was so angry. I understood where she was coming from. If that is what you believe in that is fine. But it was like a stab in the heart. Knowing that I could not enjoy this beautiful new place that was just what I wanted, because I was gay.”
Natalie McCain/The Honest Body Project
“I am so happy that I have gotten over my fear of judgement for being gay. When I first started dating my now fiance, I wouldn’t even hold her hand in public. I was to worried about who was watching. Who was whispering or saying things behind my back. I would get so nervous. It took me years to get over it. Now I can show public affection all I want. I can walk hand and hand with the love of my life and we can show our kids that it's okay to love whoever you want to.”
Natalie McCain/The Honest Body Project
“Some people just do not understand the love and affection that you can have with someone even if it is the same gender. It's okay to take your time and get comfortable with being openly gay or bisexual or whatever you might be. When you are ready, show everyone that LOVE IS LOVE.”
Natalie McCain/The Honest Body Project
“My story begins at the age of 9 when my stepparent made a comment to me about standing in front of the fridge too much. I felt, even at age 9, the weight of those words. Honestly, they have never been forgotten, and the memory of the pit in my stomach from sheer embarrassment is still too vivid for comfort. I was the one with extra rolls and the chubby face, and photos made that fact very obvious; so obvious that I remember looking at them and saying to myself, ‘You are different, and that is not OK.’ At that point in my life, I pegged myself as the pity friend; the chubby, pre-pubescent girl who carried a 30-pound backpack and a clarinet to school every day in her high-water jeans she wore more than once each week with her large glasses and budding acne. I was that girl; the one who tripped going up the stairs, because my hands were so full, and everyone laughed without thinking twice about helping.”
Natalie McCain/The Honest Body Project
“The transition into being a self-deprecating, body shaming girl came easily by age 14 when freshman year began. Thoughts were swirling around in my head, ‘I am never going to be pretty enough.’ ‘I’m chubby and flat-chested with crooked teeth and acne.’ Those thoughts dictated my self-worth. They drove all of my decisions and, sadly, still do more than I would like to admit. One of my few talents is humor. It was and, admittedly, still is the mask that hides all my insecurities. As I am cracking jokes, my inner voice is saying, ‘Don’t tilt your head back too far, they’ll see your horrible teeth. Don’t sit hunched over, they’ll notice your huge fat rolls. Don’t rub your face, they’ll see your wretched adult acne.’ No one hears those thoughts though, at times, I swear they are so loud someone else has to hear them.”
Natalie McCain/The Honest Body Project
“Pregnancy gifted my body with a 52-pound weight gain along with deflated, saggy breasts that I often equate to flapjacks, and a serious chip on my shoulders about not staying dedicated to health and fitness during pregnancy. I was stuck in this world of comparison. I compared my weight to other women’s weights. I compared what I ate and even the vitamins I took to other pregnant women. After having my son, I struggled with breastfeeding, and the bashing I gave myself, emotionally and mentally, was nothing short of sickening. Then, the shock of seeing my post-pregnancy body hit. After battling postpartum depression and breastfeeding struggles, I saw that my perky boobs were gone, and the skin surrounding my abdomen would never recover fully which lead to my, ‘screw this, you’re going to eat and just wreck your body,’ mentality. So, I ate and ate and ate some more. I found myself almost back to the same weight I was nine months into my pregnancy. Everyone around me had done it. They had birthed children and seemed to easily return to pre-pregnancy weight. I was the only one who wasn’t motivated enough to follow through, so I deserved to be fat. I woke up every day and looked in the full-length mirror disgusted. Even after recently losing 25 pounds, I still cannot see a beautiful woman in the mirror, but I never struggle finding the beauty in other women and often am envious of it; often saying that all women are amazing and should be appreciated and respected no matter their sizes or shapes. My story is ongoing, because I am a self-body-shamer working to dig out of the deep abyss that is body shaming."
Natalie McCain/The Honest Body Project
“'Is he your first?' 'Yes, and our last.' Cue the 'Yeah right' look from people or my favorite line, 'Oh, you’ll change your mind when he is older.' No. I will not change my mind. I have a disabled husband who is medically retired from the U.S. Army. I already take care of two people every day. Having a toddler and a disabled husband who experiences chronic back pain from a spinal injury 24/7 is exhausting. It’s a daily struggle. Doctors’ appointments, MRI updating and seeing specialist after specialist trying to find a long-term solution that will work for him while wrestling with an adventurous energy-packed toddler nonstop is nothing short of superhero status, in my opinion. So, when I say my son is our only, it’s going to stay that way.”
Natalie McCain/The Honest Body Project
“Some people ask, 'But don’t you think he needs a sibling? What if he gets bored or lonely?' Again, every family is different. Every situation is different. My boy will be just fine. He is loved beyond belief. He has cousins. He will have classmates. He will have friends. My husband and I won’t have to struggle nearly as much to pay for tumble class, or daycare, or soccer camp, or whatever it is that he excels at in the future because we will be able to nurture his talents and gifts fully, without sacrificing this or that. In addition to that, I enjoy having clean countertops no longer cluttered with bottles and nipples. I enjoy sleeping through the night again and feeling well rested. I love that I no longer have to mix formula. I appreciate the fact that I no longer have to struggle with breastfeeding and feeling guilty because I can’t. I don’t miss crying every day. I don’t miss these things. I don’t want to go through it again. I adore my son. I cherished that first year, but I feel no need or longing to go through it again. I understand other parents love having bigger families and have that longing for more children. That’s a beautiful thing. Big families are fun and beautiful. So are small ones. So, please stop asking, 'When are you going to have another one?' Maybe instead ask, 'Do you plan on having more?' And be understanding of the answer.”
Natalie McCain/The Honest Body Project
“At first, I was annoyed by the question about having more children. I just had one! Why would I be thinking about a second already? Can’t I just enjoy the first? I had always wanted a boy and I got him on the first try. As far as I was concerned, I was done! I felt great about my little family. It is perfect just as it is. So, when I continued to get that question I felt pressured, and then downright upset. First of all, nobody knows what the financial or emotional state of a family is. So why put the pressure on a mom who might still be struggling with balancing the family she already has?”
Natalie McCain/The Honest Body Project
“Be open and understanding to other people’s situations. Realize that not all people have the same plans for their life as you have for yours. Just because someone lives their life a little differently than you doesn’t make them wrong, it just makes them different!”

These quotes have been edited and condensed for clarity.