This story actually starts in August, just after my birthday.

It starts with Jessica’s birthday present, something Jilly had been buzzing about for almost a month.

We were just in Colorado, visiting the Red Hot Mama (Valarie) for my 26th and by the time we get back, Jessica is practically hopping around with excitement on our front step, a big card in her hand.

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‘Open it,’ she says with a huge Jessica grin.

I open the envelope.

‘Atomic Cheesecake Studios,’ I say, my vacation-addled brain taking a little longer to process the gift card in front of me. ‘What the…’

‘Read it,’ she says.

It turns out that Atomic Cheesecake Studios is a woman named Stacey Barich (a.k.a. Action Girl).

She’s a photographer…a pinup photographer…a vintage 1940s pinup photographer.

‘You got me a pinup photo shoot for my birthday?’ I ask, shocked, awed, and amazed.

Her grin gets even wider. ‘Yep.’

‘Holy shit.’

I have body issues – they’re better now that I’m getting more comfortable with myself, but for the longest time I hated my body.

I hated my flabby stomach and my oversized breasts and the extra chub I carried on my hips.

When I started running last year, I discovered that I had collar bones and calves.

When I started circuit training, I discovered biceps and triceps.

I’m still not in love with my body, but it’s looking better, more toned and defined.

I’m fairly certain, however, that it isn’t ready to be put on display in a slightly provocative way.

‘I know I’ve said before that I always wanted to do this, but how the hell am I supposed to do this?’

Jessica’s grin can, at times, be dementedly calming.

‘Jilly and I will be there with you. You’ll be fine.’

* * *

Fast forward to November.

I’m once again headed out to Colorado for a visit with Valarie and a conference for work.

I’m hoping a week away from Maryland will give me the clarity I need to see that I’m going to be okay.

What Colorado actually gives me is a fantastic visit with Valarie and some amazing photographs.

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And, surprisingly, a message from Atomic Cheesecake Studios – How does January 3rd sound?

It sounds awfully close and being the northerner that I am, my body has started to rebel against my somewhat healthy lifestyle and has started adding the weight it thinks I need to stay warm in the winter.

New Englanders are like bears – we put on extra pounds so our bodies don’t freeze for the six long months that winter lasts.

I’ve had a hell of a time trying to convince my body that it no longer lives in New England…I suspect it’s stubborn.

So…January 3rd…semi-naked day.

I respond with agreement and Stacey and I set a date for our meeting.

Being the person I am, my nerves set in almost immediately.

* * *

Christmas comes and goes and my misery multiplies and starts to affect people outside myself.

Jilly knows I’m miserable and can’t do anything to fix it, which just makes her miserable as well.

Jessica has her own life and Valarie is dealing with things that make my ‘issues’ look like pissant problems.

The same is true of Anne and Melissa.

I spend the better part of the first week of January feeling pretty sorry for myself.

It’s not how I wanted to start the year, that’s for sure.

And then it’s January 3rd…I pack my bag full of era-appropriate shoes and stockings and fake eyelashes and what little confidence I could find in my closet and we pile into Jessica’s car and head north, to Parkville and Atomic Cheesecake Studios.

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(Before the transformation begins…)

The question is, how, exactly, does one make a little gray storm cloud of doom into a pinup girl?

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Putting aside her commitment to the National Ninja Association, this young, bright and talented author has finally come out of hiding. She currently exhausts her brain capacity working for government, but spends many afternoons dreaming up new ideas for her incredibly blasphemous novel, The Absolutely, Positively, True Adventures of a Religious Prophet, while keeping her typing fingers limber. She can be reached here on the comment board or over at her blog, The Unbelievable Adventures of Claire Elizabeth Rogers.

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