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Why These Nude Photos Allowed Me to Rebel Against Eating Disorders and Sexual Abuse

I don’t remember a time in my life I felt as though my body belonged to me. Maybe it began from the time I was born — a real-life plaything that my mother could dress up in the image of girly perfection she had created. Maybe it was when I was sexually abused by my stepgrandfather. Maybe it was ballet, where I was constantly battling my genetics to fit into a mold the ballet world had for the perfect ballerina. Or maybe it was growing up in a world where there are constant images of photoshopped women with perfect bodies and new diets promising that you too can have “the body of your dreams.” 

Wherever it began, it most certainly has been the overarching message I believed about my worth and about my value as a woman and a human being for the last 43 years.

I’ve binge-exercised, starved myself, taken laxatives, squished myself into shapewear, learned how to pose for the camera in just the right angle so that my stomach looks flatter, worn low-cut tops and short skirts, masked my face with makeup to hide my blemishes, curled my hair and used every chemical known to man to control my body from smelling in any way from head to toe.

I’ve counted calories and weighed every ounce of food I ate. I obsessively lived and breathed by what number was on the scale several times a day, challenging myself to lose just a little bit more. And then more. I’ve adhered to ridiculous food rules dictating which foods are “good” and which ones “bad,” depriving myself of more birthday cakes and yummy delights than I care to count. And I’ve stared endlessly into a mirror — proverbial “not-so-funhouse” mirror that appears to shapeshift from day to day, dictating what my mood will be by what the reflection in it showed me.

And frankly, I’m exhausted both physically and emotionally. You can only put your body and mind through so much torture and self-hatred before it begins to demoralize you and turns you into a shell of a being, devoid of anything but obsessive thoughts about how you compare to everyone else and what everyone else thinks about how you look. 

After years of therapy and working through my trauma, I finally decided that enough is enough. I don’t want my value dictated by my body any longer. I am so much more than this body. I am smart. I am funny. I am passionate. I care deeply about others and about our world. I am talented. But most of all, I’m human and that means my value is intrinsic to my very being.

What happened to me was not my fault. My body was violated for the pleasure of another both physically and emotionally. Society lied to me; it had me worshipping false deities that embodied unachievable standards. And, a deeply entrenched patriarchal culture has had me believe that objectification of my body was equivalent to my value. It’s not. And I won’t allow it to be.

So I rebelled in the best way I knew how. I took my clothing off not for the gaze of others or for sexual attention, but rather to reclaim it as mine.

sepia tone photo of contributor Monika Sudakov posing nude for mental health awareness. © Shanna Dugan

sepia tone photo of contributor Monika Sudakov posing nude for mental health awareness. © Shanna Dugan

It’s a strong body. It can do many remarkable things. It houses my being and it keeps me alive. And it may not be what anyone wants it to be, but it’s perfect just the way it is. Scars and all.

Photos © Shanna Dugan