I’ve begun the “Love Your Body Now” project with photographer, Beth Sanders.
We’ve recently 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 its inception, 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 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 she noticed, in the photos, that she’d let herself go, a little, after the pageant.
In the same breath, 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: