I’m generally pretty adept at not letting society’s women-shaming, body-shaming, sex-shaming attitudes bring me down. I surround myself with sex positive people, and since I work from home, I don’t encounter as many closed minded people as I used to. I hardly ever see my conservative family, so that’s not usually an issue. Shame still comes from at me in a general sense, but when it’s from ignorant people I don’t care about, it’s just an annoyance.
But when the shame comes from my Mom, it hurts.
I told my Mom about my blog early in its creation. It was probably a mistake, as I was merely stroking my ego (the blog helped me get a job, and that’s initially why I told her about it.) At first she was proud, and while the topic of sex toys isn’t her thing, she didn’t condemn it. We’d discuss it from a business standpoint from time to time, and she never seemed to have a problem with it.
That is, until I started posting nude photos. It started when she emailed me this photo of myself from my blog, along with a frantic “warning” that my images could be copied & posted on billboards and in ads. I saw this as a passive aggressive way of her bringing up my nude photography, said as much about it and that it hurt my feelings, and this was her reply:
Your posting of nude photos of yourself shows a lack of self respect, low self esteem and is really a selfish act , which could embarrass you and your family should these photos be copied and posted in the newspaper, books etc……. And you think I should be concerned about hurting your feelings? This selfish act of YOURS has truly hurt my feelings tremendously….do you really feel like this is what you have to do to get an online following? Isn’t your writing talent enough? Isn’t your photography creative enough without posting nudity?Can’t you sell something besides very initimate pictures of your body? I think you have many other talents, which should be used to get work, not your body.
First of all, I am aware that my posting nude images on the Internet results in a lack of control over the images (though they are copyrighted, and I post them at low resolution, so they can’t be easily posted to billboards, etc. Plus it’s illegal to post nudes without model releases & proof of legal age.)
The real issue here though, is that my Mom sees nudity as shameful. She was fine with me talking about using sex toys on the Internet, but as soon as I posted photos of the body I was born with, I have a “lack of self-respect” and “low self-esteem.”
On the contrary, I post nude photos of myself because I am PROUD of my body and my sexuality, and I no longer feel the need to hide it. Why do people assume that if a woman does nude modeling, exotic dancing, or sex work, that she lacks self-respect? Why is showing a woman’s body considered so horrible? In my case, I post nude photography for artistic self-expression, and I don’t currently do it to gain followers or to make money, but what if I did? Why would that be so wrong? What if I didn’t enjoy nude modeling, and just did it for a paycheck? How is that different from someone working a grilling 9 to 5 they don’t enjoy just to pay the bills?
It’s not. Work related to sex is still just work, it’s just stigmatized because it’s related to sex. There is nothing wrong with choosing to work at a strip club instead of choosing to work a desk job. It’ naive to assume that someone doesn’t like their job just because you don’t like it or wouldn’t like it, and it’s also naive to assume that everyone needs to love their job. Sure, it’s great to do things that fulfill you in life, but if you wouldn’t judge someone for cleaning toilets even if they don’t like it because they need to feed their kids, then why would you judge that same person for being a nude model or a sex worker?
I don’t think sharing any degree of nudity or pornographic imagery is shameful, but the particular photo my Mom was so offended by isn’t even super explicit or pornographic. It shows my breasts. It shows my NIPPLES, heaven forbid. I am deeply offended by the fact that women are expected to hide their breasts, while no one thinks twice when they see a topless man. Contrary to sexist belief, breasts do not exist to sexually temp and titillate men. Yes, the photo I posted was meant to be sexy, but that doesn’t matter. Any photos of women’s nipples are regarded as explicit, even women breastfeeding, regardless of intent, and that is not only unfair, it’s infuriating.
I’ve already written about how I don’t see being open about my body and being a talented, intelligent writer as mutually exclusive. I understand that it would be “safer” for me to not post my nude photography and only focus on my writing, but I enjoy nude photography. And honestly, things will never change if we all play it safe. I respect and admire women like Molly who share intelligent writing as well as erotic imagery because it’s a bold act, women daring to be both smart and openly sexual. I am proud to be one of those women. It comes with consequences, but so would hiding the work I’m proud of. So would going to sleep knowing that I let people with narrow minded views of the world control my life.
I didn’t expect my Mom to jump for joy at my posting nude photography. I don’t think most people want to think about their parents or children’s sex lives. But my posting nude photography does not mean I have a lack of self-respect or low self-esteem. And I think it’s (almost) funny that she considers my naked body as more offensive than me describing my sex life in detail. My body certainly isn’t shameful, and neither is my sex life.
Shaming people for their bodies and sexuality is hurtful. Shaming people because they make different life choices than you is also hurtful. Thankfully my Mom and I have been able to agree to disagree on the subject for the most part (we don’t talk about it anymore), and we still have a semi-decent relationship, but she will always consider what I do less valuable than other work (if not downright shameful and embarrassing.) And that’s part of why I care so much about being open about sex and nudity. With all of the negativity and shame that surrounds sex and nudity in our culture, we are in desperate need of strong, positive voices that declare:
Naked bodies are not shameful.
Sex is not shameful.
Sex is natural.
Bodies are beautiful.
*I wrote this piece in response to the Wicked Wednesday prompt “Shaming…or being shamed.”