Memento Mori V (Tempus Fugit)

Memento Mori V (Tempus Fugit) 36 x 80 inches Oil on Canvas

Memento Mori V (Tempus Fugit)
36 x 80 inches
Oil on Canvas

When I pulled the black and white Polaroid photo from the box in my closet, I knew its disintegrating condition was the perfect metaphor for my experience of aging. Taken in 1972 by Playboy’s staff photographer, this Polaroid is one of two professional photos of me in costume.

This painting is a combined vision of two major turning points; my summer as a Playboy Bunny at age 19, and my first hip replacement at age 54. That summer in 1972 I was living under the influence of youthful illusions where time stretched ahead of me with endless possibilities.

Superimposed over that painting is an X-ray of my titanium hip implants.

My first hip replacement in the winter of 2006 marked a reckoning with my mortality. I could no longer deny that I was going to age and die just like everyone else. My self-delusions were mostly gone.

Over time, the realization of aging, which started out as sad and terrifying, has evolved into a freeing of body, mind, and spirit.

 

Love Letter to My Body

Love Letter to My Body 8.5 x 11 inches Inkjet print on Archival Paper

Love Letter to My Body
8.5 x 11 inches
Inkjet print on Archival Paper

I don’t allow myself many regrets, but I do wish I’d been kinder to myself and my body. As a young woman I couldn’t imagine being an old woman. I wasn’t really playing it for the long haul, but for instant gratification.

The Playboy Bunny images in “Love Letter to My Body” are self-portraits from my life-size Memento Mori series. On the right, 60-year-old me, a Grandma with two titanium hip implants, is holding hands and trying to make peace with 19-year-old me, Bunny Portia.

In 1972, while in college, I worked a summer job as a Playboy Bunny. I use the image as a reference point for my investigation into the themes of aging and traditional ideals of women’s beauty and cultural worth. I also use the Bunny image because that summer was a major turning point in my life.

When I first made this piece, I felt I was healed of my life-long battle with body hate and neglect. Lately, I’m finding that body acceptance is an on-going process, especially as I age and face mortality.  The mental struggles are still there, but they’re so much tamer than they used to be. The ups and downs aren’t the roller coaster ride they used to be with me hanging on for dear life. They’re more like a slight dip in the road that just requires a little leaning into.

Now I know where my body dysmorphia comes from. I know how to work through it. I’m more patient with myself and my journey. I have long plateaus of being perfectly content in my 60+ year-old body. But then I note a change. (A change can be anything: a new pain, a new wrinkle, a new grey hair…) I HATE the change. I get used to the change. I accept the change. Eventually, I find something wonderfully positive about the change and I am filled with gratitude for another long plateau of self-acceptance.

I am reassured by young women’s response to “Love Letter to my Body”. In this age of body positivity, I hope “Love Letter to My Body” will serve as a reminder to “Be Kind to Yourself”. For women, being kind to ourselves is sometimes the hardest thing, even when we are so easily kind to others.

“Love Letter to my Body” was originally created for Groveland Gallery’s 2015 show “Love Letters from Artists” curated by Peter Kramer.