Pretty woman

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Happy birthday to my beautiful wife. Photo/Ashley Rice

I’m pretending to be a fly on the wall, silent and unobtrusive, as I sit beside my wife on a couch in Ashley Rice’s spacious photography studio in an old renovated mill building in downtown Manchester. My wife, Liz, and Ashley are sorting through the boudoir photos Ashley took of Liz, which are being projected on flat screen television.

And I’m here to…

I’m not sure why I’m here because these photos have nothing to do with me, or my male gaze. They are about my wife, and reminding her that she is truly beautiful.

Ashley runs Wander in Lace Boudoir, and I wrote a profile on her for Manchester Ink Link about a month ago. About two weeks after the profile ran, Ashley photographed Liz for a Saturday morning session in October. The session was part of a birthday gift my stepdaughter and I arranged for Liz.

Liz came home that afternoon after having her hair and make-up professionally done, and my jaw dropped to the floor with a cartoonish crash.

“You look like a different person,” I told her[1].

Liz folded her arms and glared at me, her long fake eyelashes fluttering.

Now we are viewing the pictures from Liz’s session, and seeing my wife on the screen in sexy outfits, striking sensual poses, further reinforces what I’ve known all along: I’ve been hanging over my skis for more than two decades.

But, as I said, this isn’t about me. At all.

This is about Liz, who like many women in a culture that fancies filtering out reality, she sometimes struggles when it comes to the unattainable and unsustainable standards of youth and beauty portrayed by the media.

Ashley is as enthusiastic as Liz while she reveals her work to her. As I wrote in the profile piece, Ashley genuinely wants all the women she photographs to know that they are beautiful, to empower them, and these images are a tangible reminder of it.

I turn away from the screen and look at my wife and notice a familiar glossing over of her eyes, meaning she is about to cry.

Usually, I will take any measure possible to plug the dams. I’m not exactly a nurturer by nature, and when women cry, I become awkward and will do anything make it stop.

However, when I realize the reason why her eyes are glossing over, my small heart—almost Grinch-like[2]“grows three sizes,” and I welcome the tears of lightness and joy that spring from my wife seeing herself as I’ve always seen her, which is fucking beautiful.

As a man with his hands perpetually in his pockets, I sometimes forget the ponderous toll levied on women to look a certain way, to evade the ineluctable grips of aging. The images of youth and hourglass frames—trimmed and fitted by Photoshop—are pervasive in every aspect of our culture, and it is a stacked deck for females, where society makes it nearly impossible to embrace their own beauty at face value.

But this is exactly what Ashley is giving to Liz, and watching the two women celebrate this gift is almost magical.

While we’re walking back to the car, after Liz whittled down the photos to 10 images she’s having printed in a small album— and I did get to choose a photo as well—she asks me what I thought about her pictures.

“You’re beautiful,” I say.


[1] Gentlemen, it turns out that this intended compliment was a somewhat clumsy choice of words. Apparently, I was implying that she doesn’t look stunning every day, which was far from my intention. This extended my 48-year streak of not comprehending females on any level.

[2] No, I’m not even passively participating in the mad rush to start celebrating Christmas. It was just an allusion.


About this Author

Nathan Graziano

Nathan Graziano lives in Manchester with his wife and kids. He's the author of nine collections of fiction and poetry. His most recent book, Born on Good Friday was published by Roadside Press in 2023. He's a high school teacher and freelance writer, and in his free time, he writes bios about himself in the third person. For more information, visit his website: