Content: mention of self harm, suicidal ideation, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, rape, disordered eating, self-harm, consensual sex, naked bodies, posting nudes online
There are two things you need to know about me right off the bat if we’re going to talk about this:
1. I used to be really into self harming and I also have Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. The combination of these things manifested for me as an eating disorder when I was a teenager and coping with trauma. I developed dysmorphia, which means I didn’t see myself the way I was. The way I saw myself was distorted.
2. I was raped when I was seventeen.
Okay, heavy, I know. But it’s all good, I’m still here. And, no word of a lie, taking and generously sharing nude photographs was one of the key contributions of my wellness plan during, arguably, the most significant time in my recovery.
I was in university, the most crushing waves of grief around my mom’s death had run their course, I had my own apartment, and I had embarked upon the most exciting a sexually adventurous relationship of my life. I was learning that sex could be powerful and sweet and absolutely filthy all at once and it was incredibly healing. This intimate new relationship also meant that I was accountable to a person who cared deeply about me and who I connected with on a level I’d barely even ever dreamed was possible before it happened. It meant I had to stop cutting and start eating, even if it was almost unbearably uncomfortable.
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is characterized by obsessions, often in the form of “intrusive thoughts” that infiltrate your brain repeatedly until you’re ready to do anything to get rid of them. My intrusive thoughts focus on either contamination or suicide. I’m either obsessed with the things in food I become convinced are killing me or I’m repeating over and over in my head “I wanna die I wanna die I wanna die…”. Starving myself became one of my compulsions. I’d go through rituals around counting calories or simply restricting compulsively. When that stopped being a feasible option since it became so difficult to hide, I decided I needed to find a healthier way of feeling good and in control of my body.
The good news is that, as I mentioned, this was also a sexually explosive time in my life. I was living an hour and a half away from my new partner and, as many young couples do, we used technology to stay connected (okay, and to get off). We’d sext and send nudes and I realized how much I got off on it. I loved the intimacy, the (seemingly, anyway) undivided attention, and providing something that gave pleasure to someone who gave me so much pleasure. I got to engage with my own body on my terms in a way that felt good to me- a huge deal for any sexual assault survivor and for someone who had a history of disordered eating. I was finally feeling good in my body.
I started a blog of nude photos online. I loved the engagement, just being honest and confident in my body. Repeatedly posting photos where I had chosen the pose, the body part(s), the time of day I posted- everything. I got to choose how I responded to any comments (if at all). I got to choose my aesthetic- trashy, authentic punk girl. I came up with a name (based on a song my partner had written about my blowjob skills) and it was a blast. There’s something about repetition that really works for me. Repetition and intentionality. Writing things out (like “things that feel good“, saying things out loud a few times, and posting nudes.
I had control, I had a reaction, and I was learning what it felt like to love and appreciate the body I was in and the ways in which it contributed to me feeling good.
I read about a woman who was a professional (or semi-professional?) vocalist. When she lost her hearing, she learned to memorize the way the sounds felt in her body. That’s kind of how I started to feel about my body when I was posting nudes regularly as a person with dysmorphia. Each time I went through the process, it felt good. So I began to associate my body with good. Being in my body felt good, and that is something I’m grateful I learned.
I don’t post nudes publicly anymore, though I sometimes send them to my partner or my girlfriends. But I still hold on to that feeling. It’s like that work during that time in my process flipped a switch for me. I can honestly say that taking nudes contributed positively to my mental health.