This photographer fights outdated norms with beautiful portraits of modern moms.

As a young mom, Celia Sanchez felt like an outsider.

Sanchez, who became a mom 11 years ago at age 23, had many run-ins with fellow parents that she won't soon forget.

"When I would take my children to day care, I felt kind of ... like I didn't look like the other moms," Sanchez said. "They were much older than me. I just felt kind of separated from them. I would get a lot of 'Oh you're so young to be a mom,' 'You don't really look like a mom,' and I always thought that was a silly thing to say: 'Oh you don't look like a mom.'"


Driven by her own brushes with judgment, Sanchez reached out to friends and strangers for a powerful portrait project.

"I'm not a woman of words," said Sanchez, a portrait photographer. "I like to show people."

Sanchez's photo series "Devoted" features "non-typical" mothers and their children.

With their body art, bold hair, and amazing clothes, these women don't seem like "typical moms" at first glance. And that's the point.

For the past three years, Sanchez has shot portraits of these women alone and with their children. She hopes the juxtaposition will encourage people to reconsider their first impressions.

Photo by Celia Sanchez, used with permission.

"I knew mothers who didn't look like a 'typical mom,' and I always wanted to photograph them and feature them and show that you don't have to look a certain way to be a mom," she said.

Photo by Celia Sanchez, used with permission.

Many of these moms have tattoos, which are still considered taboo in a lot of communities.

By the numbers, though, tattoos are fairly common, even for parents.

Photo by Celia Sanchez, used with permission.

According to a 2015 Harris poll, nearly half (47%) of millennials and more than a third (36%) of Gen Xers surveyed reported having a tattoo. And respondents with children were nearly twice as likely to have a tattoo as those without children (43% vs. 21%).

Photo by Celia Sanchez, used with permission.

Even as tattoos and parents with tattoos become more commonplace, many parents still feel judged for their appearance.

Brian Poole and his wife, Meg, run Parents With Tattoos, one of several Facebook communities on the topic. Admittedly, Poole says his run-ins with those critical of his body art aren't as bad as many would assume, but they definitely happen.

Photo by Celia Sanchez, used with permission.

"I don't get a lot of comments, but I get a lot of snide looks. You can definitely tell people from their body language, the way that they look at you," he says.

The prejudice has also led to more serious consequences for Poole and his family.  

"We've actually been, me and my wife, have actually been turned down from renting houses. ... And it's like, 'Come on. It's 2016. I would think we'd move past that.'"

But we haven't. That's why projects like "Devoted" are so important.

Photo by Celia Sanchez, used with permission.

Not all parents look the same. And they shouldn't have to.

Three years in, Sanchez continues to work on "Devoted" not just for herself, but to celebrate and champion these strong, beautiful mothers.

Photo by Celia Sanchez, used with permission.

"I just wanted to show women — mothers — who weren't ... sacrificing their personal style," Sanchez says. "Being a mom, you get lost in your children and I really love the fact that these women didn't lose themselves. They didn't lose their identities. They're still themselves. They're still great parents."

Photos by Celia Sanchez, used with permission.

Raising kids is hard enough without prejudice and judgment. Next time you see a mom or dad who doesn't fit your idea of a parent, Sanchez hopes you'll check yourself. Because if it takes a village to rise a child, everyone who loves and cares about that child is welcome.

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Shanda Lynn Poitra was born and raised on the Turtle Mountain Reservation in Belcourt, North Dakota. She lived there until she was 24 years old when she left for college at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks.

"Unfortunately," she says, "I took my bad relationship with me. At the time, I didn't realize it was so bad, much less, abusive. Seeing and hearing about abusive relationships while growing up gave me the mentality that it was just a normal way of life."

Those college years away from home were difficult for a lot of reasons. She had three small children — two in diapers, one in elementary school — as well as a full-time University class schedule and a part-time job as a housekeeper.

"I wore many masks back then and clothing that would cover the bruises," she remembers. "Despite the darkness that I was living in, I was a great student; I knew that no matter what, I HAD to succeed. I knew there was more to my future than what I was living, so I kept working hard."

While searching for an elective class during this time, she came across a one-credit, 20-hour IMPACT self-defense class that could be done over a weekend. That single credit changed her life forever. It helped give her the confidence to leave her abusive relationship and inspired her to bring IMPACT classes to other Native women in her community.

I walked into class on a Friday thinking that I would simply learn how to handle a person trying to rob me, and I walked out on a Sunday evening with a voice so powerful that I could handle the most passive attacks to my being, along with physical attacks."

It didn't take long for her to notice the difference the class was making in her life.

"I was setting boundaries and people were either respecting them or not, but I was able to acknowledge who was worth keeping in my life and who wasn't," she says.

Following the class, she also joined a roller derby league where she met many other powerful women who inspired her — and during that summer, she found the courage to leave her abuser.

"As afraid as I was, I finally had the courage to report the abuse to legal authorities, and I had the support of friends and family who provided comfort for my children and I during this time," she says.

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