Raw Courage in the Face of Cancer

My mid-cancer photo shoot: How I posed naked and got over my body disgust. By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Three summers ago, a photographer friend challenged me to do a nude shoot in the midst of a frightening moment in my cancer experience. A little warily, I said sure. He, an assistant and I spent a long day together in the studio, and in that time my friend shot hundreds of photographs. There was only one that scared me. It happened when he asked me to show him the great big scar on my head.

So when Chris asked to snap a picture of my head, I didn’t even mind that doing so would require bending forward at the waist – the least flattering pose possible in all of nudity. I cared about the vulnerability involved in showing my head – and letting someone document it. But I took a deep breath, bent forward and pulled apart my hair so he could get a full view. The sound of his shutter was both terrifying and liberating. Because, trust me, there’s undressed, and then there’s “Go ahead and look at my damage” undressed. The photograph was striking — not sexy, to be sure, but not scary, not ugly either. And from that day on, I have felt a lot less self-conscious about my head, which was pretty much the last thing I’d thought would be the takeaway from a nude shoot.

That’s why I’m so grateful when people who look different can lead by example and show that an imperfect body is a powerful thing. It can overcome challenges unknown to Photoshopped Victoria’s Secret beauties. When a hashtag like #ShowMeYourPump goes viral or a colostomy bag can feature in a beach pic, it says to everybody else going through their own challenges that there is nothing to be ashamed of, and that you’re not alone.



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