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?
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.
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.
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.
Story began with Am I Really Fat?