My Life as a Centerfold

“I picked up the dry cleaning . . oh, and I finally got the proofs from my nude photo session.”

“Your what?” asked my husband.

“My nude photo session – I told you about it.”

Long pause. “Remind me.”


I have a way of alarming my dermatologists. They are alarmed by the number of moles sprinkled across my body, alarmed by their peculiar edge pattern, alarmed by the inevitable lab results of every biopsy: extreme severe dysplastic nevus. (Yeah, that means pre-cancerous).

In December, during my quarterly visit, Madame Dermatologist shaved off a changing mole and, as a bit of an experiment, a tiny textbook-normal mole in the same region. Both came back severe – make that “extreme severe.” She was alarmed and passed me off to the experts at Memorial Sloane-Kettering Cancer Center for more careful monitoring.

Now, I love my new doctor. I love his receptionist who recognizes my voice on the phone. I love the waiting room that is flooded with the light of floor-to-ceiling windows. When you don’t really have cancer, Sloane-Kettering is a great place to spend an afternoon.

Of course, someday I will almost certainly really have melanoma – or “the noma,” as we call it around here. As my Cool New Doctor explained, I grow my moles atypical. Hazards of having luscious red locks, I guess. Instead of removing every suspicious mole and leaving me with scarred limbs, he suggested Full Body Digital Photography – a high-resolution way of tracking each and every mole on a monthly basis.

Essentially, he was prescribing a nude photo session. This was not the phrase in my head when I walked in for my appointment with the medical photographer. If it had been, I probably would have shaved my legs.

I entered feeling that anxiety that had been lacing my limbs for weeks, that had me staring at my once-benign brown spots with increasing suspicion. For years, I’d viewed my red hair as a particular gift – (just ask me to rattle off names of luminaries with auburn tresses) – but suddenly I found myself hoping my (future) children inherited my husband’s mocha coloring.

I had the last appointment of the day. The spring sun was dipping down, casting shades of red into the deserted waiting room. The floor was empty, save the Super Receptionist and the medical photographer – a woman about my age. When we entered the studio, I made a decision. No, that sounds too deliberate. Inexplicably, I suddenly wanted to have some fun with my body. I didn’t want it to be my enemy.

“Hey, this may be my one opportunity for a nude photo shoot,” I told Ms. Photographer. “Care if I ham it up?”

She laughed, “Fabulous. Be my guest.”

So as we proceeded with her careful script of camera angles, I threw in some sultry smiles, an arched eyebrow or two. We laughed and chatted about our careers. It felt good to be in my skin.


Today, as I looked through the oversize book of prints, I warned my mind, “You just keep quiet about the extra pudge, the stomach roll, and the scar tissue.”

And when my husband came home, I wouldn’t let him eat dinner until he turned every page. He said I looked beautiful. He’s right.


  1. “Super Receptionist!”

    I love it. I have often (sad, but true) chosen doctors because of their receptionist. I must feel like I am speaking to a human and not someone who is annoyed with me before the conversation begins.

  2. It’s true. I dread dread dread standing in line, waiting to co-pay at Madame Dermatologist’s huge practice. The constantly changing faces behind the glass have perfected the aggravated-neutral tone I’m used to encountering at airport counters.

    Super Receptionist has an open desk (always adorned with fresh flowers) and an uncanny ability to remember my name and seem genuinely pleased to see me. Given the time + anxiety involved with all this, it’s not too much to say she has improved my quality of life.

  3. Deborah, this is awesome!

    Your nude photo session story reminds me of a story I heard about some LDS women and their racy photoshoot.

    These women in a particular ward decided that they wanted to do some boudoir pictures to give to their husbands. There was an artsy female photographer in their ward who was excited to do it. Somehow the bish got wind of this and asked the women to not do it. But after some consideration, all these women decided to not follow his advice, since they felt like this was something private between them and their husbands.

    It’s so neat that you had fun with this. I’m sure I would have just stood there looking like a dope and feeling totally ashamed of my body.

  4. What a great post! I would love to be more comfortable with my body and be able to have fun with such a photo shoot rather than freaked out.

    On another note, I hope all of our readers are getting skin cancer screeings! It’s important!

  5. What Amy said! Find yourself a good dermatologist and let her/him look at your skin. It’s a lot less painful than other medical tests, and caught early, melanoma is highly treatable. That’s my Public Health Advisory for the day.

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