Four years ago, I did my first-ever naked photo shoot.
I was involved in circus arts at the time. The photos were stunning, but I didn’t post them anywhere (even censored versions).
I didn’t want anyone to know I had done a nude shoot, and mostly, I thought people would think I was just looking for attention by putting them up on the Internet.
It wasn’t until a full year later that I finally gathered the courage to upload them. I did this by pasting a fake flower over my nipples, and I made sure to post the photos with the disclaimer that I was allowed to upload them because they were my body and the photos were art. I was incredibly nervous about the reaction people would have.
I think sometimes people see my photos and think that it’s always been easy for me to show myself, to be comfortable in my sensuality.
And it hasn’t been. Not always.
I spent my teenage years hating my body. I liked the parts that brought me attention from men, and I hated all the other parts. I was incredibly self-conscious and hyperaware of how I was coming across in any moment. I wore things that emphasized my curves. I showed skin, I wore push-up bras under sports bras.
My mom and my brother used to tease me that I was a slut, because of the way I dressed. I didn’t know what to do with this word, so I internalized it. I needed my sexuality to gain approval from men, so it wasn’t an option to shy away from it.
I would be a slut, then, I decided. I pretended it didn’t hurt. I laughed along. I was caught in a place of trying to figure out how to have the perfect amount of sexiness; I didn’t want to be a prude, I didn’t want to be a slut, but slut became my reputation anyway (nevermind that I didn’t even have sex til I was close to 18).
When I ended up in the yoga world (a story for another day), I again found myself balancing this mixture of sexy-but-not-too-sexy. Because yoga was spiritual, it wasn’t common to own or approve of your sexuality – instead I played the game of dressing in ways that made my body look good, but without making it obvious that that’s what I was trying to do.
I exhausted a lot of mental energy trying to find this balance. And yet, I didn’t notice that it required energy, not really, because it was a game I had been playing my entire life.
How to be enough? How not to be too much?
the aerial photos – unedited and edited
I remember being in Greece when I was 7, and my family was at a topless beach. Older women around me were topless. I remember being thrilled – I wanted to take off my top. I loved feeling the water on my bare chest. I remember my family exchanging looks. My older cousins didn’t do it.
I remember knowing that I was allowed to take off my top because I was young enough that it didn’t matter. The message being that once I had breasts, those would make it wrong. At 7, I learned that breasts were inherently inappropriate.
I stopped wearing a bra a couple years before the naked photo shoot, during my time teaching yoga. My early twenties. When I first stopped, I was worried about it all the time. I was sure people would stare at my nipples (they did). I was sure I would absolutely melt of embarrassment (I didn’t).
For a few years, I only wore shirts that looked appropriate without a bra. Five years ago, my grandfather died and I had to go shopping with my sister to buy funeral-appropriate clothing and a bra, because I didn’t own one, and it still felt wrong to show up at a funeral without one on.
After that, I bought pasties. Even though I hated the pasties – I always felt like my breasts looked weird under my shirt without either bra or nipples, I hated sticking them on, and they always became half-unstuck – I still felt that there would be inappropriate situations for my nipples to be obvious.
Eventually, I gave that up, too.
As the years went on, I learned to be comfortable with my own sexuality. I learned to feel secure when other people looked at my body. I learned not to make what other people thought mean anything about me.
I went to retreats where I got to be (platonically) naked with other women. Women of all sizes and all ages. We hugged. We played like children. We stopped noticing we were naked. It became normal.
There is something unbelievably beautiful about being able to be naked with other women. Sunbathing. Playing with each other’s hair. Complimenting one another.
Instead, most of us spend our lives hiding our bodies – even from ourselves.
As I got more and more comfortable with my sexuality, I got more and more annoyed that the world hadn’t let me feel comfortable in it.
Last year, I finally got publicly fed up with the fact that women still couldn’t be topless on social media. I discovered that Facebook’s guidelines said that you can show female nipples if you have breast cancer, if you are breastfeeding, or if you are protesting (which are… interesting choices, but I digress).
I decided I was protesting, and I painted myself with that message and posted a photo of my breasts on social media (you can read that story here).
And I was nervous about it!! I knew my parents would see my breasts. I knew my then-boyfriend’s family wasn’t going to like it. I knew people were going to think all sorts of things about it.
And they did – I received an onslaught of disapproving comments, disgusting comments from men, women telling me I was setting feminism back a million years, and more.
But I didn’t care, because for me, it was about me teaching myself that it’s okay and safe to express myself freely in the world.
And it was.
I fought with social media for months after that. People constantly reported posts of mine that weren’t breaking the rules. Eventually Instagram banned my account.
When I launched this website in January, I knew I wanted to be able to post whatever I wanted. I had beautiful photos from shoots I did in the fall that I wanted to share. I didn’t want to have to edit pieces of me out to make them more acceptable.
The old fear popped up again: Would people think I just wanted attention? Would they think I was being annoying? Would no one take me seriously?
But I kept coming back to what I know to be true, which is that my body is my own and I can do whatever I want with it. That the way people would see my photos meant everything about them, and nothing about me. That my art deserved to be seen.
And again, I proved to myself that it didn’t matter.
Someone asked me the other day how I manage to post naked photos of myself without coming across as “slutty.”
The real root of that is that I genuinely don’t care, today, if they are seen as slutty. I fully adore my sexuality, my sexiness. I fully accept that I love receiving attention, that I love making a statement, or whatever else it is that people try to insult me by saying.
I also fully accept, as someone who lives their life mostly online, that I am bound to be misunderstood. People are going to project their shit all over me. It doesn’t trigger me anymore. Men write disgusting comments to me and I think “yeah, I’m hot” and press delete. People stare at my nipples on the street and I think “eh, of course you are.” It doesn’t bother me.
If what they’re thinking is true, I’ve already accepted that about myself. If it’s not true, then I don’t care because I’ve already decided I’m happy to be misunderstood.
Something I think is really important about what I do is that there’s no shame in it.
That’s why I haven’t written a post like this until now – because I don’t think there’s any reason for me to explain it. Like the way I felt the need to offer a disclaimer when I posted the circus shoot… I don’t do that anymore. There is no part of me AT ALL that thinks it is wrong. It does not need to be justified. It does not need to be explained.
naked in Mexico
I think there is a lot of power in showing my nipples or showing my nudity without constantly proclaiming that that is what I am doing, and it’s for a good reason so that’s what makes it okay, or that no one is allowed to look at my photos a certain way.
I can be naked for any reason I want. Anyone can look at my photos any way they want.
I did decide to write this piece, though, mostly because I want other women to understand that it is not that I one day magically became super comfortable with showing my body and didn’t care what anybody thought.
This has been a journey. It has been a slow, year-by-year process of teaching my nervous system that I am safe in the world, I am safe to show as much of myself as I want, and that I do not die when I show myself to others.
The only way our bodies learn this deeply is by us teaching ourselves that it is true. By showing what we want to others without disclaimers or explanations.
And by loving who we are so completely that we are not ashamed.