As a performer and dancer, Raechele Lovell is acutely aware of the pressures to have a fit, toned body. But having a child and participating in photographer Ashlee Wells Jackson’s bold 4th Trimester Bodies Project have given her a new perspective. We chatted with the Toronto mom of one about how her body has changed post-baby and how she feels about it.
CS: Why did you decide to participate in the 4th Trimester Bodies Project?
RL: I was inspired by the images that I saw online. I don’t really have any close friends or family who have been pregnant before and haven’t been exposed to it a lot, so it was actually the first time that I’d seen a postpartum body—and I found that really reassuring, as a young pregnant person, to know that it was normal what my body was going through. The project, despite it being only an hour in my life, was revolutionary.
Being able to expose myself in that way led to a different level of self-esteem and body comfort for me. And the power in seeing the images and what it did for me, and knowing that that could do that for somebody else who has never been exposed to real images of postpartum bodies, has been really life-changing.
CS: How did your body change physically after your pregnancy?
RL: I gained a lot of weight from the pregnancy, especially because I was bedridden for a while after recovering from having an episiotomy. As a dancer, I’m used to being very active so my body responds very quickly to that. But I wasn’t really too bothered about it in a way that I think I would have been had I not seen the project.
CS: How did you feel about your body image before and after your pregnancy?
RL: I feel a lot better about my body now. I feel like I have a new understanding of it, and it doesn’t feel as much like an object to me now that it’s reproduced life. I feel more comfortable in my own skin than I did growing up. I had a lot of body issues—being a performer and a dancer, I was always criticizing my body or looking at it as an object. Using it to produce life kind of gave it greater meaning and made me stop nitpicking.
I now realize my body’s power. I never felt pride in my body before my pregnancy—in spite of the pride I felt for the artistic work I had created using it as my tool. Now, I feel so proud of my body and the things it has accomplished, which as had an amazing impact on my art.
CS: How do you feel about your body today?
RL: I feel great. I think I feel better than I ever have. Now that my son is a bit older and I’m not directly postpartum, my body has gone back to a more normal size for me—I feel like I’ve recovered. It hasn’t gone back to what it used to be exactly, but I feel great about that change.
Before, I always looked at certain areas of my body that I felt needed to be changed, particularly my stomach, because I have polycystic ovary syndrome, so my body holds on to fat in different ways. But now I don’t feel embarrassed about my belly at all, because it created life. It doesn’t matter that there’s extra skin or it’s a little bit flabbier than what I see depicted in the media. I’ve done something extraordinary with it! My abdominal muscles really got stretched, so it’s hard to get them to look the same as they used to. But I actually feel stronger and more fit now, so I don’t really mind about the physical appearance.
I also had stretch marks before the pregnancy from fluctuating in weight a lot. As a teenager, I started gaining weight really rapidly and I was really embarrassed about it, but now that I’ve had my son, it’s just normal—it’s almost like a badge of honour.