Why I feel driven to share photos of my naked body on the internet.
Copyright Yael Wolfe
I did something crazy the other day. I posted a photo of my naked breasts on Twitter. I?ve been wanting to do that for ages, pretty much since Instagram banned my side boob. (Come on, Instagram!)
I noticed immediately that Twitter is way more sex positive than Facebook/Instagram. A quarter of the people in my feed post photos of their breasts and naked asses on a semi-regular basis. (I know ? awesome, right?)
I almost posted a naked photo of myself with the words ?Happy birthday? over my nipples to celebrate one of my favorite writer friends here, then chickened out for reasons that are still beyond me and DM?ed it to her instead. (Yes, with her consent.)
I even almost sent Average Don Juan a photo of my nipples, though I can?t remember why. (I?m sure I had a really good reason.) And again, I had second thoughts. (I have no doubt he?s gravely disappointed by this.)
Recently, my itch to put my naked photos into the world has gotten so strong, I really can?t hold back. When I noticed some friends of mine talking about sharing topless photos with one another over on Twitter, I was stoked. Oooo, yay, this is like being 12 again, but way more fun and pervy! Alas, I just missed out on the exchange of photos and thought?fuck it! And I posted a photo from a bathtub series I?ve been working on, nipple blazing, and spent the next half hour feeling exhilarated.
Finally, I did it!
What is this compulsion? I wonder. It?s nothing new. I?ve wanted to take and share nude portraits since I was in art school in Santa Fe, twenty years ago. My best friend and her boyfriend were photographers and were famous on campus for their nude portrait sessions. I?d seen all our mutual friends naked because there were always prints laying around my bestie?s house and she was always asking for my opinion on which shots were best.
I posted a photo from a bathtub series I?ve been working on, nipple blazing, and spent the next half hour feeling exhilarated.
It?s such a regret of mine that I didn?t allow her to take pictures of me as she so often begged me to let her do. We wanted to do a gallery show, which both thrilled and terrified me. I?d learned from a childhood of Christian schooling that my body was shameful and should be covered up. I?d also already been told how to dress, what to do, and how much I should weigh by countless friends, acquaintances, love interests, doctors, and of course, the media.
Wouldn?t it be the ultimate sense of freedom to hang photos of my naked body on the walls of galleries across Santa Fe? (And after that, the world, of course!)
But no. I just couldn?t do it. My body dysmorphic disorder issues were at an all-time high at that point, and I was in the midst of another round with my eating disorders. I just couldn?t handle the vulnerability it would take to get naked even just for my friend and her camera.
The desire to shed my inhibitions in that way has stayed with me all these years. As soon as my last partner and I started sleeping together, I began taking naked or half-naked photos of myself so I could send them to him.
I loved it. I can?t tell you how much I loved it.
I loved the shot of adrenaline I got from every click of the shutter. I loved feeling so daring and bold. I loved how much it turned on my partner. And I loved, perhaps most of all, how utterly audacious it felt to act as though I felt beautiful and desirable. That was a revolution, for me.
The desire to shed my inhibitions in that way has stayed with me all these years.
I entered my forties with a host of new anxieties and mental blocks about my body. My ex had left for a younger woman, I lost confidence in myself and felt sexually irrelevant as I left the stage of young womanhood behind, blah blah blah. You know the story. So many of us find ourselves at a similar crossroads.
But one of the things that helped me find my way back to myself was taking nude photographs. Somehow, this simple act helped me to start seeing myself again. It made me remember how much beauty I see in the female form. And it made me feel daring again ? like that part of me that had been trapped for so long was running free again.
And I loved, perhaps most of all, how utterly audacious it felt to act as though I felt beautiful and desirable. That was a revolution, for me.
I knew early last year that I wanted to take this to another level. Yes, maybe I?ll achieve that dream of being brave enough to hang photos of my naked body in a gallery ? and to even stand there next to those photos and talk to visitors during one of our local art walk events. But lately, I?ve had my sights set on just making a book out of them.
I?d already started writing scandalous filthy poetry about sex which would be great alongside the photos. I?m still not entirely sure what the theme of this book is ? perhaps simply female power, desire, and sexuality.
It?s slow-going, though, working on it a few hours a week while I fill my days with my other work. And something in me is so desperate to finish this, to put it out there that?well, I?m tweeting my nipples to the world. I just can?t wait for the book to be done.
?it made me feel daring again ? like that part of me that had been trapped for so long was running free again.
I?m so curious to understand what?s happening to me. I?m sure to many on the outside, it looks like I?m obsessed with myself. Maybe people think I?m a perverted little narcissist. I wouldn?t blame them for that assessment. It might seem accurate if you don?t know me.
But from where I sit, from inside my mind, I?m kicking and screaming and boiling over. I?m tired of fighting my body. I?m tired of hiding it. I?m tired of being so careful to present it in just the right way. I?m tired of hating what I see in the mirror. And I?m fucking tired of being a good girl.
I struggle with my appearance every second of every day. There isn?t a moment that goes by that I don?t feel deeply insecure about it.
I?m tired of fighting my body. I?m tired of hiding it. I?m tired of being so careful to present it in just the right way.
And yet, I know as an artist and student of art history that the human body is beautiful and that that?s a truth long recognized by every human being. In the right light, at the right angle, I can see beauty in my hips, my thighs. I can even see the appeal of my ass that my former partner loved so much. And of course, I know my boobs are hot as fuck, just like all boobs are.
I want to be seen. For the first time in my life, I want to be seen.
I don?t particularly care who sees me. Sure, of course I have hesitations about putting my naked ass out into the world. But really, truly, I don?t care who sees me or what happens. If someone took my photos and used them to shame me in my former or current professional circles ? I welcome it. Bring it. I would love to take a swing at that kind of sexist bullying.
And if my life takes a strange turn and I decide to run for public office only to find myself thwarted by the discovery of these photos?again, bring it. Let me fight this battle on behalf of all women, this patriarchal shadowboxing that attempts to prove we cannot lead or demonstrate virtue and honesty just because we are sexual beings. I welcome proving the world wrong.
And in the meantime, yes, I?ll be peppering the internet with my nipples. Because I can. Because I want to. Because this is my body and for the first time ever, I?m going to do with it what I please.
Yael Wolfe 2020
Be sure to check out Beth Singleton?s perspective on nude photos, as well as Meaghan Ward?s.
Want to get naked?