”OFFS why does women ‘empowerment’ always have to involve them getting their kit off?” This was one of the responses on the Wearing Wellbeing Facebook page to a call for volunteers for – “A TASTEFUL (yes they did use capital letters) nude shoot for a piece about women and body confidence”.
Why did I jump at the chance? Well, primarily it was to see if I really had embraced acceptance of my older self. Also, I reasoned it would be useful research for my project, The Invisibility Myth. What I didn’t immediately get was the wider picture. I believe there’s a need for people to see normal body-confident golden agers and younger women who are embracing their natural body changes not fighting them; the softening, the battle scars of survival and of a life lived.
Our bodies are the manifestation of any issues that we normally conceal under clothes and makeup. Strip those away, and we have to face who we really are, no hiding. For me at 61 years old, this was an important part of my personal development. Holding a mirror up to see if my acceptance of my physical is actually real now. I’m no longer that young, confident self-made woman who lost her way in her 40s under the weight of fluctuating hormones and major life changes. I’ve been on a postmenopausal rebirth since the age of 50 and am, at 61 in a place where I’ve grown into my own skin and made peace with who I was then and who I am now, even though it requires constant vigilance!
I arrive at a photographic studio in Hoxton, East London feeling a tad apprehensive. It’s not about getting naked per-se, more an in-built unease and cynicism about the media and how I will be portrayed. Although the accompanying interview for the article has been read over the phone to me and I am happy with it, I know it’s not been edited yet, so it could all go tits up – literally! I walk into the groovy reception area, where there is a beautiful young woman with vitiligo, (I later find out she is one of the models) quietly feeding her week old baby girl. Not what I was expecting to see.
Friendly young hair and makeup ladies bustle around behind flimsy curtains preening a small group of women, before they shyly shrug off their robes to pose in the white, brightly lit studio space. I go hot and panicky. In those first few minutes, I think about bolting, but pause instead to chat with a simply AMAZING looking 87 year old woman. YES 87 with spiky red and white hair carefully arranged to hide her hearing aids. She is wondering out loud whether or not to keep her flesh-coloured thong on (it would be retouched out post shoot) for the benefit of her grandchildren. I laugh, gulp, take stock, calm down and get a grip.
Before I can think too hard I take my clothes off, put a thong, fluffy robe and slippers on… and suddenly there is a pause for lunch and chat. I recognize one of the models is a lady I met on the AoA OUTageous Bus Tour. It all begins to feel so normal, in a surreal kind of way. The (male) photographer and his young assistant join us and are so affable and confidence inspiring, I feel myself starting to warm to the occasion. The only covering our bodies have under our white robes is a thin coat of shimmering skin buffing cream applied with a body mitt (yeah there was much joking about nooks, crannies and creases!).
By the time it comes for post-lunch action, we three 87, 61 and 30-year-old women have bonded and the group shots of our bodies (think Dove commercial-esque) become a hilarious, really quite touching celebratory experience rather than a daunting on. We are stripped literally and metaphorically of anything to hide behind and I feel an endorphin flood of love and respect for these strangers with whom I am engaging in such an intimate unforgettable moment.
The photographer is happy to show us some of the results as the shoot progressed – he really knew his stuff. There was one shot of me sitting on the floor, my modesty carefully arranged intact, that I had to admit was wonderful. It remains to be seen what the finished article and photos will look like, but whatever, I stand firm that my decision to do it was right. I leave the studio with a big smile on my face, feeling euphoric and proud of myself. I believe the other women feel the same. My reward is to trot down to the 24 hour Brick Lane Bagel Bakery (oh how many times I went there after all night benders in my youth!) to scoff a lox bagel AND a wedge of cheesecake, before meeting friends for a well-earned drinkiepoos. What started as something well outside my comfort zone, ended as an adventure. I am so pleased to have felt the fear of and done anyway.
In a time when we are all going to live longer and longer, I’m now in my Golden Age and quite frankly I don’t give a damn what anyone thinks when the article comes out. I have earned the right to live out my years in as self-determining and visible way as I choose, for as long as this beautiful body of mine holds up, until I shuffle off this mortal coil. If it’s not your thing – step away and please refrain from judgment – the latter just perpetuates the myth that the only way forward is for us to be tucked away out of sight and invisible. Ain’t happening on my watch. How about yours?