I Got Naked For Cancer

You may not want to see me -– but I want you to look.

It always surprises people when it comes up in conversation: Oh, yeah, I’ve totally posed naked for photos. In fact, I posed for a cancer benefit calendar, cooked up as a way to help a friend of a friend cover her medical expenses.

The Lime Project was the brain child of Avril Korman (if you have need of an NYC-based designer, this woman is the person you should call) -- a cheesecake calendar themed around the color for Hodgkin's Lymphoma: lime green.

Getting naked for cancer -- yep, I’ve been a fat lady in the nude for charity. I was originally involved as an editor. It seemed like a great way to help. And then... Avril asked me to be an alternate model. And then she showed me some of the photos that had already come in. There were bodies kind of like mine. Only kind of like mine -- I was fatter than those bodies. But I said I'd give it a try.

That’s how I wound up asking my then-boyfriend to take cheesecake photos of me when he was in town to visit. (There are, in hindsight, worse ways to spend a visit with your significant other.) He’s got a good eye, that man does. So I trusted him to take some decent photos.

I also trusted him to delete any that were honest-to-goodness terrible.

The first thing I learned, really quickly, was to make sure it’s a comfortable temperature if you're taking your clothes off for the camera. It was hard to feel sexy when I was freezing cold. And I realize that professionals work under less-than-ideal circumstances all the time…. But I wasn't a professional. I turned the heat on to get starkers.

I also waited a week or two to look at the pictures. It was really tempting, because of the magic of digital photography, to start scanning through the results of the photo session immediately. But, really, I had to give myself some distance. That distance really made a difference -- as did putting on some pants (or at least some clean underpants).

We took a LOT of photos -- about 200 over the course of that first photo session. And then we had to do another photo session later because the lighting wasn’t quite right. But the more photos I had, the more I found that I liked. Even the ones that I didn't like got easier to look at -- I got familiar with my naked flesh.

I think it’s easier to get over any fear of the camera when you’ve got practice being photographed. I gotta tell you, having been photographed wearing only my skivvies (and later, wearing only some knee socks, heels, and a pirate hat), a little candid photo at a meet-and-greet or something is no big deal.

Then -- as now, actually -- I wore a size 26/28. I’d gotten out of a relationship where my partner had some negative things to say about my body. In hindsight, I definitely should have gotten out of that scene sooner -- when a partner says hurtful things about your body, it’s hard not to internalize that. Agreeing to be part of the calendar was a giant middle finger to the self-doubt and hurt I was still carrying around.

It felt revolutionary. Being visible -- being a visible fat woman -- is a radical act in a world that wants women in general to sit down and shut up. I’m often told that it’s my job to disappear, that no one wants to look at me.

You may not want to look at me, you may not want to see me, but that doesn’t mean I have any obligation to hide from you. My body is out in the world; my body is what my body is. I am not ashamed of it.

If you don’t want to see me, people, avert your gaze.

In 2006, when these photos were first taken (hey, I still have that bra), I posted about the experience to the fatshionista livejournal community. I made it a public post and included a photo. And it was one of the most terrifying things I’d ever done on the Internet. This was back before I had my own blog, before I got really practiced at laughing at trolls. Now, posting here is still scary. Because there are always people looking to make fun of the fat lady.

Especially the fat lady in her underwear. The intervening years have not seen a magical decrease in fat shaming. Far from it.

But what I’ve learned, since that photo was taken, is that, yes, it’s still revolutionary to be fat and visible. It’s still a radical act to walk around and be just fine with your body the way it is.

It’s been a while since I’ve done a sexy photo session. My then-boyfriend is my now-husband and, frankly, we don’t need the pretense of photography to get naked and frolicsome. I’ve also felt really disconnected from any particular need for other people to view me as sexy (I’ve actually felt pretty creeped out a few times because I have been viewed as sexy).

Even so, I’m thinking it might be time to bust out the camera, make sure the room temperature is comfortable, and take a couple hundred photos.

You may not want to see me -- but I want you to look. I want you to see all kinds of bodies, presented in all kinds of ways. I want you to see bodies that look like your body, no matter what your body looks like, so you know your body is fine just the way it is.

This is my body. And it’s awesome.