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Annette John-Hall: The naked truth about women's bodies

When you get to a certain age, a look into the mirror is less about vanity and more about quality control. A daily exercise to make sure nothing's smeared, hanging, or on backward.

When you get to a certain age, a look into the mirror is less about vanity and more about quality control. A daily exercise to make sure nothing's smeared, hanging, or on backward.

But even when I was younger, seldom did I allow my eyes to linger too long on a body I've always thought was too broad, too thick, and too flabby, the place where perky went home to die.

I know I'm not the only one. For most women, body image continues to be the bane of our existence. All of our lives, we've been brainwashed by the airbrush. We've allowed an industry that celebrates size 0 to dictate a beauty standard to the 70 percent of us who are not.

Too short? Too fat? Too dark? Too pale? Got a product push for that - all just a ploy to play on our myriad insecurities.

And if you think we're not that preoccupied with our bodies, then I'm guessing you're not one of 64 percent who vow to lose weight every year, me included.

Well, give yourself a holiday gift that is as body friendly as it is self affirming: Resolve to go see the "In My Body" exhibit at the Wexler Gallery in Old City, which runs through Dec. 31.

I'm telling you, Leah Macdonald's transformative photographs will make you see your body in ways you probably never knew were possible.

Naked appeal

I first learned of Macdonald's work four years ago, when it was featured in "The Kandy Project," a collaboration between Philadelphia model Kelicia "Kandy" Pitts and 21 other area photographers. The exhibit showcased Pitts through the lenses of various photographers, many of the shots nudes.

Pitts, 32, also posed nude for "In My Body," a stunning collection of images of women as subjects of beauty. For more than 20 years, Macdonald has shot nudes of all shapes, sizes, ages, and ethnicities to celebrate the female form.

It's a state of undress, she says, that allows women to connect and gives them space to feel beautiful about themselves, and not, as how so many nude women are displayed, as a tool for men's peccadillos.

"I live for these photo shoots," Macdonald, 40, says. "I find the exchange so powerful. I've loved to learn my own body by photographing other women."

And they are something to celebrate: Skinny young women with small breasts, older, fleshy women with big breasts, breast-cancer survivors with no breasts, still standing.

And the exposure does not just lay in posing nude, says Ade Jaiye, 29, a full-time commercial model.

"I can look at my nude image and nine times out of 10, I can tell what I was going through," she said as she stared at the truth her equally naked facial expression conveyed.

African American women

Jaiye was among the nine African American women featured, just one of the many fascinating aspects of "In My Body."

Throughout history, black women have been depicted as either de-sexualized domestics or over-sexualized video vixens. Hardly ever have they been standard-bearers for beauty.

But "In My Body" showcases black women of all ages and forms. For the first time, I saw my own body as a subject to celebrate - and it was exhilarating.

My favorite image was one of six black women of all shapes and sizes posing against a brick wall. The photograph includes Pitts, who is proportionally built; Dash Taylor, 33, a petite woman who stands with her eyes closed almost as if she's luxuriating in her being; and 63-year old plus-size Dorothy Foster, whose fleshy belly curves into the shape of a smile.

"This exhibit says, 'Look at us! Look at us! Because we are beautiful in the skin we're in,' " says Pitts.

The exhibit left me in a state of empowered wonderment. That night, I came home, and instead of peeling off my clothes for the purpose of getting comfortable, I took them off and defiantly stood in a full mirror, trying very hard not to judge.

What I saw reminded me of my favorite robe. A little frayed around the edges, but still fluffy, warm and familiar.

In my body, I was finally comfortable.