Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Birthday Cake

I'm going to be 40. When?  Someday.  In a little over ten months to be exact.  But it's there.  It's just sitting there.  (name that movie!)  40 is coming whether I like it or not and I've actually decided I like it.  I'm ready.  I've got this.

A long time ago I decided that we were going to take a huge trip overseas for my 40th birthday.  It was going to be amazing, full of castles and Scotch and kilts, by God.  Except now we aren't going because, well, life.  It happens.  So I decided I would make a bucket list of all the things I wanted to experience in my 40th year.  Then I realized that I really don't want to go skydiving or be in a flash mob or learn to play guitar.  And traveling?  We already covered that.  The bucket list idea started to feel like a "to-do" list and I've got enough shit to do, thank you very much.

I remember a conversation I had with my sister-in-law when I was turning 30.  I told her I felt like my 20's were about figuring out who I was and that I hoped my 30's were about making peace with those revelations.  She told me that the 40's were about "not giving a fuck what anyone thinks of you anymore."  I like the sound of that.  But I'm going to go one bigger.  Since what others think of me really isn't any of my business I'm going to focus on the opinion that matters the most and that is mine.  But I have to get one thing out of my way once and for all. This right here is THE bucket list before I turn 40.

Of course this is the ongoing theme of my blog but it's time to make some real progress.  I refuse to go into my 40's still letting how I feel about my body determine my self-worth.  I needed a drastic intervention to finally get over this hump and onto some real healing.  There are so many other more important things to focus on.

About a year ago I wrote about my insecurities and how they manifested in a major fear of photography.  I badly wanted to be over this issue as it affected me in many ways, not the least of which is having no family pictures to speak of.  My mother-in-law has been lecturing me for at least 10 years that she doesn't have a family picture of us yet.  Yeah, yeah.  I'll get right on that, Hilda.

I've had a lot of feedback from friends who seem to feel the same.  Hating pictures is a universal theme in our own body shaming and the habit goes back probably as far as photography does.  Filmmaker and author, Ransom Riggs, has collected vintage photographs for years that he's found at swap meets and antique stores and recently published a collection of his "Talking Pictures" showing how self-deprecating people can be about their own photos.  I found it fascinating and I can relate to so many of them.

While this issue is not exclusive to women I think it's most prevalent with them.  Peter Gowland, famous photographer and author of Secrets of Photographing Women, once said, "Women are difficult to photograph because no matter how hard you try, most photographs just show how they look. Women want a photograph to show how they THINK they should look and that means having to get into their mind and discover what that image is. This is not a task for the faint-hearted!"  Since he was best known for his nude photography I'm guessing no one knew this better than him.

Last October I wrote specifically about a young body love blogger who appeared online in her underwear to show the world that she wouldn't accept judgments about her body from anyone anymore.  I admired what she did but under no circumstances was this an option for me for many reasons, the greatest being my fear of photography.  I've tried to cure it before by hiring a professional but it just didn't take.  I wasn't ready. It was going to take something more extreme.

A former coworker of mine contacted me after reading my blog and told me that she had the perfect exercise for me.  Boudoir Photography. Seriously?  Did she not even read what I wrote?  Tera was adamant that it would make a difference in how I felt about my body and photography in general.  I wondered just how much of her mind she had lost since the last time I saw her.

I may joke about going pantsless all the time but photos in my drawers may be the most terrifying thing I could possibly think of.  There will be no pants off-dance off when cameras are present.  Rule number uno, Tera.

I've been working really hard this past year to accept myself and to love me as I am right now.  Love first, change second, right?  I would love to have some beautiful photographs like that some day. But maybe if I just lost 20 lbs. first.  Or got my arm definition back.  Or thinned out my cankles.


That's not loving first.  That's not accepting who I am, right now, before even considering steps to change.  And then there's 40.  And the bucket list.

I met with Tera, saw some of her boudoir work (she does not have a website set up for that portion of her profession yet) and made a game plan.  My husband was also turning 40 a whole 10 months before me and I thought maybe this could be part of his gift.  Body confidence and a sexy birthday gift.  Two boobs with one stone.

I enlisted a friend of mine to help me out.  I've got rudimentary make-up skills at best and I needed desperately to go into this with as much confidence as I could muster.  My friend, Bryna, is amazingly talented when it comes to make-up and hair.  I've admired her for both since I first met her almost 5 years ago. She's also a fantastic up and coming vocal talent.  But what I admire most about her is her love for herself.  She's crazy confident and after putting in the time and doing the work necessary for it she just exudes self-worth.  I want some of that.  Hair and make-up. Check. Check.

I spent several weeks trying to find things to wear and fretting over every detail.  I had mini panic attacks leading up to it. I even emailed Tera and asked if she was sure as at that very moment I felt I had NO business taking pictures in my skivvies.  Who did I think I was?  Tera was supremely confident I would be happy.  So much so she said she planned to use some of them in promotional material, with my permission of course.  No pressure there, right?

Two weeks after I turned 39 I stood in front of a camera in my underwear and the fiercest make-up I've ever worn, thanks to Bryna, having only ingested a limited amount of champagne and had my picture taken.  For hours. Of course I had a kick-ass sexified music playlist, too, but those that know me well know this had to be a given.  And I survived.  At my heaviest weight in six years. Dare I say I even had fun.

Tera was fantastic.  She was complimentary.  She was encouraging.  She knew what I was afraid of and how to calm me down.  She couldn't hide her own excitement when she saw something "really hot" through her lens.  I couldn't help but feed off her own passion for her work.  I knew it was a success.

Until two weeks later when she said she was uploading the pictures.  I came <this> close to vomiting. What if I looked horrible?  What if, through no fault of Tera's, every horrible thing I ever saw in pictures of me was visible?  I could still get him a tie, right?  Or some kind of power tool?

I believe my exact response to Tera after I viewed the pictures for the first time was, "Holy fucking shit, I'm hot."

The boudoir shoot exceed every expectation I had.  Every single one.  I was in absolute shock. Out of 99 pictures that she showed me there were maybe 3 that I didn't really care for.  Do you know what a big deal that is?  It's huge.  There are a couple that push my comfort zone but I promise you this - I did not look at one picture with any kind of negative dialogue running through my head.  Not one.  I didn't pick them apart.  I didn't tell myself the horrible things I've spent a lifetime saying about my body. What I saw was art.  And beauty.  And me. 

Tera said her retouching was only blemish removal and skin texturing.  There was only one picture  where she "liquified" a tiny bit of the back of my arm because my corset (I've always wanted a corset!!) had pushed it out funny.  Otherwise it was all me.  I can still see the imperfections.  They are still there.  But they don't get in the way of what I really see.

I may not be the size or weight I want to be but I am beautiful right now.

I may not have worked through all my body confidence or self-worth issues
but I am beautiful right now.

I can work out and get stronger and leaner if I want to.  But right now?

I am beautiful.

And since I have talked about my dislike for my legs and my cankles in the past I should mention that one of the most stressful moments during the photo shoot was when Tera decided to take a picture of them in all their glory.

And I am still beautiful. (And those are some bad-ass shoes I bought, too!)

I'm not changing the world.  My bare ass won't bring world peace. And you may not feel the same way about how I look and that's totally ok because I'm going to be 40 and it doesn't matter. It may sound silly to say but this was life changing for me.  Being able to say, "I'm ok right now, no matter where I go from here" is so freeing.  My internal dialogue over the last month has changed dramatically.  Tera was right.  It did make a difference.  I'm filled with gratitude for what she has done for me.

There are, of course, a lot more pictures and some much more revealing but I'm not going to put those here.  I do have to consider my children in this regard and their future internet use.  And frankly, it's not YOUR birthday.  But if you wanted more information on working with Tera Photography or another boudoir photographer in your area if you aren't local to Minnesota, I would be open to sharing what I know.  I couldn't be happier with my own results and I would encourage anyone to embrace who they are and where they are at with their body right in this moment.

In fact, this Saturday I have another photo shoot with Tera.  I'm finally having family pictures done.  My mother-in-law will be so pleased.  Life has been passing us by so quickly.  It's time to document where we are right now before my kids are grown.

I took Mathew to a spa for his birthday weekend.  Maybe I had one too many dunks in the cool plunge pool but with everyone pretty much living in their swim suits I saw so many different kinds of bodies and they were all lovely.  All of them.  And when we all wore our matching fluffy white spa robes we all looked the same, too.  It's crazy but that fact was so beautiful to me.

I gave my husband the photographs presented in a black leather keepsake box and I watched his face while he looked through them.  He commented over and over how fantastic they were and pointed out some favorites but I couldn't help but notice the lack of absolute shock that I felt when I saw the pictures for the first time.  Why wasn't he completely dumbfounded as I had been?

Later when I asked him about his reaction he looked at me with total confusion.  Then he said, "I am very surprised that you had the photo shoot.  It's not like you at all to do something like this.  But I was not surprised at all by how they turned out."

"Why not?" I asked.

"Because I've always known you were this beautiful."

Hey, 40?  Bring it.


  1. And anyway, Boudoir Photography is exactly half of the things you can do in those shoes. Happy birthday to Mathew, indeed.

    1. I wore them dancing Sunday. Not the smartest thing I've ever done but there's 3 things.

  2. Thank you, sister, for sharing your journey. It brings tears to my eyes knowing you are happy! And what an iinspiration! Love you long time!

    1. Thank you for being there with me, Renee. I love you, too.

  3. Love, love, love--the pics, the writing, and the author!

    1. I love you, too, Gretchen! Thank you!

  4. Great post! I did this exact same thing a couple of years ago and like you, was so shocked to see how hot I was. I have been wanting to do these photos again now that I have had a baby. My body has changed, I am even heavier but I also know I am just as beautiful. I think I need to the photographic proof to believe it! Keep on keeping on! We will get there.

    1. Thank you, Nicole! You should do it again!

  5. Beautiful post, beautiful insight and beautiful pictures! Thanks for sharing!

  6. So, I stumbled across this because my girlfriend had it up on her computer and I read it (she reads lots of interesting things, so I figured I should check it out too). And, HOLY SMOKES!! Those are some fantastic photos! You're gorgeous! I'm glad to hear you had such a positive experience. And good for you for having a "f**k it" list. You've gotta love you first. :)


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