After struggling to embrace her postpartum body, a Chicago mother of two celebrated her newfound confidence with an empowering photo shoot.
Last month, photographer Aaron Turner of Expressions Untold captured Sabrina Ewell, a yoga instructor and mom to two sons, ages 19 and 8. When Turner reviewed the photos after the shoot, one powerful image stuck out to him.
The image shows Ewell’s midsection and the physical marks left by motherhood. “He said he saw the power and message in it, how beautiful my body was with all its changes,” the mom told The Huffington Post.
Both Turner and Ewell decided to share the photo on their social media pages because it shed light on a common experience for many women that is often hidden.
When she posted the photo on Instagram, Ewell wrote a moving caption about her postpartum body image journey.
“So this is me,” she began. “I thought this was baggage for so many years. Contemplated tummy tucks numerous times. Had people give me home remedies to ‘fix’ it that never worked. Felt ashamed because I didn’t look like societal norms.”
Ewell added that she has spent the past two years on a “journey of self-discovery” and developed a stronger connection to her true self.
“I no longer look to societal norms to define who the fuck I am,” she proclaimed. “I am unapologetically me in my bikinis as I do handstands on the beach because I’m the shit. Fuck your photoshopped imagery because your bullshit no longer applies to me.”
The photographer also wrote a thoughtful caption when he posted the photo.
“Why be ashamed? A life grew inside of you that gives humanity hope of change,” he wrote. “You felt things that I as a man will never understand. Even when you first held your baby girl or boy it was nothing similar to when they lay in their father’s hands. Your body changed and so did you.”
He added, “Don’t hide your changes from the world that you and your sisters helped create. Be proud of your story. Be proud of your lines. Be proud of who you’ve chosen to be.”
Turner’s post received over 1,800 likes on Instagram. Ewell told HuffPost she was initially nervous on the day of the photo shoot, but quickly started feeling empowered throughout the process.
“There is tremendous power in being completely open and accepting of your vulnerabilities,” she said. “When Aaron showed me the shots, I was amazed.”
Ewell gained about 50 pounds with each of her pregnancies and struggled with body image issues in the aftermath.
“I’m blown away at how far I’ve come in my perception of my stretch marks,” she said. “After giving birth, I, like many new mothers, anxiously awaited the return of my pre-pregnancy body, but began to feel inadequate and unhappy about the parts of me that were now different. I was ashamed. My smooth midsection had been replaced by loose, sagging skin.”
She credits yoga and meditation with transforming her relationship with her body and her life more broadly. “I began to realize the value in my stretch marks and me as a person,” she said. “I no longer needed to compare myself to others for validation. I began to embrace and celebrate all the good about me, and stopped focusing on so-called ‘flaws.’ Once I let go of those self-deprecating thoughts, I literally became comfortable in my own skin, and was no longer ashamed to bare a little midriff.”
Looking at the photo, Ewell sees a manifestation of vulnerability, freedom, evolution and love. “My body housed the safest space on Earth for two beings. I nourished and birthed them from the confines of this body,” she said. “My body grew and stretched to make sure they were adequately protected. How miraculous! I am honored to have been able to bring such wonderful gifts into this world.”
The mom said she wants people who see the photo to recognize that life doesn’t always come with perfect packaging, but it’s beautiful nonetheless. She also hopes mothers realize there’s nothing wrong with their postpartum bodies.
“Postpartum bodies are to be celebrated for being givers of life, not condemned for the inability to fit into what society says is beautiful,” she said. “I hope by being so vulnerable in this picture and sharing it with the public I am able to mitigate some of the anxiety moms may be feeling about their own bodies.”
Ewell also wants the photo to help shatter the stigma around stretch marks.
“Most of all,” she added, “I hope this creates positive discussions of self-acceptance and self-worth among women.”