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

body image issues, body image, fine art nudes(I’ve begun the “Love Your Body Now” project with photographer, Beth Sanders, and we’ve added a third partner, body-centered coach, Marlene Zaleznick, to help heal body image issues through the use of fine art nudes. To read more about it click HERE.)

When I picked up the phone to talk to our next participant, Ruby Fox, a Denver-based skincare boutique owner, I felt like I was chatting with the bawdy, ballsy, bodacious reincarnation of Mae West.

Case in point, Ruby described her stomach as “12 inches from my belly button to my lady bits. When my husband and I have sex my belly’s like a rogue wave, riding up from my vagina. A tsunami from below.”

Ruby is not what you’d call a shrinking violet.

When asked why she wanted to participate in our project, she told me that every year she likes to set a new challenge for herself, to step outside the box.

The year she turned 49 Ruby decided to apply for the Mrs. Colorado Beauty Pageant, “just in case they needed some fat people.”

The only application requirements for participants were that they be 18 years or older, residents of Colorado and married.

Ruby thought there was no way she’d be selected at her ripe old age, right up until the moment a large box arrived in the mail and inside she found a tiara and a sash that read Mrs. Jefferson County.

Ruby prepared for the pageant like a Navy Seal during Hell Week; she hired a trainer, a nutritionist and a pageant coach.

While she didn’t win the crown, she was voted Miss Congeniality by the other 50 contestants, she thinks, because she arrived at rehearsals for the swimsuit competition wearing gorilla fur under her bikini.

Of course she did.

“So,” I queried, “besides your tummy are there any other issues you have with your body?”

“Well my boobs look like they’re about 36 inches long after a mammogram and my feet are basically hideous, with these massive bunions. They’re freaky, like me. And I have dimples and dents in my thighs. I tell my husband to call All-State because my thighs are trashed.”

“What are the things about your body you like?” I asked, expecting her to wiffle and waffle, but she dove right in with real enthusiasm.

“I love the fact that I have one dimple on my cheek because the rest of my family have two. I like my broad shoulders and even though my thighs aren’t gorgeous I can move armoires with them, they’re strong German logger legs. And my freaky toes are really long, I can pick things up with them like a pterodactyl. And for some reason my husband loves my body. I don’t know if he needs his vision checked, but he says my body’s yummy and he loves the penis padding from my puffy vagina.”

At this juncture I couldn’t really hear what Ruby was saying due to the deafening nature of my own laugher. I blame Ruby for my herniated umbilicus.

It became clear to me that if we were on the foundering Titanic together, I’d continue playing the cello, buoyed by Ruby’s robust viola, until we were six leagues under the sea.

Ruby finished by saying her favorite accessory is her smile.

Well, this one’s a no brainer, I thought, sending her on her way to stand bare before Beth’s photographic lens. She took nothing with her but a Mardi Gras hat and a pair of “bitchy Donald Pliner leopard boots.”

Beth and Marlene worked with Ruby prior to her session to make her feel safe and grounded in her body.

There was a mixture of yoga-like meditations and the requisite Goddess music to set the tone and then they were off.

When I checked in with Ruby after the shoot she said, “It was really empowering because I just didn’t feel like there was any judgment or vomiting that I heard.” And 300 photographs later Ruby told me she felt “like dynamite” the rest of the day.

Then it was up to Beth, Marlene and I to sort through the photos and come up with our favorites to show Ruby.

I learned the hard way that you don’t want to show your nude subjects all of the photos, because there will be some unflattering ones that could send them to bed with the vapors.

We finally managed to pare it down to 24 photos. Beth put them in a Dropbox for Ruby and pushed SEND.

Then we waited.

I thought it best we give her a couple of days to digest the photographs before we spoke again.

When I finally called her, Ruby could barely talk. She had a bad case of laryngitis and her normally upbeat voice was soft and broken.

I tried not to make too much of it, but couldn’t help wondering, in a woo-woo, crunchy-granola, Birkenstock-y kind of way, if her body weren’t responding to a fresh vulnerability she might be feeling looking at herself utterly bare.

I worried that maybe this hadn’t worked for Ruby, especially when she said that she noticed in the photos that she’d let herself go, a little, after the pageant.

In the same breath, however, she told me the photos had made her husband decidedly frisky and she’d had to tell him to “simmer down.”

I reminded myself that it took weeks for me, and the assurances of several honest people, to realize that I looked much better in my nudes than I thought. So I knew we needed to give Ruby time.

Over the next day or two she selected the photos she wanted to share with our audience. And slowly her voice has taken on a tenor of pride in the photos she likes. But I realized something about this project I hadn’t quite anticipated.

Originally this was a project with the mandate to heal body image issues for our subjects. But as I looked through Ruby’s photographs I realized they were healing me and they may, in fact, have the same effect on some of you.

Because many of us are similar to Ruby.

We’re her age (51). We’re her size (5′ 7″, 165 lbs.). We have a hard time not arguing when someone gives us a compliment. We have a hard time just saying “Thank you.” We find it difficult to believe people when they tell us we’re beautiful.

And we are. Each and every one of us.

I do believe the women who have volunteered for this series will be healed by an approving female gaze. One that doesn’t objectify, denigrate or photoshop into oblivion.

At least that’s the safe space I know Beth and Marlene create.

But more importantly, we want to offer the world Beauty, in all its varied shapes, sizes, ethnicities and ages.

Now, with no further ado, I give you Ruby. Tell us all about the Beauty you see here:

body image issues, body image, fine art nudes

body image issues, body image, fine art nudes

body image issues, body image, fine art nudes

body image issues, body image, fine art nudes

body image issues, body image, fine art nudes

body image issues, body image, fine art nudes

body image issues, body image, fine art nudes

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45 comments

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  1. Claudia Schmidt
    Claudia Schmidt 26 March, 2014, 09:01

    Wow, these are beautiful. Ruby looks awesome for any age, let alone 51. Gorgeous skin, beautiful face, fabulous boobs, she’s got it all. Wish I had the nerve but after a bilateral mastectomy I’m not really very comfortable sharing my breasts with anyone outside of my husband and a few select friends.

    Reply this comment
  2. Sonora
    Sonora 26 March, 2014, 09:06

    Gorgeous! Radiant! Soft and strong at the same time! Wow.

    Reply this comment
  3. A Pleasant House
    A Pleasant House 26 March, 2014, 09:50

    My God she’s BEAUTIFUL! Soft. Strong. Curvy. Sculpted. And so BRAVE! I love her!!!

    Reply this comment
  4. Carol Cassara
    Carol Cassara 26 March, 2014, 09:52

    I love the photography, just beautiful. These women are gorgeous. Love a full figure.

    Reply this comment
  5. Chloe Jeffreys
    Chloe Jeffreys 26 March, 2014, 11:34

    Ruby is beautiful! I can see why her husband is hot for her. She’s sexy as hell. It is sad that we are trained to hate ourselves, and reduce ourselves to body parts that we pick apart with sharp criticism. Ruby has nothing to hate. She’s lovely. Every bit of her.

    Reply this comment
  6. Mary
    Mary 26 March, 2014, 13:12

    Really beautiful and brave! The last photo is breathtaking.

    Reply this comment
  7. Greer
    Greer 26 March, 2014, 15:09

    Ruby looks beautiful! This is my favorite of the series so far. It’s not that the other women haven’t been beautiful, but Ruby is the first who I think really challenges the ideal that is usually associated with women who are “worthy” of having their picture taken nude and shared with the rest of us. Ruby has a lovely, voluptuous body and I love how comfortable she looks with it in the pictures. I agree Shannon, it is healing a part of me to see this beauty in another woman who isn’t the “ideal” type. Thank you for continuing to share this project and thank you Ruby!

    Reply this comment
    • Shannon
      Shannon Author 26 March, 2014, 15:12

      Greer I love to see you here. We’ve just finished shooting a wonderful woman named Stephanie who also isn’t the “ideal” model type, but her shots are poetic due to her background in dance. Can’t wait to share it.

      Reply this comment
  8. joanne
    joanne 26 March, 2014, 15:58

    Wow! Ruby is just so lovely! She reminds me of myself at her age – though I had/have a woefully flat ass. But, I did not have her humor or attitude about my body. I did/do have the un-husband/life partner who thought my body was heaven, which made me ‘feel’ beautiful.
    A few years later, after a diagnosis of breast cancer, a mastectomy and multiple additional surgeries, due to complications and physician malpractice, I do not recognize my body anymore. My partner still finds me attractive and tells me so, though our physical relationship -which had been very passionate – has changed. His five back surgeries and my own struggles have changed that dimension. I think we are more affectionate, more forgiving and loving, as we share our lives together, caring for each other.
    After fifteen years, I so grateful that I finally chose the right person to shoulder me through the aging process. Tell Ruby to rejoice in this very rich period of her life. To feel that lush sensuality at midlife is a gift. Revel in in!

    Reply this comment
    • Beth Sanders
      Beth Sanders 27 March, 2014, 10:31

      Joanne, I just read your comment and would love to photograph you. You have faced so many challenges, it seems, and came thru with such a warm and open heart. I’m so glad you have wonderful love in your life. I think we should all aspire to that kind of companionship. If you are ever in Colorado, it would be my honor. And maybe your partner would come too.

      Reply this comment
      • Shannon
        Shannon Author 27 March, 2014, 10:43

        Beth I was thinking Joanne should be photographed too! Sometimes people don’t opt to receive follow-up comments so you might want to email her too. xo

        Reply this comment
  9. Rebecca
    Rebecca 26 March, 2014, 17:14

    I rarely comment, but had to for this post! You are gorgeous, Ruby! Thanks for creating such a body-affirming space.

    Reply this comment
  10. Lisa
    Lisa 27 March, 2014, 06:18

    You definitely don’t look 51, first of all. I know this is about body, but your amazingly expressive eyebrows struck me first. Your face is perfect amounts bitchy and angelic and I think we could have a Scotch together! I am wowed by women who can bare all for the camera. You are beautiful!

    Reply this comment
  11. Donna Hanton
    Donna Hanton 27 March, 2014, 08:41

    These pictures are absolutely stunning. Ruby, you are beautiful!

    Reply this comment
  12. Tammy
    Tammy 27 March, 2014, 11:55

    LOVE, love this idea. Long overdue. There is tremendous beauty in acceptance. Something we all struggle with. With life’s battle scars, extra pounds and the natural aging process, it gets harder to love ourselves. I have been with my wonderful man for 5 years, after 29 years of marriage and 9 years single. Hysterectomy and breast surgery scars left me feeling a bit less feisty about myself. But I am who I am, and I’m just lucky to be here. The fact that my man thinks I’m delicious makes me understand that my perspective of my outside self is less important. When someone you love longs for you sexually, you feel sexual. But it’s about more than that. It’s about accepting and LOVING our whole selves. Some days its easier than others. I’m going back home to Denver in early May and wished for a brief moment that I looked better that my 60 years show me in the mirror. Then I smiled at myself (really, I did) and winked. I love myself just enough to still be my sassy self. Keep up the good work. Women of all ages need to see it, read it, and know it.

    Reply this comment
  13. DeanaCal
    DeanaCal 28 March, 2014, 08:45

    Oh my gosh Ruby, your SKIN!!!!!! The very first photo knocked me out. Beautiful!

    Reply this comment
  14. Sharon Greenthal
    Sharon Greenthal 28 March, 2014, 14:28

    What you’re doing here is amazing, Shannon. Kudos to you and Beth.

    Reply this comment
  15. SISSY
    SISSY 29 March, 2014, 10:33

    BEAUTIFUL, BEAUTIFUL ! OH, I WISH I LIVED CLOSER , WOULD DO IT IN A HEARTBEAT ,JUST FOR ME ! AND ENJOY A GLENLIVET AFTERWARDS

    Reply this comment
  16. renee
    renee 30 March, 2014, 06:42

    These are amazing photos!!!

    Reply this comment
  17. Matti
    Matti 31 March, 2014, 23:37

    Ruby is unspeakably beautiful. To know that there’s humor and smarts, too? Reminds me of why I’m not completely at the boy-liking end of the Kinsey scale.

    Also: inspiring, empowering, exquisite. I may need to print and put them up to remind me of beauty. Would that be okay?

    Reply this comment
    • Shannon
      Shannon Author 31 March, 2014, 23:51

      Well of course you can print out and put these up. I’m sure Ruby would be flattered!

      Reply this comment
  18. Cameron
    Cameron 1 April, 2014, 18:41

    Ruby, you are gorgeous. Face, body and skin. It’s easy to see why your husband loves your body.
    Shannon, you are brilliant.
    Beth, your pictures are gorgeous. Bravo to all of you.

    Reply this comment
  19. Katarina Henkys
    Katarina Henkys 3 April, 2014, 00:43

    Shannon, this is a great project! I’m thinking a lot about it – and have quite a lot to say about it too. Which I will write you when I’ll find a free hour or two to order my thoughts & write English…. Not happening at the moment it’s spring & I’m working like crazy. Still, I’m following you (-: Kat

    Reply this comment
  20. Sharona Zee
    Sharona Zee 4 April, 2014, 12:27

    Beautiful!
    No “buts”.

    Reply this comment
  21. Beth Harbison
    Beth Harbison 4 April, 2014, 13:14

    If I had that body, I’d have NO complaints! No idea what I was expecting – I think the gorilla suit and her claiming to be “fat” threw me – but she’s beautiful! I’m tempted to just photoshop my own head on those pics and send them to my guy!

    Reply this comment
  22. Roseanne Salyer
    Roseanne Salyer 4 April, 2014, 19:14

    Ruby is beautiful. Isn’t it wonderful that we can feel so beautiful when we know there is no judgement? I can see why her husband was feeling frisky. You have the most amazing skin.
    Thanks for continually reminding us that beautiful comes in all sizes and colors.
    Thanks, Shannon, for the wisdom and humor.

    Reply this comment
  23. Melanie
    Melanie 4 May, 2014, 21:56

    Ruby is everything that I’m not, brave. 3 years ago this July I was walking with my at the time 16 year old son. A woman was not paying attention to the road and literally went off it and ran me over. I nearly died. My core was crushed. By some miracle I survived the accident after a year of intensive therapy. But my new body is something that has me so mentally debilitated that sometimes I crawl into a ball on the bathroom floor crying for what I didn’t appreciate before the accident. A less than perfect body but still pretty. Now I have a permanent lump on the thigh that took the brunt of the hit and scars from the surgery. All of my life I have struggled with self esteem issues. So I totally appreciate this project. People often times say I am pretty but I only see the scars and my mind has twisted my vision to see nothing but ugly. I’m really moved by what you are doing here. Thank you.

    Reply this comment
    • Shannon
      Shannon Author 5 May, 2014, 07:40

      Dear Melanie –thank you so much for your comment. I’m going to email you a series of photographs taken of women with scars. They photos are beautiful and a testament to the strength it took for these women to survive and keep living. I am so sorry for the trauma your beautiful body has endured. But it was strong enough to survive so you can continue to be a mom, which is the most gorgeous thing any of us can do. xo S

      Reply this comment
  24. Andi Waddington
    Andi Waddington 24 May, 2014, 11:53

    My goodness! Ruby is absolutely stunning. I wish that I had the nerve or where with all to do these pictures, especially since I struggle mightily with body dysmorphia, anorexia, and bulimia. I wish that Ruby could share some of her strength with me so that I could learn to love my body as much as she does.
    Ruby~ you are beautiful. Thank you for being so brave.

    Reply this comment
    • Shannon
      Shannon Author 24 May, 2014, 12:24

      Hi Andi — Where do you live? My photographer is coming to town in June and we are looking for 3 women to shoot. Email at shannoncolleary@aol.com if you’re interested. Marlene (our body coach) and Beth (our photog) do amazing work.

      Reply this comment
  25. sandy matthews
    sandy matthews 3 July, 2014, 05:40

    Check out the photography project from Toronto. wwwfullydisclothed.com

    Reply this comment

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