Hello! I’m Jen and I’m the photographer behind the lens at Hello Photography. I wanted to tell you a little bit about my story and how I came up with the idea for The Tulle Skirt Project: I am Strong and Beautiful.
I am a wife, a mother, a daughter, and now a photographer. I have always been into some kind of sport but when I got married I completely stopped working out. Somewhere along the way I started feeling really uncomfortable. My body was different and I just didn’t like myself. I didn’t seem to know who I was anymore.
When my son, Deacon, was 6 months old I realized I was having a hard time picking up his giant baby body and knew I had to do something. Going to the gym on my own was frustrating, lonely, and clearly wasn’t working for me. I had learned about Crossfit years ago but never thought I was fit enough to do it and that’s what kept me away for so long. I had a good friend who started at a box down south. We had our kiddos around the same time and she had suffered from some health problems for a few years prior to that. I was inspired by her and her story so I decided it was time to let go of my fears and try something new. The last time I had done that was probably about 15 years prior when I left everything I knew and moved from Connecticut to attend the University of Texas on a rowing scholarship.
Shortly after I started Crossfit I went through a very painful, traumatic, and life changing loss. The community I had found lifted me up in ways I never could have imagined. Without those people I think I would have stayed in bed all day and drowned my feelings with ice cream and alcohol. Okay, I’ll be honest- for a long time I still drowned my feelings with ice cream and alcohol. I don’t think anyone ever knew how much I was hurting inside or that those feelings continued up until just a few months ago when I came up with the idea for this project. But knowing that those wonderful people and coaches were going to be there cheering me on helped me get to where I am today.
Along the way, I learned how to put myself out there and try new things. I learned that it’s okay to be the slowest person as long as I tried my best. I learned how not to get embarrassed by my size and instead decided to learn how to use it to its full potential. I learned how to cope, how to heal, and most importantly, how to move on.
I’ve been photographing people for years and I wanted to apply my craft into something meaningful and beneficial to the women around me. I see women day in and day out who are constantly trying to work towards something that they don’t think they already are. Women who are mothers, grandmothers, wives, daughters who are likely dealing with some of the same struggles that I’ve had my entire life and don’t see the beauty within themselves. These women are also so busy caring for others that they don’t take the time to do something nice for themselves.
I wanted to have my own session for a few reasons. First, I wanted to see what it was like so I could talk through any potential problems with my clients. Second, I was a little suspicious (okay jealous) of the transformation I saw in the women I’d previously photographed. As soon as they put the tutu on their whole attitude changed. It suddenly became “their time” and they were practically floating. It was incredible. I wanted that. But I didn’t think I could do that. I didn’t think I was fit enough or had enough muscle definition. I always thought I hated how large my arms were and I always thought my head looked small on my large frame. But didn’t I just talk about how I learned how to put myself out there and try new things? So I did it! I asked my good friend, J, who happens to be an excellent photographer to help me out. You can check out his amazing work here. (Have you ever tried to take your own pictures? Not an easy task and not one I wanted to deal with on top of trying to keep the integrity of the experience)
I had a vision in my head of what I wanted. I’ve been inspired by a photographer named Meg Bitton and her fantastic New York City backgrounds. So I met J downtown and off we went. We found some alleyways and some fantastic buildings to shoot at. I even got in the middle of downtown Congress a few times! By accident, there was even a Marilyn Monroe moment when my skirt went flying up in the wind! (Thankfully I had something on underneath!)
At the end of the session, J handed me the memory cards and I went home to edit. That might have been the hardest part about the entire session. Seeing pictures of yourself and then editing them. Seeing all the things you always thought you hated about yourself right there in front of you. But then something happened. When I’m editing a session I always try and pick the photos that jump right out at me, that make me feel something. And my own photos were doing that to me! I could see my own personality and my beauty staring me in the face and I hadn’t edited a single picture yet.
I admit it’s taken me awhile to edit my pictures. Much longer than I had wanted. It’s been a busy spring and I have to put my own personal projects on the back burner sometimes. And I want them to be perfect. I want them to be perfect for me and I want people to be inspired by the project as much I have been by my own experience with it.
Strength isn’t just found in the gym lifting weights, it’s overcoming the struggles and challenges in your life and coming out on the other side stronger than before. Your strength and beauty comes from within and I can help you share your story.
Jen Bradford is a portrait photographer based in Austin, Texas but is willing to travel. Keep up with her on Facebook, Instagram, or her website. The Tulle Skirt Project: I am Strong and Beautiful combines Jen’s passion for fitness, secret love of tutus, and her desire to show women how beautiful they really are into these amazing and creative sessions.