Maternity photos are striking and intimate, but perhaps none more so than those belonging to Christa Couture. The 39-year-old Canadian singer-songwriter and storyteller is adding “trailblazer” to her list of credits thanks to her maternity photos representing women with disabilities.
In a recent piece for CBC Parents, Couture, whose leg was amputated as a teen because of bone cancer, says she was toying with the idea of a photo shoot to celebrate her third pregnancy. She took to the internet for inspiration — but the results were disheartening.
“There aren’t a ton of one-legged people out there, true, but it wasn’t just that I didn’t see any amputees in maternity photos — I didn’t see any kind of disability.” Couture writes. “It turns out maternity photo shoots, like the rest of the depictions of women readily available, abound with thin, white bodies. And there’s nothing wrong with those beautiful bodies, but they don’t look like mine.”
At that moment Couture did what she always does: She created something powerful and beautiful. She reached out to photographer Jen Squires after being inspired by the artist’s self-portrait series, “Vitiligo.”
“We connected about feeling different and not only coming to terms with difference but finding ways to celebrate it,” Couture tells Yahoo Canada.
Like many people, Couture says the journey toward accepting and loving her body has been “a long process.” She credits the floral covering for her prosthesis, known as a cosmesis, for helping her reach what she considers a turning point four years ago.
“It literally decorated something that I’d been trying to hide,” Couture says. “It became something beautiful. Once I started to love my reflection with that accessory on, I was more easily able to love my reflection with it off.”
In the six months since the photos were taken, Couture has been immersed in taking care of her young daughter. Couture says her feelings about her body haven’t necessarily changed over time but have been “reaffirmed.”
“The maternity photos give me reminders of appreciation — for how hard my body worked through pregnancy and how hard it still is working to parent my baby, and how doing that on one leg is even more hard than usual,” Couture says.
It’s fair to say Couture is a game changer. Since she shared her story with the CBC, many other media outlets have circulated her photos and contacted her for interviews. Couture says the response is “unexpected” and that the most meaningful messages she has received have been from other disabled women.
“The response tells me that we’re all hungry for diversity in images we see — and of course we are,” Couture says. “The homogeneity in media impacts all of us, no matter what body we’re in.”
Couture’s photos are moving at first glance because they represent a group of women who are normally excluded from the pregnancy narrative. They’re just like those of any other expectant mother, however, holding the same anticipation, excitement, and hopefulness. This normalization is what Couture says we need.
“I think mainstream media is still sorely lacking,” Couture says. “There are so few characters with disability in TV, movies, and almost none of those are played by people with disabilities. It’s a problem that’s called ‘cripping up’ and often those characters are two-dimensional, tragic, or oh-so inspirational, rather than complex but ordinary people. We also just see Paralympians, elite athletes who are incredible, but not representational of everyday life with a disability. In mainstream media it’s very difficult to find inclusion, much less normalization of disabled bodies. “
For every mountain we scale on the path toward inclusion, there seems to be another waiting. If there is no representation of disabled women in maternity photos, how does the community fare when it comes to parenting resources?
“I have noticed that disability remains hard to find outside of the Instagrammers and bloggers who are sharing their own experiences,” Couture says. “In general, parenting magazines and channels still aren’t doing a great job of keeping disability in mind. For some reason, when it comes to diversity, it gets forgotten, perhaps because it will always intersect with other identities.”
It looks like some media outlets are starting to take notice, though. Couture is currently featured on the cover of Today’s Parent magazine, right beside the fitting headline, “One Strong Mother.” Inside, Couture is one of nine women sharing stories about the transformative power of motherhood.
Couture has started something — something big. It only takes one person sharing their story to make a real and significant change in our media landscape. Who will be next?
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