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The Love Your Body Now Project – Healing Body Image Issues Through Fine Art Nudes (Beth)

body image issues

I tagged this photo, “Beth’s magnificent fanny.” Photo by Beth Sanders Photography

Hello Beauties — I’m very excited to announce that photographer Beth Sanders, body coach Marlene Zaleznick and I are combining our super powers to create a positive body image project called, “Love Your Body Now.”

The germination of this idea began two years ago when I was feeling disgruntled with my body.

After the birth of my two daughters and heading into peri-menopause I weighed twenty pounds more than I did prior to becoming a mom.

I spent a great deal of time thinking about my stomach, to whom we’ll refer as Gertrude.

I prognosticated about how wantonly she hung over the top of my now too-tight jeans. The way she lay next to me when I slept on my side as if she were a small, incorrigible puppy. And worse yet, the way Gertrude seemed to jelly-wobble during sex with the hubs.

In my 20s I’d had fine art nudes taken in order to see my body as it really was, not the way my critical eye (and an ex-boyfriend) saw it. When the photos came back I hesitated to hope that what I saw before me was Beauty?

I ventured forth and showed my photos to just a few trusted friends. They lavished my images with their approving gaze and so it was through the photos, and the kind, loving compliments, that I was able to love my body more, hence myself.

I believe how we feel about our bodies in particular is ineluctably tied to how we feel about (and treat) ourselves in general.  

So with Gertrude in tow, I decided to try the fine art nudes again, at 46. What the fucackta?

This time out it wasn’t an immediate lovefest, but after I selected a few of the “better” shots I showed them to my husband and my trusted friends. And then to everyone here.

The feedback was incredibly positive and I ultimately came to the same conclusion I’d come to in my 20s. Older, wiser, more to love. Still beautiful.

The experience was so positive I thought, “Why can’t I do this for other women too?” Which is why I called Beth.

Beth’s incredible photography runs the gamut from capturing life’s big moments, wedding, engagement, the odd naughty boudoir to shooting subjects in her “Be” series, the tagline? “What if an image of you as your Secret Self could help you recreate your lost dream?

As Beth and I discussed how this project would unfold I was startled when she unconsciously criticized her own body.

Beth’s body is the kind I’ve always admired. Athletic, with lean, strong muscle. Yet here she was, finding fault, just like I’d done with my body?

She was particularly unsure of her breasts, having been in love with a man who told her he didn’t think he could marry her because “the boob thing” was “holding him up.”

He really wanted her to get a boob job. (He and my ex should date)

Fortunately Beth didn’t get a boob job and she absolutely didn’t marry this joker. Bullet dodged.

It occurred to me that Beth should be the next subject in our fledgling body image issues project and that she should take nudes of herself. Without a moment’s hesitation she agreed. This is the email I received the following day:

“I shot myself today. Not much luck. I actually thought I looked ok until I saw the damn photos. 50-year-old loose skin. wtf? Anyway, I didn’t like my lighting and my foot kept cramping up, so I am going to try again tomorrow.”

The next day I received the photos Beth “kind of liked,” which includes the photo above. It was my turn to say wtf, because for 50 or any age, Beth is stunning:

body image issues

Photo credit: Beth Sanders

body image issues

Photo credit: Beth Sanders

body image issues

Photo credit: Beth Sanders

During our post-phot shoot interview I asked Beth to tell me five beautiful things about her body:

“Well, I like my ribcage,” she said.

“Your ribcage?” I queried, a bit stumped. “What do you like about your ribcage?”

“That it doesn’t stick out further than my boobs.”

Okay, we were not really batting one out of the self-love ballpark.

“What’s the second thing you think is beautiful about your body?” I tried again.

“Well, I like my butt. Most of the time.”

I’m not entirely sure which times Beth doesn’t like her butt. Does it go out after kerfew and smoke cloves? What’s up with that butt, because to my eyes it’s pretty freakin’ awesome.

“And my legs are a good feature.”

At this point we were only on the third thing Beth finds beautiful about her body and it felt like I was water boarding her to get her to say nice things about herself.

“Is that five yet?” she asked.

Sweet mother of God we women, I thought. Is it the constant onslaught of photo-shopped images of twelve-year-olds passed off as grown women that are causing us such self-doubt? Is it the insidious and persistent sexual objectification of the female form in media and advertising that has us self-objectifying and feeling like we always come up short?

In answer to my own questions I found a recent article published in Psych Central titled, “Why Do Women Hate Their Bodies?” by Dr. Carolyn Coker Ross, MD.  Dr. Ross says that 80% of women in the U.S. are dissatisfied with their bodies. And this:

“Over time, models have gone from thin to emaciated, which has been mirrored by a growing problem of eating disorders and body image dissatisfaction. In 1975 most models weighed 8 percent less than the average woman; today they weigh 23 percent less. Compared to the Playboy centerfolds and Miss America winners from the 1950s, at least one-quarter of present-day icons meet the weight criteria for anorexia.”

“Herein lies the real damage. The more an individual is exposed to the media, the more he or she believes it is reflective of the real world. What most people still don’t realize is that the majority of the pictures they see in magazines are altered in some way and that looking like their role models is physically impossible. It is a setup for self-hatred.”

This is why I decided to try a different route with Beth.

Rather than forcing her to acknowledge the beauty in herself I decided to do what my husband and friends had done for me.

“I’m going to tell you all the things I find beautiful about your body,” I told Beth.

“Oh, okay.” She sounded doubtful, as if I might be risking my life like James Phelps in Mission Impossible, having chosen to accept the assignment of sincerely complimenting her.

“First,” I said, “I love the shape of your head. You have a perfectly shaped head and your close-cropped haircut complements it perfectly.”

“Oh,” Beth said. Her voice had become quiet, still, soft and listening.

“I think you have beautiful, broad shoulder and incredible musculature in your back.”

“Marry me,” Beth said with a chuckle. But again I sensed her vulnerability. Her slight discomfort with accepting compliments.

“Also, the skin on your bottom and thighs looks soft, translucent and smooth as porcelain. You also have a perfect butt.”

She immediately explained that she’s never had cellulite because she’s always been an athlete. But it seemed that, rather than embracing the compliment, she felt she had to apologize a little for her perfect tush.

And these are the things I forgot to mention during our interview. Beth, are you reading this? Are you listening? Please type this up, frame it and put it in your boudoir.

I envy your flat, hard belly. Gertrude saw this photo and was quite put out. She immediately had to have some chocolate and a few canapes. I am ignoring Gertrude and am telling you that you should wear nothing but bikinis and a smile.

And now for your breasts. I know you said you thoroughly dislike your nipples because they are bent in half from “86 years of nursing” and that you cross your arms over your chest to hide your flatness when “buff, hot manly men” pass by in the gym.

Here’s what I think. I saw your nipples, which I’m not posting here because we need to remain PG-13, and they look absolutely awake and ready to dance.

As for the rest of your breasts, they’re perfect for your long, lean, athletic body. You can run your marathons without them bouncing up into your face and weighing you down.

You can also wear those plunging necklines sans bra like Amy Adams in American Hustle and they will remain pert, friendly and sexy.

And there is one word I love so much that seems to succinctly describe your entire physique. Gamine: “a slim, often boyish, elegant, wide-eyed young woman who is, or is perceived to be, mischievous, teasing or sexually appealing.”

Now, kind readers, it is our job to tell Beth the Beauty we see in these photos and to leave loving, supportive comments so that she can see what we see.  And Love Her Body Now.

If you live in the Boulder, Colorado area and wish to participate in this project please contact me or Beth on her website.

If you want to stay abreast (pun intended) of the Love Your Body Now project please sign up to my weekly newsletter for updates. And please remember to share us on Facebook and Twitter below. Onward and upward! xo S


Tags assigned to this article:
#LoveYourBodyNowBody image issues

45 comments

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  1. Darcy
    Darcy 16 February, 2014, 19:55

    Beth looks great! I agree, she has a perfect butt. I liked the line of her back in those pictures too.

    I love this project. Recently I received a much needed confidence boost after having boudoir photos done. I was partly inspired by your previous self-image posts. So thank you 🙂

    Reply this comment
    • Shannon
      Shannon Author 17 February, 2014, 11:31

      Oh Darcy now you know I want to see those boudoir shots. Good for you!

      Reply this comment
  2. Lisa
    Lisa 17 February, 2014, 06:16

    After only 18 months of nursing, I totally understand how you feel about your nipples, but you look amazing. I am 29 yrs old and am considering hanging your pic on my fridge for running inspiration. You are an inspiration.

    Reply this comment
  3. Lynne
    Lynne 17 February, 2014, 12:30

    Beth looks beautiful! I was so impressed with this post, and the photos, that I shared with my hubby. He, too, was impressed with Beth’s photos, and now would like me to have a photo session! I love that you both are working on women’s healthy images of ourselves. We need to quit beating ourselves up and enjoy our real beauty.

    Reply this comment
  4. Karen
    Karen 17 February, 2014, 17:15

    Love these pics! Would love to do some of myself at 40. I’m about 15 lbs over my “usual” weight…and have been for a couple of years, so I guess it’s time to adjust the scales!

    Reply this comment
    • Shannon
      Shannon Author 18 February, 2014, 08:11

      That darn “usual weight” does lurk around the peripheries of my mind and hasn’t been my “usual weight” in 10 years. So I’m changing the number permanently xo

      Reply this comment
  5. Jenna N
    Jenna N 17 February, 2014, 19:43

    So, for the rest of you readers, I will let you know that I used to live with Shannon as her roomate for a few years in my 20’s. Being two women living together with one bathroom we often saw each other naked and, well, being who Shannon is, she often felt the need to comment on my naked form as well as her own. If you’ve all been reading her blog for a while now, you’ve seen her naked photos so you know what I was up against. Let’s just say that I do NOT have the body that Shannon has. But I will also tell you this. She had a way of focusing on my body’s beauty that I could not see myself. She wasn’t just flippantly handing over empty compliments but making true observations and looking for the beauty that was there to be found. And she can be very persuasive when she wants to be. 😉 I still hear her voice in my head sometimes when I look at my naked body in the mirror and find myself criticizing it. Isn’t it fascinating how my husband can compliment me a hundred thousand times about my body, God bless him, but it’s so important to hear it from a woman? And I also know how easy it is to brush aside those compliments we hear from our women friends and not to really believe them somehow. Shannon, I love that you’re doing this project. I love that you are helping other women see their physical beauty in this world that leaves us all so self critical, especially as we age.
    And Beth, you are beautiful. Your body looks so strong and smooth and powerful and yet has such softness. I can’t see your breasts or nipples in these photos but I work with new moms in my line of work and I absolutely know that a breastfeeding mom nursing her babies is breathtakingly beautiful. And, while our breasts may never look the same again, what’s left behind are the battle scars of motherhood and those scars are awesome in their own right. I’ve come to the conclusion that my body has served me well at different times in my life. Right now I’m raising two big healthy boys and it’s quite possible that I need a little extra weight on my body to do that. So I try to appreciate the strength it gives me. I try…. 😉

    Reply this comment
    • Shannon
      Shannon Author 18 February, 2014, 08:10

      Hello Roomie! Thank you so much for your sweet comment! This is just making me more angry that you live so far away!! I really need some Mists of Avalon to moisturize my skin. xo S

      Reply this comment
  6. Sara
    Sara 18 February, 2014, 17:26

    Her neck and back are to die for! That’s exactly why plunging, low-backed gowns were invented. Beautiful!

    Reply this comment
    • Shannon
      Shannon Author 18 February, 2014, 21:30

      Sara that is so true. Okay, my next mission is to buy Beth a dress with a plunging back.

      Reply this comment
  7. Cathy C.
    Cathy C. 20 February, 2014, 11:01

    I’m sharing this! So many beautiful women, so much self criticism.

    Reply this comment
  8. Chris K.
    Chris K. 20 February, 2014, 18:48

    Beth is beautiful! I love how smooth her skin is, and how muscular she is. Her abs are to die for! I am getting a lot better at loving myself but still have a few issues. It’s a work in progress.

    I used to weigh 233 pounds and am currently 159 so I have loose skin around my abdomen and thighs, and my legs and calves are larger than average, but I’ve seen pictures of women worse off than I am, and have to say that above my waist I’m rather happy with my body.

    We all have our issues – I have to say. Starting on the journey to love myself was how I finally started losing weight after struggling for years. It’s something I’m incredibly passionate about – helping other women find their self love and helping them lose weight. Thank you for doing this project!

    Reply this comment
  9. Vivienne G
    Vivienne G 20 February, 2014, 18:53

    I wish this project could be more widespread – across the nation, beyond Boulder. It is truly needed and important.

    Reply this comment
  10. Melanie
    Melanie 22 February, 2014, 19:14

    This is so beautiful. Beth is beautiful. Every inch. I’ve always wanted to have nudes done – despite how much I loath looking the in the mirror. I still think there is beauty in there… somewhere. 🙂 Flabby tum aside. I agree with Vivienne (lovely name) – this should be a movement. Where can I find a local photog!? Great idea. Not unlike the Bloggess’ red dress. It would be fabulous.

    Reply this comment
  11. A Pleasant House
    A Pleasant House 11 March, 2014, 09:28

    Bodies are beautiful no matter what the age and Beth just proves the point. Stunning.

    Reply this comment
  12. Lisa Froman
    Lisa Froman 12 March, 2014, 04:38

    She has the body of a 20-something. Beautiful. And I bet her spirit is just as pretty. Great post Shannon. I like what you’re doing here.

    Reply this comment
  13. Collette Clyde
    Collette Clyde 17 March, 2014, 10:13

    Hello,
    I loved your petition and obviously petitioned for it.
    I was raised in a completely raised in a different culture where thin was BAD, POOR, BROKE and SOS, where I grew up, FAT in the in thing. If you are healthy, its just normal, if you are fat, you are RICH, WELL OFF.
    I am totally confused. I was soooo THIN as hell, and thus life wasnt fun, when I moved, am round,m i got fat… living in a world of confusion!!
    What is healthy?
    I would love for some people to look at my pictures and tell me about me. I cant tell about me, whether I am fat or thin, healthy or not. i love both lands, home and America, but I am lost on what I should be and wht the middle ground is… its 2 extremes….
    I would love to do a Nude photoshoot with Beth, just for honest feed back…. oftenly 110% i am beating myself up.
    I live in Chicago now.

    Reply this comment
    • Shannon
      Shannon Author 17 March, 2014, 13:09

      Hi Collette — Beth is actually shooting women who come in from out of state. If this is something you are serious about doing you should click on the link to Beth’s site and contact her. She’d be happy to work you in when it’s convenient for you, but you would have to pay for your airfare and lodging while in Boulder, Colorado (where Beth lives).

      Reply this comment
  14. Ashley
    Ashley 17 March, 2014, 13:40

    This is beautiful. But as someone who has always had a skinny and boyish body, and therefore struggled to see my body as womanly, I always get uncomfortable when I see well-intentioned women saying things such as this:

    “Sweet mother of God we women, I thought. Is it the constant onslaught of photo-shopped images of twelve-year-olds passed off as grown women that are causing us such self-doubt?”

    Can we be more mindful of every woman’s struggle for confidence, regardless of her body type, and not overcompensate by punishing the body image of skinny women?

    Reply this comment
    • Shannon
      Shannon Author 17 March, 2014, 14:13

      Hi Ashley — thanks so much for your comment. You are absolutely right. Body image issues come in all shapes and sizes. Even the women whose bodies we covet are equally affected. I appreciate you pointing this out to me. xo S

      Reply this comment
  15. Felipe
    Felipe 19 March, 2014, 12:27

    I came looking for hot nudes and found hot nudes 🙂

    Reply this comment
  16. Adela
    Adela 3 April, 2014, 11:25

    Beth’s body is beautiful. so athletic and fine.

    Now a word about Gertrude. I took a short story class a couple years ago. The teacher, a middle-aged man, wrote a story about a man who had to tell his children that their mother, the love of his life, had died. As he’s remembering her, he thinks about spooning with her in the early morning. The image he brings is not the 22 year old taunt woman he married, but the comfortable folds, like the folds of a Sharpai puppy. I loved his image of soft folds he got lost in. Gertrude is a cuddler.

    Reply this comment
  17. Heather
    Heather 4 April, 2014, 11:48

    I came to you to ask you to reword your change.org petition. I understand. I do. I get the place where it’s from. But that malnourished-looking, too-thin girl? That’s my daughter. On four thousand calories a day. That’s who she is. Naturally, without eating tissues soaked in nail polish remover or whatever the current phase is in anorexic modeling. That’s her. And she agonizes about it daily. It’s funny, by “fashion standards” she’s perfect…and all she wants is to be normal. You would call her “visibly malnourished” but I call her mine. Perhaps we could ask the fashion industry to include more body types than attacking the current types. Because, guess what? They think they’re ugly, too. And you just called them abnormal.

    Reply this comment
  18. Yael
    Yael 8 April, 2014, 12:16

    I just want to say that I really admire you and Beth for taking on this project. It’s a truly amazing look at how body image can affect a person. Keep it up!

    Reply this comment
  19. Mona Darling
    Mona Darling 23 June, 2014, 07:15

    She has a stunning back and stomach. I go to the gym in hopes I’ll someday maybe have something similar.

    Reply this comment
  20. Glenn Wallace
    Glenn Wallace 6 July, 2014, 15:55

    Why are you constantly fixated by how you look? Your body is the package that your mind lives in. All you need to know is that you are happy and healthy but instead you are fixated by a constant search for perfection which you will agree no one is. These magazines are run by women for women and yet I am constantly hearing about this imaginary “war on women”. Im just wondering, if there is a “war on women” who is the enemy? Is it the other women who publish these magazines because as a male I am not interested in Vanity Fair, Yves St Laurent, Cosmo or any of that other rubbish you girls find so important in your lives. There is a movie and book that tells us what is important in life, Eat, Pray , Love, nothing else is really that important that it should become an obsession

    Reply this comment
    • Shannon
      Shannon Author 7 July, 2014, 08:37

      Hey Glenn – what to say? You’re a man. This doesn’t completely negate your point of view, there is a fixation with this issues, but that’s because it is an issue. Also, the magazines you mentioned aren’t made by women. Most of them are predominantly run by men.

      Reply this comment
    • Mel
      Mel 11 December, 2014, 22:26

      Well…men’s mags don’t help…run by men. The porn culture doesn’t help…run by men. Advertising is dominated by…men. Nor do comments by men on forums, tv, sports programs, newspapers, our own lovers, family or husbands etc about what makes a woman ‘hot’ and acceptable. It’s a difficult standard of firm but soft, slender in some parts and fleshy in others (in the right proportion ie. 0.7 whr, full perky breasts etc), hairless, tan / no tan, long hair etc. Very difficult to navigate being bombarded by an onslaught of comments and evaluations since very young and impressionable even by male class mates or strangers on the street. A pressure and brainwashing that I can’t ever imagine a man who would make the above comment would understand.

      Reply this comment
  21. Glenn Wallace
    Glenn Wallace 6 July, 2014, 15:59

    Eating tissues soaked with nail polish remover????? come on girls this is a mental illness!

    Reply this comment

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