Much as the "head-clutcher" stock images depicting mental illness are well overdue retirement, pictures of those first months following childbirth are in need of a refresh, which is exactly what a new collaboration between Modibodi and Getty Images achieves.
The partnership has created a gallery of varied bodies, moments and milestones of life postpartum, which venture far beyond the simplistic post-birth representations of “baby bliss” or the “baby blues.”
It’s certainly not the first time a richer perspective has been glimpsed—Mothercare and WaterWipes have previously depicted some of the more truthful realities of new motherhood: stretch marks, rashes, wrinkles and all.
However, what sets apart this in-house campaign, which launched in the UK last week with media managed by Spider, is its true and somewhat sticky acknowledgement of what the postpartum period can entail.
Australian leakproof apparel brand Modibodi was preparing to launch its own reusable nappies and postpartum range of leak-proof bras, camisoles and briefs when it realised just how limited and limiting the existing library images were for a reality which could include leaking breasts, often heavy post-birth bleeding, problems with urination and a sagging stomach.
The result is a new gallery entitled Postpartum Unfiltered, which depicts women in the 12-month post-birth period and also includes the real, raw stories that accompany those images. The pictures will be featured on the Getty library—not archives—from 1 October, and anyone can have access to them for editorial or commercial purposes in perpetuity.
Eve Canavan, a member of the Perinatal Mental Health Partnership, a charity that is supporting the campaign globally, told Campaign: “Women are being bombarded with all kinds of images representing some kind of apparent reality, which they are not connecting with. There is the polished filtered image of motherhood. And there are those images of women who have just snapped back to how they used to be… that’s almost looked down upon as well now.
“No-one told me I would be bleeding for six weeks after the birth and that I wouldn’t be comfortable wearing white jeans. No one told me I’d have an overhang on my stomach. I didn’t know there would be problems with peeing and pooing afterwards. We just don’t talk about that.
“The thing about this campaign is that it’s representing a different kind of postpartum experience, and that can only be positive.”
Given how narrowly postpartum life is portrayed in the media and advertising, it’s little wonder that many women are unprepared and even shocked by the physical and emotional changes that accompany it.
Canavan added: “I went to the Vagina Museum two years ago and they had a pair of pants there on the wall with [discharge] stains on them and there were loads of people looking at them and looking a bit freaked out. I was with a women’s health GP and she said ‘Oh that's completely normal. You should stain your pants, it shows you've got a good level of pH’, and meanwhile everyone there had been thinking ‘Oh my god, I thought there was something wrong with me’.
“It’s the same when you have a baby. There's a real stigma if you are leaking, that you might smell. That someone might notice. When my son was three months old, I was still bleeding clots and wetting myself on a daily basis, and I remember watching a friend on a trampoline with her child and thinking ‘God, there’s no way I could possibly do that’.
“These kinds of conversations are necessary because it's still shocking for people to hear these things. There's a real stigma attached to what these things mean. Does it mean your body is broken? Or that nature has been playing some kind of awful trick on you? Are you going to be able to open your handbag in public because you have to carry extra knickers or giant sanitary pads with you?
“There are such negative connotations attached to these aspects of motherhood. We seem to be getting there with talking about how hard breastfeeding can be, how horrific the lack of sleep is, and we are starting to open up about the postpartum mental health experience. But I think the things this specific campaign deals with are still very, very under the radar.
"You don’t read magazine interviews with people talking about whether they’re leaking or wetting themselves. And as someone who is still having bladder problems after having my son 11 years ago, that’s the sort of thing that’s still very much on my mind.
“I think this campaign is brilliant because it's showing that you can wear something stylish and nice while going through something like this. Breastfeeding bras no longer have to look like tents. But remember that everyone has a different experience; you might need a thicker absorbency for your briefs, and this campaign range highlights how realistic this is. [The postpartum range of briefs come in different absorbencies for different levels of bleeding.]
“Women deserve to feel their best. You can have nice, comfortable and stylish underwear that does its job. This brand has created underwear for realistic things that are happening, so let’s talk about them. I think it’s brilliant.”
Svetlana Zhukova, director of custom solutions at Getty Images, added: “Creating authentic content for such a personal experience is not easy, but we’re glad to support Modibodi through our global 'custom content' network of talented creators. These photographers tapped into their own families and friends to capture the very real perspectives from this vulnerable part of many women’s lives.
“We are so proud of the results our photographers have delivered for this campaign, which opens the door wide to celebrate the myriad of unfiltered emotions experienced during postpartum that not enough people get to see or are acknowledged in media and advertising.”
Modibodi is also calling on parents from around the world to share their own, real postpartum images on social media via #PostpartumUnfiltered.
Having previously experienced complaints and the removal and banning of ads in mainstream media and on social platforms for discussing and showing periods realistically, the brand knows that true change will take time.
Modibodi founder and chief executive Kristy Chong said: “Driving social change for postpartum mums is a challenge, but is incredibly important. Breastfeeding and postpartum bodies are natural, normal and also beautiful. Why should this amazing time in a mum’s life be hidden or shrouded in stigmas?"