Editor's Note: The images below are not safe for work.
Ruby Fox, a Denver-based skincare boutique owner, likes to set a new challenge for herself every year.
The year she turned 49, Ruby decided to apply for the Mrs. Colorado Beauty Pageant, "just in case they needed some fat people."
The only application requirements for participants were that they be 18 years or older, residents of Colorado and married.
Ruby thought there was no way she'd be selected at her ripe old age, right up until she received a large box in the mail and found a tiara and a sash that read, Mrs. Jefferson County inside.
Ruby prepared for the pageant like a Navy Seal during Hell Week; she hired a trainer, a nutritionist and a pageant coach.
While she didn't win the crown, she was voted Miss Congeniality by the other fifty contestants, she thinks, because she arrived at rehearsals for the swimsuit competition wearing gorilla fur under her bikini.
This year, at age 51, Rudy decided to participate in the Love Your Body Now: Healing Body Image Issues Through Fine Art Nudes project to not just step outside the box, but also outside of her clothes.
Ruby is the bawdy, ballsy, bodacious reincarnation of Mae West, but, like most women, she struggles with the changes in her body as time marches inexorably on.
When I asked what it is she disliked most about her body she described her stomach as "twelve inches from my belly button to my lady bits." She said, "When my husband and I have sex, my belly's like a rogue wave, riding up from my vagina. A tsunami from below."
Finding Ruby utterly hilarious, yet trying to remain professional, I queried, "besides your tummy, are there any other issues you have with your body?"
"Well, my boobs look like they're about 36 inches long after a mammogram and my feet are basically hideous, with these massive bunions. They're freaky, like me. And I have dimples and dents in my thighs. I tell my husband to call All-State because my thighs are trashed."
"What are the things about your body you like?" I asked, expecting her to wiffle and waffle, but she dove right in with real enthusiasm.
I like my broad shoulders and even though my thighs aren't gorgeous I can move armoires with them, they're strong German logger legs. And my freaky toes are really long, I can pick things up with them like a pterodactyl. And for some reason my husband loves my body. I don't know if he needs his vision checked, but he says my body's yummy and he loves the penis padding from my puffy vagina.
Ruby finished by saying her favorite accessory is her smile.
Well, this one's a no brainer, I thought, sending her on her to photographer, Beth Sanders and body-centered coach, Marlene Zaleznick.
Ruby took nothing with her to the photography studio but a Mardi Gras hat and a pair of "bitchy Donald Pliner leopard boots."
Beth and Marlene worked with Ruby prior to her photo shoot to make her feel safe and grounded in her body; which included a mixture of yoga-like meditations and the requisite Goddess music to set the tone and then they were off.
When I checked in with Ruby after the shoot she said, "It was really empowering because I just didn't feel like there was any judgment or vomiting that I heard." And three hundred photographs later, Ruby told me she felt "like dynamite" the rest of the day.
Then it was up to Beth, Marlene and I to sort through the photos and come up with our favorites to show Ruby.
I learned the hard way not to show the LYBN subjects all of their photos, because some will be unflattering and can send participants to bed with the vapors.
We finally managed to pare it down to 24 photos. Beth put them in a Dropbox for Ruby and pushed SEND.
Then we waited.
I thought it best we give Ruby a couple of days to digest the photographs before we spoke again. When I called two days later, Ruby could barely talk. She had a bad case of laryngitis and her normally upbeat voice was soft and broken.
I tried not to make too much of it, but couldn't help wondering, in a woo-woo, crunchy-granola, Birkenstock-y kind of way, if her body weren't responding to a fresh vulnerability she might be feeling looking at herself utterly bare.
I worried that maybe this hadn't worked for Ruby, especially when she said that she noticed in the photos that she'd let herself go, a little, after the pageant.
In the same breath, however, she told me the photos had made her husband decidedly frisky and she'd had to tell him to "simmer down."
As a former subject in the LYBN project, I reminded myself that it took weeks for me, and the assurances of several honest people, to realize that I looked much better in my nudes than I realized. So I knew we needed to give Ruby more time.
Over the next day or two she selected the photos she wanted to share with our audience. And slowly her voice has taken on a tenor of pride in the photos she likes. But I realized something about this project I hadn't quite anticipated.
Originally this was a project with the mandate to heal body image issues for our subjects. But as I looked through Ruby's photographs I realized they were healing me too. And that they may, in fact, have the same effect on some of you.
Because many of us are similar to Ruby.
We're her age (51). We're her size (5' 7", 165 lbs.). We have a hard time not arguing when someone gives us a compliment. We have a hard time just saying "Thank you." We find it difficult to believe people when they tell us we're beautiful.
And we are. Each and every one of us.
I hope the women who have volunteered for this series, and others like it; The Dove Campaign For Real Beauty, Taryn Brumfitt's Body Image Movement, will be healed by an approving female gaze. One that doesn't objectify, denigrate or photoshop into oblivion.
And more importantly, I hope projects like these offer the world Beauty, in all its varied shapes, sizes, ethnicities and ages.
To see more of our Love Your Body Now series, CLICK HERE. And now, with no further ado, I give you Ruby. Tell us all about the Beauty you see here: