In November, I wrote about the possibility of participating in NOW magazine’s annual Love Your Body issue. Each year in January, the Toronto weekly magazine features ten Torontonians who speak on body positivity, and discuss their body’s stories.
Well, if you picked up last week’s copy, you’d see that I was selected to participate! And frankly, I debated sharing this here at all. But the experience was important, I think.
In the piece itself, I speak on my mixed-race heritage, and the ways in which I have seen my Chinese descent make itself known through my body, especially as I age.
When it came up in conversation, I would get two reactions: first, people would congratulate me. Then, they’d tell me how they could never do it. NEVER!
Nudity wasn’t something that was considered scandalous in my childhood home. I grew up in a small house with one full bathroom. Often, someone would be in the shower while someone would be on the toilet and someone else would be using the mirror. Tight quarters and modesty don’t really go together.
Maybe I’m a different breed. I’ve always wanted to do something like this. I’ve wanted to volunteer to model for a life drawing class for ages. I’ve thought seriously about burlesque performance (which I still won’t rule out). It’s not that I’m an exhibitionist, per se. But I think I have a beautiful and unique body. Not one that I’m happy with all the time, but one that I love deeply. And that part of me is excited to volunteer for public nudity in certain contexts.
The photoshoot itself was a good experience. In attendance, there was the make-up artist, photographer, art director, and the organizer I’d been corresponding with. Everyone was kind and easygoing. (They too admitted that they couldn’t imagine being on my side of the camera, which I thought was kind of funny.)
It was surprising how normal the whole thing felt. I undressed to my bra and underwear, had my hair and make-up touched up and was moisturized from head-to-toe. We did a couple photos to test the lighting, and I was asked to remove bra and underwear when I was ready. To be honest, after an hour of poses and shooting, it was actually pretty boring. Just posing this way and that, tilting my chin up or down, turning my head an inch this way or that. My mind was on the new sandwich place I was going to with my partner after the shoot.
However, seeing the issue for the first time, debating whether to post about it, and reading (some of the not-so-nice) letters to the editor in the following week’s issue is a different story.
The magazine came out last Thursday, and the Wednesday night before, my partner and I went on a long walk where I aired my many anxieties. The biggest one was: What will people say? And this was a crushing realization, because one of the things I very much aim to work on personally is to not let the (real or imagined) criticisms of others affect how I live my life. The fact that this photo of me was out there, all over the city (AND ON THE INTERNET) suddenly became real. I had a very real moment of WHAT HAVE I DONE?!?! I felt so incredibly vulnerable. Raw. Like a scab that had just been picked. I was embarrassed and afraid. And at the same time, I think these feelings were completely okay to have, they made perfect sense. Who wouldn’t feel vulnerable in that position?
But by Friday, I felt different. I felt quietly proud and bold and strong. Nervous, yes. But excited. And after a few more days, I felt powerful and sexy and badass.
I can’t say that I did very much to experience this rapid change in feelings, other than I let them happen. I didn’t suppress the ones that felt bad, or my fears, but just let them be heard. (After all, I was naked in a very public setting. They had a point.) The entire experience has been a huge opportunity, not only to participate in something meaningful, but to confront my own deeply held fears.
The experience is still in the back of my mind, and as time passes, it will be something I care about less and less. Currently my thoughts are at: “Well, I don’t have anything that people haven’t seen before.” And I realize too it’s a privilege that this is the case for me. Others featured in this issue—such as a woman who was born without arms, a transman, and a young woman who had breast cancer, have bodies that are far less often seen by a broader public. Truly, I am honoured to be alongside them.
What about you? Would you do it? Which of your body’s stories would you want to tell?