Why on earth would I want to pose nude for a group of photographers?
I'm not a psychologist or an authority on body image. I'm a 50-year-old woman who has suffered with anorexia and body dysmorphic disorder since I was 7 years old.
I've tried therapy and support groups over the past 15 years. Although they have helped tremendously and brought awareness about this disease, I seem to slip back into self-body-hatred periodically. Sometimes it lasts for a few days, sometimes a few months. The time period doesn't matter. What does matter is, even at my age I still struggle with my body. How many women do the same thing? Does it ever end?
For a lot of us, the disease begins in early childhood. For some, it happens in pre-pubescence when our young bodies are in a metamorphose stage from child to adult. The psychological damage done to girls is appalling, both as the result of media hype and the unrealistic expectations that society places on women, and through untreated childhood abuse - verbal, physical, emotional and sexual, to which I am no stranger on all counts.
But even as we grow and overcome symptoms of the disease, we owe it to ourselves to take the time to check in with our bodies and our souls from time to time, and take inventory of what's coming up for us. It is important to simply accept our feelings and be open to what the universe is revealing.
The distorted self-image of my body became so overwhelming recently, that I knew I had to try something different. I know when it has gotten really bad - when I’m afraid to leave my house or interact with people for fear that they will see my flaws and judge me, or when my daily life feels unbearable.
Then I decided to do something different. I made a conscious decision on Ash Wednesday to give up self-loathing of my body for Lent. I am not Catholic, but I make it a practice to do something during the 40 days of Lent each year that will help me gain some new insights from the experience that have a positive and lasting impact on the rest of my life.
I wrote my Lenten Intention on a piece of paper and stuck it on my Vision Board:
"I love my body." I wrote it on an index card and taped it to the inside cover of my journal. I wrote it on the back of my business card and placed it in my wallet. I wrote my intention on post-it notes and put them all over the place where I would see them every day, like on the bathroom mirror, on the nightstand next to my bed, on the console of my car and even above the kitchen sink.
I looked online for articles written by other women who had the same disorder. I looked for images of inspirational quotes that reinforced positive female body image. I watched YouTube videos of women struggling with their disease.
And then, a miracle happened.
I was asked to participate in a nude photo shoot by one of my photographer friends. I immediately accepted.
Why on earth would I do this?
Spirit guided me. There is no doubt about that, because I would have never even thought about being naked in front of a photographer.
I prepared for weeks. Working with a trusted friend and personal trainer, I ate 5 small meals and exercised each day. I did it all without question. I approached this training as I would if I had gone to my doctor to cure a serious ailment.
The results were amazing, not because my body transformed so much in a short period of time but because my attitude toward my body had. I wasn't expecting this, but when I write an intention, meditate on it daily and practice visualization, such results are inevitable.
I began blogging daily about what I was experiencing, always bringing my focus back to the intention, "I love my body," even on days when I was struggling with it. I shared my blogs on my Facebook page, and what happened was incredible. Women started sending me personal messages, thanking me for being courageous enough to share my intimate journey with my body online. These women also suffered from the same affliction of loathing their bodies. Even a few men began messaging me, because anorexia and body dysmorphic disorder are not gender biased.
I participated in the nude photo shoot – the only nonprofessional and only non-20-something-year-old model there. During the 5-hours, rotating between 4 studios sets and posing for 8 photographers, I felt completely at ease. My body did not look like the other models’, but that was not an issue for me. The work I had done during the previous weeks, not only physically but spiritually, brought me to a place of comfort in my own skin. I see the stretch marks from childbearing, the scars from a bicycle accident and the laugh lines on my face, and felt proud of them because they are the signs of a life well lived.
Weeks later, when I had almost forgotten about the shoot, a few of the first photographs began to arrive from one of the photographers. I opened each one of the attachments from an email and wondered who this lovely lady was. The body that I tend to loath in the mirror every day was not the same body as the one in the photos.
Who was she?
More and more photos started to arrive from the other photographers, and each time I apprehensively opened them, I was overwhelmed with joy and gratitude for this invisible healing. None of the photographers were aware of my struggle with self-image. I kept that to myself. They found out when I shared my story in a Blog and posted some of the photos on Facebook. I wasn’t looking to draw attention to myself. I did this for my own sanity – for my own recovery.
Friendships have formed between women on a soul level – a goddess sisterhood. We all know the agony of silent suffering, and we are learning the freedom of loving our bodies exactly as they are. We are all beginning to possess a genuine love of ourselves from deep within. We are all beautiful.
Today I love my body, and Lent isn’t even over yet. I’m ahead of schedule. Will I keep up “loving my body” for the rest of my life?
I believe I will.
An inspirational video I came across today by Kate Maree O'Brien: Why I Did A Naked Photoshoot
Photos copyrighted and courtesy of Bill & Janice Dahl, Pamela Taylor, Jim Peterson, and Lee Otsubo.
Bill & Janice Dahl: Middle row, #1 and #2
Pamela Taylor: Top row, #1 and #3
Jim Peterson: Middle row, #3; Bottom row, #1
Lee Otsubo: Top row, #2; Bottom row, #2 and #3