While breastfeeding is often cloaked in controversy (when to ween? when to/if to transition to formula? when to cover up?), it’s also one of the most beautiful maternal offerings a mother can give her child. There’s no disputing the bond that happy breastfeeders clearly cherish, which is showcased to perfection in the work of Tucson-based photographer Jade Beall.
After having her first child, a son, in 2012, Beall photographed herself nude in order to add some “body diversity” to her website. Once she posted the image on Facebook, she had no idea the reaction it would receive. “There I was, heavier than I’d ever been, with a newborn baby. And it went viral,” she explains. “I had no idea that it would resonate with so many people. By the hundreds, other women started reaching out to me.”
A photo of her friend’s stretched-out belly (she had two elementary-aged boys at the time) resonated even more, with coverage extending to the BBC and Daily Mail. “I was learning that the world had issues with body image after birth, not just America,” she says of the emotional, mixed reactions from commenters. Soon she was fielding requests from all over the world of mothers wanting to be photographed by her, which turned into her self-published 2014 book The Bodies of Mothers, which was made possible after she raised over $60,000 on Kickstarter.
Photographing women breastfeeding, she explains, was by chance. “I wasn’t setting out to do it, but as I’m photographing more women, and most of the photos are nude, if the subject is breastfeeding, inevitably that picture is going to happen during the shoot,” she says. “When I started photographing it, I realized how beautiful it was and how I hadn’t seen a lot of beautiful breastfeeding photos. When I posted them online, everyone just loved them. People liked that it was presented as art.”
While publishing photos of women breastfeeding toddlers has resulted in the odd death threat, Beall has also received emails of praise from fellow longer-term breastfeeders who praise her for trying to normalize a natural thing. “My mom breastfed me until I was five, so I didn’t think it was a big controversy until I put it on Facebook,” says Beall, who has been kicked off the social media site around 15 times. “Here, breasts sell burgers and cars and to have a child associated with it is too weird for a lot of Americans and Westerners.”
Today, Beall, who has been flown around the world (from Israel to Mexico) on commissioned portraits, says her current work is “90% about empowering mothers and women.” However, her next project will be looking at body-positivity in the over-60 set. “I’m calling my new body of work The Bodies of Elders. It’s nudes and, again, it’s breaking the rules. My first session was a couple in their seventies and they’re so in love, they’ve been together 20 years. And they’re unapologetic about their bodies,” she says. “We’re told that it’s shameful to grow older, but it is nothing but a privilege. Further more, it is beautiful.”
For more on Beall’s work, click over to her website. And, in honor of World Breastfeeding Month, check out twelve of her beautiful breastfeeding photos, below.