Please be advised there are graphic [nude] images at the end of this post that are NSFW (not safe for work).
Melissa has a few of the most recognized images in the American Housewife series; she brought her own definitions and views of a housewife to the table and was a huge supporter of the project, helping to organize many of the subjects. The project would not have been possible without her. As with the entire series, there is no cosmetic retouching on any of the images, meaning that we did not remove blemishes, wrinkles, flyaway hair, smooth skin, change shape, or remove any “imperfections.” Everything is styled through our unique treatment of color and light.
At the time I photographed Melissa, she had just separated from her husband and moved into a light filled two bedroom apartment with her two children. She slept in the bottom bunk and her adopted daughter in the top bunk – sharing a bedroom.
Some words from Melissa:
I was photographed for the American Housewife Project shortly after I separated from my husband of 12 years. I was living on my own, spending half the week with my 2 small kids and the other half, feeling very sorry for myself. For ten of those previous twelve years, I had been a true stay at home mom and housewife. In my current state of marital separation, I was not 100% sure that I qualified anymore as an “American Housewife.”
Melissa was willing to push her own boundaries and mine in agreeing to pose nude. Too often we are poisoned by our media, creating fear of family and community – a lack of confidence. In my opinion, there is nothing more powerful than being comfortable in your own skin, in your own environment, standing confidently – both heroic and honest. These images are not meant to be sexual in nature, but rather add to the overall honesty and expression. A goal in my portraiture is to leave the viewer to create narrative – to learn something about the subject.
Melissa on posing nude:
Posing nude became a line drawn in the sand. My old life, along with my old housewife friends and acquaintances stood on one side of the line and now, I stood on the other. As I stripped off my clothes, I was metaphorically stripping away my old life, exposing who I really was, who I had always been. Honestly, most of the housewives didn’t like who they saw once I removed my layers of housewife clothes.
There is a reason why babies love to be naked – nothing to bind them, nothing to constrain – the fresh feel of the open air on their new skin. I think we as humans are always trying to get back to the freedom we felt as children. Posing nude took me back to that time. Surprisingly, the emotion I felt was not embarrassment at my 45 year old body, but unapologetic abandon.
Melissa is someone who is not afraid of change and boldly marches forward. The person I know today is vastly different then the Melissa I met decades ago. Her tattoos tell some of her story with the Chinese character over her heart that reads, “dare to take a risk.”
Melissa is a powerhouse in the local arts scene. She is the founder of Mamacita, a mothers cooperative in the arts providing its members a collective voice within the art world with all members being professional artists and mothers. Additionally, Melissa is the art editor of Philadelphia Stories, author of two books, “Forgotten Philadelphia: Art and Writing Inspired by Philadelphia Cultural Heritage Sites” and “Extraordinary Gifts: Remarkable Women from the Delaware Valley,” Program Coordinator of On Site Arts Education and Conferences at Appel Farm Arts and Music Center, and an incredibly talented and prolific painter.