Taking nude photos of myself gave me a sense of empowerment in reclaiming my body for myself only, shifting the power from my rapists back to me.
By Chaney Williams
This essay contains discussions of sexual assault and emotional abuse and mentions r/pe
My relationship with taking nude photos has gone from being laced with shame and fear to being a sacred ritual that helps ground me, and I do it only for me.
I used to have a complicated relationship with taking and sending nudes. At first, I wanted to take them for romantic and sexual partners in college for fun, but was constantly terrified of having them stolen or posted somewhere without my permission—a common occurrence for several of my peers in high school. I also carried a lot of shame about my fat body—the way it jiggled, moved, and took up space—and had yet to find the fat acceptance movement. But, slowly, I moved towards the practice of taking nudes only for myself, with no intention of sharing them. In this way, I could really see and validate all parts of my body, not just the body parts that were continually sexualized and objectified by others, in ways I wasn’t comfortable with. Over time, taking nudes in different poses, places, and angles became a daily ritual, and my body image and confidence changed tremendously for the positive.
In my mid 20’s, I was in a toxic relationship with someone who used nudes as a way to control, shame, and manipulate me, and this left me with a lot of trauma. Because of the way my abuser manipulated me, sending nudes became a coping mechanism to get their attention when they would freeze me out or ignore me. If I sent a nude, his attention was once again piqued and he would finally communicate with me again. This contributed to a vicious cycle in which I attributed my self-worth to the overt sexualization of my body and sending nude photos became a way for me to earn love and validation from my partner. This cycle made me see my body as a form of currency, with which I could barter for attention and validation when I was feeling insecure.
After being sexually assaulted twice—first by the aforementioned ex and then by another person—I experienced extreme dissociation, especially when it came to feeling grounded in my body for many months afterward. I entered therapy and began the work of reclaiming nude photos. Therapy helped me to understand that, by taking nudes for myself and myself only, I can provide that validation for myself. Taking nudes helped me connect to my body again. It made me see my body in its entirety, after a long time of feeling like I could never feel connected to my body in a pleasurable way again.
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At first, I couldn’t take them in certain places, like the bathtub, because it was too triggering and brought up thoughts of my abuser. But after some time, and after making it a daily personal practice, I was finally able to tap back into the feelings of pleasure I’d once had for taking nude photos. Looking at my nudes is a reminder that even when I’m having a day where I’m feeling discomfort with my relationship to my body that I can feel that way again and that the feelings of being uncomfortable will pass.
Creating this sacred ritual around taking nudes—while wearing my favorite lacy lingerie, wearing no makeup or just lipstick, or surrounding myself with candles in a bubble bath—helped give me a sense of control over my body again, something I thought I might never feel after surviving two sexual assaults. I found a new sense of pride and extreme joy to be in this body. I’m proud to be a self-proclaimed nude kween. It’s been a long journey, with so many complex feelings, but I’m glad to be in the place I am now with healing in my relationship with nudes.
Since starting my healing journey, I have been able to overcome the sense of extreme shame and disconnect I felt being a fat, queer woman of color after my sexual assaults. Taking nude photos of myself gave me a sense of empowerment in reclaiming my body for myself only, shifting the power from my rapists back to me. It has brought me back to a place where I found pleasure in curves of my hips that I once wanted no one to ever touch again. I have begun to see my body in a light that I thought was forever lost. I’m able to see my body again for what it truly is and embrace it in all of its glory, and I know that I can affirm and love my own body without validation from anyone else.
Chaney Williams is a Womanist living in Northern Kentucky. She is a MFA Creative Writing: Poetry graduate from Murray State University and is a trained and certifying doula with Doula Trainings International. Chaney deeply believes that the political is personal and in the healing that only writing can bring. She has publications in Pluck: A Journal of Affrilachian Arts and Culture, The Heartland Review, and EFNIKS.
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