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health + well-being

Baring It All

December 19, 2016
My ex-boyfriend threatened to release my nudes after I ended it. This is what happens when my own sexual empowerment turned into sexual exploitation.

Illustrations by Quinn Rockliff

 
 
After waiting four months too long to break up with my boyfriend, I finally got the courage to end things…only they didn’t end. Weeks after the breakup I still received texts and phone calls wanting to meet up and talk, and it all culminated in to one threat: “I’m going to send your nudes to your parents.” I had seen the Jennifer Lawrence iCloud leak, I’ve heard of revenge porn, but this, this was new.
 
My reaction was what shocked me the most; I wasn’t scared, I was angry. My first instinct was to be mad at him, then – I was mad at myself. Had I not made it clear that these pictures were not his to do what he pleased with? Is it not strikingly evident with my naked poses and impeccable lighting that these pictures are mine? Can he not see I am capturing a moment of comfort, where my body is sexy to me? And what kind of world do we live in where my own body, and pictures I’ve taken of my body, can be used as a weapon against me?
 
 

 
 
Naturally, I waited. I waited to see if he would do it, and then I waited to see what else he was capable of. Eventually, the texts stopped, I no longer ran into him on campus, and he did not leak my nudes. As one does after a breakup, I tried to move on, learn how to piece myself together without him. That I could do. What I couldn’t do was shake the feeling that something was taken from me, and that I needed to reclaim it.
 
Nudes are a tricky topic, like anything surrounding a woman’s sexuality, the dichotomy of being sexually empowered versus sexually exploited is always hard to understand. It took me a long time to be comfortable with my body and sexuality, and it took me an even longer time to learn its okay to be comfortable with it. When I take a picture of myself naked, I feel good; I am sexually empowered. When I send that picture to someone, I am giving that person the chance to see me feeling sexually empowered.
 
 

 
 
The problem lies in the mentality that the image is now theirs, and that my consent is irrelevant now that the file is in their possession. It’s so easy to forget about consent when it comes to images. It’s easy to click on the Jennifer Lawrence photo leaks out of curiosity, but I now think twice. We are taught our bodies are for boys to look at, there for the taking, and ready for consumption. We learn to condition ourselves to be attractive for others, not for ourselves. We adopt the mentality that it is selfish and provocative to take pictures of yourself naked, for yourself, but expected to take pictures for others upon demand. And ultimately, we are blamed when those images are shared without our consent.
 
I wanted to show myself that I was not to be blamed. We see Kim Kardashian and Em Rata sharing their own nudes, middle fingers in the air, and while my confidence has not yet taken me there, I have something to learn from them. I turned to painting, a new found hobby, as a release. I thought if I painted the beauty of my naked body, of pictures I have taken for myself, no one could take that away from me. So I borrowed a family friend’s projector and bought the biggest sheets of watercolour I could find. I asked my friends to send me photos where they felt sexually empowered, and no one turned me down. From butt selfies to friends chilling naked in bed with their cat, here we all were – carefree and sexy. We were reversing the voyeuristic appeal of so many images of women naked. These nudes were shameless. Almost two years later and I am still painting.
 

 

I don’t feel angry anymore; I feel like I am working through something here, something bigger than one empty threat from a failed relationship. The constant anxiety I once felt surrounding my own sexuality, especially others’ interpretation of it – left me in a constant battle of how to act. I am slowly learning there is nothing to hide, loving your body and sharing it with others is a part of life. The boyfriend? He’s long gone, and I doubt he knows anything about this. But, I guess I would say thank you, thank you for doing everything wrong so I could learn how to feel sexy without you.
 

Thank you for reminding me that my body is mine to share, mine to love, and mine to take as many nude mirror selfies as I want.

Quinn Rockliff is an artist and student living in Toronto. Her interests include finding new ways to celebrate female sexuality through art and petting dogs. Follow her on Instagram to see more of her work!