Are you getting your tits out again? one female colleague asked. I told her to bugger off in less polite terms. My "year of being naked", if you want to call it that, was never about getting my tits out. It was about so much more than that.
I'd just turned 50. I was single for the first time in about 25 years. My weight had fluctuated greatly during the worst of the separation. I dropped 12 kilograms in about six weeks, living on Diet Coke and apples. I'd never looked better. Then I put it back on, and some, living on loneliness, with a good side of really sad.
When I ventured to Kambah Pool in February 2017, I had no idea it would kick off a year of, well if I'm honest, learning to love myself again.
At the end of the day we all want to feel desirable. To be desired. Emotionally and physically. I hadn't felt that way, either way, in a long, long time. But I realised, as all good post-divorce literature will tell you, that I had to learn to love myself again, before anyone else would.
I reached a point, around 50, where I became very content with who I was and what I looked like. Yes I'm squishy and greying, a little too outspoken at times, too honest for my own good. But you know what, this is who I am and if you don't want to be with me then that is your loss.
I know too I am kind and generous and funny and smart. I am good company. I've spent a lot of time alone this past few years and I have enjoyed getting to know me again. Sometimes I don't like myself, those nights where I drink too much and make poor choices, when I don't eat properly, when I stay on the lounge and throw myself a little pity party. I still have those nights.
Kambah Pool led to life drawing classes. I loved stripping off for that. So much in fact that I'm still doing it. I'm good at it apparently. It's not a bad way to spend a Monday afternoon, being still for three hours.
And then there was Hyper Real, and the National Gallery of Australia's naked tour. The most public of all.
Which led to the most private of all. And what brings us here today.
Photographer Amanda Thorson emailed me not long after the Hyper Real story.
I know that you like to try lots of wonderful, crazy things and I was wondering if you'd like to give boudoir a shot? I don't take the traditional studio boudoir images, instead I go into people's homes and take much more natural images … I'd love to take your photos if you're interested!
There was a link to her website and her philosophy instantly resonated with me. "We spend our lives waiting, waiting to lose weight, to get fit, to smooth out our bumpy bits and in the process we miss out on enjoying what we have. Your body is a vessel that allows you to love, to be loved, to live. Your body is good, it is great, it is excellent. Now."
She kind of had me at hello.
So we booked a session and one sunny Friday morning Amanda came around to my house.
(A little shout out here to my friends, hairdresser Rachael Chandler who popped around to "style" me, and Karen Swan who helped me choose some nice lingerie from Lin & Barrett.)
I was as nervous as I have ever been. More nervous even than when I stripped off in the foyer of the NGA.
But once Amanda and I got chatting about why I was doing it, and, probably more importantly, why she, a working mother of two who runs a successful photography business taking family and wedding photos, had decided to start taking photos of regular women in their underwear, it turned out to be a very pleasant morning.
I am glad I've met Amanda. Women need interesting women in their lives. It's like when I tried The Third Wheel matchmaking business (which, you'll be pleased to note, I did keep my clothes on for) I met the lovely Aerin. She's the best match I had.
We spoke about how motherhood changes you, whether that be when your babies are little, like Amanda's, or big lugs like mine. About how women are their own worst enemies when it comes to judging themselves.
And when the photos arrived that's the damn cliche I became. Oh god I look so fat. How bad is my posture? Those wrinkles around my eyes. I cried. I wanted them to be some airbrushed version of me. I wanted them to look like the woman I think I am when I'm telling myself everything is okay. Hot and sexy and desirable. But no, here I was in the copious flesh. No wonder I am still single.
I sat down that night with my big lug of a 14-year-old son. I hadn't seen him for a week and occasionally if he's in the right frame of mind he gets all snuggly and it's like he's four again. We were stretched out on my bed, he was taking videos of us and sending them to his friends on Snapchat. I asked him if I could show him the photos.
And here's another reason why I got these photos taken. There was a post that went viral a few years ago about how mothers are never in photographs. About how much of a mother's life goes undocumented and unseen because she is the one wielding the camera. About how we need to provide our children with visual memories of how much we loved them.
But for me, it was more than this. I want my children, when they come in to clean up the detritus of my life, to stumble across photographs of me as a woman. Not as their mother, nor someone's wife, or ex-wife, or in any professional capacity. But me as a woman, to borrow a phrase from Nikki Gemmell, stripped bare.
So much has been written about raising boys, about how badly raised boys grow up to be entitled men. You might think it odd, quite odd, that I sat down with my 14-year-old son and showed him photographs of me in my underwear - "Tell me early if there's boob, Mum", he said. But in a day of airbrushed porn, where boys, as young as my boy, expect girls to look a certain way, I wanted to show him that real women are all bumps and curves. To me there was nothing weird about it.
I was still worried about how terrible I looked until my little man started telling how nice I looked, how my face looked different when I smiled, he liked how Amanda had framed one shot, how the doona cover came up well and how sparkly the pool water was. And then he went back to Snapchat.
That night after I had tucked him in, I took another look through the photographs, noticing things I hadn't noticed before. How my profile reminded me of my grandmother's. Feisty old broad that she was. How good my boobs actually are for a 51-year-old woman. How strong my thighs are. How fantastic my house, my home, actually is, full of natural light and sharp white corners. I was starting to like myself a lot more. It's funny how that happens when you start looking for the good in things.
When I look back over the past 12 months there has been so much good. I've taken the kids to distant shores and made life-long friends. I've filled a home - a home with my name on the mortgage - with love and comfort. I've been brave enough to do some "wonderful, crazy things", as Amanda said. Things I never would have dared to do, stretching my comfort zone to breaking point on occasions. I've connected, and in some cases reconnected, with dear friends whose presence has meant more to me than they'll ever know. More than I'll ever dare to tell them.
I am in a good place.
So perhaps it's fitting then, that after a year, I make the decision to keep my clothes on. In the columns here at least. Stripped bare, in a way, to finally find the skin I'm comfortable in.