Revealing Photos Show the Naked Truth
What two sets of photographs taught me about strength and beauty
In my early 20s, I realized that I wanted to have nude photos of myself taken one day, if I could work up the nerve. Not because I was an exhibitionist, mind you. Rather, I wanted to preserve an unfettered, full-body image of myself to look at in my old age as proof that I’d once been young and beautiful.
At the time, a friend of mine was a professional photographer. For a year, I toyed with the idea of asking her to take some nude portraits, but I chickened out, and then we lost touch.
Finally, at 30, realizing that I wasn’t getting any younger, I set a plan in motion. I was about to celebrate my first wedding anniversary — the “paper” anniversary — and it dawned upon me that sexy 5x7 prints qualified as a paper-themed gift. I’d be killing two birds with one stone, delivering a jaw-dropping present to my now ex-husband, while giving my future self the gift that I’d been craving for years.
I hired a college classmate whose photography business had just been praised by The New York Times and mentally prepared for a nude photo shoot.
What's so remarkable about a quasi-seductive pose when my favorite photograph exudes strength, confidence and comfort in my own skin?
When the anticipated day arrived, I disrobed in my classmate’s studio. She posed me in a variety of mildly seductive postures in soft white light, snapping away for an hour. That’s the closest that I’ve come to feeling like a fashion model. It was glamorous and exciting to have so much attention lavished upon me, but it was also nerve-wracking. Were my breasts perky enough? Did my stomach look flat enough? Would the final images capture me the way that I’d want to be remembered for posterity?
A Different Set of Photos
A few weeks later, I received a slim envelope filled with black-and-white matte prints of the images that showcased me from the most flattering angles. On my anniversary, I handed them to my then-husband without a hint about their titillating nature. I remember beaming all day because of his positive reaction.
I kept a set of the nude prints for myself and looked at them periodically, but as the years passed, I peeked at them less often, satisfied to know, simply, that they existed.
A dozen years slipped by. I became a mom. I got divorced. I turned 40. I had a series of suspicious-looking moles removed. After the umpteenth freckle biopsy, my very thorough dermatologist asked me to schedule a full-body dermatological photography session.
This meant that I’d meet with a medical photographer at my local university hospital, strip down naked and have every inch of my body photographed to capture images of all of my freckles and moles. Then, every time that I had an appointment with my dermatologist, I’d bring the prints along, so she could tell — with certainty — whether any of my speckles and spots had changed. The images were also ideal for monthly at-home self-checks, I learned.
Some people might have been intimidated by the idea of posing for such photos, but I didn’t even flinch.
Surprised by an Image
My second nude photo shoot was markedly different from the first. This time around, the photographer was a man 20 years my senior, instead of a woman my age, and the hospital supplied a female chaperone for the session. For some reason, I felt compelled to announce that I regularly change into and out of bathing suits in gym locker rooms, to reassure the photographer and chaperone that I was comfortable being nude in front of other people.
When I look at that photo, I see strength. Power. Self-confidence.
As I stood under harsh fluorescent lighting, the photographer posed me to best exhibit the brown spots that dot my body. There were extreme close-ups. I didn’t get the sense that the pictures were intended to flatter me, and I wasn’t sure that I’d be thrilled to see the images.
When the second set of photos arrived, I rifled through the glossy, color prints and was mostly disappointed. I’d predicted correctly: The photographer had succeeded at documenting my moles and freckles, but in the process, he’d highlighted my stomach bulge. Mini love handles. A varicose vein or two. The pictures were clinical, cold and mostly unflattering.
But he also took a photo that made my breath catch. In the picture, I’m leaning my head down, chin touching my chest, so you can’t see my face. My hair is twisted into a quick, careless bun to keep my cascading locks from obscuring the hundreds of mini-freckles weaving their way across my shoulders. My back is curved in such a way that I feel as though I’m gazing at the image of an athlete.
When I look at that photo, I see strength. Power. Self-confidence. I see an independent, disciplined woman who runs a business and a household, who developed broad shoulders by swimming twice a week. I couldn’t believe how stunningly beautiful the photo was.
My Favorite Picture
I hadn’t looked at my nude anniversary photos in years, so I pulled them out, curious to know if I’d like any of those images better.
What I found was that even though I was younger and slightly thinner in the old photos, I was more beautiful in the new photo. Twelve years earlier, I’d posed timidly for the photographer I knew, trying to appear sensual. This time, I didn’t care what the images looked like, since they were for medical purposes. I joked around with the photographer and chaperone, completely relaxed, raising my arms or turning my body as directed. I was me. That came across in my favorite picture.
I thought about framing the photo and hanging it in my home, but decided that it was better to keep it tucked away with the rest of my freckle-and-mole pictures.
Having that stunning image mixed in with the less flattering ones makes it more bearable to endure my monthly skin self-check. Each time I see it, I’m struck by the beauty and strength of my middle-aged body. Everyday exposure to the picture, I realized, might diminish its power over me.
Today, when I envision my 80-something self looking at old photos, I’m less inclined to think that the nude portraits I obsessed about in my 20s will elicit anything more than a passing glance. What’s so remarkable about a quasi-seductive pose when my favorite photo exudes strength, confidence and comfort in my own skin?
That image contains all the proof that I need that I was, indeed, young and beautiful once. And I still am.