If you’ve struggled with body image issues then the chances are extremely good that you read the title of this article “How to Overcome Body Image Issues: Pose Nude” and immediately thought: “NO WAY! I could NEVER do that!” Well, I implore you to keep reading — but PLEASE, read the ENTIRE article!
I’ve been photographing artistic nudes for close to twenty years. I find nothing more visually interesting and beautiful than the human form. And, over that time, I’ve managed to form somewhat of a modestly respectable reputation as a photographer capable of creating artistic photographs of nudes that are visually appealing to a lot of viewers. Because of this, I’m often approached, entirely unsolicited, by people who want to pose nude for me. They like my work, and they would like to have similar such pictures of themselves. I’ll receive about one or two such inquiries in an average month, I’d say.
Now, it should go without saying that the people who contact me in such a way, and for such a purpose, are, for the most part, people who are quite comfortable with their own bodies and don’t possess a lot of emotional or psychological hangups about being nude in front of people whom they may not know so well. But, recently, I received, quite out of the blue, an e-mail from someone who was very different.
A young woman contacted me and, in her e-mail to me, she told me about how she had been the victim of intense bullying throughout most of her time in both grade-school and high-school. She believed that this had contributed a great deal to some fairly severe emotional issues which mostly manifested themselves in her suffering from severe body image issues. The problems she was dealing with continued to get worse and, during her time in college, developed into a serious eating disorder which culminated in her being hospitalized. At the age of just twenty-two years old she was taken by ambulance to a hospital emergency room and had to be treated for serious heart problems she was experiencing related to severe mal-nourishment.
She had, as it turns out, actually come pretty close to death. The good news is that this close call, as she explained, really woke her up and made her realize that being unhappy that her body didn’t conform to some ideal of beauty that even she, herself, didn’t agree should be an ideal, was not something worth losing her life over. During her recovery she resolved herself to conquering her problem.
At the time she contacted me she had been out of the hospital three years and, in that time, had been working very hard every day to overcome her disorder. And now, she said, she was ready to take it another step. She wanted to pose nude for photographs. In her mind doing so would be a kick in the face to the disorder that once had such control over her — a way of showing it that she, not her disorder, was the one in control of her life. She knew that just a short time ago her disorder would never have allowed her to reveal her nude body to a practical stranger — much less actually have it recorded in photographs. With her posing nude she was saying to her disorder: “You don’t get to allow, or disallow anything. I say what I do and what I don’t do. I say what I think and feel, not you — ME!”
I was incredibly moved by her story and her astounding bravery, and I told her, of course, that I would be exceptionally honored to photograph her. We made arrangements to meet before we scheduled a shoot — just to make sure we were absolutely comfortable with each other, and to discuss creative ideas regarding the photo shoot.
We hit it off well, and we hashed out some great ideas. We scheduled the photo-shoot for the following weekend. At the shoot she was, as is understandable, quite nervous for the first little while. And, there were a number of stops and starts as, at times, she began feeling overly self-conscious. But, no problem. We simply took a break from shooting, she put on her robe, and we’d talk for a bit until her confidence returned.
All in all, it was a little more slow-going than most shoots I do. But, it went surprising well. And, before too long, she did become quite comfortable and relaxed.
“It’s really strange how you kind of get used to it,” she said. “like, you kind of forget you’re not wearing clothes. At first it seems like the most uncomfortable and awkward thing in the world, but then, after a while, you’re sitting there and you remember ‘Hey! I’m naked! I forgot!’ and it’s not that big a deal.”
After the shoot was done she said to me that at the beginning of the shoot, when it came time to take her robe off for the first time, reaching for the robe’s belt and undoing it was one of the hardest things she had ever forced herself to do in her life. But, by the end of the shoot, she said, she didn’t really feel all that much different being nude than she would have had she been sitting there in her normal clothes.
A few days letter I had the pictures fully processed and I e-mailed her samples of each of the final photos. Upon receiving them, she called me on the phone. She was absolutely beside herself.
“They’re so beautiful!” She said, “I love them so much!”
She was overcome with emotion and actually bubbling with tears as she was speaking.
“It’s not fair,” she said. “I feel like I just want to go straight out and show them to everybody I know — even strangers on the street — but I can’t because I know some people I know will have their own issues with the nudity. But, that’s ok, because what I can’t believe is that I actually want to show them to people at all! I can’t believe it! I actually want to show these pictures of my body to people and say ‘Look at this! Look how beautiful I am!’. For most of my life I never thought I’d ever think that any image of my body could be beautiful.”
That photo-shoot took place just over a year ago, and I still keep in touch with her. We even did another shoot together, although a non-nude one this time, a couple of months later. The really great thing is, she now, believe it or not, regularly poses nude for life-drawing classes at a local art school. Seriously!
After the nude shoot she did with me that was the next goal she set for herself in her battle to overcome her body image issues. She went and modeled for a life drawing class where she sat, without a stitch of clothing on, in front of more than a dozen total strangers for more than an hour while they studied her body intently as they drew her. She struggled the first time through, apparently, but wanted to overcome it completely, so she did it a second time. She came to enjoy it somewhat, it turns out, and she’s been doing it fairly regularly.
It’s amazing to think about — this person who once, not so long ago, viewed their body as a hideous disfigurement that caused them shame and anxiety, that very same body now regularly serves as the inspiration and model for the creation of countless wonderful and beautiful works of art.
Now, if you’re reading this and you’re someone who is suffering from some body image issues, and if you find yourself in any way inspired by the story above and might possibly be thinking of pushing yourself to do the same thing, please allow me to issue to you a very strong warning:
I believe that following the example of the young woman in the story above can be immensely therapeutic for anyone wishing to overcome body image issues. BUT (and that is a strong *BUT*) it’s VERY important that you go about it in the correct way! VERY IMPORTANT! The thing is, I’m positive that for someone trying to overcome body image issues, a bad nude photo shoot experience can be exceedingly more damaging than a good nude photo shoot experience can be therapeutic. So, you must take great care! I can’t stress this enough.
It is of the utmost importance — the UTMOST importance — (underline the ‘utmost’ about 47 times) that you find a competent, reputable and highly skilled and talented photographer. And, make sure he or she knows why you want to sit for them, and make sure they’re comfortable with it, and sympathetic toward your condition. And, make sure they are highly experienced and skilled in artistic nude photography. For someone who’s attempting to overcome body image issues the LAST thing you want is to get back bad, unflattering pictures! It can damage you!
And, bad pictures are easy to get if the photographer doesn’t know exactly what he or she is doing! Think of the absolute most gorgeous, most physically perfect supermodel, movie star, or anyone else you can think of. You got someone in mind? Well, that person that you’re thinking of? I absolutely guarantee that there is an army of photographers out there who would make that person look like a tired, haggard, unattractive, disgusting wreck in their photos if they had the opportunity to shoot them. You DO NOT want that sort of a photographer. You DO NOT want to see those sorts of images of yourself!
What you want is to see yourself through the eyes of a skilled and talented artist. So, DO RESEARCH! I can’t stress the importance of this enough! DO RESEARCH! Don’t enter into this lightly, nor in a rush! Find photographers in your area that do fine art nudes — that are experienced in doing fine art nudes. And, LOOK at the work they’ve done. If it doesn’t look so good to you, stay away. You want to find a photographer whose work stuns you — that you look at and say “Wow! That’s beautiful!” You NEED to find someone with experience, skill and talent to work with. It’s absolutely imperative!!!
When you find someone who produces such work, contact them and tell them what you want to do and why you’re doing it. Be open and up front with them. It’s important that they know what to expect. And, if you can, try to get references — make sure they’re reputable. Also, it’s a good idea to set up a short meeting meeting with them if they’re interested in shooting you. Meet for coffee or something. You want to get a sense as to whether you’d be comfortable working with them. Do they seem like a patient sort? If, during the shoot, you begin to feel overwhelmed and wish to take a break and put your robe on, or even feel the need to end the shoot, do they seem like the type that is going to be understanding? And, ask them these things — ask them how they’d react in such a situation. Make sure they know everything about your condition, and that you know as much as you can about them.
But, MAKE SURE THEY DO GOOD WORK. If they’re talented, when you see the final images it will likely change your life forever in an extremely positive way. If they’re bad, it could do serious emotional damage to you in reinforcing your negative body image issues. So, please don’t just make yourself available to any old photographer whose work looks ‘ok.’ You need someone who produces work that is astounding.
So with all of that in mind, if you’re wondering how to overcome body image issues, this might be something you want to give serious consideration to. Keep in mind, of course, that I am not a psychologist, and I’m merely presenting an idea which you may not have thought of, and of which you may wish to consider. In my personal opinion, and my own experience, it can have great benefit for people trying to discover how to overcome body image issues. However, a strong piece of advice if you’re struggling with such issues is, of course, to seek out the council of a qualified mental health professional, if you haven’t done so already.