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Why I'm Posing Nude for My 40th Birthday

Thus far, the decades of my life have been focused on acquiring things—degrees, a career, a family, a home. My energy has been wrapped up in becoming a woman who could fill the roles of lawyer, wife, mother, writer. As I stare down my 40th year, I am considering what kind of energy I want to animate the next decade.

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Primarily, I want this next decade to be characterized by gratitude, as I celebrate all that I am and all that I have. I want to give back to my community. I want a daily meditation practice. I want to pose nude for a local artist.

Yes, you read that correctly. I want to pose nude.

I've done it before—in 2006, right after I ran the Chicago marathon and was in the best shape of my life. I was young, single and beginning to accept myself for who I was and for how I looked. When I heard that local figure painter, Joyce Polance, was looking for models for her next series of paintings, I was interested. I reviewed her work, which was tasteful, lyrical and intense. Her larger-than-life nudes were museum quality and tackled such subjects as the legacy of the Holocaust, surrogate motherhood, power, culture and gender. I thought of posing nude as a tangible way to demonstrate that I was letting go of years of body shame. I turned my figure over to the artist and let her turn my body into art.

Standing naked in front of a painter was well beyond my comfort zone, but I assumed that if I didn't do it then, I never would. When it was over, I checked "posing nude" off my bucket list and went on with my life. (See result, above.)

Maybe they don't look like the breasts I had six years ago, but they aren't supposed to.

Seven years, two (breast-fed) children born via C-section and a whole lot of gravity later, I am considering doing it again. I recently heard that Ms. Polance is again looking for female models. Originally, I dismissed the idea out of hand. There's no way I am baring all now that my body has been through pregnancy and childbirth. It's one thing to be naked when you have the taut muscles of a marathon runner; it's quite another to wear a post-pregnancy birthday suit complete with sagging breasts, poofy stomach and of course, the 10-inch scar.

But I keep coming back to the idea. I'm having an internal debate about what it means that I would do it when my body was leaner, younger and scar-free, but now I won't consider it. It's not a newsflash that I'm vain, but it is disconcerting that I seem so willing to play into all the messages I hate in our culture about women's bodies.

I haven't worked this hard to overcome body shame only to become a 40-year-old woman who won't pose nude because she's not as nubile as she used to be.

After all, I am both grateful and proud of my breasts, and all they have done to nourish my children's bodies and my relationship with them. Maybe they don't look like the breasts I had six years ago, but they aren't supposed to.

And that scar. The scar that marks my children's passage into this world. I couldn't look at it for weeks after my first C-section, because I was so ashamed and devastated that I couldn't give birth "naturally." It is my scarlet A, except it is permanent and literally etched into my skin. What might it do for my continued healing around it to let an artist depict that scar in a work of art?

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I'm going to call her and agree to pose. I am doing it to celebrate this body and all it has done for me and my family. I'm doing for myself—to prove to myself that I value my body even though it's no longer the body of a 33-year-old who could spend over four hours running 26.2 miles. I am doing it because this body deserves to be art as much as that former body that I will never have again.

I am doing it to usher in my next decade—the one where I will celebrate and give thanks for all that I am and all that I have, including a 40-year-old body.

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