If you know me, chances are that you’ve seen my nude pictures. My brother’s girlfriend saw them, and so did my sister, friends, and aunts. My mom was the first person I showed them to. My husband has seen them, although he isn’t nearly as enamored with them as I am.
The pictures weren’t sent out by an angry ex or leaked on social media. Instead they are proudly, yet subtly, displayed in a coffee table book on a shelf in our living room.
“You should really put those away,” one aunt said to me. But I just can’t, because those pictures and what they represent mean too much to me.
I remember babysitting when I was in middle school, flipping through a Marie Claire magazine that the mother had. One of the essays was about posing for a figure painting class. My interest was piqued, but I put the idea out of my head. People who captured nudes wanted beauties — Rose on the Titanic, being sketched in her thin perfection. I was pudgy, bookish, and anything but graceful. Posing for nudes would be something fun, in an alternate universe, in another lifetime: a lifetime where I wore a bikini, touched my toes during stretches, and kissed boys.
In college, the idea came up again, when a friend mentioned that she had seen a flyer at one of the Boston museums calling for nude models. “Are you insane?” another friend asked. “I think you should,” I replied, encouraging the girl who was half my size — but too self-conscious to say that I would love to pose too.
I was, again, babysitting when I found my opportunity, one I wasn’t even looking for. An ad in the creative section of Craigslist called for nude models. The professional photographer wanted to practice new lighting techniques, and in exchange, the model would maintain the rights to all the photos.
I knew that I should have been thinking about murderers and people smuggling, but all I could do was smile. I scrolled through iPhoto and selected a picture that I thought accurately showed my beauty and my size-16 figure, sending it off in response to the ad. The photographer sent a link to his website (if he was indeed a murderer, he was certainly good with a camera as well), and we booked the session.
The night before the session my smugness had subsided, and the nerves kicked in. I hadn’t told my fiancé — I didn’t want his opinion weighing on my choice.
I wandered into the kitchen in my family home. My mom was bustling around making dinner, and I popped myself onto the counter. We had had countless conversations in this position over the years, but tonight I wasn’t awkward or shy.
“So, you know how I said I had an appointment tomorrow? It’s not for the doctor. It’s for pictures.”
She looked up.
“In my birthday suit,” I added, relying on humor to guide me through. I swore her to secrecy, and she cleared her schedule to come with, as a mother and a bodyguard.
I took a deep breath, closed my eyes, and dropped the sarong that I had wrapped around myself like a robe.
“You can keep that over your lap for now,” said the photographer, a slight man who had pictures of his family displayed around the studio. “We’ll start with a few face shots.”
He was trying to make me comfortable, and although I knew I should be nervous, I wasn’t. I wasn’t thinking about the fact that I was naked — in a warehouse-turned-studio — in front of a man I had just met. I wasn’t thinking about my mom sitting just beyond the photographer, reading her book with respectful disregard. I wasn’t thinking about how sitting on a stool was no doubt accentuating the rolls in my stomach.
I was thinking that I was doing it. Finally.
I was thinking that I was, frankly, a badass. I was brave. I was embracing my body, and using it to make something beautiful.
“Those are great,” the photographer said. “Can we move onto the floor?”
I laid on the cool, white studio floor as he adjusted the lights. My reverie was interrupted only by his instructions: arch your back, look toward the camera, drape your arm across your breasts. It was like an odd sort of yoga: holding poses, finding peace, and moving to the next.
“You were so at ease,” my mom said, as we ate lunch after the shoot. “It was really cool to watch.”
When I got home that afternoon, I was surprised to realize that my body was sore — the muscles tight the way they are after a good workout. It made me smile: I wasn’t just an object in the photo shoot, I was an active participant.
When I look at the photos from that session, I don’t see cellulite, or tummy rolls, or any of the myriad of imperfections that I’m tempted to find in the mirror every day. What captured my attention was the serene happiness radiating from my face. I look peaceful and relaxed, like a woman who is — finally — truly comfortable in her skin.
It’s been three years since that day and I still smile every single time I see the pictures. Society tells us that a woman can celebrate her body on certain occasions: when she’s reached a certain size, or when she’s using her body to serve someone else — whether that is a lover or a child. The wedding industry tells us that a woman can — and should — get naked in front of the camera when it is presented as a gift for her husband. But to simply celebrate yourself, as you are, is nearly unheard of.
I love my body in all its glorious imperfection, and my nudes are the most obvious representation of that. They’re not sexy, they’re art. They’re not for my husband, they’re for me. They are beautiful, and every time I look at that book, I feel empowered.
“Your pictures are awesome,” my 20-year-old sister said when I told her I was going to write a piece about posing for the photos. It thrills me that as she enters adulthood she can see the deep meaning in capturing everyday beauty.
Now that I’m a mom, I sometimes think about when I’ll put the photo book away. My daughter is only a toddler, and to her, my body is comfort. I imagine that eventually she’ll ask me to move the book, worried about what friends may think, or uncomfortable herself. And while I’ll respect her wishes, I will make sure that she knows that the photos are not something I am ashamed of. They, like my body, will be celebrated, valued, and loved.
This post originally appeared on Ravishly.
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