Neely Ker Fox, a photographer hailing from Columbus, Georgia, found herself feeling ashamed and let down by the stretch marks on her body postpartum after giving birth to her second child. To honor the sacrifice of motherhood, Neely created a photo series entitled “Perfect Defects” that focuses on stretch marks. For quite some time, Neely had been eager to bring together mothers to photograph them along with their body changes after childbirth. As a mother herself, Neely confesses she felt embarrassed, disappointed, and struggled to come to terms with the changes in her body post-birth, which included an abdominal split from the pelvis to the sternum, umbilical hernia, back problems requiring physical therapy, and numerous stretch marks. All these physical changes occurred after her first pregnancy.
I will carry the stretch marks and scars that life has left on my body with me for as long as I live. I imagine myself years down the line, sitting in an empty house and placing my hand on my soft belly, reminiscing about the seasons of my life and embracing old age and wisdom. The bigger picture of life will be spread out before me, and the insecurities of today will be gone, replaced only by laughter and the joy of each breath. To celebrate the sacred time of motherhood and to help other women embrace their beauty, Neely reached out to women on social media and asked for volunteers to take pictures for her project. She was surprised by the overwhelming response from the community. Initially, Neely planned to work with 16 women, but ended up with as many as 30 who were eager to share their post-birth body changes with the world. Neely photographed the first 16 women’s bodies at the time of their photo shoot, while the others posed with their children, pregnant bellies, or post-birth bodies. Neely also joined in the project by posing with her own son and daughter. In addition to capturing the beauty of motherhood, the women involved in the project shared their insecurities, experiences with motherhood, and emotional changes.
Casey expressed that participating in the project has been a transformative experience, giving her a newfound belief in herself and healing. She desires to be a self-assured woman who takes pride in her body, the very same one that has protected and nourished her children. A fellow participant, Rachel, shared that the photo shoot helped her discover a confidence she didn’t know existed since childhood. Looking at the pictures, she found them to be more beautiful than she had anticipated, and left the shoot with her head held high. Another mother who took part in the project spoke about feeling confident in her role as a parent. She noted that her daughter’s love for her was indescribable, and that the joy they both showed in the photos captured the depth of their bond. Neely, the creator of the project, hopes that it will continue to grow and have a positive impact on women who have given birth, as well as those who struggle with low self-esteem due to their weight or disabilities.
Rachel, who is a mom to twin boys, expressed that though her stretch marks may fade with time, she plans to keep the photos as a reminder of the beautiful miracle of carrying two lives. Her intention is to share these pictures with other women and encourage them to embrace their imperfections despite societal pressures. In an interview with Huffington Post, the photographer shared that it is essential for her to understand how these women feel as they are being photographed. She believes that she wouldn’t fully comprehend the emotional turmoil of giving birth if she hadn’t been in their shoes.
Apart from the various feelings and experiences that come with being pregnant and raising a child, the Perfect Imperfections project features a young girl named Kendall who has a spinal fracture. According to her mother, Kendall’s participation in this project is a source of hope for her daughter. The pictures may serve as a reminder for Kendall to stay strong and embrace the unique qualities that make her who she is. Overall, the inclusion of Kendall in this project is a wonderful addition that celebrates diversity and the beauty of imperfections.