Life has physically beaten up my body and it shows. New wrinkles, sagging skin, bags around my eyes.
First: I am 47 years old. It is really really strange, to sometimes look in the mirror and I hardly recognize myself. My eyes look different. More hollow. Bags. Wrinkles in my forehead. Lips nearly disappearing. I look at my legs. Sagging skin that seems to fall off bones. It’s that natural aging process. I used to fear growing old, though since cancer I embrace that. Please God, let me grow old, really old. But it’s still hard looking in the mirror and seeing change.
Second: for the past three years and four months I’ve been battling cancer (multiple myeloma, a blood cancer, the same disease Tom Brokaw has). Since diagnosis, I have had two stem cell transplants, massive amounts of toxic drugs including chemo, lost all my hair, eyelashes and eyebrows, and have had non-stop maintenance therapy of more toxic drugs. One of the drugs I take, Dexamethasone, can be blamed for muscle loss, fat tissue in my face, weight gain, and loads of insomnia. On the days I take it, it turns my normal sweet disposition (haha) into an amped up monster. My children know to be very careful around Mom on Dex days.
Third: I suffered a horrific marriage to a (highly functioning) alcoholic who was extremely verbally and emotionally abusive. Upon cancer diagnosis, I finally left him. But the abuse was about to begin in earnest. He started off with threatening me that if I didn’t return home, he would cancel my health insurance. When that failed to work, he tried to bully and coerce me into signing a divorce decree that was in his best interest and to my detriment. While telling everyone, including the courts, that I was faking cancer to get sympathy and that I was lazy and needed to get my ass back to work, he also thought that I was weak and it was a perfect time to (figuratively) kick me in the head. He thought wrong. His threats helped me get into fighting mode. I was going to kick him and cancer in the ass at the same time. I did, it worked.
But all of these stressors have made me feel unsexy and undesirable. While these days I’m healing, in love again, engaged, and actively involved in causes I love (namely the cancer and divorce communities) and I live my life to the fullest — traveling and and experiencing life, I don’t feel, well, sexy. And I want to. Certainly in my aging, health-failing body, there is something to celebrate and embrace.
I did get Botox. I love it and I have no regrets. I’m open about it too. I get those icky shots in my forehead. It helps my eyes look less hollow. I get lip fillers because those tiny, little old lady lips were just not working for me. It’s very subtle and I love it. Maybe I’ll even get filler somewhere in my face someday. But I don’t want to look overly done. So just one thing at a time.
I did redo my wardrobe almost entirely after my cancer diagnosis. Pitched pretty much all the old. I dress with more color, more whimsical and a little bohemian at times. Something radically different than when I was married and I tended to dress more conservative, more Ann Taylor. These days I wear a bright apple-green Kate Spade handbag. With warmer temps, I’m back in bling-y sandals. My hair color went from brunette to blonde. My favorite stores are Free People and Anthropologie.
But to really celebrate sexy, I needed to kick it up a HUGE notch.
Just before diagnosis, I was at work and my colleague confessed that she was doing a boudoir photography shoot. “I’ve always wanted to do it,” she said. “I’m going to have a few glasses of wine and get semi-nude. It sounded so bold, brave and fun. I vowed then that someday I would do it too. That time was now.
I found Victoria Lynn Photography in Salt Lake City, Utah, and gave her a call. She sounded so warm, fun, and easy to work with. She told me she had loads of costumes, shoes, and jewelry, if I didn’t have my own. She could even do my hair and make-up. I opted for the make-up but brought my own clothes (a taffeta skirt from White House Black Market) and gold sparkly shoes that I am obsessed with. I did borrow a hat and necklace though.
No wine was necessary for me. I felt so comfortable and almost detached from my body. We started off with just getting some make-up on. Big long eyelashes. Lipstick way out of my comfort zone. I looked in the mirror. Was this really me?
Then I dressed — or undressed. I was topless for most of the shoot and it felt very natural. I didn’t care. I thought the photos were tasteful and well done. I felt, well…like me, but a little sexier, like a vixen. A survivor. When I reviewed the photos we took, Victoria offered to Photoshop them and I declined. I didn’t want perfect, I wanted ME. Real. Un-airbrushed. Of course I picked the most flattering photos but here they are, plus a lot of help from Botox and my lip filler/artist Michelle.
Am I too vain? I don’t think so. After the hell I’ve been through, I just put one foot in front of the other and carry on. I do my best to help others, be nice and honest, and then do a lot for myself too.
If a boudoir shoot is something you’ve always wanted to tackle, why not? I say, go for it! The photos make great gifts for your hubby or boyfriend, or just for yourself.One thing I learned: regardless of our health and circumstances, it is possible to feel beautiful, amazing, and sexy.
It felt fantastic feeling sexy. I remembered what it felt like when I was on top of the world, before getting sick and older. One thing I learned: regardless of our health and circumstances, it is possible to feel beautiful, amazing, and sexy. To own it, rock it. This was a total confidence booster.
This piece originally appeared on DivorcedMoms.