When a casual male acquaintance told me he had a photography exhibition at a local gallery, I stopped by out of curiosity. I liked what I saw: Gritty black-and-white street scenes and ephemeral nude figure studies. The models were lithesome sylphs in their twenties, displaying their flawless complexions and perky breasts.
The gallery show confirmed my first impressions. Elliot had a good eye, an excellent sense of composition and darkroom techniques that turned a naked woman into a charcoal sketch by Degas. However, when I expressed my admiration for his work, I received a message that threw me.
"So, when will you pose for me?" he wrote.
Me? Pose nude? At my age? The last time I posed nude for a photographer, I was 21. I was nervous then. Now, I am terrified. It isn't that I'm a prude or self-conscious about my body. I have no problem exposing my breasts or crotch to a camera lens for the sake of "Art." But, I ask you, what sane woman over 60 is willing to bare her upper arms? Even Helen Mirren uses a body double for that!
Plus, there was a more pragmatic consideration. I found Elliot to be attractive. He radiated a kind of intelligence I find alluring. But I didn't know anything about his "situation." Was he married, living with someone or in a committed relationship with 20-year-old identical twins? While I had no idea if his request to photograph me was motivated by mutual attraction or by a fascination with aging bodies , my interest in Elliot was on a low boil. Which is why I agreed to pose nude for him, as long as he provided a Zorro mask and cape.
"Are you serious?" he messaged me on Facebook. "I was Zorro last Halloween and I have all that stuff."
Humor is where I go when I'm scared or nervous. Believe me, I was both. We arranged to meet a week later at my place. That gave me time to ponder, to confer with friends and to chicken out.
"Is he going to pay you?" asked a friend.
Um, no. I was so complimented that someone wanted to document my "fine lines and wrinkles," it never occurred to me to ask for a modeling fee. Besides, there's something tawdry about being handed cash after taking off your clothes.
"Give me his name, so if anything happens, I can report it to the authorities," said another friend who spends too much time watching "Dateline."
I gave her his name. But I didn't back down. Instead, I asked myself, What's the worst thing that could happen? The worst thing was not that Elliot would murder me and leave a trail of blood on my beige carpets. No, the worst thing was that he would take extreme close-ups of changes that are slowly but inevitably turning me into my Bubbie.
I silenced that insecure voice by projecting myself 10 years into the future, imaging how thrilled I would be by nude photos of myself taken while I still looked, if not youthful, then certainly in better shape than I will be then. That's the attitude I locked into the place when Elliot showed up on a sunny Monday afternoon with a backpack of camera equipment and a Zorro mask and cape. As naked as at my annual checkup, minus the paper gown, I posed on the staircase where a window cast light and shadow.
"That's good," he said, as I turned my head away from the camera—just in case this goes viral.
I tried to ignore the fact that a guy, who I never even met for coffee, was staring at me through a camera lens. When we finally took a break, I noticed that his face was flushed red. Was Elliot turned on? Or on the cusp of a coronary event? I don't know, but somehow we continued for over an hour. Shooting in different rooms, different angles. Strictly professional.
So, there I was lying on my bed, draped head to toe in yards of white tulle veiling which Elliot had brought for "special effect," which he said would be reminiscent of a 19th-century Neo-Grecian painting. I felt more like Lucille Ball moving down a conveyor belt. Elliot's cell phone rang. He took the call. It was someone named Bob. I am lying there in this white froth, wondering why Elliot doesn't tell Bob that there's a naked woman waiting for him in bed. Men are unfathomable.
When the shoot was over, we had tea and cookies in my kitchen, both of us fully clothed. It was the first time we had a real conversation. Elliot talked about his divorce and adult children. I told him about mine. As it turned out, our career paths had crossed in interesting ways and we had many common interests.
"You know, I was just joking when I asked if you'd pose," he admitted. "I never thought you would."
Now he tells me! That meant that Elliot's initial message had just been Facebook poker and I, unknowingly, had called his bluff. I could've just as easily kept my clothes on and met him at Starbucks. Instead, we skipped the lattes and leaped into the kind of intimacy usually associated with fifth anniversaries. Will anything develop between us besides some revealing negatives? I'm not sure. I only know that if it does, I will be comfortable in my own skin.