Using Nude Portraits to Gain Self-Esteem

Growing up, I was the first in my family to notice when my younger sister stopped eating. Something about a boy and control and her proclivity towards snacking on sweets and next thing we knew she was thin and frail and in need of attention. As devastating as the experience was, it made me confront, head on, how I felt about my own body. I had not paid much attention until then. I remember looking into a mirror, naked, contorting my body, pinching my skin, questioning and reaffirming, replacing doubt with serenity and a newfound confidence that only comes with confrontation.

A few years later, my proud and doting mother offered to buy me a breast enhancement as a high school graduation gift. Shocked, I stammered, “No, thank you.” I knew better than to take it personally. She had been under the knife many a time - tummy tuck, face lift, lip injections, rhinoplasty, and three breast enhancements. Her insecurity did not have to be mine. I’m not sure if I was that self-assured or if I was simply being defiant, but whatever the case, I’m grateful I was comfortable in my own skin in a way that two very important, beautiful women in my life were not.

Of course, deep down inside I’d feel a pang of fear, guilt or shame and think not so nice thoughts, reigniting the routine of questioning and reaffirming. I mean, who doesn’t have these thoughts from time to time? It’s completely natural.

However, I stumbled upon a way to push my boundaries and sink deeper into the comfort of my own skin, quieting that judgemental voice while satiating my creative impulses. I got naked. A lot. 

That’s right. Naked. But, I recommend you do a few more things than just striptease.

Stretch, pose, dance around your room without your clothes on. I grew up dancing in a studio and so I really like to look at how my body moves in a mirror. By using my reflection to stretch and isolate body movements, I have a better idea of how I operate, what needs more attention. Plus, I get used to seeing myself naked. I find that this helps melt away any shame. In fact, it’s an opportunity to praise my form. The curves. The shape. The angles. The way the sun hits my flesh in the morning light. The way the shadows dance alongside me in the evening.

I took this idea a step further by introducing a camera. You’ve probably heard before, “I wish you could see yourself the way I see you.” Looking in the mirror my whole life, I had seen myself through my own eyes. It wasn’t until I started seeing myself through the eye of the camera lens that this exercise made a tremendous impact. Finally, I could see myself through another point of view.

I started out modeling nude for a close, trusted friend on a whim. It was such a valuable experience, I decided to incorporate nudity into many performance and fine art projects over the years. I’ve worked with some really amazing artists both in the studio and on stage. Self portraits are fun, too. All you need is a point and shoot. I like to use the timer so I can get my whole body in the frame. A camera phone works, too. Take it a step further and incorporate body paint. Feeling adventurous? Go on location to your fire escape, rooftop, or backyard.

I will spend hours poring over photos from a shoot, picking out my favorites and studying what works, admiring some images while laughing at others. At first this process was a little nerve wracking. The critical voice would creep into my thoughts, causing some discomfort. However, over time, I got used to looking at myself in different poses, making different expressions. I learned to look at an unflattering photo of myself without attaching my worth to it. I delight in finding the photos that capture my spirit and movement. I feel sexier, healthier, and happier as a result. Not to mention, this has become an extension of my artistic expression.

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