Mum’s Not The Word
Recently, thanks to the mind-boggling magic of social media, a talented photographer called Denise Felkin came onto my radar. She was searching for childless women for a piece she’s working on: a photographic compilation of Non-Mums entitled Mum’s Not The Word. Incidentally, I was searching for women without kids for my Non-Mum Network, a Facebook group for us to hang out and chat (and meet up for prosecco-soaked kid-free lunches, natch 😉).
And lo, thanks to the almighty combined superpowers of Messrs Hashtag and Keyword, those marvellously mystical Twitter algorithms brought us together. Ahhh. It was a match made in digital heaven: I welcomed her into my Non-Mum club and in return immediately signed up to feature in her project. Naked. <Gulp>.
Are you out of your tiny mind, I asked myself? (especially since the rest of me is not quite so tiny). Why would you want to do such a thing? Well, as a childless woman I feel we are underrepresented (and often misunderstood) by society, who regard us on the whole as witches, freaks or cold-hearted cat-ladies. I fully support any initiative that seeks to tell our stories, to push back against prejudice, smash stereotypes and simply depict us as we are: human; complex; flawed – with a back-story, just like anyone else.
Time flew by, as it has a habit of doing; before I knew it I was sitting in the passenger seat of Andy’s car as he whisked us to Brighton for the Sunday morning shoot – shaved, plucked and buffed to within an inch of my life, liberally marinated in self-tan; practising sucking in my tummy without looking like a constipated warthog in the wing mirror.
At the point of setting the date for the shoot I’d started an internal dialogue, attempting to convince my sceptical inner self that we’d be eating nothing but mung beans and courgetti spaghetti in the run-up – the outcome being that I’d regularly be mistaken for Elsa Hosk or some other sylph-like Victoria’s Secret model in the photos. No need to fret about my (Non) Mum Tum or dimpled thighs. Sorted.
Of course we both knew, my inner voice and I, that this game plan was more BS than VS. I was spinning a yarn in my head; I had zero intention of sweating it out at a spin class or sitting at home of an evening farting about spiralising veg. I’d rather gouge my own eyes out with the complimentary chopsticks than exist on vegan bento boxes. It was never gonna happen. Sure enough, the pre-naked-photoshoot “diet” consisted of my usual calorie-laden carbs washed down with prosecco…but on the morning of the shoot I skipped breakfast. Yep, that should do it.
Denise greeted us at the door to her studio in the hippy haven of Brighton and we set about prepping for the money shot. As the women in the sequence must all be photographed in the same way – curled in the reverse foetal position on a bed, shot from above – it was vital that everything was just so. Denise has been working on the series for two years now, gradually expanding her portfolio of images of childless women. I’m number 17 in the sequence, with her target being 66, so there’s a fair way to go. It’s a work in progress; already exhibited at Somerset House in London as well as in Cologne; nominated for a Sony World Photography Award amongst many others and has attracted tons of media attention. Denise, herself a childless woman aged 49, says: “Mum’s Not The Word brings together images of the female form, positioned in the foetal position, in reverse. The foetus is representational of an intimate and introspective metaphysical investigation. It is a posture that relates to the female as reproducer and acts as a metaphor for the seed within and the world without.”
To further personalise the piece, each woman involved brings her own duvet cover, something which I found comfortingly familiar as I disrobed and got into position on the bed. The camera clicked; Denise busied herself around me, arranging my hair, the mattress and the bedding, giving me directions as to the exact positioning of my hands and feet. Andy assisted with lighting; he enjoyed being involved in “creating art” as he put it. A few minor issues with annoying shadows and ugly creases (on the bedcovers, not me, fortunately)….and then we were done!
I got dressed and we gathered around excitedly to check out the photographs on Denise’s laptop. Sure, I had my rounded belly and the VS girls wouldn’t be out of a job anytime soon, but I felt empowered, elated. I was proud of myself; finally accepting of my body and forgiving it for the fact that I’ll never be a mother. I looked perfectly imperfect – refreshing in today’s world of photoshop, airbrushing and adding filters.
The figure in the picture is strong; real; vulnerable; at peace. The figure in the picture is me. Each image in the series is briefly captioned with the subject’s story in her own words. We represent a growing number of women who aren’t mothers for various reasons, but are still valid members of society with a lot to offer; we don’t want to remain invisible.
I may be a Non, but I’m not Anon.
If you’re a Non-Mum interested in taking part in Denise Felkin’s project Mum’s Not The Word or you know someone who may be, please share this blog post with them or contact Denise directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also follow her on Twitter and join the Mum’s Not The Word Facebook group.