Karen Valich, a 47-year-old wife and mother, says her middle-aged friends thought she was nuts when she suggested they shed their clothes for a pin-up calendar.
"They all laughed at me and said, 'Yeah, right, I'll be your manager, you go and take your clothes off,' " says Valich — now also known as Miss January.
Her friends in the Bellingham, Wash., area — ranging in age from 25 to 89 — eventually became emboldened for a reason: Their lives all had been touched by cancer, and their goal was to raise money for the American Cancer Society.
The Northwest Exposure calendar, covering the year 2002, catches a wave of ordinary women getting nude for a cause. In the past, there may have been occasional beefcake or cheesecake calendars to benefit charities. But Northwest Exposure, as well as another calendar by a group of South Carolina women, is part of a newer trend in which middle-aged or older people — until now, mostly women in Britain — pose au naturel, albeit obscured by props to varying degrees.
For example, Valich, as Miss January, is not wearing clothes, but she is strategically wrapped in a blanket as she poses in front of a fire, holding a cup of coffee. The picture carries the caption: "Cozy up with a warm one."
A common thread among the calendars seems to be to raise medical research money — and maybe some hope.
"Every woman thinks that mastectomy is disfiguring and mutilating, which it can be," says Nancy Holdsworth, 54, the driving force behind a calendar featuring nude British women of all ages who battled breast cancer. "Women are so frightened of the disfigurement, and if we can all pose for a calendar it gives them hope."
Holdsworth says fund-raising for breast cancer research is only a secondary goal for her Cancer Care Calendar. She is seeking a distributor to offer wider exposure for a possible 2002 reprint, because she feels the survivors who posed have a message to get out to women struggling with cancer — that is, "to get people to sort of realize that there is life at the end of this tunnel, that you do come out the other side provided you get treatment early."
Holdsworth said she got the idea on her own several years ago. But many participants in the trend modeled their efforts on the "Ladies of Rylstone" — British women from a local chapter of the upscale Women's Institute who decided to eschew their fund-raising calendar's traditional outdoor scenes for something with a bit more money-making potential.
For their 2000 calendar, reissued for 2001, 11 Rylstone women between ages 46 and 66 posed nude — but partially obscured by pearls, teacups, flowers and the like — and reportedly raised a half-million dollars for leukemia research. The ladies have since toured bookshops and made television appearances all over Europe and America.
The Rylstone calendar has inspired a wave of other nude or semi-nude charity calendars in Great Britain, according to Catherine Harris, a press officer with BUPA, a British health care company that sponsored Holdsworth's calendar.
"It was a real [big] thing here," Harris says. "A lot of people did it, local rugby clubs, and so forth. … Loads of pubs did it too."