Writer, photographer and speaker Jen Hecht wants you to know: Your body is worth loving.
Hecht is behind the body love project "This Body Of Work," which consists of a workbook to help women learn to love their bodies and a series of photographs accompanied by women's narratives about themselves.
(Story continues below. Some images may be considered NSFW.)
Katie, photographed by Kate McElwee
"I hated myself -- how I looked, who I was, where I came from. I felt rage inside me that I carried with me in all my actions, relationships, and decisions. It was taxing, and felt endless. In recent years I have been trying to be kinder to myself, and healing from my past self-loathing. I just want to feel healthy and whole, comfortable in my own skin, unafraid to be myself. I've been working towards this place, a little each day, and I can feel a difference. I mainly feel like I have more energy, which I do, because I have been holding myself back."
Hecht was inspired to create the project by her own experiences with low self-esteem.
"As a chubby kid, I was painfully aware that there was 'something wrong' with me," she told HuffPost. "The inner narrative that took up residence in my mind was full of self-loathing and shame. I felt worthless because I wasn’t pretty and thin."
As an adult, Hecht continued to feel insecure about her appearance. In her early 30s, after obsessive exercising and dieting caused a back injury and debilitating chronic nerve pain, Hecht gave up striving to be thin. She vowed to be gentle with herself, and learned to love her body.
"From this new place I was able to approach self-care from a place of worthiness, love, and self-compassion," she said. "When I felt my life changing, I began to ask myself –- what if I could teach this to other women who are stuck like I was?"
In spring 2014, Hecht began photographing women and collecting their stories about their bodies. She also created the This Body Of Work workbook, a printable, guided self-exploration book that helps women write about -- and learn to love -- their bodies.
Hecht is now fundraising to self-publish an expanded, revised version of the workbook, and will continue to share women's stories alongside their portraits.
"I want every woman to know she is already worthy, beautiful, and enough, exactly the way she is, right now," Hecht said. No matter what her size, shape, condition, situation, or stage of life."
Heather, photographed by Jen Hecht
"I want to stop seeing my health as some kind of competition. I want to move, and eat, and love, and sleep out of appreciation and respect for my body. I want to stop punishing myself for not GETTING THERE FASTER, stop responding to pain with anger and start reacting with understanding. So much more peaceful, when it's living with love, not running with hate."
Stephanie, photographed by Emmerlee Sherman
"My old body story was one of loss, of being insecure, of rejecting myself. I felt lost, desperate, angry, devastated, ashamed. I didn't let myself enjoy loving my body for how it is. I felt a lot of shame. Sometimes I felt paralyzed by self-loathing. I felt hopeless, and that was what I deserved; shame and hopelessness.
I want my body story to be one of acceptance, celebration, joy... being unapologetic for things I can't control and looking forward to doing something about the things I can control. I want it to be a story of self-forgiveness and of moving onward. It feels amazing, a weight off my shoulders and my heart. It feels like I can finally really breathe. I can free myself."
Katie, photographed by Jacklyn Greenberg
"I am a vessel with the privilege and power to create life. Previously despising the contour of my stomach, I now caress the curve of my growing belly. The newly acquired stretch marks that my prior self would reject and hide now serve as proof of my baby’s existence. My hips have expanded greater than I could have ever imagined but they cradle my growing child and soon will sway my baby to sleep. My thighs may be big, but they are strong and faithfully carry us through our 9 month journey without reservation. While I continue to grow in size, I also grow in spirit and emotional strength. I am not even close to what I once was physically and because of that, I now understand that it is not about what my body looks like, it is what my body does for me and my baby. I acknowledge and appreciate my body for what it has and will continue to provide me."
Ali, photographed by Lisa Gendron
"Looking at the pictures now is a powerful experience. When I see pictures of myself, I usually focus on problem areas of my body, on my imperfections. In these photos I can look past all of that. I feel like I can see what others say they see in me. Lisa has captured my essence -- an essence I didn’t believe was visible, or perhaps never allowed myself to show. I can see my strength and my spirit and my courage and my heart and my peace. I am a strong survivor and I am alive and I can see life within me and I am so very grateful for this life and this body."