Learning to Love My Naked Body

This past year has been a tough one for me for a multitude of reasons, but body confidence was one of the biggest. In case you didn't know, even the strongest advocates for body acceptance have days (sometimes weeks) of dealing with body hatred and self-esteem crises. My shame this year was my double chin. I don't know when I started noticing it, but suddenly in pictures I found myself wanting to cover my chin/neck with my hands, hide behind other people in the picture, or use the old "hold your phone over your head trick" to minimize the appearance. I was loving the rest of me, I even started wearing sleeveless shirts that showed my arm jiggles and fitted dresses that showed my stomach. I bought red lipstick and started doing my makeup in the pinup style that I adore. Everything was going well, except for the damn double chin. Until I found this picture:

 Woman in bikini with text that reads \

My dear friend Lauren Marie Fleming has started this program called Bawdy Love, and here she was, showing off her gorgeous body in all its glory for the world to see. It gave me hope. It gave me strength. It made me realize that loving your body is a choice that you make every single day. It's a habit you have to form, a skill that must be developed. You have to cultivate your positive relationship with your body, and that starts with ceasing the negative self talk ("ew my double chin looks so gross in in that picture") and start treating your body the way you'd treat anyone else in your life that you love--with compassion and respect. Two of these photos are NSFW. This post contains affiliate links.*

I have struggled with body confidence my entire life. I've been 132lbs and I've been over 250lbs. One thing I found that was incredibly empowering for me was learning to be comfortable naked. I did that by working as a figure model for artists for a year, which culminated in me posing for a series of artistic nudes on camera. Since I believe in modeling vulnerability, I'm going to share those photos with you. 

 ashley_xbiz_awards.jpg

Figure Modeling

Being a figure model is hard work. You might think, "you just stand there naked, how hard could that be?" It's very hard. Keep in mind, people are replicating your body onto the medium of their choice--charcoal, paint, clay, etc. It takes time to do that, which means you need to stay in the same position. In a typical three hour class, I would do twenty minutes of one-minute poses (in various contorted positions to give them interesting things to sketch quickly) then a longer pose that I would hold for 20 minutes at a time for the remainder of the class. It was incredible. I would walk around during my break and see myself through the eyes of the artists who were capturing my body on paper, and it felt wonderful. There was no photoshopping, no shame. It wasn't just my body. It was art.

Live Modeling

There was an art expo in Mechanicsburg, PA where artists were creating in real time so that attendees could watch them work. I was hired to be a body art model, which meant that the artist was going to create a painting on my body and then I'd walk around to showcase it. I sat for about 45 minutes while the artist created an incredible Japanese geisha on my back, with a dragon kimono and surrounded by cherry blossoms. I wish I still had a picture of that, but sadly it was lost when my last computer died. 

Once the the artist finished, I sat for a few minutes in front of a fan, waiting for the paint to dry, then stood up and walked around a room full of strangers, topless. They needed to be able to see my back, since that's where the art was. I was surprised that a place in South Central PA (know for it's conservative values) was so permissive with nudity. It was glorious. I was complimented, many people took pictures of my back, and no one called me fat.

The Photo Shoot

About a year later, I met a photographer at an art gallery in West Chester, PA. I mentioned that I enjoyed nude modeling, and we exchanged contact information. A few weeks later, we scheduled a photo shoot at his studio. He was very kind. He gave me space to change (the first few shots were in clothes), he assured me that his wife was upstairs so that I felt more comfortable, and put on some powerful Madonna songs. 

I was nervous at first. Doing the clothed shots helped me to get over the initial anxiety of doing a photoshoot (which felt a lot scarier than figure modeling for some reason!) Here are my two favorite clothed shots:

black and white portrait of  a cis woman's torso in a black shirt

black and white portrait of a cis female in a white unbuttoned dress shirt

Once I felt pretty warmed up, we moved to some shots with a white sheet draped around my body. The photographer liked to do cool things with light and shadow, which was neat to see once the prints arrived.

sepia and white portrait of a cis woman with a sheet draped around the torso and breasts exposed

Once I was topless, the last frontier was to take off that white sheet and be fully naked. I was honestly less concerned about exposing my genitals than I was about exposing my tummy. I was so focused on it that I started to get into my head and panic. The artist was patient and kind. He told me that art does not recognize size or shape. It's all beautiful. Then I remembered my favorite painting, The Bathers by Renoir. The thing I love most about it was it is that it depicts a group of women who are playfully and unapologetically loving their bodies. I cast the sheet aside. "Let's do this!"

The photo below is my favorite photo of the day. When I first saw the print, my first thought was, "oh god, look at my stomach!" but as I've learned to love my body over the years, I now look at this photo with pride. It takes time, but developing a loving relationship with your body is a vital part of living an empowered life. 

I was nervous about posting this online, worried about the backlash from "fat haters" and wondering if having a nude photo of me online would affect my professional credibility, but after pondering it for the past few hours, I realized that I need to do this for me. My whole mission is to be vulnerable, shameless, and unapologetically myself. In doing that, I hope to create space for others to do the same. It doesn't matter whether you're tall, short, fat, thin, or somewhere in between. Your body is beautiful and you have every right to be proud of it. 

artistic full body nude, black and white portrait. text \

 

*This piece was originally published on my blog on January 23rd, 2014. It has been updated to reflect new information, attitudes, and affiliation with the Bawdy Love campaign. If you sign up for the Bawdy Love program and use my name as the referrer, I’ll receive an affiliate commission. This helps me keep my site running, however, all opinions stated here are my own.

 

Showing 26 reactions

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  • commented 2015-09-10 21:52:11 -0700
    You are awesome! Beautiful and brave. Thank you for sharing.
  • commented 2014-01-26 13:39:27 -0800
    I love how you come to love your body and sharing your story. It simp,y makes you more beautiful both physically and emotionally ;)
  • commented 2014-01-26 06:02:21 -0800
    Wowee! U are so beeeeeuuuutiful, won’t be able to take my afternoon nap, all courage to you my girl.
  • commented 2014-01-26 00:02:54 -0800
    Thanks for sharing very nice
  • commented 2014-01-25 19:53:08 -0800
    Love the artical and the pictures are great. My husband is a filmmaker/photographer who recently with a friend of his pulled a group of lovely women from our area and we are doing a calander called Volume. He wanted to practice photograpy, but it has grown into so much more than that. I am one of the 18 proud models and are getting ready for my first photo shoot. We are not doing full nude but tasteful sexy, intement photo’s of us, being proud of not being a size 2. I’ve always struggled with weight and I really wanted to do this to show it’s ok being in my own skin. This artical was wonderful and gave me the reminder that we are all beautiful!!!
  • commented 2014-01-25 18:21:39 -0800
    Your beautiful. Wish I had your guts, I am 50 and have always been a big girl and to this day I hate my body….But girl you are lovely…Thanks for doing what many of us want to but don’t have the guts. Kudos’s!
  • commented 2014-01-25 18:16:22 -0800
    Haters gonna hate.

    They hate because they’re jealous. They hate because they’re small-minded. And they hate because, deep down, they know they’re not as attractive – as sexy – as you are. You are a lovely woman.

    (Although, reading of the painting of the geisha you had on your back? Pity you don’t have that picture anymore – I’m sure it was a well-done painting, cast across a genuinely lovely canvas. Seeing it in video would have been even better – seeing it brought to life as you breathed and moved.)

    As far as your form? You strongly resemble my wife – who still can’t believe (after only 16 years…) that I find her as sexy as I do. Her hair is a bit darker, but about the same length as yours. Facial construction is similar, as are body proportions and actual features. The primary difference? You’re probably taller (she’s 5’2" – I’ve always had a fixation on smaller women.)

    I’ll tell you the same thing I tell her – “Be YOU. Be unabashedly, unapologically, undiluted YOU. If someone can’t love you for who you are, you don’t need them. Confidence and personal acceptance are far more attractive to a real man than any ersatz artificial physical ‘ideal’ of attractiveness. And we don’t need superficial people – of either gender.”
  • commented 2014-01-25 18:12:37 -0800
    wishing I had the confidence that you have with your body and the ability to show it off as you have done. I commend you and support the plus size movement 100% Being a big woman in todays soceity is hard, but with spreading the word that its ok to be a large woman and it is ok to be proud and no longer ashamed to be large… thank you again for putting yourself out there.
  • commented 2014-01-25 17:50:43 -0800
    I am so overwhelmed and honored by all of the incredible comments and people sharing their own experiences. It is my hope that by allowing ourselves to be vulnerable, we show that there are safe spaces to be unapologetically ourselves. You are all amazing and I am proud to be part of this conversation!
  • commented 2014-01-25 17:47:25 -0800
    Amen! You Girl
  • commented 2014-01-25 17:22:00 -0800
    Wow….you are an amazing woman!! I really wish I had your confidence! !! My husband tells me all the time he loves me and my body. ….but I’ve been pushed since a very young age to watch my weight..I have 2 sisters and my mother who are all small women..it made it rough groing up. I got brave and ordered a beautiful corset from Curvey Girls for a Boudoir photo shoot…but I backed out and I still haven’t wore it…
  • commented 2014-01-25 07:32:54 -0800
    You look lovely Ashley. Thanks for posting.
  • commented 2014-01-24 08:30:33 -0800
    Ashley I love this. I know people look at me and think “oh, she’s skinny what does she have to be insecure about?” Yes i may be skinny but i am very insecure about my body. I never reveal my naked body to anyone with lights on because of my insecurities so kudos to you for being able to do this!!
  • commented 2014-01-24 05:13:00 -0800
    Very lovely! Wonderful pics.
  • commented 2014-01-23 23:23:29 -0800
    Crazy….we look alike physically. Strong work! You are beautiful!
  • commented 2014-01-23 21:53:59 -0800
    I’m sorry, were you saying something positive and inspiring? I didn’t notice, all I saw were boobs.
  • commented 2014-01-23 21:30:59 -0800
    You are all so wonderful. Thank you so much. More than anything I want people to see this and know that it’s okay to share yourself with the world (in whatever way is comfortable for you) and that you deserve love and respect—which starts from within!
  • commented 2014-01-23 21:28:12 -0800
    stunning. I love the thread of truth through this and the message to me is loving my body not despite it’s curves and bumps and bulges and shape. It is loving my curves and shape. Looking at this last picture especially, it’s a powerful sensuality. Look at the expression! Look at the light gracing your skin and the shadow loving your curves! I hope it’s not insensitive of me to say, but you look lucious, ripe, sexy as hell!!! You look touchable.
  • commented 2014-01-23 16:45:09 -0800
    Dizzy, thank you! The hardest part, as always, was pushing the “publish” button. I’m really happy that I did. Thank you for reading!
  • commented 2014-01-23 16:43:57 -0800
    Very nicely done. I’m glad you had the courage to do this.
  • commented 2014-01-23 16:14:04 -0800
    Lilly, I still struggle with it some days, trust me. But even posting this was a huge step forward for me. Small acts of courage make all the difference! And I have great admiration for you as well! <3
  • commented 2014-01-23 16:08:58 -0800
    Thank you Mr. Will! I fill my life with art for that exact reason. It’s all about beauty, which can manifest in a myriad of ways.
  • commented 2014-01-23 16:07:40 -0800
    I completely understand the part about being more nervous to show your tummy than anything else. I feel the same way. Unlike you though I’ve not yet been able to love my body. I admire you!! The photos are great, they really are. Fat haters can go elsewhere.
  • commented 2014-01-23 16:05:01 -0800
    :-D Excellent post, and great point about art not recognizing size or shape, but only beauty! beautiful curves as well :-)
  • commented 2014-01-23 15:59:30 -0800
    Thank you Bex! I’m feeling really great about it.
  • commented 2014-01-23 15:57:46 -0800
    I’m so glad you choose to post this, you look amazing!

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