As a young girl, I was molested by my father on a regular basis. The results to my self-esteem and body image have been immeasurable. When I walked alone as a child, I walked with a limp. I believed that if “bad men”, predators, saw me limping they would be repulsed by a cripple and leave me alone. My mother sewed most of my clothes, and those were poorly made. The colors were unattractive. Everything hung funny. These served to camouflage my early physical development. I felt ashamed of my body. I was afraid of looking at people, not wanting to attract attention, so I always looked at the ground. I remember my uncle admonishing me when I walked across the stage during junior high graduation. “Keep your chin up!” he yelled from the audience.
When I was married, my husband subjected me to regular modeling sessions. He would not allow me to buy any piece of clothing he had not approved of. This left me with two choices for obtaining clothing. Either he and I went shopping together, where he sat outside my dressing room, waiting for me to emerge, wearing each piece of clothing he had selected, or at least approved. I emerged from the dressing room, twirled slowly several times, waiting for his reaction. Sometimes he approved. Others, he gave his reasons for not approving. “That shade of red makes your nose look too big.” “The dress doesn’t hide your fat tummy.” That bathing suit makes your thighs look like balloons.”
My other manner of purchasing clothing was to go shopping without him. I had to understand I was to return anything he did not approve of. His responses were similar. But, being in private, he had more of a chance to get into detail. “How much do you weigh now? Maybe you are eating too much pasta?” “Remember when you were thin? Clothes do not loom good on your body now, like they used to.
When we first started dating he had said to me, “I am counting on you to look good. I know I am ugly, so what people think of us is your responsibility.”
After I left my husband my weight yoyo-ed. Within twelve years I gained, then lost over 100 pounds twice. My body went from a size 10 to a 2X, then down to a 6, back to a 2X, down to a 4-6, and now has settled on a 10-12 again. Trying to clothe my always-changing body became a challenge. It also meant my body image was in constant flux.
Throughout my life I have watched my body do what every body does—move through maturation. From the time I entered puberty at the age of 10 these changes have embarrassed me. I did not want breasts, and I was blessed with DDD’s. They bulged off a 32 inch chest, so there was no way to hide them. When my first son was born, and I wanted to nurse him, my breasts became engorged. They were so huge it took him a couple of days to figure out how to attach. Getting any kind of help from a breast feeding expert felt extremely humiliating!
Then, after children the stretch marks appeared. My once flat belly became flaccid and pudgy. My stick-thin arms had no place to hang the extra weight that accumulated around them. After I lost 100 pounds the first time, my whole body looked distorted with flaps of skin. I talked to my doctor about getting a breast reduction because my 32 DDD’s looked ridiculous at the top of all the flab, and because I was concerned about pressure they might be placing on my back.
Every woman I know is not happy with her aging body. Having spent decades watching weight come and go, and skin elasticity disappear, our bodies look like they are waiting for the auto body shop. Except we have moved way beyond simple dent removal and rust control!
Within the last year I have gotten to know Sue. Among the many cool things Sue does at 51, is she models nude. “I am an anorexic,” she explains. “Through modeling I have gained a new perspective on my body, and a new acceptance of my pudgy belly.”
I had met John Keehn, the photographer she works with for her monthly photography workshops. Among other pictures of his I had seen was the wrinkly photo of Don Jones. I was impressed by how closely he had captured Don’s soul within that photo. The wrinkles became a window into the life Don had lived.
“John would like to photograph you,” Sue mentioned one day.
“Mmmmmmh,” I replied. I looked up John’s website on the internet. I liked the body of his work. Much of it included young nude women, but the pictures were not salacious. Like the photo of Don, they reached into the souls of his young models.
He also had many photos of flowers and dead wood from the desert. I admired the way he worked with lines and shapes, the colors he found in each subject. His aesthetic was similar to my own.
“John asked, again, if you would model for him. He suggested nude shots.” Sue passed me a day or two later in the hall.
I gulped. I looked again at his other photographs. I thought about what Sue had said about her own body image issues. Maybe this is what I need for myself.
“OK.” I spoke to Sue a day or two later. “Tell him nudes are all right, I think.”
John and I set up the shoot a week or two later. We discussed using Sue’s studio space. I pulled out some clothes, and some scarves I felt might work. The day of the shoot I suggest John stop at my house on his way up to Sue’s space. “I am right on the way,” I said.
John came by. He loved the light in my living room in the early morning. We began the shoot in an arm chair. I was clothed. I was totally comfortable from the start. We moved on to my rocking chair. I removed my top. I was still at ease. John was intrigued by the light in my bathroom with a skylight, and the shooting continued.
I saw the first pictures that evening. I liked most of them. They were tasteful. They emphasized lines and shapes. It took me a bit longer to acknowledge that these were photos of my body, the body I have been ashamed of for 70 years. And now, a week later, I even see beauty in my bulging, aging body.
"With all the beauty surrounding me here above the Verde Valley, how could I not create more beauty?"