Walk the Walk, Naked Lady! (Fine Art Nudes)

This story was featured on THE TODAY SHOW.

I posted fine art nudes I took 20 years ago for an article called “Am I Really Fat?” It drew such an ego-assuaging amount of attention and even was published on the Huffington Post and this post was featured on The Today Show.

I think the reason these articles were popular (okay, it was the naked pictures, but there was also …) the idea that we should appreciate our bodies at each stage of our lives. That we never know how lovely we are until years, even decades later.

Then I had the bright idea to take a second set of fine art nudes.

Yes, yes! Twenty years, two kids and twenty pounds later. That’s a great idea. I’ll juxtapose the images so that everyone can see what time, the sun and chocolate have done!

But secretly I thought the nudes would look good. Lord help me, I did. I’d find the right photographer, he’d use excellent lighting, perhaps a fan or two, I’d pop a couple amyl nitrite pills (even though I don’t do drugs, but it seems like the right time to do them) and off we’d go. The pictures would come back and all the muscle from Pop Physique classes would emerge beneath the layer of subcutaneous … how shall we call it? … fat.

The conversation with my husband:

Me: Henry, I’m going to do something. You won’t want me to do it, but I’m going to do it anyway.

Henry stares, button-eyed.

Me again: I’m going to take more fine art nudes.

Henry: And I’m going to say something to you that no husband would ever say to his wife in these circumstances.

Me: You’re afraid they’ll be so beautiful that Hef will call and lure me into the Bunny Lagoon?

Henry: No.

Me: You’re afraid the sight of my naked body will be too much for the photographer to bear and he’ll throw himself at my feet begging me to be his muse?

Henry: No. If you’re going to do this at 46, just for Godsakes go to a professional.

Me: Well, of course I’m going to a … wait a minute … what’s that supposed to mean?

Henry: Do you really want to know?

A silent resentful beat.

Me: No.

So I perused the web, searching for just the right person to take this second round of fine art nudes (emphasis on “fine art”). I was thorough. Investigative. Exhaustive. It took five minutes.

Initially I thought I’d like a woman.

But the women I found shot close-ups of lips sucking lollipops and were called things like Boudoir Rouge. I needed fine art. Documentary style shooting. I needed to legitimize flashing the lady bits. The photographer I found turned out to be a man. We’ll call him … Ansel.

Cut To:

My mom and I driving to Pasadena so I can get naked in front of a stranger who isn’t checking my breasts for cysts. My mother always seems to end up accompanying me to potentially life-threatening situations.

We park in front of a beautifully refurbished 1929 Craftsman home. The lights are out inside. It’s dark. Too dark. Either we’re at the wrong address or Ansel is storing the remains of his last photographic subject’s body parts in a Sub-Zero Freezer in his antiseptic basement.

We ring the bell. Shortly Ansel appears. He seems … benign.

Those are the ones you really need to watch out for. Did you see Robin Williams in One Hour Photo? Terrifying.

Ansel’s house is immaculate. The quarter-sawn oak floors and ceiling beams are varnished to a high luster. His striking nature photos are matted, framed and hung to within an inch of their lives on his walls. The towels in his bathroom, where I change into a robe, are hung meticulously and reek of lavender in the spring. I become further convinced my mother and I will end up vivisected and buried under his native desert-succulents landscaping.

I try to recreate the exact look I had in the photos from 20 years ago.

I wet down my hair, I wear no make-up, I do a few, “We must, we must, we must increase our bust!” exercises. (Are you there God? It’s me, Margaret). I’m ready.

Ansel and I leave my mother in his kitchen reading Confessions of the Son of Sam. I follow him into his photographic lair in the garage! What happens there is blood-chilling …

…  A 46-year old woman takes off her robe and walks around naked. And the photographer, who is kind, lovely and in NO WAY DANGEROUS tries not to flinch.

Posing for fine art nudes at 46 is a lot easier than 20 years ago.

I’ve given birth twice, had mammograms, sonograms, ultrasounds, eco-cardiograms, breast exams, gynecological exams and I’m not even going to go into what happened with the gastroenterologist. Let’s just say that whatever shyness or modesty I ever had is long gone.

Ansel methodically goes through all of the photographs from 20 years ago and has me recreate each pose. This should be my first tip that things are going to go tragically wrong.

I was squatting and bending over in a lot of those old photographs. When you have two children in your late 30s, you don’t bend over or squat anymore.

I carry one of those grabber thingys (aka the long claw pick-up tool) with me at all times. I drop my purse, the grabber picks it up. I need to tie a shoelace, I do it with the grabber. I drop the grabber, I buy a new one. No bending over or squatting, people! Except under cover of night after tequila shooters.

I keep asking if I can look into Ansel’s viewfinder to see how the shots are looking.  He demurs, telling me that it will only make me self-conscious.

Hello Lady, red flag, red fucking flag!

An hour later – my muscles spasming from attempting to get into poses I’d struck spontaneously all those years before – we are done. Ansel seems confident he’s captured what I want. Something on a par with Dove’s Campaign For Real Beauty. No make-up, no retouching, no nothing. Real, but pleasing. Ansel asks if my mom and I want to see the photos once he’s downloaded them into his computer. Of course we do!

Now I’m going to see just how hot I still am!

Twenty years have done their worst and I’m still smokin’!

“Coming, Ansel! Be right there!” I chirp after he calls — my mother follows close on my tail. That extra ten pounds? … all muscle mass, oh yes … some of it even went to my breasts …

My mother and I peer into the screen. We both shit ourselves. I see on the bright computer screen before me what appears to be the craven image of a 70-year-old, cornfed woman who might’ve been an extra in The Night Of The Living Dead. WTF????????!!!!

Who is that fat, dimpled, wrinkley, broad-flanked person? That isn’t me? That can’t be me??!! These are not the “fine art nudes” I was hoping for.

To quote Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now, “The horror. The horror.”

It takes three days to recuperate. Mentally I flail back and forth between calling those damn boudoir women and getting some decent freaking lighting, make-up and hair. Some flattering angles!

(I even break down and take photos of my desnuded self with my iphone in my bathroom and I look about A THOUSAND TIMES better than I do in the photos I PAID to have taken!)

But, despite my disappointment, I think perhaps I should go ahead and post the new, unflattering photos (just not today). That I should walk-the-walk and learn to love the body I’m in now.

I’m in mourning for that effortlessly thin, fresh-skinned, bright-eyed young woman of yore. But I want to let her go and embrace my current incarnation.

My mom says I should stop thinking so much about myself. (Does she understand the concept of blogging?) She’s right. But, I’m hoping my journey will inform and perhaps brighten someone else’s journey to accept the indignities of this mortal coil.

Today I’m humble. No hubris here.

Post Script — I removed the photo of the Oil of Olay “Campaign for Real Beauty” models and replaced them with my “before” and “after” truly fine art nudes. Two months after freaking out about how horrible my 2012 nudes turned out, I’ve now come to appreciate them.

fine art nudes
Me in 1992.  Photo credit Helmut Lipschitz.
fine art nudes
Me in 2012. Photo credit of Rob Greer.
1992. Photo credit Helmut Lipschitz.
fine art nude photography
2012. Photo credit Rob Greer.
fine art nudes
1992. Photo credit Helmut Lipschitz.
fine art nude photography
2012. Photo credit Rob Greer.
fine art nudes
1992. Photo credit Helmut Lipschitz.
fine art nude
2012. Photo credit Rob Greer.

Story began with Am I Really Fat?

111 thoughts on “Walk the Walk, Naked Lady! (Fine Art Nudes)”

  1. Brave, funny, intelligent, Lady; you always go where mundane folk would not dare. Love the machinations (not in an evil way) of your mind!

  2. When you told me you were doing this, I said, “You’re my hero.” Now you are my super hero. What a great post. You are fearless. I need it rub off on me. I love that you took your mother with you.

  3. I hope you took off the clown nose, too. haha. Brave lady. I’ll bet we’ll all be disappointed at how great you look, though. You’d better photoshop some more flaws into the shots before publishing.

    1. There is one photo. One. Where I’m lying on my back so gravity is actually working in my favor, that is decent. But my chin and my nose seem to have grown drastically. I quote Bette Davis when I say “Aging ain’t for sissies!”

  4. God bless you! I recently noticed that I have WAY more weight on me than I need. The problem is, I have had this extra weight on me since 2008, I have just been too busy to notice it. Sadly, pictures that a friend took at a party from 2 years ago that she finally got back to me turned me into Adam and Eve AFTER eating the apple. I am now aware of my “nakedness” and I am as upset as they were, well, maybe a LITTLE less upset. Anyway, your blog post has taken the edge off! Thx.

    1. Hi Claudine — it sounds like it was a fabulous party!! Just sent my nudes off to a friend who seems to think they’re not that bad. I know it’s a cliche, but we are definitely our own worst critics. xo

  5. Hilarious. I agree with whoever said it. You will look back at 60 and think about how hot you were! (I see you all the time and I know you’re hot!) Most important – you’re funny

  6. I was never EVER a model. I’m 5 foot 2! And even when I was skinny in high school, it was NEVER a model type of skinny. I’m pretty sure I weigh more than you do now. And I’d bet you look better than me naked, but you know what? It doesn’t matter. The thing about beauty is that it really is not skin deep. Despite the fact that I will never be model-ish, I think we are both beautiful in our own unique ways.

    Yes, you were conventionally GORGEOUS when you were younger in a way few women are. But you are unconventionally gorgeous now in a way that many women are. You’ve got good company here on this side of things, and we think you are beautiful.

    Don’t post the pics–they are besides the point. Or if you prefer, post the pics–they are besides the point. YOU are the point and you are much more than your body.

    1. Hello Miss Elsie — thank you ever so for the encouragement. Funnily enough I didn’t realize I was gorgeous back in the days of yore. I had a beau who told me I had cellulite when I had those pics taken and it made me a very self-conscious girl. (the beau is no longer the beau). So those pictures actually helped to heal some of that criticism. Now I just have to work on my own inner critic. xo

  7. Amazing. Someday I may just have enough courage (aka drink enough Margaritas) to do this… nahhh…

    Though I have never met you (have I?), the pics I have seen of you look fab – and I am sure these pics look as well.

    1. Hello Sassy Mama — We may indeed have met, but if not we certainly shall soon. I would’ve killed for a martini pre-shoot, but Ansel warned against it. Bloat apparently.

  8. You are hilarious…and if your photos are anything like the ones you posted a few weeks ago, I know they’ll be beautiful. I don’t have the courage to do something like this….babies have taken their toll on my body : )

  9. Great post, darling … one tiny edit, though .. I think you meant to write, “… whatever MINISCULE DAB of shyness and modesty I once had is long gone.” xxoo – H

  10. I love it! And I love you. I got a big laugh about using the grabber. HA, HA! I am dismayed that I can’t bend and squat like I used to. And I want to see the new nudes, even if you don’t publish them. Does that mean I have to come visit you??

  11. shannon,
    you are very truthful,funny,and entertaining.i enjoy your blog, we went to upland high together and you were one of the “hot” girls.no im not a 30 year stalker.saw your article on the huff and i said hey i went to school with her, the pics were a bonus i must admit. I relate to what you are saying. i thought that at 210lbs in high school i was fat, and now thats my target weight.LOL. keep yp the good work. you have a fan.
    Joe Webb class of 83′

    1. Hi Joe — I think you might concur that your hair looks better than mine in our senior class photos. However, your braces might give you the edge. So glad you’re checking in a reading. I had intermittent periods of feeling hot in high school, mixed with fear and loathing. Scratch the surface and we’re all the same.

  12. side note, i am still Fat, but by god i still have all my hair, three kids, and a wife that likes me nude, who would have thought!! Joe

  13. I am dying to see those pictures! “Henry” is such a good sport. Gotta love him! YOU are hilarious.

    It’s so wonderful to read someone who writes just the way she talks. You are a true talent.

  14. You *are* brave. And, let’s face it, masochistic — no makeup, really? What were you thinking? Have you ever seen photos of celebs sans makeup? They are barely out of high school and it’s not a pretty sight. (In the “no makeup” pix that look decent, you can tell they have on makeup!)

    To give you some perspective, many years ago I directed a casting for a commercial that was going to show young people romping around a pool. Real people. Not models. They didn’t want models. We recruited on the street, at clubs, restaurants, and colleges. We brought in hundreds of good-looking gals and guys in their late teens and early 20s, and *maybe* one of the women in her bathing suit looked “TV worthy” in the sense of what we are used to seeing in the media and what we therefore expect our bodies *should* look like. The director of the spot said, “You know, there are really only about 10 actual swimsuit models in the world.” I think in the end they did go with models.

    This is all to say that a) you are lucky to have had such gorgeous photos 20 years ago — not because you weren’t beautiful anyway, but because you lucked out in the photographer. And b) if you want to not only see what you look like now, but also feel better about it, maybe you do need a different photographer and/or a different style of photo. Not cheesy boudoir stylings but don’t try to duplicate your poses — the strengths of 20 years ago ain’t gonna necessarily be your strengths now. Be compassionate with yourself.

    That said, I struggle with exactly your issue. Weight in the wrong places is one thing. Not that I love it, but I can hold out hope for my ability to change that if I set my mind to it (I’ll start tomorrow). The aging aspects are another beast entirely. Rather shocking, dismaying, and did I mention shocking?

    I also agree with the idea that we focus on our flaws — that’s all we see when we look at our faces and bodies in the mirror. Unless we are Gwyneth.

    I try to remember what was stated above: at 60 you will look back and be very impressed. I think there’s a reason our eyesight deteriorates as we get older: so we don’t see so many flaws. (And our reading glasses obscure some parts of our face.)

    Finally, I am SURE your photos look a lot better than you think they do. Remember: “Perfectionism is the highest form of self abuse” – Tao Te Ching

    Onward and upward (psychologically if not physically).

    1. Hi Sonora — yes. yes. and yes!! I love the story about the commercial. Also, we do focus on flaws. It’s funny. I wanted to make this video juxtaposing the old photos with the recent ones, highlighting the changes in the body as it ages with the message to love our bodies in the present tense. Then I was incapable of feeling that way when I saw the results. I’m still thinking about it and processing it. Doctor, heal thyself!!

  15. How could I have forgotten to share *my* nude photo experience? Must be that reading your story I laughed too hard. Anyway: You know how if you have a lot of moles, sometimes the dermatologist wants you to get a set of (naked) full (naked) body (naked) slides so he/she can compare your moles over time? No, you didn’t know that? Well, now you do, my friend. (And should you ever, ever agree to such a request, make sure you wear a wig and dark glasses because you will not want anyone who might spy your slides in the doctor’s office, falling out of the file, or posted on Facebook to recognize you.) The lighting was clinical (think morgue). The bulges, bumps, wrinkles, missed-while-shaving spots: all in crime scene detail. The photographer was so completely oblivious to my having to cart these slides around for the next five decades that he neglected to tell me my eyes were rolled back in my head (yes, murder victim style) in one shot. Scratch that, I don’t wish he had told me, I wish he had just retaken that photo. And that, bonnie lass, is *my* nude photo debacle. (“The horror, the horror” — amen to that.)

    1. Ok. It’s time for you to start your own blog. I will subscribe. I want to see those photos. No matter what it takes I’m going to see the whites of those rolled back eyes. You are killing me. I am laughing so hard that I might actually have some discernible abs when I have my nudes taken again at 66. J’te adore.

  16. Best GD Post EVER.

    Shannon, this one, you gotta send it in to Oprah or back to HuffPost.

    It’s delightful, true..and the mournful longing for the pretty girl we once were, and still remain, forever in our minds.

    Tacos dropping on the floor and all…NO SQUATTING.

    A masterpiece.

  17. Cindy baker gilbert

    Nicely done! The phrase “what fresh hell is this”
    Still haunts my mind. Great writing!

  18. We will send you our nude photos…all of us…us by the thousands, and your email will look like the zombie apocalypse by the end of the week. Large, small, wider than tall, lopsided and gnarly. Spots, moles, tatts, warts and all. After that you will know no bodily shame and will post your latest nudes and we will bow at your feet and worship you as queen and would gladly be carried off to the volcano as a sacrifice to your naked glory.

  19. Wow, a friend pointed me this way because on fb I wrote a letter the other day to my 16 year old self telling her that she is amazing and beautiful and that even though she thinks she is fat at 105 lbs that she is perfect and not to fall for the first guy that tells her she is beautiful. Lol, wow, you are so brave. I am 27 and have had two c-sections and was just to shy at 22 when I got married to do any nude or even boudior photos. I wish I had the courage I have now so I can remember that I was beautiful even at 22 and I still have to remind myself at 27 and at 130 lbs that I am beautiful and that my body did what it is suppose to for my two babies and that that is the important part of life. I applaud you.

  20. P.S. I am a photographer and do cater to women’s desires and nip tuck and photoshop with boudior, but it makes me so happy to see their faces when they open the album and say, I really am beautiful.

  21. I love you for writing this and being brave enough to post your photos! I went through this very same thing.I wanted to post some photos of me in a bikini on my website to be an inspiration for my clients. I was convinced like you before I took the photos that they were going to be great and I would look the same as I did all those years ago. When I looked at them I was stunned and not in a good way. I have not been brave enough to post them (yet). I am just so glad to know I am not delusional and others feel the same way. I think you look great in your new photos by the way. You are very BRAVE for writing about this and following through. THANK YOU!

  22. I think the “now” pictures are lovely. I would never be brave enough to do that and think its great that you were!

  23. You look Fantastic now!! Don’t change a thing. Yes Our bodies change, same goes for everyone. So look yourself in the mirror and admire it. You are healthy and beautiful. Continue…………..

    1. Thanks so much Lois. These photos ultimately have helped me so much. I still hate days when my jeans won’t button comfortably, but I no longer want to be the skinny waif I was. Every age has its own beauty. xo

  24. Hi. My name is Kelsey and I’m a twenty year old girl from Canada (I don’t think calling myself a woman yet is appropriate, really). I’ve only gone through a couple of your posts, having been directed here through the Bloggess’ page. The posts that caught my eye were the ones where you talked about how much you loved your husband, and these ones, with the nudes.

    It’s so easy to feel self-conscious, and I often think about how self-conscious I feel now, and how much worse it’s going to be when I’m older. I’m at that age where my friends are starting to get married and have children and I’m noticing little wrinkles around my eyes and having panic attacks.

    I read a lot of blogs and posts written by ordinary people on the internet, and I rarely end up commenting, partially because I’m too lazy and uninspired, and partially because I’m laughing too hard to give it a second thought.

    I felt I had to comment on this to tell you though that your photos are absolutely stunning – the before and after photos.

    I didn’t laugh when I read this article. I just smiled and felt better. It was so good of you to take these photos, and I can honestly say that I don’t know what you see when you look at them, but here I was, expecting something pretty bad (based on what you had written), and they were all beautiful. Not beautiful in the, “beautiful for -insert age here-” beautiful way, but honestly stunning. Gorgeous.

    I’m young, and I know that, but thinking about aging sometimes keeps me up at night. If I can age as graciously and as happily as you, I’ll be happy.

    I really just wanted to let you know how beautiful your photos are. You have absolutely nothing to worry about. Nothing.

    Thank-you for sharing those with us. =)

    1. Kelsey — thank you so much for your kind, supportive comments. As the months go by since I had that second set of photos taken I am liking them more and more. The first time I saw them I was mortified. So if I am to believe what you say is true it just goes to show that we women do NOT see ourselves as we really are.

      I’m hoping this conversation about beauty and what our culture demands of women (a perfection that is impossible) will continue so hopefully my daughters won’t struggle with the kind of Body Dysmorphic Disorder I have. Mine is pretty garden variety — but I hate that it caused and sometimes STILL causes irritation and self-castigation from me.

      You are so young. 20 is so young. And guess what? 47 is so young too. I have a 99 year old grandmother which means I may only be halfway. If you want to continue to read about self-acceptance and healthy body image you should check out Kate Fridkis’ articles on Huffington Post or go to her website Eat The Damn Cake. She’s closer to your age and she’s GREAT. Kisses to you and thanks for touching base with me.

  25. Hi. I just read your blog for the first time last night. I think the before & after are both beautiful. The slight changes of time & life are fascinating. There’s so much to be said for honest beauty than that which, obviously, costs thousands of dollars in personal trainers & all sorts of beauty treatments. Also, keep in mind, 90% of woman your age (heck, woman 10 & 20 years younger) wish they looked like you.

  26. Reading a few comments — To Kelsey, not that she’ll see this. I’m 38. When I was 20, I weighed 25 pounds less than I do now – it took an eating disorder & constant diligence to maintain that. In a college class, we calculated our BMI – mine was 10 or 12%. I, however, wouldn’t dare to wear a bikini. 18 years later, I’ve made 3 children, & I’m so much more comfortable & confident in my strong enough, healthy body. I often feel good about the way I look – even if my husband, last night, agreed I needed a makeover. Although, I still don’t wear a bikini.

  27. omg what are you worried about- you- look just as good now as you did then, you crazy woman lol -SERIOUSLY 🙂 x

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