Mothering Nature

Not gonna lie, I struggled with this year’s Birthday Nude. The entire process was discomforting. I found myself being hypercritical of my aging body. I booted up my images in Lightroom and moved the texture slider all the way to the left to smooth out my spongy middle. I sent the images to Photoshop and cloned my wrinkles and belly folds away. Then in a fit of frustration I closed them all up unsaved.

For the Birthday Nude series to stay relevant in the years to come I’m going to have to post these photos unedited as I always have or I won’t do them at all.

If I continue, I will have to confront my naked self, not just my aging body. My emotional reactions reveal so much of who I am. Posting it publicly adds another layer of confrontation. I will have to ask myself the hard questions. How do I feel? Why do I feel this way? Do I feel shame? What am I ashamed of?

I have come to an age when I am proud of who I am and where I’m at in life. That doesn’t mean I look at my body with rose-colored glasses. As someone who has spent decades creating media with my body, I can look at images of myself with objectivity.

In these photos I wear nothing but make-up. I have not given in to temptations of botox or cosmetic surgery. Yet. Maybe never. I don’t know. No judgement on those who do. I haven’t dyed my hair since four months ago and I’m liking the streak of gray growing out of the right side of my hairline.

I enjoyed celebrating my birthday this year. I feel like I’ve been celebrating for weeks now, random presents, time spent with people I adore.

I look at my healthy, beautiful, smart, and talented daughter and feel successful as a mother. Mothering my child has been top priority for the past fifteen years. Everyone and everything else took the back seat. It’s worth it. I invested my time and energy wisely. Now I’m opening myself up to mothering more of the world.

My co-parent, business partner, artistic collaborator, lover, my Man. How I love my Man. We’ve been through so much, good times and nightmarish ones. For so long I’ve taken him for granted, thinking he doesn’t need my mothering because he’s eight years older than me, bolder than me, everything more than me. I was wrong. We’re holding on for dear life and rediscovering who we are to each other at each stage of the game.

College boy somehow slipped in as one of my favorite people on this planet. We’ve known each other for years and he knows most sides of my compartmentalized life. During those moments when my Man was too emotionally involved in the situation to be my friend, my boy took me in his arms and told me he’s got me. I take care of him, too.

And you… I appreciate you. Thank you for coming along on my journey.

May Ling Su birthday nude
May Ling Su birthday nude in the barn hayloft, sitting on a vintage World War II army cot.

This year marks my 20th birthday nude. We shot at home. The photo above was taken in the barn hayloft, an amazing play space when it’s warm enough. It’s a reminder to seize the moment. Winter is coming. Life goes by way too fast. My time is limited. Soon we will have to leave our 169-year-old haunted farmhouse that we’ve made even more haunted with vintage treasures. I’m a little sad to go, but excited to begin once more.

May Ling Su birthday nude edited

The photo above was taken in the backyard, lush with wildflowers and this abundant hydrangea bush. It’s a sanctuary for birds, bees, and butterflies. Snakes and mice. Chipmunks and squirrels. The best approach to mothering nature is to let it be wild (also applies to mothering humans).

This past year I’ve been spending a lot of time in nature, hiking up mountains and swimming in lakes. This summer I participated in a podcast with Agam, for which they paid me by planting four trees in my name. I intend to plant more trees every year for the rest of my life as part of my legacy.

Cheers! 🍷

May Ling Su signature

3 Comments

  1. Son of Odin

    I’ve been dutifully following you since 2007, and have always loved your Birthday Nudes every year. . .including this one!

    Each one has always been special in its own way, but all have been beautifully candid. It takes a surprising amount of courage to show vulnerability to the outside world.

    I very much look forward to the next, should you wish to continue. You are unique and beautiful all the same.

    Happy birthday!

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