I never thought I'd say this in my life, but...I am a swimsuit model! I was asked to participate in the Poets of Southern California Swimsuit Calendar, organized by the dynamic Sholeh Wolpe at Tebot Bach, a literary organization that does a lot of poetry outreach in the community. I had read an article about the project a couple of weeks before in the LA Times, and was tickled by the thought of it; I went to the Tebot Bach website (www.tebotbach.org) to get more info, and discovered that my beloved former poetry professor from Redlands, Ralph Angel, was going to be in the calendar. The project was great giggle fodder amongst my friends; we thought it was such an hysterical idea. I felt a little sad (and a lot relieved) that I wasn't part of it.
Then, this past Tuesday, I got a phone call from Sholeh herself saying she wanted to use me in a photo shoot (with Ralph Angel, no less!) I thought all the photos had already been taken, so this was a huge surprise. I found myself dealing with tons of conflicted emotions...Do I want to be immortalized in a bathing suit? I'm always railing against the objectification of women--wouldn't doing this be hypocritical of me? I felt hypocritical, too, because Fruitflesh is so much about loving our bodies, no matter what size or shape they may be, and I was suddenly struck with major thigh anxiety. I love my body fully from the inside out, from the lived experience of it, but I have not made total peace with the image of my body from the outside. My thighs, with their stretch marks and veins and bulges, are just about everything we're told thighs shouldn't be. That's what made me decide more than anything that I should participate. It's important that we see all kinds of thighs in the media. We only see Barbie doll thighs, and it makes those of us who don't have Barbie doll thighs think that something is wrong with our bodies. If we saw all kinds of bodies regularly, we would all feel a lot better about our own bodies. Plus, this calendar is actually going to be filled with poets of all ages and body types. It is a tongue-in-cheek swimsuit calendar, one that subverts the regular swimsuit calendar ideal. I decided to do it.
My friend Denise, who owns a vintage clothing store, brought over a bunch of cute vintage bathing suits for me to try. I chose one that is probably from the '50s; it looks more like a little jumper than a bathing suit, with a halter top and flared shorts at the bottom, in a crinkly fabric (black with white and rainbow beach designs.) My thighs felt quite comfortable in it.
The shoot itself was loads of fun. We took the pictures in the bathroom of one of Sholeh's friends--a big ornate bathroom with a huge whirlpool tub surrounded by pillars. Ralph wore a snorkel mask and flippers. We all held glasses of champagne (there were two other women in the photo, too--Sholeh, and Edith, a wonderful woman whose last name I've forgetten). At some point, a rubber ducky was involved. We ended the evening all smushed into the tub, smearing bubbles over each other's hair. It was so wonderful to catch up with Ralph (I never could have imagined that this is how we would reconnect!) He was instrumental in setting me on the path I'm still on today--his generosity and soulfulness continue to have a deep impact on me.
If anyone wants to preorder the calendars (which will be available in April), you can do so through the Tebot Bach website (www.tebotbach.org).
Speaking of websites, please visit www.poetsagainstthewar.org. It's so heartening to see so many voices clamoring, whispering, singing for peace.