As a boudoir photographer I see lots of women naked. Most clients fall into two groups: Those who look so hotter than they ever thought they could, or those who use boudoir photography to confirm they are as fat, cellulite-ish or unsexy as they feared (I’m an artist, not a Photoshop God). Too often I deal with clients’ self-body hatred and it’s come to a bothersome point — having befriended women whose bodies are scarred not for beauty but for self-preservation and basic survival.
While producing The Art Cure project, a breast cancer awareness art show and charity event this October, I met a group of wonderful women who have battled breast cancer and won. The leader of a Savannah breast cancer awareness affiliate is a proud survivor; however, just days ago she was re-diagnosed with a malignant spot in her breast and will undergo surgery Thursday. Chemo may be necessary as well.
Another friend, a 34 y/o mother of 4 is a BRCA 1 gene carrier meaning she’s 90% more likely to develop breast cancer in her lifetime than a non-carrier. Her mother is a survivor and most likely, at least one of her 4 children will have the gene too. Having options, my friend chose preventive surgery and had a double mastectomy less than a year ago and Thursday she’s having a hysterectomy to avoid her increased risk of ovarian cancer because of the gene. In fact, with unexpected complications with reconstructive surgery to her breasts she’s undergone over 10 surgeries this year alone. Of course, just this morning we heard Elizabeth Edwards’ cancer fight has come to a matter of time before she dies. Doctors can do no more and that further slumped my morning bliss.
I’m slightly paralyzed mentally as I battle the reality of having friends who seem to be having what I’d call “real” problems yet dealing with women on various levels who create their problems.
I have friends dying of cancer, replacing their breasts with scars to save their lives and find myself stuck in a very judgmental state of mind: fuck the silicone to add an extra cup to your lacking boobie confidence. Who cares about the extra flab on your thigh when your 45 year old ass looks so much sexier than your own mom’s ass at that age? That a 45 year old woman can pass as a MILF these days, now that’s something to applause because in my childhood women at 45 were old and quickly turning into fat grandmas while discarded into the kitchen or bingo games. I’m sure your grandmother looked more like Mrs. Doubtfire than anything Hollywood produces as mainstream mid-life bombshell turned rather hot “for your age” grandma. Don’t boo-hoo to me that you don’t like your own aging body and have me Photoshop you into a blur so you don’t have to face your own reality. At least you have a healthy body I want to say. I mean all this respectfully, of course, but sometimes being nice about it just doesn’t sink in.
Helping women realize their beauty is wonderful and rewarding. It’s the part of my job I get high on. Convincing women their imperfections are not ugly is another matter. It’s like being a lawyer and facing a deadlocked jury. The frustration of all that work to end up at a dead-end is baffling, annoying and draining. The biggest harm women do to themselves is to believe men actually give a damn about their cellulite or other female obsessed imperfections.
In the grouping of those I consider good friends and women I care about, one announced her malignant bump yesterday; another undergoes removing the last bit of biological femininity she was born with two days from now; another recently wrote about personal struggles from Borderline Personality Disorder wherein the meds are killing the once active sex drive (which really has a snowball effect) and another who deals daily with the struggle of the death of her child from a disease. I top this off with the fact that I live my life with a man I dearly love and who struggles daily with wounds from war, VA bureaucracy and PTSD as a result of serving in the United States Army for “freedom”.
I feel a more pressing need for higher meaning in my life this season than the usual. The American Humanist Association suggests we celebrate “Reason” this season rather than “myth” of God. I suggest we celebrate our lives, our bodies and our families. Period.
I’m having one of those days where a good walk, a breath of fresh air and deep gratitude for my status quo is in order. I am healthy and surrounded by love. Most importantly, I know my worth and understand my value. Too many women are blind to theirs. In fact, on different levels the same applies to men.
Perhaps a good walk in the cool air is a good idea for you too. Ponder love and then see where your mind travels.
Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and a Happy New Year to you all.
Tatiana von Tauber
I sometimes go to a clothing-optional beach, Haulover, in N. Miami. One of the things I like about it is that most of the people there are comfortable in their bodies, no matter how those bodies might stack up against some norm. Seeing women with single or double mastectomies alongside the #10s is encouraging.
Back before HIV I went to “Platos’s Retreat” in New York at its peak of popularity. I had been concerned that I would look pale, skinny, and generally unappetizing compared with the other people, who I assumed would be very body-conscious. After all, they were swingers, right? I was stunned to find that most people were in far worse shape than myself–yet were happy to throw off their clothes and let the flab swing freely. After watching maybe 200 or 300 not-so-beautiful people having sex with each other, I concluded that we’d have a better attitude toward our bodies if we all went naked all the time.
I’m one of those women with a laundry list of body parts I don’t like. I’m fortunate to have a boyfriend who makes it a point to make me feel pretty even when I’m being a total pain in the butt. Women are hard on themselves, and sometimes absolutely awful to one another. (Example: my mom pulled aside my boyfriend a few weeks ago to let him know how sad she is that I’m the fattest she’s ever seen me and how I used to be much better looking. Yes, yes, that was my mother. Do you feel the love?)
We do need to learn to love ourselves and each other more. Perhaps some sort of new Satyriconista charitable project is in order? After all, philanthropy is totally sexy.
A Satyriconista charitable project? Now there’s an idea to throw around. :)
People with body image issues fall into two camps: not-enough-problems-to-worry-about, and too-many-problems-to-handle. The not-enough camp can rot. I have lots of empathy and sympathy for folks whose body issues are basically something they can reasonably hope to control when so much seems out of control.
Your guess which camp can generally afford to pay for nekkids of themselves in toney suburbs.
“Philanthropy is totally sexy”… Nice.
A toast to billionaire geeks in that case. Some are giving away 1/2 their fortune in the name of goodness: http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20101209/bs_nm/us_wealth_philanthropy_billionaires
This is a great post. What a great reminder that what we perceive as imperfections in our bodies are unimportant when compared to the bodily transformations others are forced to undergo.
I think, more than anything, confidence is sexy. We all have things on our bodies we’d like to change, but there is something very attractive about someone comfortable in their own (imperfect) skin.
Let me echo what John said in the first comment.
I am by no means Robert Pattinson or whoever the hunk of the week is, but when I have modeled nude for art classes I have discovered an impressive percentage of admirers among the artists or students. I guess it’s my self-confidence or approach to life, because I doubt it’s my scrawny frame. I have outgrown the brainwashing that I need to buy every cosmetic and pill being sold to make me look better, love longer, be “bigger”, etc.
Women need not believe the advertisers, and in some cases the doctors. I find a woman who goes against the popular grain to be incredibly arousing even if she doesn’t match the ideal presented by the media.
And I truly wonder if some of these medical procedures are necessary? We’d like to trust the doctors, but I have seen enough cases where they are operating by rote and don’t take the time to understand a patient’s situation. I know an adoptive mother of a good friend who chose not to undergo chemotherapy because the disruptive effects seemed worse to her than just enjoying her remaining days without the added stress. I envy her bravery.
I also challenge the use of the word “imperfections” as it implies that there is some benchmark against which we must be measured.
Who set the bar? Why do they count? Who cares about them? If you like it, who cares what anybody else thinks?