When I was married, I hung a framed triptych -- tasteful, subtly erotic shots of water dripping down my torso -- over our wrought-iron bed. I was sentimental about the photos. They were taken when I was nineteen and had posed for a college friend who was doing an assignment for his photography class.
In the pictures, I wore a red bikini and a white gauze top. The photos were close-ups of sections of my body: you could make out a bit of cleavage, but mostly what you saw were beads of water dancing across supple, tanned flesh, shimmering in sunlight.
When I got divorced, my husband told me the photos had always made him uneasy. He thought it was inappropriate to hang them where the children could see. He thought my decision to display something that to me was art was actually evidence of my poor judgment and the likelihood that I was a sex addict.
We did not, as you may imagine, have a satisfying sex life.
After the divorce, I moved with my children into an apartment. When I looked for the triptych to hang it -- proudly, without being shamed -- over my bed, I couldn't find it. I still don't know where it is, although I suspect it's buried under a mountain of boxes in my storage locker. Realizing it was gone, perhaps permanently, I felt a heartsick lurch that surprised me. It wasn't just that I had lost proof of my former nubility. I had lost a memento from the the cusp of womanhood, when I was first discovering the pleasures of my body.
And yet, here I was at 50, rediscovering my sexuality with new partners, and more at ease with my body than I had been when it was "perfect." I no longer have the time, money, or inclination to exercise obsessively as I once did. I have better things to lament than the situation with the underside of my arms. I look at the sloping breasts that fed two babies, the skin that hangs down slightly from my belly when I bend over, and I think, not bad for 50!
Or, as one of my younger lovers said, "not bad for any age."
He didn't mean that my body could pass for 25, which it can't. He meant that I don't carry myself the way our culture expects a 50-year-old woman to carry herself -- devoid of desire and allure, resigned to a parched future, limping across an asexual wasteland.
Whenever I considered the chasm between the way I see myself and the way society sees women of a certain age, I felt a surge of f***-that-s***! I was not going to let some antiquated notion of female desirability quash how I felt about myself or how I should act.
It was in this subversive spirit that I found myself one day googling "boudoir photography Los Angeles."
After looking at several cheesy portfolios of women in push-up bras and g-strings bending over pool tables, I came across a photographer who specialized in erotic photography. Her work was lush, sophisticated, and overtly sexual. The women in the photos looked to be in their 20s and 30s, the oldest perhaps in her 40s. Although I felt twinges being reminded that I was not the pert, taut thing I used to be, I also felt that I now possess a maturity and self-awareness that is a different kind of sexy, and was, after all, the very reason for doing a boudoir shoot in the first place.
We shot the photos in my apartment, on a sunny afternoon in March. I was initially self-conscious posing semi-nude for a stranger, showing her the pocket in my right breast where two benign tumors had been removed. But I got over it soon after the shoot began.
I told her the look and feel that I wanted, and spent two gloriously hedonistic hours being told to lift my arms over my head, arch my back, and stick out my ass. The shoot was two hours long, and I was exhausted by the end. But I had grown so comfortable configuring my body in different poses that I was sorry when it was done.
There were 300 photos taken in all, and about 50 of them are fantastic. I like them much more than the shots of my 19-year-old self. They ooze sensuality and showcase the body of a mature woman, with less than perfect skin and breasts.
Although an ex-boyfriend had encouraged me to take the photos, I didn't take them for a man -- there is no one man in my life. The shoot was a gift to myself to celebrate my experience as a woman who has lived long enough to own her sexuality, with or without a partner. I would encourage any woman to do a boudoir shoot at least once in her life, especially when she's past her supposed expiration date, so she realizes she's anything but.
Because a sexy woman of a certain age is a force to be reckoned with.