Before I could stop them, the words flew out: I would love to be photographed for your project.

And just as swiftly, the thought flew in: As soon as I lose thirty pounds.

I had been enchanted by the Mormon Women Bare exhibit at the Summer 2013 Sunstone Symposium. I’d never seen anything so surprising, and surprisingly beautiful, as this collection of women, these sisters of mine, unclothed and unabashed. Standing. Sitting. Laughing. Be-ing. I’d grown so accustomed to seeing the female body presented as a sexual entity that I found myself unsettled as well as fascinated by these images. They were undeniably lovely, in all their skin and bone and fat and muscle, in all their simple and profound humanity. But they wen’t sexy—or, for that matter, unsexy. They just were. Each an unadorned truth; each an unqualified fact.

I couldn’t imagine anything more wonderful than being able to see my own body that way. I also couldn’t imagine what a stark risk that would require.

I found out during the short stretch of time between my impromptu remark to Katrina, whom I’d just met at the party of a mutual friend, and the moment when I stood before the unblinking eye of her camera. Without having lost thirty pounds (or even one). Without mascara or lip gloss or hairspray. Without clothing.

It had seemed like a good idea, at first. My forty-second birthday was fast approaching, and it would be poignant—poetic, even—to embrace my aging body in such a bold and outrageous way. But when Katrina contacted me to schedule a sitting, the jig was up. Dear God, I thought. Am I really going to unleash my body from its sheath of shapewear and show it to the whole wide Internet? My entire body? Including that abdomen so stretched by seven pregnancies that I could probably pull it over my head? Including those lopsided breasts that would probably droop to the floor if I did lose thirty pounds? Including the upside-down butt that was flat and round in all the wrong spots?

Yes. I really was going to let countless strangers—and even scarier, dozens of friends—view my bare self. I wasn’t sure why. Was I trying to garner attention? Admiration? Indignation? What could I possibly hope to gain in return?

Nothing. And that, I realized as the camera snapped its crisp shutter-eye again and again and again, is the whole point. After decades of offering up my body to others for their approval and scrutiny and dismissal and desire, and believing that my happiness hung in the balance, it was time to leave behind childish things and face this terrifying and liberating fact: nobody can give me what I seek; nobody can take it, either.

I wasn’t sure I could accept that fact until I opened the photo files from Katrina. My eyes quickly scanned them, looking for the worst case scenario: an image that revealed something I could not bear to have known. I didn’t find any. Not because Katrina’s camera had magically transformed my well-worn body into the world’s version of lovely—my folds and bulges and stretch marks were all there, plain and real. But because I saw a greater loveliness: the truth. Unabashed, unadorned and unqualified.

I needed nothing else. The risk contained its own return. The reward for being myself is … being myself.

Happy birthday, Kathy.

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