Reclaiming My Sexuality

In 2006, I became an internet model, meaning I made a living allowing both professional and hobby photographers to take pictures of my nude body.  This job allowed me to go to school and to travel the country for three years from Puerto Rico to Hawaii and everywhere in between.  It also allowed me to meet some amazing women in the same profession.  We didn’t need agents or managers; we were young, brilliant, professional women in total control of our lives and our sexuality.   

While the vast majority of photographers were a joy to work with, there were still some egotistical and abusive photographers complaining that I was too fat (I was 95lbs), too skinny, too pale, too tan, too prudish, too expensive, or too disinterested in “exposure” as payment.  Generally obtaining references from models would weed them out before I corresponded with them, but some misogynistic troll people slithered into my inbox or worse… I ended up working with them.  It was pretty easy to tell that these men had inferiority complexes and insulted women in order to feel powerful.      

So what am I doing here?  I’m writing this to illustrate my complicated relationship with my agency and my sexuality and the kind of attention that can garner… good and bad, wanted and unwanted.  I am writing this to show just some of the struggles that women endure to reach some semblance of self-actualization in one particular category.  I am now 35 years old so I belong to this odd generation of women who is a fourth wave feminist but who also has a little bit of internalized misogyny remaining from past generations.  I would have denied that emphatically only a few weeks ago, but then Aziz Ansari happened.      

When I first read the account, I said (quietly and to myself) the same thing many men and some women were saying, which was, “are we finally taking this a little too far?”  Then I read an article on vox.com by Jaclyn Friedman in which she discussed the old idea that “men “get some” and women either “give it up” or “save it” for marriage.”  I couldn’t believe I was still operating under that line of thinking.  I still expect a man to keep trying to have sex even after a woman says no because that’s what I learned growing up and that was, not infrequently enough, my experience.  I had been viewing this woman’s experience through an outdated and dysfunctional lens. 

I became even more disappointed in myself recalling that I had that exact same experience not two years ago and it was terrifying and humiliating.  Similar to what Ansari claimed, it seemed like my assailant was misreading my cues even though the word “no” seems like a pretty obvious one especially when repeated over and over.  I looked in his eyes and I could see… he thought I was enjoying this.  I ramped up and yelled, “seriously no!” and I was able to get away.  When I got home, I text messaged him that he had in fact assaulted me and he seemed genuinely mortified and apologetic, similar to the Ansari situation.  Alright, so we’ve got photographers with inferiority complexes verbally abusing and pressuring models for kicks and now we’ve got dudes who think they’re good guys (POSSIBLY inadvertently) assaulting women… with me so far?      

So I’m pondering all of this, and I see a post from a social media friend about having her nude photos from a professional shoot posted on a revenge porn-type site.  She responded in the best possible way by posting the shoot herself on social media and regaining agency of how her own beauty was displayed.  Most of the responses she got were very supportive from women and men, but there were a few of the usual mansplainers and comments from dudes with too many selfies on their pages saying something to the effect of “don’t take nudes if you don’t want them to get posted somewhere.”  It got me thinking first about how much I hate people and second about consent and context.  So now we’re also adding bros with too many selfies who comment on models’ pages they don’t know, that women are asking for their unpublished nude photos to be stolen and posted publicly.  

Natalie Portman gave a speech at the Women’s March this year about being objectified and sexualized as a 12 year old girl, how her first piece of fan mail was from a man describing a rape fantasy of her, about how she cultivated an image that she hoped men would not perceive as sexual in order for her to feel safe.  She spoke about how her behavior was controlled by “sexual terrorism,” about her wish that she and every girl and woman could express themselves and their desires in any way they wanted and not feel that they are putting themselves in danger. 

Now…I have been assaulted regardless of what I wore or how I expressed myself before and after my modeling career.  But it’s easy to see how and why some girls and women think if they cover up more or act in a certain way, there is less of a chance of being attacked.  Society tells us this.  Schools tell us that a girl’s bra strap or leg is a distraction to boys.  A church billboard literally said this last week.  Now let’s add schools and religion and society in general telling women if they dress sexy or express their sexuality, they can expect and deserve to be assaulted.      

I reclaimed my sexuality when I became a nude model, and it may seem that I have ambivalence toward that choice.  On the one hand, I want to be seen as the fierce, sexual woman that I am.  On the other hand, I don’t want to be objectified.  These two desires are not mutually exclusive, but they are difficult to grasp because society still sees women as objects of sexual pleasure or chastity, Madonna or whore, and not as full-fledged humans with agency, feelings, thoughts, rights, and yes even sexuality.   

I still do photo shoots from time to time, but I do it for me.  I am proud of my body, I am proud of my ability to morph in front of camera, and I am proud of the art I have created.  Now that I do not rely on modeling for income, I choose to work with photographers who are also my friends.  It is no longer a job, but rather part of my self-care routine.      

Let’s wrap this up: we’ve got men with inferiority complexes verbally abusing women and pressuring them to do things they don’t want to do with their bodies, dudes who think they’re good guys assaulting women, creeps who send children rape fantasies, bros mainsplaining on social media that we’re asking for it, schools telling us we’re asking for it, churches telling us we’re asking for it, and society as a whole telling us we are asking for it. 

So let me be very clear… in the next few days, I’ll be posting some images from a photo shoot I did yesterday.  I am NOT asking for it.  I am not asking for you to make crude comments, I am not asking for you to send me weird messages, I am not asking for you to post my images without my permission, I am not asking for you to do anything other than hit the react button or make a nice comment if you would like, or don’t if you would not.  I do this for me and I’m not going to let sexual terrorism keep me from living my life the way I want to live it.  Yes, I reclaimed my sexuality when I became a nude model, but I reclaim my sexuality on a daily basis with the boundaries I set and the desires I voice.

{featured image: the commentator}

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