Smoke and mirrors and truth

Cathy ZielskeCZ Life39 Comments


March has been a reset month for me both mentally and physically.

I think my birthday had something to do with it. You know how much I adore my birthday, right? But it also reminds me that I'm here and that I need a solid plan to make sure I stay as long as possible.

As of today, I've already logged 23 miles running and yesterday, I hit the pool for some lap swimming for the first time since January. January!

And while it would have been helpful to remember to shave my legs, the workout went fairly well. 

I took a photo of myself before heading off to the gym yesterday morning, posted it to Facebook and got a bunch of nice compliments on how fit and trim I looked. 


Sure, I felt all warm and fuzzy after reading the words of friends, but I'm going to tell you this, and it has absolutely zero to do with any body dismorphic issues: I don't look like this in reality.

You know how you can put one leg forward, angle the camera just so, and then drape your bag so it hits right in front of your hip, effectively reducing your size visually? Yeah, me too.

All I could think to myself was, "It's all smoke and mirrors, people."

And I don't say that to demean my efforts or myself. It just is a fact.

Maybe it's because earlier in the day I had read an article about a photographer in Minneapolis who is responsible for The Nu Project (Note: there is full nudity on this site so if you're offended by that sort of thing, it's not for you).

The Nu Project is all about photographing women in their homes and other environments and yes, it's all done without clothes.

As I clicked through the images yesterday, I couldn't help but feel empowered as I saw womens' bodies that reminded me of my own body. The stretch marks, the imperfections, the extra chub, the breasts that look nothing like ones you see in the movies, and so on.

It simply celebrates the truth of female bodies, and I found that incredibly inspiring.

There are no smoke and mirrors used in the photos you'll see there.

I shared this site with my daughter and we had a conversation about body image and nudity and she told me, "I actually feel my best without clothes on."

Imagine that. 

This post isn't to say I'm going to track down this local photographer and get naked anytime soon, but it definitely made me want to embrace what is real and true.

And to start moving away from the smoke and mirrors.


Thanks to Nisa for posting about The Nu Project on Facebook the other day.




Cathy ZielskeSmoke and mirrors and truth

39 Comments on “Smoke and mirrors and truth”

  1. #1

    I’m sitting here in tears and trying to figure out why and was going to email you and tell you how much this post means to me. And then I remembered that my one little word is “Dare.” Hmmmmmm…..guess that means it might not be a bad thing to remember that one of my goals is to not be so afraid to speak out about issues that really, really matter to me instead of hiding them for fear of being judged or “not liked.” So that’s the long way of getting to this point. And that point is to thank you.

    I’ve lost close to 40 pounds this year and am down 2-3 sizes. I feel pretty okay in my clothes and kind of decided that this is a comfortable (although not skinny) weight for me and I’m going to focus on maintaining. I’m still a size 12 (sometimes still a 14, if I’m totally honest) at 5.8″ but it’s a long way from the size 18 that I had ballooned into.

    And then I put on a bathing suit a month ago to take the kids swimming at our gym. And I cried. Actually cried in my bathroom. Because all I could see was the loose skin, chubby thighs and tummy rolls that are still there. It felt as though nothing had changed and that all of my work was for nothing.

    Obviously, in that moment of wallowing in self-pity, I didn’t have the ability to think rationally about the increased health I had achieved and how proud my doctor, husband, and friends are of me. All I saw was that I wasn’t thin enough.

    And I’ve kind of been stuck in that moment for the past month. And imagine that, I’ve also gained 5 pounds in the last month. A connection to feelings and my weight – hmmmmm…..

    I’m sitting here at this very second having an “aha moment” as I look through the photos on The Nu Project Site. My husband’s been telling me for years that, to him, attractive women have curves. And I think I now believe that.

    You, my friend, ROCK. Thank you for always being brave enough to put yourself out there and damn if you haven’t changed my thinking today.

  2. #2

    Well Steph, that is just pretty cool to read. I never know if people are going to be offended by stuff I share here, and honestly, I need to be a bit more daring myself and share stuff that speaks to me, like this did. So glad you left a comment today.

  3. #3

    Your posts are awesome! Thank you for your creativity and honestly and allowing us to share parts of your life–you are an inspiration!

  4. #5

    Cathy, if yours had been a straight-forward weight loss story, with a quick and happy resolution, people would not have been nearly as inspired or educated. And, I suspect your truth telling and self-love journey are way more real and beautiful than size 8 jeans. Actually, I am certain they are! You are strong, brave, beautiful, and fit!

  5. #6
    Sherry Carr-Smith

    I looked through the Nu Project site a couple of weeks ago and was fascinated. After I got past the whole everyone-is-naked-and-I-come-from-prudish-stock feeling, I wanted to know these womens’ stories. I wanted to know what the scars were from and what the tattoos meant, and what they were laughing about. I wanted to know how they kept their skin so pretty and to tell others about sunscreen. Fascinating stuff.

  6. #8
    Lois Houston

    Steph, I know how you feel.

    I had gastric bypass surgery three years ago. I lost 100 pounds and while I should’ve been over the moon happy, all I could see was the saggy skin and baggy body that was left. I’ve been wallowing the past six months in feeling unattractive, middle-aged and frumpy. And I’ve gained weight, too.

    March has been sort of a reset month for me as well. As the weather here in the south has warmed (sort of) I’ve gotten back to walking and eating healthier, reminding myself that I didn’t lose 100 pounds to gain them all back and that the most important thing is to FEEL GOOD and to BE HAPPY WITH WHO I AM RIGHT NOW – and if I’m saggy/baggy, those are the battle scars from successful pregnancies and successful weight loss battles and I should be proud of those rather than embarrassed by them.

    I’m sure I won’t feel this way every single day, but I’m like you, I find Cathy’s honesty freeing and it helps to keep me grounded to know that I’m not the only one having this ongoing conversation in my head about how I look, what I eat and the exercise I do or don’t do on a given day.

    Thanks, both of you, for sharing.

  7. #11

    First of all, thank you for being so real and true…

    Second of all, no matter what else you feel about your own weight/appearance/etc/etc/etc, you have raised a teenage girl who loves the skin she’s in. You’re amazing. SHE is amazing.

    All I can think about that is… WOW.

  8. #13

    I will never be a twig. Healthy and active are my goals. I am recovering from surgery for a broken arm and know it will be tough to get moving again. I checked out the Nu Project. Hooray for those women who can be themselves and show that to others, especially other women. You are a great motivator. Down to earth and honest! Thanks!

  9. #17
    Leslie F.

    Love this so much, Cathy. I know we’ve chatted about body image on a few occasions . . . but it is encouraging that we both have daughters who have somehow managed to be confident in their own skin — so we’ve got that going on for us! (And maybe they can teach us . . . )

    I’ve realized that no matter how much weight I lose or how much I exercise, the minute I stand in front of a mirror, naked, I’m immediately critical of myself. And when someone tells me I’m thin, I always quip, “Well, you haven’t seen me naked” But honestly — last year, when I wasn’t even at my thinnest, I had boudoir photos taken. While my hubby liked them, I — to my surprise — was ecstatic!! If I could, I’d show them to everyone (yeah, totally inappropriate!) because despite seeing my imperfections, I remember how empowered and awesome I felt that day — and how that confidence actually shows in the photos. I need to remember that every day, actually . . .

    We are, after all, pretty damn awesome.

  10. #18

    The Nu Project is really interesting. It’s done a lot to help me feel better in my own skin. It’s hard to realize how much it effects you to see all these images of impossibly perfect women (girls usually). I know these photos are photoshopped like crazy and even the models don’t look like that most of the time. It still gets in your head. “I’m supposed to look like that. I’m supposed to have 3 kids, be a size 2 and have big boobs too.” Just seeing images of real women goes a long way to correct your mental image of what is supposed to be. Definitely worth looking at, even if you find nudity somewhat embarrassing.

  11. #22

    Cathy, I just checked out that site and I cannot thank you enough for posting it here! I am going to share it with my teen daughter as well.

    You should be very proud that you have raised a teen girl that is comfortable with her body. My daughter is thin and I am not. She has major body issues and is always on a “diet” of some sort as are ALL her friends (even the friends who play sports competitively and have NO fat on them at all). I am hoping that seeing the women on this site will give her a dose of reality. She sees my body enough to know what a “real” woman looks like and sadly it has caused her to wear a bra to bed in the hopes that her boobs don’t sag like mine (her exact words – lol).

  12. #23
    Heather V

    I really appreciate your honesty, and for sharing great things that I may not have stumbled across on my own. Thank you!

  13. #25

    the f word and now real women, love the variety of things you share on this blog, keeps me coming back for more.

  14. #26

    You are pretty amazing Cathy. I love you for who you are, how you make me think and how you put yourself out there (here) and share. Aiden is pretty awesome too! You are a great mama and role model for her. The link put it into perspective for me. I was a bit less critical of myself this morning in the mirror. Thanks.

    I smiled when I read Aiden’s comment about feeling her best with no clothes on. Because, so do I, for different reasons — dang clothes binding me around the waist and thighs πŸ™‚

    Have an awesome day!!

  15. #27

    Thank you for sharing this site. It reallty lighted up my face to see these gorgeous photos: beautiful and radiant women, each and every one of them beautiful!
    A reminder (again) that we have to stop thinking that we have to look like top models.
    Thank you.

  16. #28

    Thanks for sharing this. At first I was taken aback by the full on nudity, but then I realized they are real women and saw myself in their imperfections and wished I was that bold. I also wanted to know their story. Great post Cathy.

  17. #29

    Thanks for introducing me to the Nu Project. So cool. Flipping through those photos made me tear up. I’ve been on a weight rollercoaster the last few years and have been having a hard time in my head with it all lately. Yes, I do still need to make changes to improve my health. But to see pictures of REAL women nude really truly makes me feel so much better.

    Thanks for the post and for keeping it real.

  18. #30
    Bec Kilgore

    Loved seeing older women and women who have lost a lot of weight and were brave enough to show the hanging stuff you are left with – thanks for sharing this. I work in an office with males and females who are much much younger than me. For them, it is all about “is she hot”? I need a different job.

    Thanks again.

  19. #34

    Awesome post. I was trying on bathing suits yesterday looking at my 48 year old body and not happy. I would like to lose 10 pounds I know thats not a lot. But the way my body has changed over the years isnt so pretty. This was very eye opening because you don’t see other peoples flaws the way you see your own.

  20. #35

    D’ya know what? I totally get it, and I totally am with what you say, but there’s no getting around it. Unless you’ve photoshopped that pic, you do still look fairly trim and good. How do I know this? I can see the shape of your collarbone – always a good indicator!

  21. #36
    Dawn F.

    I wish their was a “like” button on these comments. Rather than rewriting what’s already been said – ditto to the above – thanks for this post. I needed it at this point in my life.

  22. #38

    I just visited a friend in Washington, DC to run her first half marathon with her. The next day, she wanted to go to a Korean spa. You have to get totally naked there. I kept telling myself, “be cool…be cool…” not wanting to seem like a country mouse, but also knowing how many sizes smaller she is than I am…and that I when I had to decide between serious shaving and comfortable running, I chose comfortable running.
    But you know what? Once I got naked in the locker room, I realized I could do it if I didn’t look down. If I didn’t focus on my own imperfections, I could look out and see all these beautiful women…of all shapes, sizes and ages…getting in and out of the Bade pool, sauna, etc. and just feel pretty awesome about being a woman.

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