(Originally Posted on the body joy project blog)

Desiree showed up ready to jump in. I knew she would, but it’s always a nice surprise when someone is as excited about something as you are. Her husband, Reidar took their 17-month-old son Fox for a walk. The next time they would see her, she’d be covered in paint. We were all curious how Fox would react. Des kissed them both goodbye and turned to me. “Should I just get naked?” she asked, pulling off her shirt. Like I said, she was ready.


My dad photographed this session, our first collaboration for the Body Joy Project, but one of thousands of collaborations we’ve done throughout my life. I guess for me there’s no separation between hanging out with my dad and creating with my dad.


Des and I laughed and talked the whole time I painted her. We got caught up on each other’s lives. We’ve been friends since we were 15, but have each traveled, grown, and gone our own ways. We talked about friends who we no longer see, our families, our art, and our bodies.


I asked Desiree to tell me about what it’s like to be her, in her body. In her words:

My relationship with my body like everyone else’s is a complex one. It has changed so much over the years. I love my body. I love it even more now that I am a mother. Now that I have baby Fox I look at my body in a totally different way. I am amazed by all of its natural functions… the nurturing and feeding of another human being from ones own body is a trip!!!!

Not to say I don’t have those moments where I forget everything I have accomplished in this last year, look in the mirror and go eeeeewwwwwww!

I may not always like the way my body looks right now, but I respect it and love it for everything that it is and does for my family and myself. 

Painting Desiree was an incredible way for me to reconnect with an old friend and get to see her now, in a new way. I loved it and am in awe of the beautiful photos my dad took.

Here is Desiree’s response to the experience of being painted:

Being painted by you was very grounding; I was so excited that I didn’t even think about the intimacy until I was there. Then I had a moment of wow!!! You were so gentle and sweet, your ability to be so close; to see every detail of me and not have an ounce of judgment in your being is so special. You made me feel beautiful, you made me look beautiful and I am so grateful!!! 

I had just finished painting Des when we heard a knock at the door and it slowly opened. Here is Desiree looking at Reidar and Fox:


And here they are looking at her:

All these awesome photos taken by James Dean

Body painting by Charlotte Dean

Check out Desiree’s gorgeous line of bags and baby bloomers here.


The Mud Pit

(Originally posted on the Body Joy Project blog.)

They dug it out past the crops, not far from the field of sunflowers. It was only a few feet deep, but it was big. About the size of a public pool. We watched, mesmerized as the water and dirt swirled together. Two hoses on full blast and still, it was taking forever. We’d been watching them dig all week and they promised it would be ready today. We’d been in our swimsuits since the morning.

Reluctantly, we left to eat lunch and do our afternoon chores. I remember standing on a step stool in the kitchen kneading dough in my swimsuit and tennis shoes. I would have worn that outfit anywhere. I was ten years old and confident. The idea of hating my body had not yet entered my world. I hadn’t even spent much time thinking about my body other than seeing what it could do. I was too busy living in it.

Eventually, someone ran into the kitchen screaming, “It’s ready! It’s ready!” So was I. This wasn’t my first time at camp, but it was my first mud pit and I couldn’t wait to get in.

The mud was thick, and warmer than I thought it would be. I could feel tiny bits of dried grass and rocks between my toes. I walked around a bit with it up to my thighs, dragging my fingers through the surface of the mud as I walked. Slowly, I lowered my whole body into the mud. I lay on my back and was instantly floating. With my head back and my ears under the mud, everything was silent. I was looking up at the clouds slowly drifting all alone in a warm sea. It felt like the whole mud pit had been made just for me.

At the same time, I felt so connected to the people around me. I saw my friends and camp counselors in a completely new way. They were beautiful. Alive and free and messy and perfect. My interest in everyone around me grew. They liked this just as much as I did. What else did we have in common? What else were they capable of?

I remember all of us looking at each other in awe, laughing, and trying different things. One person would shout out “hey you guys – try running” and we’d all fall over trying to run. We’d get out and hose each other off, squealing in delight as our skin beneath the mud was revealed. I would get as clean as I could just so I could see myself transform again as I got back into the mud.

That experience opened something up inside of me. I saw the work it took to make it possible. I saw my counselors and the owners of the camp spend days digging that pit. They had made a special place for all of us to get messy. The possibilities of what I believed a person could be were changing. Lying in bed that night, falling asleep, my breaths were deeper and I felt bigger on the inside.