The influencer shares the inspiration behind her vulnerable maternity photo shoot and how pregnancy changed her relationship with her body.
By Courtney Runn, Photo by Taylor Prinsen
Shruthi Parker was terrified to post pregnancy pictures on social media. Like any pregnant influencer, she scheduled a maternity photo shoot before giving birth but spent a week writing and rewriting the captions. With shaking hands, she pressed “Share.” The response was immediate: Thousands of women liked and commented on the four-part series showcasing her stretch marks and changing body, and the images quickly became some of her most-liked pictures ever. Authenticity is a buzzword online, but Parker’s belly-baring photos cut past the performative vulnerability of many of her peers in the industry and explored deeper insecurities and universal fears.
Austin Woman: What was your inspiration for such an unguarded photo shoot?
Shruthi Parker: I wanted to schedule maternity photos to capture the changing body and I was talking to my husband. I was like, “I don’t know. I feel like everyone does this thing where they wear a pretty gown, and that hasn’t been a symbol of pregnancy for me.” For me, I’ve been the same shape and size for 12 years. … I’m so thrilled and blessed and excited to have this baby but at the same time, it’s been a challenge to what was a big part of my identity. … I met with [photographer Taylor Prinsen] and told her how I felt like, just in this generation, it’s been so much about this idea of perfection. I’ve even had probably three or four plastic surgeons follow me [on Instagram] during pregnancy and a few brands reach out to me about stretch-mark creams and this and that, and I was like, “If I’m feeling this much pressure, there [have] to be other women out there that are also being told, ‘Cool, cool. That’s great you’re carrying life and having a child but remember, when you’re ready to get back to focusing on your image of perfection, come check us out.’ ”
AW: Did you hear that message from other women in your life too?
SP: Definitely. Other women have been like, “Enjoy it while it lasts. Then once the baby’s out, you’ll have all this sagging skin.” It’s not a very positive approach to it all. We idolize this body that is flawless, and we put the mother body in a different category of useful but not beautiful or sexy. I’m just over that.
AW: Do you think it goes back to the tension that women are expected to want children and have children and they’re praised when they do and shamed if they don’t? But once you do have kids, you shouldn’t look like you had a child even though that’s what you were asked to do.
SP: Yeah, exactly! I know people’s intentions are good when they say, “Wow you don’t even look like you had a baby.” But the reality is I did, and my body has changed so much and that’s post-baby. So, pre-baby…people are like, “What’s your weight-loss plan?” and “Thank God for one-piece swimsuits,” and stuff like that.
AW: Was it a month-by-month process of accepting your body?
SP: I would say it was definitely a process. I remember going to the extreme of, “At least I can carry a child. Stop whining. Stop being like this.” To some extent, I think it is healthy to remember that it is a gift, obviously, to carry life, but at the same time, it doesn’t negate your own feelings, and I had to work through that. You don’t have to use the word “mourn.” I’ve heard women be like, “Oh, I mourn not having that body anymore.” Rather, it’s a rebirth; it’s a new body; it’s an evolution of the body. And so, definitely, I had to go from this place of feeling frustrated and ugly pretty much to, “Wow! This is strength and power and I’m carrying this child and she’s healthy and I’m healthy.”
AW: What helped you make that mental shift?
SP: Honestly, my faith. I really, really had to surrender where I was finding my identity. Every day I was like, “God, I need you to help me see this body the way you see it, which is perfectly made.”
AW: What positive stories did you hear from women after sharing the pictures?
SP: One woman specifically talked about how she hasn’t changed clothes in front of her husband since she’s given birth to their kid and she was like, “I feel encouraged now that I can do that in front of him.” That is so wild but I understand because the root of it is the same of feeling like [your body isn’t] good enough. Other women who are also pregnant [said,] “I have had this fear of stretch marks this whole time. I’ve been more worried about stretch marks than my baby’s health.” And [now they’re]like, “You’re right. These are victory marks. They’re not something I need to spend even a second being worried about.”
AW: You gave them permission to acknowledge negative thoughts and permission to move past them.
SP: I read these stories all day and I sat on the couch reading and reading and that night, I went into labor. … My doctor said the baby won’t come if the body is stressed and she’s like, “You probably were in such a state of joy hearing all of this that your baby is like, ‘All right, I’m ready.’ ” It was amazing.
AW: This was part of your Instagram caption: “My fear tells me women will see my new stretched and marked body and say, ‘Yes! Start the conversation! We need to see more of this!’ but their eyes will say, ‘Thank God that’s not mine.’ [blinks back tears].” That seems a prevalent dichotomy in many areas of life. You know the conversation should start but you don’t want to need to benefit from that conversation. You want to be above it. Why do you think women struggle with this tension so much?
SP: I think the core of it is comparison and being like, “At least I don’t have that, but let me cheer you on. Look at me. I’m such an advocate but it’s not something I struggle with. I’m better than that.” And that comes from comparison, pride and deeply rooted insecurity of needing to find affirmation in something they actually shouldn’t be ashamed of. I know for myself, at least, I [didn’t] want to share this because it is real, raw, vulnerable but it also shows where I was insecure and angry at something. When someone is like, “I could have never shared that but I’m glad you did,” I want to tell them, “You can. You can share that, and not only would that help you, but it would help so many other women.”
AW: Have this mental shift and photo-shoot experience changed your in-person conversations too?
SP: I don’t know what the correlation here is, but I’ve had more friends be like, “I’ve been going more natural in my look lately and I’m not worried so much about shapeware and things like that.” And I think that insecurity translates to each woman differently and so, I think it’s cool that women are able to find more freedom around our conversations. I’ll have friends come over and be like, “I didn’t even put on any makeup but honestly, I wasn’t even worried about putting on makeup because I feel comfortable with you.” That’s been really special. My friends and peers can realize that I fight hard against a comparative nature with looks and I would love for the women around me to feel that comfort with me and then comfort with each other, just be their real selves.
AW: How has being an influencer affected your relationship with your body?
SP: Buzzwords like “authenticity” and “raw” are really popular right now but truly, I think what you would see on my social media is what you would see if you walked into my home, and that’s why I may not post as much on my stories or my Instagram grid posts aren’t Facetuned or whatever. I just want to be an influence in people’s lives for the better, but that doesn’t always mean being super overly positive.
AW: There seems to be a lot of fake authenticity on Instagram.
SP: One-hundred percent. My husband is so blunt about that stuff with me. From the beginning, he would be like, “Who is this content serving? Is it serving your followers or is it serving you? What’s your motive here?” And I was like, “OK. Thank you. I needed to hear that.” If a blogger or somebody who is speaking to a large group of people, if they don’t have someone who is very honest and clear with them and is not caught up in that world, then they can probably be one of those people who is like, “OK, guys, I’m being really vulnerable today. I’m going to be talking about my insecurity with how I have to dye my eyebrows because they’re the same color as my skin.” Things like that where you look at it and you’re like, “I need to have compassion for this person,” but at the same time, like, come on!
AW: What was it like working with Taylor Prinsen?
SP: I feel like she understood the messaging I was trying to get across and she was so easy to shoot with. Oh my gosh, I was nervous. I was wearing a big T-shirt and I was like, “I’m nervous to take this off.” This is Taylor. She understands. I kept not making eye contact with her when I first got in my bathing suit. I felt so vulnerable with her and she was so encouraging, like, ‘OK, let’s do this!” and I was like, “All right, let’s do this.” So, she was so great to work with.
AW: Why did you pick her?
SP: I felt like her images were the least overly edited. They were crisp, clear and she tells a story with her images rather than them being very posed. She also shares a bit on her stories about body image and body dysmorphia and things like that. So, I was like, “She’d be a great person to work with,” because when you’re collaborating with someone, you want them to have empathy.