The reason I put my hand up to be involved in this project, besides really liking the concept, was in part due to my own personal experiences and feelings around sexuality and ideas around what feeling comfortable in my own skin means to me. Art nude photography was one medium that changed my perspectives on nudity and how I felt about my own body, and was something that provided me with a type of freedom that I hadn’t felt before.
I think people often see me as a quietly confident person – and in many ways, I suppose I am. However, I feel like this can also be an issue for me as I think that sometimes what people see as confidence, is actually just me hiding my insecurities much better than others might.
One thing that I used to be extremely insecure about was being naked. I never disliked my physical appearance, and I never thought of myself as unattractive – in fact I quite liked my body. But I also never thought of my body (or me) as being overly ‘sexy’ or ‘desirable’. One thing that used to frustrate me about this was the fact that I was still quite sexual in the sense that I always enjoyed sex and was always confident with what I was doing in the bedroom….until the lights came on. I spent about 3 years – two of those in a long-term relationship, only ever having sex in the dark. Or occasionally hiding under a sheet or wearing a t-shirt. I think that at the time I felt as though being naked in front of someone else, especially someone that you were intimately involved with, meant that nakedness had a direct link to sex and desire. Therefore, if I was naked in front of someone, then I was sexualised. I should be embodying sex and desire. But in my mind, my body wasn’t doing or saying that. I’d say this mindset was partly influenced by the world around me – friendship groups, media and it’s false expectations, and the fact that if I was to be called ‘sexy’ at the time, it was generally with the expectation that sex would be occurring soon after – it was never because I was smart, or passionate, or driven. ‘Sexy’ was just code for ‘let’s get it on’.
This is when Burlesque came into my life. Burlesque taught me that my body was a piece of art, a story, a form of expression, and something that was completely my own. I could choose to share my body with an audience if I felt like it – but the focus wasn’t even on my body. It was about the creative process, the story, the tease. And yeah, perhaps you’ll get to see my boobs at the end of it but guess what…that’s because I felt like whipping them out, because I think they’re neat. Even when I started Burlesque, it was a year before I ever took a bra off on stage. Even now I like to create the occasional routine that doesn’t involve clothes removal, because in my mind Burlesque is about creative expression, dance and celebration of individuality. Not sex. Burlesque definitely helped me feel comfortable with myself and the skin that I’m in, but it wasn’t until I did my first art nude shoot that I really understood what it felt like to embrace that feeling.
I put my hand up for my first art nude shoot because I wanted to challenge myself. I felt like something was still holding me back, and I figured this would be a good test and push of my boundaries. I chose the project because I knew of the photographer and his work. He was well regarded in the art nude community and I knew people who had worked with him. I was still extremely nervous going in to it because in my mind I still felt like there was a risk. I didn’t want this to confirm what I secretly feared - that the naked body is nothing more than a symbol for sex. To my delight, I was totally wrong. Not only was the process surprisingly freeing and enjoyable (the photographer was amazing and someone I am still extremely happy to work with to this day), but the end result was beautiful. It had meaning, and it had depth. In the same way that I had more meaning and depth than just a naked shell made for pleasure. After this, I started doing more shoots, and started to enjoy the feeling of just being in my own skin. Naked, content, and confident in my body. Shedding the layers that I wear day to day to keep up appearances.
Now I can’t imagine life without being naked – skinny dipping, walking around the house nude on a hot day, frolicking with friends and celebrating our bodies for what they are. Whether I’m naked in my own company, whether it’s an intimate setting or simply a skinny dip with friends – it’s an amazing feeling. And being naked in front of others and for that to be acceptable to them, is something I really love. I don’t feel shame about my body any more, and I don’t feel like I have anything to hide. In fact, these days I often get told that it’s hard to keep clothes on me!
I know that this isn’t for everyone, and that’s OK. People draw confidence from different aspects of their life, and people experience things differently. I don’t expect everyone to like Burlesque, or Art Nude photography, or having me get naked in front of them. I think what I would say is perhaps don’t knock it too much till you try it. It might not be for you, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not for me, or the next person out there. Find what makes you happy, find what makes you feel comfortable with your own body and your own sexuality, and embrace it.