‘Why Naked Photos Made Me Love My Body Again’

After she was raped on holiday, Jodie, 28, struggled to deal with the shame and disgust she felt towards her body. Now, as part of Marie Claire's #BREAKFREE from Shame campaign, she's sharing her story...

‘When I was 18, I was raped by the manager of a hotel I was staying at, in Turkey.

Before it happened, I felt happy, confident and beautiful. I loved my figure, I wore tight tops and I flirted a lot. By the time I arrived home from Turkey a week later, I’d started a slow but steady decline into a woman who felt ashamed of, annoyed by, and disgusted with her body.

My boobs, which I had been so proud of, suddenly represented everything I hated about myself. The rapist had touched them. A lot. It didn’t help that they were a part of my body that strangers would look at – that boyfriends wanted to feel. As for me, well, it’s hard when you want to hide from something that’s literally in front of you, all of the time.

Over the years, things got worse. I met a boy and we fell in love, but I flinched if he touched my breasts, tensed up if he went near them and felt embarrassed by my body in general. Sex was tough – I struggled to show him how I felt about him physically, and I know he found that hard. As our relationship began to fall apart, I realised I had to do something. I wanted to overcome my disgust, my rape and my negativity. For us and for him. Mainly for me.

About a year before, a friend had shown me an article about a woman who had naked photos taken after she was sexually abused. After seeing the photos of herself, she saw what everyone else saw – a beautiful, confident and sexual woman. I wanted that. I needed that. So I decided to copy her idea.

It took a few weeks of psyching myself up until I found the courage to email Naomi Wood. I’d worked with her at a previous job, trusted her completely and loved her work. Without going into too many details, I briefly explained why I wanted to do this, and she replied immediately saying she wanted to be involved. Which is how – just a few weeks later – I found myself stepping out of my friend’s bathroom wearing my favourite scarf, a completely fake look of nonchalance and absolutely nothing else.

[READ MORE: ‘How I Coped When My Best Friend Was Assaulted‘]

Naomi, meanwhile, carried on setting up her camera and rearranging the room for the first photo – chatting away as if everything was totally normal. And then suddenly, it worked. Being naked was totally normal. Yes, my boobs were on show (and everything else) but so what? I realised that my body was just another body. Nothing to be ashamed of or embarrassed by, or even proud of. It was just a body. As Naomi loaded film into her camera, we started talking about the rape. What had happened, how I’d felt, how it had utterly changed my life.

Naomi used a film camera, rather than digital, so we would spend several minutes setting up each shot – moving around furniture as she told me where to stand, how to tilt my head or if I needed to relax my mouth. We’d already discussed what I wanted the photos to represent: I wasn’t trying to look sexy. I just wanted to look like me. The me with the spots on my back, the rash on my bikini line and the legs only shaved up to (and rarely including) my knees.

I should probably mention here that I hate having my photos taken. So, to avoid posing (which makes me overwhelmingly uncomfortable), I stood or sat, looking straight down the lens. Whenever I got too stiff or self conscious, Naomi would casually get me talking and I relaxed back into it.

And it felt amazing. Every now and then I would get this rush of ‘what am I doing?’ and my hands would start to shake, and then – just as quickly as it came – the feeling would pass. We took a few photos in the garden, with neighbours’ windows overlooking, and I realised I didn’t care if anybody saw me. ‘This is my body and I’m choosing to do this,’ I thought.

[READ MORE: ‘Why I Live-Blogged My Rape‘]

Back inside, we warmed up with a cup of tea and chatted for a long time about rape and how it affects you for a long, long time after the event has passed. How unfair it is that it seems to never-endingly take over your life, and how hard you have to work to move past it; to try and be happy and carefree. But during the conversation, it dawned on me how much I had moved on. How strong I was. How much I had overcome. I realised how confident I could be, and how much I actually liked my body.

Finishing the tea, Naomi asked if I wanted to carry on taking more photos but I realised that I’d achieved everything I set out to. Sure, maybe some more photos would be nice, but I didn’t need them. Because it wasn’t digital, I hadn’t seen what I looked like, and it didn’t matter. Two weeks later, she posted me a handful of the best ones. The woman in the photos is beautiful and she is confident and she is flawed. But she is brave, and she is me.

It’s easy to hate yourself – to blame yourself – after sexual abuse, and God knows I’ve done that. I still have moments when my blame and hatred is directed at myself, rather than the man who did this to me. But they are less often.

Unfortunately my boyfriend and I didn’t make it. But it’s OK. I’ve realised this wasn’t ever about him. It was about me and my body. My amazing, brilliant body.

But best of all, I love my boobs again. They are mine, and they are fabulous.’

Find out more about Marie Claire’s #BREAKFREE campaign here, or read Sara’s story about how she was made to feel when she reported sexual assault to the police.

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