My daughter, who’s 20 and studying sculpture in art school, was worrying about what to do for her final project. We were talking on the phone when an idea struck her; she decided to create a piece on the deterioration of the body. I was encouraging, but I probably should have seen what was coming.
The next day she called again. “Hey, can you send me pictures of your boobs?” She needed a model, and turns out, college-age women aren’t really helpful when it comes to portraying deterioration.
“Thanks for thinking of me,” I said.
Sensing the sarcastic lack of enthusiasm in my tone, she said, “It’s for the sake of art. You can’t deny art!”
Still, I resisted: “Is there a way out of this? I really don’t want to do it.”
And yet the next morning I was in my bedroom, topless, and my husband, Dave, was taking pictures of me as I slowly turned a full 360 degrees while trying to maintain a dry professionalism.
I had practical concerns. “I want my face cropped out,” I told him.
“Absolutely,” he said.
I also didn’t want the pictures, taken on my husband’s iPhone, to be autofed into the queue of family pics that our TV reverts to, like a shifting screen saver, when in passive mode. I imagined a moment when one of my sons (?18 and 15?) might have friends over and would find a shocking surprise. “Let’s not scar anybody,” I tried to joke.
I’m 45 and have breastfed four kids. I was pretty sure I’d made peace with my breasts. They were always small—nothing to brag about—but relatively happy. Sure, they now require a spatula to be inserted into the mammography equipment, and I refer to them as my sad Walter Matthau eyes; they’re that soulful-looking these days. Yet, when my husband asked if I wanted to see the shots and pick which ones to send, I couldn’t look at them.
“Ship ‘em!” I said, having done my duty for the sake of art and parenting.
But I had doubts about more than my breasts. The night after the photo shoot, I complained. My stomach, after four full-term pregnancies, is doughy, with scars designed to be pleats. My butt isn’t where it used to be. My husband has been doing CrossFit for a few years. I’d consider joining him, but I refuse to voluntarily lift heavy things. As a result, he’s fit and I’m just cross. “I am deteriorating,” I said.
“Don’t insult the woman I love,” he told me. “You’re beautiful.”
I am stunned on a regular basis by my own aging. I look in the mirror and there’s an immediate disconnect. I see my grandmother’s mouth, my mother’s chin—my budding wattle, as I refer to it. I’m reminded of a certain aunt who took to wearing butterfly Band-Aids to keep her eyelid skin up high enough to actually, well, see. The gray hairs now outnumber the brown. I can’t watch certain actresses my age without obsessively guessing what work they’ve had done, which makes me insufferable, I know. I’ve abandoned high heels and sadly test insoles for arch support. I had a young dermatologist refer to my age spots as wisdom spots, and I nearly slapped him.
My sister, who’s nine years older than I am, recently texted me an exercise that is supposed to save our upper arms from melting. I texted back, “Wait. Does this mean we’ve accepted the fates of our necks? Is that battle over now? I need to know.”
She texted back that we had, officially, accepted our necks as beyond help and that I could feel free to scarf-it-up.
My eight-year-old recently looked at a picture of me and said, “You don’t look so old!” Before I could thank her, she added, “It’s probably an optical illusion from the red background.” I quietly loathed her precocious vocabulary.