by Ali Smith
A mother stands in front of my camera. “I don’t know what I’m supposed to do,” she says anxiously, so she smiles stiffly, as you might in a school picture. “Just be yourself,” I encourage. When she leaves my makeshift studio, set up at the Prudential Center in Boston for the occasion, I feel I’ve failed. The images reveal nothing about how she was feeling. Instead, I’ve taken a smiling portrait of a woman with no indication that she was about to undergo a serious, emotional transformation.
On Monday this mother will return home, where she will stand out in her office, at her local restaurant, at her kid’s playground, as “the bald mom.” Wherever she comes from, that will take some nerve. And it will, by design, inspire questions.
Each weekday, an average of 46 American families receive the unenviable news that their child has some form of cancer. At this event, part of the fifth annual Shave for the Brave Campaign organized by the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, mothers of children affected by cancer shaved their heads in solidarity with their children to help raise awareness and funds for pediatric cancer research as part of the 46Mommas team.
I took their pictures, before and after, a record of what was lost, and what was gained.
Originally published in the New York Times’ Motherlode column.
To find out about Ali’s Award-Winning book Momma Love, visit MommaLovetheBook.com @mommaloveAli on Twitter and Instagram Momma Love The Book on FB. See more of Ali’s work at alismith.com and altpick.com/alismith