I’ve never thought of myself as pretty. When people say my daughter looks just like me, I nod politely, but I don’t believe them for a second: she’s perfect and beautiful and that’s because she is – it has nothing to do with me. I’ve had an even harder time as my body has changed and morphed in size and shape with each of my three children and the ever-fast approaching mark of the 40’s.
I recently had such an empowering and amazing experience I had to share it with you all: women who know what it’s like to gaze into the mirror and not recognize ourselves (When did those stretch marks appear? How much concealer does it take to cover those dark circles? Where did that gray hair come from?). Women who know that more often than not, your kids are clean and look great when you leave the house while you’re lucky if you actually did more than throw your hair in a ponytail. Women who are well-accustomed to the phrase “rolling dirty.”
My initial thought was to create a special something for my special someone for Valentine’s Day. In a momentary bout of wildness, I decided to do a boudoir session with a photographer friend. I figured I could put myself in front of her camera knowing she wouldn’t judge and would make the experience fun. That said, I nearly canceled several times.
“Aaaah! I dunno if I can do this. I took a good long look today in the mirror and I am just not loving my body right now. My legs are crazy. I bruise easily and am covered in bruises and spider veins and cellulite and ick. Let’s try next year after I’ve lost weight.”
My friend was patient and supportive and left the decision up to me. True to my nature, I couldn’t keep the secret and told my husband what I was planning. His enthusiasm and eagerness for this gift encouraged me to move on.
The day before the shoot, I truly got ready. Like in the olden days – pre-children – when you’re getting ready for a hot date. I shaved. Everywhere. I wish I could claim I always do, but it’s more often than not in the timeframe around oh, say, June through August. I painted my toenails. I scrubbed off callouses. I discovered my little somethings from long ago still fit. And I truly enjoyed taking this “me time” I never take anymore.
The actual session was fun and playful. It was almost like playing dress up with a friend: good music, costumes, and laughter. But I also felt sexy and like I was entering a new chapter of my life. I’d just finished nursing my little guy for the last time the week before. This time, in my skivvies, was a way to rediscover my body and reclaim it as my own. I was no longer sharing my body with another: either through pregnancy or breastfeeding. This was me and all me and whether I chose to share it was also up to me.
Afterwards, I left the session and shifted back into mom-mode and headed to Costco. I must have had some sort of happy glow. A perfect stranger stopped me to say I was beautiful. I was shocked. You know how when you’re feeling good and confident that it exudes? I guess that’s what it was.
A surprisingly short time later, my friend sent the pictures. I couldn’t believe it. I went through this insane amount of emotions: Is that me? That’s me! Wow! Do I look like that? I look like that! Sure, I saw my imperfections, but mostly, I saw for the first time, my beauty. I saw my strength and femininity. I saw a woman who was trying her best in all that life was throwing. And I saw a woman who was feeling pride in who she was and how she looked. It was, of course, much due to an amazing photographer, but the fact that this lovely photo’s subject was me was astounding.
As for my husband’s reaction? He said the photos were good. But that the real thing was perfection.