Photographer rejoices mothers’ stretch marks, scars in gorgeous Gold Dust Project

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“I have always been a lover of accepting our bodies, although I can admit that, at 22 years of age, I do still struggle with my own. I would have done anything to have a big sister or female icon to make me realize that ‘normal’ isn’t really what is depicted in glossy magazines or Instagram posts.

A common factor across all postpartum women I have photographed (whether for this project or newborn work), is that almost all of the ladies have struggled with body image. Whether it was a fleeting comment like ‘can you Photoshop out my double chin?’ or ‘Oh I’ve ended up with so many tummy rolls since being pregnant – better cover those!’ or something along those lines, the reality is, those phrases really stuck in my mind. As their bodies grew, adapted and ultimately changed, sometimes temporarily, sometimes permanently, it was clear that their body image had taken a hit. So, for this project, I wanted to focus on the changes they experienced by focusing on two dominant aspects: stretchmarks and scarring, the latter mostly from C-sections, and I wanted to focus on drawing a clear, in-your-face focus to them.

Grace Elizabeth – Photography

The actual output of the project lies in photographing a large cross section of mothers in their own homes, with their little ones (or pregnant bumps!), whether a few weeks postpartum or years postpartum, and decorating their beautiful scars with body safe gold paint.

Grace Elizabeth – Photography
Grace Elizabeth – Photography

This stems from the Japanese art of Kintsugi, something I stumbled across years ago during my General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) art lessons. Kintsugi focuses on fixing and putting back together broken ceramics with gold, the idea being that the ceramic item, once broken, now fixed, was more beautiful than before. I loved this idea very much, but refused to apply the ‘broken’ aspect to my project, because after all, postpartum women are not ‘broken’, and they do not require ‘fixing.’ Therefore, the Gold Dust Project draws upon the beauty of gold and their beauty in their wonderful scars and stretchmarks.

Grace Elizabeth – Photography
Grace Elizabeth – Photography

What has been most amazing to me, is the incredible response to this project. Every woman has been so on board with the idea, and has not only absolutely been behind it from the start, but they also have opened up to me in ways I couldn’t believe. From one woman’s positivity to normalize breastfeeding, to my almost therapeutic session with one lady who had a love-hate relationship with her emergency C-section scar, to meeting two ‘scar buddies’ in the form of a wonderful C-section mother and her 6-year-old little girl with Spina Bifida, whose reaction to seeing her scar painted in gold almost had me in tears.

Grace Elizabeth – Photography
Grace Elizabeth – Photography

Many of the women have spoken about their guilt towards disliking their bodies, but then their gratification to have their stripes, scars and marks, because at the end of the day, their bodies have done absolutely miraculous things of bringing a baby into the world.

Grace Elizabeth – Photography

This project has allowed me to absorb as much as possible from these women, who are of all shapes, sizes, backgrounds and ethnicities, whilst giving them the therapeutic chance to discuss their pregnancy, issues that came along with it, body image, how they feel about their bodies and their experience as mothers. This project is as much about documenting beauty, as it is about learning, because I think we can all learn from one another, and as women, we can all support each other. I am proud to be able to help these women in this way and personally, I feel even more empowered to decorate even my own tiger stripes!

Grace Elizabeth – Photography
Grace Elizabeth – Photography

I am eternally grateful for their participation in this project, and for their unparalleled kindness in allowing me to document them in the most positive, empowering way possible. Many of these women have become friends and close supporters of my work, and I hope to continue this project to meet more and more women, and to draw attention to the realness and authenticity of what it means to be a mother and a woman in this day and age.”

Grace Elizabeth – Photography
Grace Elizabeth – Photography

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Grace Hill of Grace Elizabeth Photography. Submit your story here.

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