Making Peace with the Body

Susan - Seattle, Washington
Entered on September 13, 2007
Age Group: 30 - 50
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Making Peace with the Body.

In the past year, I began practicing yoga daily, shed forty pounds, and traveled alone to Sarajevo, Bosnia.

I’ve dedicated twelve months to extending the boundaries of my life. I could say I believe in overcoming fear. I could say I believe in bravery. However, what I want to state in concrete terms is this: I believe in being photographed naked.

When my friend Rosanne first approached me for her project, I laughed, I’m embarrassed to say, in her face. The answer came easily. No. And then again, just to be sure she understood, no, no, no. I consider myself a private person. Even the thought of a topless beach makes me vaguely queasy.

I knew she hoped to include women from diverse backgrounds. Perhaps she had a requisite slot for a forty-something poet. In any case, I told her to keep looking. I even offered to help her find other bodies.

As long as she didn’t photograph me.

Maybe it was when my friend Stephanie said yes without hesitation and seemed to emerge unharmed by her experience that I reconsidered. It was not that Stephanie felt fulfilled in any earth mother way, merely that she had survived. If I could let go of the fear of getting photographed nude, what else might I let go of? What might happen if I undressed in front of the camera?

You look gorgeous, Rosanne greeted me. Her manner was more that of a life coach then a photographer. Together we walked up two flights of stairs towards her sun-lit studio. With each new step, I considered turning around again.

Three stages comprised the shoot. And shoot seems the appropriate word. Rosanne began by snapping the silver and black mottled backdrop. Perhaps the empty frame might be enough? Next, she photographed me still wrapped in a satin robe. She’d say, “Move your arm lower,” or “tilt your chin up,” and then exclaim, “beautiful!” Next step, the shots sans robe. It seemed impolite to protest. And after the first thirty poses, the body acclimates. Suddenly, spending an April afternoon in my birthday suit, hair sailing over my shoulders thanks to her wind machine, seemed natural. The wine glass glistened on the windowsill, the bowed wooden floor creaked, and my body sang with a heightened presence.

I said yes to being photographed one week after my favorite cousin, age ninety-two, passed on. In her passport photo from 1959, Molly’s bobbed hair shines black instead of white, her face open and fully awake. On my writing desk, she remains forever forty-five.

My body will not stay mine forever. One day a walk two flights to the attic will be too much, let alone a trip to Sarajevo. What I’ve learned is this: I believe the body delights in celebration. In an undisclosed location, I keep one picture from that day. I see a woman chin tilted up, black hair flowing, utterly immersed in the story of her life.