Australian artist and photographer Suzie Blake is accustomed to seeing images of women breastfeeding, but she has trouble relating to the glossy photos of models and actresses nursing on Instagram and in fashion magazines.
As mom to a toddler and an infant, Blake knows the unglamorous truth all too well. "Breastfeeding, and just being a mother for that matter, is exhausting," she told The Huffington Post. "It’s not this fantasy land where you feed your baby in a pond with a waterfall cascading behind you while birds chirp and the sun sets."
To provide a more realistic alternative to these images, Blake launched a photo series called "What Does Breastfeeding Look Like?" The mom said the series was inspired by a particularly exhausting night she experienced this past summer.
"While I sat on the sofa at 3 a.m. breastfeeding my second son, with the scent of puke on my shoulder and the knowledge there was a gigantic pile of washing in the laundry and my toddler would be awake in a few hours, I thought, 'Do other women look like I do now? Do other women feel like I do now? Because quite frankly, I feel and look pretty awful!'"
Blake took a self-portrait of herself in that moment and shared it on Facebook, along with an offer to photograph fellow breastfeeding moms in a similar way.
"The response was incredible," she said. "So many women could relate."
Blake's series features intimate portraits of mothers nursing while looking directly at the camera. For many of the women, their messy breastfeeding reality involves, sitting on the floor, wearing stained clothes or posing in the midst of chaos and clutter.
"This is about tired eyes and no makeup," Blake told HuffPost. "This is about milk leaks and ratty hair. This is about giving in to all the demands of your 2-year-old while you try to feed your newborn. This is about dishes piled up in the kitchen and dirty laundry building in the corner. This is about puke on your shoulder and toys on the floor."
The photographer wants to make it clear she is not criticizing models and actresses who share glamorous breastfeeding images, but rather wants to provide an alternative that may resonate more with moms outside Hollywood.
"I think it’s great that celebrities are posting pics of themselves on Instagram, but Gisele represents a very small minority of women who engage in breastfeeding while having hair and makeup done," Blake said. "Most mothers are lucky to find the lipgloss in the bottom of their handbag, let alone put it on."
Blake hopes breastfeeding moms can see themselves in her photos and feel encouraged to persevere through nursing challenges. She also hopes that the images help people "see breastfeeding for what it really is," without any added frills.
"It’s time to get a realistic perspective on breastfeeding and embrace it," she said.
To learn more about "What Does Breastfeeding Look Like," visit Blake's Tumblr and Indiegogo campaign site, where she's raising money to bring the project to the U.K., the U.S. and beyond.