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This clever woman is using art to erase the stigma of teenage motherhood

Jendella captures images of teenage mothers and their children to create change.

Jendella is a London-based photographer, filmmaker and writer who grew up around many teen mothers and observed how these young parents, some who were her friends, lived a life that was in complete contrast to what society says young mothers are.

These young mothers were going to school, taking care of their children, working and carrying on with life like most parents do, however, one thing that was different was the amount of shame and stigma they faced solely because they had their children in their teenage years.

Jendella felt a need to share the stories of her friends to counter the negative and stereotypical views of young parenthood and thus Young Motherhood was born. Young Motherhood is a social documentary project that addresses the myths, harmful stereotypes and unhelpful, yet common, misconceptions that surround young mothers and their children in the UK.

Jendella and I spoke about the project, what she hopes to accomplish, and the reception it has received from the general public.

SheKnows: What does the Young Motherhood project consist of and how long did it take for you to complete the entire project?

Jendella: The Young Motherhood project consist of photographers and on-camera interviews with young mothers across the UK. I began collecting stories in September of 2013 and while all the stories have been collected, there are several other parts of the project that I’m still working on. Once the project is complete, it will consist of photos, a film, which will be released in a series of episodes that cover different topics, and a book.

SK: Was it hard to find young mothers who wanted to be a part of the project and how did you find them all?

Jendella: Some of the young mothers in the project are childhood friends who I grew up with and were sort of the motivation for me to start the project. For the young mothers I didn’t grow up with I was recommended to them through friends and previous people I had interviewed. Overall, there was a lot of enthusiasm, excitement and they were all very keen to being open and allowing me to come into their homes and learn about their personal journey.

SK: Being that your project is providing a completely different perspective on young motherhood than what society believes, how difficult was it for you to get support to do the project and showcase it in an art space?

Jendella: The most difficult part was getting funding to be able to do the project. Because of the stigma that surrounds young motherhood, it was very difficult to get funding from art grants, but once I packaged the project as community work, I was able to get funding. Hiring out gallery space here is very expensive. I was able to get gallery space and initially I wanted a week, but the person who I pitched the idea to is actually a child of a young mum and she really connected with the project. What I thought would be a week gig turned into three because she was so moved and connected to the project.

SK: In looking through some of the photographers, I noticed that there are no fathers present. Is this an intentional decision on your part or part of the reality of the women you photographed?

Jendella: This was a very deliberate decision on my part. I want the project to be only about young mothers because I feel that bringing in the fathers changes the discussion and takes away from the conversation we are trying to have. You don’t look at a picture of a Madonna and say, “Oh! She’s a single mum!” Why are we doing that to these women? It’s funny, it seems that people are more interested in the relationship status than the real stories we are trying to share. In some of these photos the women are wearing their wedding rings. It’s like people aren’t even looking at the project, they’re too pressured on pushing the stereotype on these women.

SK: You have done other photo projects but this is the first one you are presenting to the House of Commons (the UK equivalent of the United States House of Representatives). Why did you choose to present Young Motherhood to them?

Jendella: A friend of mine suggested I do it since I really want the project to lead to changes in policy to help young mothers and this is the first project that I developed it into a place that I felt has political clout. Because general elections are coming up in May, many members of Parliament are trying to look like they are listening and engaging, so I’m taking advantage of this political timing. Young mothers are very political so the project is very political.

Jendella has since presented her project to the House of Commons and said that although she was nervous, she felt it went well. She is still working on Young Motherhood and says that she hopes to remain a “facilitator, [to] keep working with more teen and young moms and [to] continue to capture and share stories in a way that does not exploit the stories of the young mothers.”

You can learn more about the Young Motherhood Project here and you can also follow Jendella on Twitter.

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