Baring All for a Good Cause

The other day, a friend told me she planned to leave her body to a medical school when she died so that students could dissect it to learn anatomy. She wanted to know whether I’d consider doing the same thing.

 “Only if I can lose 20 pounds first,” I told her.

And I meant it. Is that modesty or just vanity? Darned if I know, but I think I would have felt the same way when I was a svelte 25. The idea of being carved up bothers me less than the idea of being looked at when I’ve got no clothes on. 

That’s why I admire the courage and sense of humor of the ordinary women and men of all ages on at least three continents who have been posing nude for calendars. The phenomenon began in 1999 when members of the Rylstone Women’s Institute in England decided to pose for a calendar, wearing nothing but pearls, to raise money to combat leukemia. They ranged in age from 45 to 65. Sales were so good that they earned an amazing £2 million and inspired the 2003 film Calendar Girls, starring Helen Mirren. 

Since then, groups all over the world have followed the Rylstone women’s example. The calendar girls (and boys) involved have included many older people, even the occasional centenarian. As a fundraising tactic, these projects are often highly successful. In Aiken, SC, for example, women between the ages of 60 and 84 posed in the buff while supposedly golfing, knitting or otherwise going about their business. Their Still Magnolias calendar raised almost $180,000 for the Aiken Area Council on Aging. 

Predictably, some local residents have been outraged, and a few have complained that older bodies are ugly, but buyers seem delighted that ordinary people of all ages are willing to appear nude. Typically, there’s a lot of skin showing but bodies are partly obscured by ordinary objects: a hat, a hubcap, a few apples, a pair of Yorkshire terriers. And typically, everyone in the photos seems to be having a great time.

Back to the question about the medical school: given these inspiring examples, would I ever agree to donate my body? 

Maybe, if there’s a med school somewhere that trains blind physicians.