When I decided to take it all off for the camera last October, I had no idea how good for me it would be. I’ve had some self-image problems over the last few years, mostly concerning my weight, or lack thereof. I’m a natural size zero—as in zero curves! I know I’m probably making every woman who reads this breathe fire because they wish they had my problem, but I don’t care. Being too thin can make a person just as unhappy with themselves as being overweight can. For example, how many of you ladies out there would take it as a compliment when you’re mistaken for a small boy—by the cops!?! I sure didn’t.
People have told me how lucky I am. My boyfriend says I’m beautiful. It doesn’t stop me from feeling like Olive Oyl at times.
Last fall we were out of state visiting my friend Michelle, who is, in my opinion, the most talented photographer on the planet. She showed me a little book one of her bride clients had made up for her groom as a wedding gift. It was all photos of the bride in various poses, in various states of undress. Think “tasteful but sexy coffee table book,” not “Hustler.” The pictures had class, artistic integrity and a sense of fun. The bride was obviously very comfortable and having a great time during her photo shoot. Michelle has a real knack for helping people loosen up.
She suggested we make one with pictures of me, as a Valentine’s Day gift for my boyfriend. She used me as a model fairly often when she was in college, so I was already very comfortable in front of her camera. I was extremely flattered, since I would never be able to afford someone like Michelle and here she was, offering to do the shoot for free.
We made sneaky plans and kept everything top secret so that it would be a surprise when February 14th finally came around. We scheduled the shoot for December 22nd, and I told my boyfriend that I was going to go visit Michelle for the day. I’m not used to lying to anyone, so a simple omission of information was easier for me. He never thought anything of it.
We shot 500 pictures in three and a half hours. We are an unholy alliance of skill and dumb luck. Her skills, my dumb luck: I’m absurdly photogenic. It was the most creative experience I have ever had in my underwear. We changed my outfits, the sets, the lighting, the furniture … and I felt like a total Sex Goddess the entire time. Michelle was incredibly encouraging and the easiest person to be naked in front of. I can’t explain it other than to say that it was liberating and loads of fun.
All that was left was picking the best shots and doing the layout, and I could not help with that. I had to trust Michelle to use her best judgment. I sent her a check for the book printing and waited for her to send me the end results.
The day the package came, wouldn’t you know it, my boyfriend stayed home sick—all weekend! I had to sneak it inside the house and hide it, and the suspense was just killing me! Finally he went back to work, and I was all alone with The Package. I had certain expectations for the quality of Michelle’s work, but what she sent me completely blew me away. There I was, in glossy full-color glory, and I looked … totally amazing. I was seeing exactly what Michelle sees when she looks at me. I was seeing what someone who loves me sees.
At this point, the book became more about celebrating myself than giving my boyfriend a sexy gift. Seeing myself from another perspective showed me things my eyes can’t usually see, and I was lucky enough to realize it. I began to think about my appearance in terms of how I looked in those photos, not what my inner critic sees in the mirror. If I am having a bad face/body/whatever day, I need only remind myself that I am also the woman in those beautiful pictures, and I feel better.
I wrote Michelle the most emphatic thank-you email possible, but the words were pathetic compared to how I felt. I think it was a happy coincidence that we took those photos this year, when I am thirty years old. We have made a pact to do it again at age forty, and even age fifty if we’re brave enough, just to prove to ourselves that we can be beautiful at any age. It’s part of our plan to age with style and grace.
How fortunate we women are, that we come in so many shapes and sizes! How wonderful, when we realize that we are beautiful! And how incredible, that a good friend can bring it all into focus.