Originally published on my sfw blog
Content warning: Contains brief mention of eating disorder and (almost) nudity.
I developed a significant amount of shame about my body early in my childhood. My mother was always desperate to find the newest miracle crash diet and I watched as she starved herself until she would pass out in the hallway. I never learned how to take care of my body, let alone love or appreciate it.
This Halloween will find me thirty-six years old. I’ve had two children and my weight has fluctuated wildly for most of my life. I have written extensively about my self-esteem and body image struggles. Actively trying to improve how I feel about myself on a fundamental level feels like a relentless Lord of the Rings-style journey, but every once in a while I make notable progress.
The day we got home from delivering our youngest son, almost two years ago, I had a beautiful, kind and powerful experience with myself for possibly the first time ever.
My hair hadn’t been washed in days. I had just gone through a completely natural long labor- I looked rough. Wearing only those post-birth mesh shorts I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror when I was changing clothes. I took a deep breath, prepared to be disgusted at my newly wrecked body. The disgust never came. Instead, I felt nothing but love and admiration for my reflection. I really felt like I had just performed a millennia long rite of passage, I felt like a fucking warrior, a strong savage woman capable of impossible feats. Granted, this was partly due to a combination of exhaustion, sleep deprivation, and hormones but I remember it vividly.
I loved how my body looked. My belly was soft and jiggly and I was in awe that only yesterday it held an entire person. The thighs that I often curse and hide now looked strong and womanly. My breasts, which have always been large, were enormous, full and firm. I felt like I looked exactly how I was meant to look at that moment, I was completely happy with my body. It had just done an amazing thing and I was in awe of it!
This newly found confidence was short-lived and I soon became inundated in PPD until I started medication and therapy. After a few months, I started to feel a little better about myself, so I decided it was time to work on some self-portrait projects I had been putting off for months. It was around Valentine’s Day, so it was the perfect opportunity to take some sexy pictures for my guy. I spent the entire day getting ready for this shoot. My partner was working and I had the baby, so it was a challenge to set-up the lights, backdrops, props, hair, makeup, clothes, etc. It was an event.
I tried my best to have fun and enjoy myself, but it was hard to feel anything but rushed and self-conscious. I avoided checking the images as I went, other than to occasionally monitor focus and exposure, so when I loaded the images and they started appearing in Lightroom, I didn’t know what to expect. I was speechless. The pictures were beautiful. I saw myself in a way I never had before. My post-second-baby body was curvy and feminine and I looked sexy!
I began sorting the images and realized then, I was now doing this project for me, it was no longer for my partner. This wasn’t my first dive into self-portraits or erotic images, but this time was different. The combination of medication, therapy and hard work finally allowed me to see past some of the flaws I often obsess over. I know we all have things about our bodies that we aren’t fond of, but I struggle with extreme self-loathing, so it usually isn’t my “chubby thighs” that bring me down, it is feeling like a hideous monster a lot of the time.
Seeing myself on the screen, exposed and vulnerable, I was able to gain a new perspective on my appearance. I spent days editing when I had the time, always anxious to get back to it. Almost as if I was just getting to know this new body of mine. I was proud of these pictures for so many reasons, but the most foreign to me was that I actually liked the way I looked.
This gave me the confidence to really explore my self and my body through self-portraits and continues to be incredibly therapeutic. It is something I highly recommend everyone do. You don’t have to share them, or show them to anyone. Shoot them, study them, then delete them if that makes you more comfortable. Since it makes me feel sexy to show off to my partner, I like that I get to share my work with him, so that is an added bonus, personally.
I look forward to further ventures alone with my camera, but until then I am trying to love the fuck out of myself in preparation.
Nikki is a photographer, writer, and general creator of things. She writes about mental health, sex, and relationships.