July 02, 2010

More naked women

The tradition of posting naked photos of women on my blog began about four years ago, when I shared a conference hotel room with Ecowoman. We decided to pretend that the bathtub in the hotel room was a lovely hot tub, and she posed with a glass of ginger ale that we decided would look like champagne. We didn’t fool anyone – it looked like a hotel bathroom – but that photo began the naked blogging tradition. Naturally, on this trip, when Ecowoman and I actually were in a hot tub with a bunch of naked women, I had to climb out and snap a photo.

Sunshine and mountains

We’d all been talking about my naked photo project, which has taken on a life of its own. Wherever I go now, people I’ve just met want to talk about the naked photos, and women begin telling stories about their bodies. I feel bonded with the women I’ve taken photos of. There’s an intimacy about it: we talk as she takes off her clothes, and I give helpful pointers like, “Shake your hair back. You have such gorgeous hair,” or “Move to your right. It looks like that tree is growing out of your head.”

Then I put the photos on my computer (my eyes are not good enough to look at anything in the back of the camera) and we look at them together, with the woman getting veto power over the photos. This process can be less serious than you might think. The camera can play odd tricks. “Oh, yeah,” said Lilting Voice when she looked at one picture. “I just love the way the lupines frame my butt crack. Very artistic.” (No, that photo will not be appearing on my blog. Like I said, every woman gets veto power over the shots.)

Usually, as we look at the photos, the woman will point out things she likes about her body. And give the history of her scars, both visible and not. Other women will gather around to help make the final selection and chime in. It’s affirming somehow to see a photo of yourself, and have a bunch of women pointing out how beautiful you are.

When Rock Climber volunteered to have her photo taken (well, volunteer might be too strong of a word), I decided it was time for an action shot. I’d noticed that on our hikes, she was always eager to keep moving. “Let’s just see what’s around the next bend,” she kept saying. So I wanted a photo in which she was moving.

We found the swing that has hung from the tree since Lilting Voice’s childhood; Rock Climber stripped off her clothes and swung back and forth in the afternoon mix of sun and shade. “This is cool,” she said, looking up into the canopy. “I don’t think I’ve ever swung naked before.” The peaceful shot I took was just before she asked me to give her a push and the swing started careening wildly, almost crashing her naked against the rough bark of the tree. Eh, what’s a photo shoot without a little danger?


The nine friends on this retreat ranged in age from early 30s to early 60s, and I think we older women ended up being good role models for the younger ones. That is, even Delightful, the youngest woman of the group, eventually consented to stripping off her clothes and posing on a rock in the sunshine. What’s funny is how much she and Lilting Voice look alike in the photos: swaying with lupines suits them both.

Swaying in the lupines

As one of my readers pointed out in the comments on the last post, there’s something healthy about seeing the naked bodies of normal women, different ages and different shapes, beautiful with stretch marks, wrinkles, and scars. Taking the photos outdoors on this trip added an element, as we were all talking about our connections to the landscapes we love, just as we were falling in love with the mountains we were hiking through every day.

I of course always assure my friends that the photos are top secret, their anonymity carefully guarded. But Yoga Woman told us the story about her grown daughter, who is part of a group of mothers who write poetry. They were talking about a fundraising calendar of naked women photos and were looking at the photos on my blog as an example of tasteful nude pictures. Her daughter was admiring a photo of a naked woman in a yoga position when suddenly she recognized the hair, the bracelets. “Oh, MY GOD! That’s my mother!”


heidi said...

I love that all these naked shots are outside!! And you have such beautiful friends.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful women and gorgeous scenery.


Lorianne said...

I love the lupine pictures: they're your best nudes yet. I have to ask, though: are all of your friends & colleagues slender, or do your plumper friends shy from the camera?

When I look at these pictures of women of "different shapes," I see lots of women who are slim and shapely...and I find myself thinking, "Yeah, I'd agree to be photographed, too, if I didn't have these love-handles, muffin-top, and back-fat." I wonder how many other of your readers are silently thinking the same thing?

jo(e) said...

Lorianne: I think many women THINK they are plumper than they are. You wouldn't believe how many of the women I've photographed have assured me that they are "too fat" to be photographed nude -- and then when they see the photos, they are surprised.

I've seen you in person, and you're about the size of many of the women who have posed naked for me. In fact, I'm guessing that I'm heavier than you -- and I've put several naked photos of myself on the blog.

Most women who have a curvy build (rather than a skinny build) look much better naked than with clothes on. It's so hard to get clothes to fit well if you have hips and breasts.

Sandy said...

Love the composition of your naked shots.

Anonymous said...

I love all the shots, but especially the swing!

Something is up with Blogger -- I've had to try three times to leave a comment. And it won't accept my Google identity.


sherry said...

I was talking to my 18 year old daughter about you photos yesterday, the comment that women don't see each other naked and how that may affect our perception of attractive. My daughter made the comment that she has seen all of her friends naked and that they have also seen her. She thinks that it does help them accept their bodies as is. She also wondered at what age do women stop seeing each other without clothes on a regular basis? Maybe it is when we undress for sex.

jo(e) said...

I wonder if it's that all the advertising we're exposed to so sexualizes the human body. It's ridiculous that there is still often such a taboo about women breastfeeding in public. I think that's partly because breasts have been portrayed as sex objects only -- it's too big an adjustment for people to see them as the way to feed a child.

Then, too, in this culture, we no longer live with extended family. In other cultures, women would see their mothers, aunts, sisters, etc. naked on a regular basis.

(Apologies to everyone who tried to leave a comment yesterday and couldn't -- blogger is acting up.)

Lorianne said...

Jo(e), you're definitely right when you say that many women imagine themselves as fatter than they actually are. A yoga teacher once commented on this in class. She said that if she told students to put their feet "hips' width" apart, they'd put their feet *hugely* apart, versus if she said "put your feet shoulders' width apart." She also said she'd occasionally ask women to hold up their hands to indicate how wide they thought their hips were, and they almost always over-estimated.

You're right, too, about the clothes conundrum. There are many mornings when I check myself out in the mirror before dressing and think, "Okay, not bad!" and then feel fat when I get dressed. I guess walking around naked would be the ideal solution, but that has its own difficulties. :-)

And btw, I've gained weight -- at least a jeans' size, maybe two -- since you saw me in person, so that's the source of the insecurity.

jo(e) said...

Oh, and what I wanted to say yesterday, but couldn't because blogger wouldn't let me, is another thought to add onto what Lorianne was saying. Some women will talk about how they are too "fat" to pose naked, but just as many women will protest that they are too skinny, too flat-chested, don't have a butt, etc. It seems that woman thinks she fits this elusive standard of beauty in our culture.

jo(e) said...

Lorianne: We posted comments at the same time! I didn't read your comment until after I posted mine.

I wonder if people who live in a warmer climate -- and therefore spend more time with less clothes on -- have a different body image than people who live in cold climates and spend most of their time fully clothed. That would be an interesting study to do.

Lorianne said...

Another point (and this piggybacks on jo(e)'s last point). I think the problem -- the very dangerous minefield -- that women are always tiptoeing around is this issue of looking at someone else, labeling them as either "acceptable" or "not", and then comparing one's own sense of oneself -- either the woman we see in the mirror, or the shape we "think" we have, or the way we feel in our clothes. It's the labeling & comparing that's the problem: "Oh, she's prettier than me" or "I could never be that flexible" or "I wish I were as tall as her!"

One of the things I love about Kate Harding's BMI Project is the fact that it shows all sorts of women (and a few men) along with their BMI categorization ("normal," "overweight," "obese," etc.) After you've looked at a bunch of these pictures, you realize how screwed up our notions of "normal" versus "abnormal" (overweight, obese, etc) are. If it's possible to be both overweight/obese AND pretty, physically active, etc (as several of the photos illustrate), then why the hell are we torturing ourselves with labels suggesting we are flawed and abnormal?

jo(e) said...

That's a cool site. Thanks for the link.

I think that that women are socialized to think they have to compete for male attention -- and that encourages us to always be comparing ourselves with other women. The funny thing is that most men I know don't really care whether a woman gains or lose five pounds -- so I think this competitive aspect is based on a faulty premise.

I also think somehow we've gotten trapped into thinking that body image is all about how we "look" rather than how we feel about our bodies. I feel better about my body when I've been physically active and am in good shape, but I don't think that anyone looking at me with clothes on could really tell the difference between what I look like when I'm in shape and what I look like when I've been sedentary. Skinny dipping, for example, feels great because of the sensation of being naked in a body of water -- it's really not about how you look naked.

I guess that's why I keep saying that the photos aren't really the point of this project -- it's more about the intimate discussions about the body that take place when a woman takes her clothes off.

patti said...

Very beautiful! You are so lucky that you can get away....

Digger said...

I am definitely in the plumper camp. If we ever cross paths, Jo(e), sign me up.

Zhoen said...

One of those sentinel moments for me was when my 60 yr old cousin Elizabeth showed me snaps from her vacation, her in a swimsuit by the pool, looking the solid woman she, and all the women in my family, are. No embarrassment at this image of herself in a bathing suit. Yup, that's me too, I thought. I need to be as cool about this as she is, because that is a very attractive trait, to be so assured.

I love your photos of naked middle aged women. Beautiful and reassuring. We all need this, to smile and let it all hang out.

Unknown said...

I love the woman on the swing and how there's a hint of breast in that picture - the most revealing yet. So beautiful.

I feel like my body is more beautiful now than when I was 20 and part of that is that I know it better! It's been this friend to me, this vessel for my children to live in and pass through, and when it is sexy now, I'm not nervous about it. I'm proud!

You capture all of that in your photos. I love these women. I'd buy the calendar. Make one. :)

Sandie said...

This particular post and comments really hit home! Even though I have lost over 130 lbs, and have a lot more to go, I still am no where near comfortable in my own skin. I was at the store today and saw a beautifully curvy and muscular young woman who, by the looks of it, had just come from yoga or dance class... and the thought crossed my mind, "My life would be perfect or complete, if I just looked like her!"

This posts (and the comments) are a good reminder that even the young woman would probably find more faults with her body that positives.