I am a survivor and Niagara boudoir photographer healing from my trauma through boudoir photography.
My own relationship with my body and self-image isn’t one that is easily explained, but I will try my best.
I was a toddler.
I was too young to have memories of the abuse starting when my older half-brother groomed and sexually abused me to the point of believing it was normal, and that it was ‘love’. I was nurtured to like and seek the attention. He used to pay me in nickels, dimes and quarters as a reward, knowing full well that I didn’t know either the value of money or of breaking my silence. My mother was alerted to the abuse by my younger brother. I still cringe remembering the fear and confusion of having to point to the ‘private parts’ on the teddy bear that a police officer was holding. After being given all of the resources to help and protect me, my mother chose to turn a blind eye, teach me to forgive and forget, and she left me a sweet flower to be picked to pieces on and off again until I was 12 years old. Together, the two of them, those who were supposed to protect me, taught me that my body was meant for the use, exploitation and enjoyment of others, and that I wasn’t worth feeling the security or the protection that is awarded to most children as cherished memories.
I was in grade seven.
My narcissist mother started telling me that if I ate too much, I would “get fat”. Her want for a beautiful daughter mixed with the dietary needs of a growing girl spurred her constant, negative comments about my developing body and extended to physical padlocks on the cupboards and refrigerator with a key to both around her neck; the duplicate was given to my brother for his use at his leisure. I was a pre-teen when I was taught that my body is disgusting if it doesn’t fit a certain bill, and that men are awarded the right to food and feel comfortable in their bodies. I was 14. With the growing popularity of search engines and online resources, I learned to binge and purge like it was a university degree. I knew all of the tips, tricks and methods, and paired with my inability to freely access food at home, I would binge when it was available, starving for it before it was taken away again, feel guilty for my want and then throw up because I quickly learned to associate feeling ‘full’ with being ‘fat’. It was the beginning of a battle that I will always be waging with my mind.
I was newly separated from my husband.
At 30 years old, with two little girls and my 20’s swallowed up in a ten-year marriage, I eagerly hit the dating scene with the naivety of a puppy when an acquaintance from a teen-years wedding asked me out for a dinner date. He had changed in the ten years I had seen him. No longer the scholar attending McMaster for literature, he was now a concrete finisher for an industrial company in Toronto. He invited me up to Newmarket for dinner and bowling, and with the discovery that I was heading further north the next day to pick up a friend, he hospitably invited me to stay the night at his house. To save me making the trip again the next day. Just as a friend. I’d have my own guest room with ensuite bathroom. He understands and respects that I am not interested in ‘hooking up’. I was relieved that I could stay and have my own space, and I accepted his offer. We went back to his house. His daughter that he shared custody of, had toys neatly organized on shelves, and a beautiful pink bedroom. A lot of her belongings the exact same of what my own daughters owned. He showed me a photo album of his university trip to Europe. He drank. We talked about books. He drank. He asked if I would like to watch a movie. It was late. He sat on the couch. I sat on the other side of the couch, a few feet away. We didn’t even make it past the opening credits before he was full weight on top of me. Kissing me, as I politely said, “Let’s watch the movie”. Then he grabbed my hand, pulled me up off of the couch, and led me down the hallway, as “No!” was stuck somewhere past the reach of my vocal cords. I laid helpless in the dark, in a room, in a house, and a city I did not know, limp and tuning out slimy words coming out of his mouth, and the pain both physical and mental, as I lay there, numb, begging for it to be over. I made an excuse to leave earlier than planned the next morning, and after politely accepting he made me vegan-friendly snacks and a coffee for the road, he hugged me and said, “It’s too bad that you’re leaving so early. I was really looking forward to taking advantage of you a few more times before you left.” I spent the rest of the day on my best friends couch, in a fetal position shaking from the inside out, dreading putting on a happy face and going home to my little girls. A very close ‘friend’ told me the next day that by accepting his invite to stay in his guest room, I was giving him consent. She looked at me and laughed while telling me, what did I expect? (We’re not friends anymore.) I learned that day that consent isn’t always verbal, it is the way you don’t embrace the other person back, and the turning of a head in grimace with eyes closed tight while you wait for it to be over. Like the little girl I had once been, I froze and lay quiet and remembered that my body was to be used and discarded.
These are hard stories to tell: I am a survivor of childhood sexual, physical, emotional and dietary abuse. I am in what the National Eating Disorder Association refers to as the ‘Maintenance Stage’ of bulimia. These are pieces of my life that I am learning to say out loud with minimal shame, because I know that keeping them secret gives them power over my life, and life is much too short for that.
I used to look at my body as something to be used, and offered up, because that is what I was taught it was meant for- not for me to revel in or feel good about. I was taught to abuse my own body to appease someone else’s perception of beauty.
The turning point for me was when I started doing boudoir self-portraiture. I had seen some similar portraiture online and thought I would give it a try. I’ll admit, I wanted ‘sexy photos’ to send a certain someone, but in the end, the images ended up being more for me than for anyone else in the world.
You see, boudoir is more than photographs, or even ‘sexy pics’. Boudoir photography in itself is so much more about body-positivity and art, but more importantly a journey of self-acceptance and healing. It is raw, vulnerable and poetic. I witnessed my own transformation take place as I no longer looked at my imperfections and instead found myself focussed on the parts of myself that made me feel feminine, strong, sexy and empowered. Boudoir photography brought me liberation from all of the negative feelings I had been given and sown throughout my life. In the oddest of ways, it has brought me peace.
I’m not saying that boudoir is the cure for trauma, but I can and will feel confident in saying that it is definitely a chapter that I have found powerful in my own recovery.
Making other souls like mine feel worthy of feeling sexy and beautiful for themselves first, is my goal, joy and passion. Removing self-doubt and helping turn perceived flaws into strength and beauty, sass and a sparkle to eyes is what I live for. By doing so, it means that my trauma has been turned into something that I can use to liberate others who may share the same or different struggles.
Boudoir has taught me that investing in myself, has dividends beyond what I could have ever imagined possible.
I hope that reading all of the above has brought you a sense of self and power. I hope that if you found yourself identifying with some of the above in experience or in feeling, that you are able to read it and also find hope and healing.
We are not victims for sharing our stories. We are survivors setting the world ablaze with our truth. We never know who needs the light we have to offer, or to borrow our raging courage. If you’ve read this far, thanks for listening.