It’s been a year since “Exposition,” my first nude shoot was released. To celebrate this, here’s a collection off essays about the experience that were published in my third book “Stay Wild.”
The first time I remember being uncomfortable with my body I was 10. I don’t know if this was the beginning of my struggles with exposing my body, but it’s the first time I realised that what I was feeling mightn’t necessarily be normal.
It was an extremely sunny Sunday, and myself and my family were spending it at home. I was suffering from terrible eczema all over my torso. My Mam had spent years trying to find solutions to the problem, constantly bringing me to the doctor so I could get prescribed more creams to apply that would ultimately have no effect.
My Mam always believed that exposing my skin to the sun would help to heal the sores all over my body. I’m not sure if that was based on fact or myth but nevertheless, she insisted I go outside with my top off.
I had no problem following her orders. The rest of my family were sitting on our large decking and I had planned to sit out with them anyway. But when I sat down amongst them, I suddenly felt overwhelmed at the idea of exposing my body. I sat there for a few minutes, keeping my top on, but it wasn’t long before my Mam came outside and demanded I take it off. I grumbled a bit, but took the book I was reading and moved to a spot at the front of the house, away from any windows. I was happy sitting there for a few minutes, absorbed in my book and feeling the sun warm my face and bare chest.
But it wasn’t long before my Dad returned to cutting the grass like he’d been doing previously. He drove our lawnmower around the front of the house and even though I didn’t think he’d even spotted me, I immediately felt uncomfortable. I slipped my t-shirt back on again and returned to reading.
When my Mam eventually came to check on me, she was frustrated. I could see she was extremely confused as to why I was so resistant to expose myself in this way. I suppose in her mind, young boys weren’t supposed to be embarrassed about their bodies. In fact, you were supposed to have trouble keeping clothes on them.
She once again told me to take my top off and get some sun on my chest. I had no way of verbalising how I felt, no way of disclosing how uncomfortable I was at the request. I reluctantly obeyed her, taking off my top and walking around the garden, feeling slightly better when I was moving. It was easier to hide my chest from my parents and my sisters that way.
After about ten minutes I pulled my top on and retreated back into my house. My Mam, waiting in the kitchen, tried to convince me once again to go outside, feeling no doubt exasperated with my disobedience.
I stood there in the kitchen, facing her and told her no. I remember so clearly trying to communicate something to her with my eyes about how unhappy I felt with exposing my body. She looked at me for a second and sighed. She knew she was beaten. It was the first of many occurrences where I’d have to draw the strength to blatantly refuse to do something that I was uncomfortable doing.
After this, I was a lot more aware of the discomfort I felt with my body. I started sprinting from the bathroom to my bedroom when I was wrapped in nothing but a towel. I began trying to avoid the moment my Mam would ask me to strip down so she could apply the cream to any patches of eczema on my body, usually while she was watching TV and my sisters were also in the room. I began to get changed quickly, avoiding mirrors and feeling terrified that anyone would barge into my bedroom.
I had no idea what was happening to me, but I rationalised it my head, assuring myself that I was getting older and required more privacy. I was acutely aware that my Mam felt concerned about my strange tendencies when it came to my body, but unable to explain what I felt, I shut her down whenever she approached the topic. Something was going on with me, but I wouldn’t realise what it was until many years later, when I began to read literature on body image and eating habits.
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The last time that I remember taking my top off in public was when I was fifteen. I was on a holiday to Tenerife with my Mam and my sister and I remember feeling quite nervous when it was suggested that we go to a water park. I had spent a lot of the holiday sitting in the shade reading my book while the others sunbathed. I’ve always loved a sunny day, but never enjoyed sitting out in the sun very much.
I think I got into the pool very quickly on the first day, but then decided that it was not for me. My Mam, who was always concerned about my reluctance to be exposed, had watched me in the pool with knowing eyes. She’d watched the way I’d hurriedly dropped my towel and immediately jumped in (there’s no being afraid of the cold when you’re so much more afraid of people seeing your body). She’d watched the way I strategically held my arms and twisted my torso when it was on show, thinking it made me look thinner and less masculine. She’d watched the way I’d tense up and stare into space whenever they asked me to go into the pool after that day, waiting until they dropped the topic.
She could see what I was going through, and I hated it.
But the waterpark was a different story. I’d always adored waterparks and this one was supposed to be amazing. I decided to just do it, as much as it intimidated me.
I remember thinking about how much happier I would have been wearing a one-piece women’s swimsuit as I simply hated the feeling of my stomach being on show. We left our stuff with my Mam and her cousin (who lives in Tenerife, the reason for our trip). I felt so reluctant walking away from my t-shirt. I wanted so much to bring it with me and to at least clutch it to my chest. But I knew that it would be silly to hold it while going on all the different slides and rides.
If you’re wondering why I didn’t just wear my t-shirt, have you ever seen how much attention a person wearing a t-shirt in the water brings to themselves? If they’re fat, they’re mocked for wanting to cover their torso. If they’re not they’re mocked for being unnecessarily self-conscious. If they’re trying to avoid the sun, they’re mocked for not wanting a tan.
The last thing I wanted was to draw attention to myself. I think some people believe that an eating disorder is about attention, but I hated feeling as though anyone knew what was going on inside my head.
I’m not trying to act like I didn’t enjoy the water park, because I loved it. But anyone who’s been to a water park knows that it largely consists of queuing. Standing in a group of people. Nothing to cover my chest. Standing with my arms crossed over my nipples. That part was extremely uncomfortable. But when I went down a slide, all of that was forgotten. I enjoyed myself for the split second of adrenaline, before I’d plunge into the whirlpool and I’d immediately begin to worry about coming to the surface. I’d want to stay under the water, where no one could see me. But of course, you have to leave the plunge pool as quickly as possible or you risk being landed on.
The relief that I felt when we sat down to eat, or packed up to leave and I could finally cover myself again is beyond words. It was exhausting, always wondering whether people were looking at the tiny bit of flab that protruded over the waistband of my swimwear, or the slight patches of dryness on my arms and chest, or the flatness of my non-existent breasts.
After that experience, I didn’t take off my top again… until I was 19.
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On the 9th of March 2017, I uploaded a video entitled Exposition. In it, I posed nude alongside a monologue talking about my struggles with body dysmorphia. This is that monologue:
For a long time, I hated my body. From a very young age, I despised my body being exposed in any way and I covered up whenever I could.
Before I began transitioning, I had kind of accepted that as a state of being. But in the last year, I’ve grown more and more comfortable with being exposed.
For me, doing a nude shoot is huge. I’ve always thought that my body was too thin, or too masculine, or too ugly to expose. I’ve had eczema since I was a baby and that’s always made me insecure. But the fact that I didn’t have breasts or anything else that a female body is considered to have, has always been my main source of shame.
Growing up, the only way I thought I could be beautiful was through covering up. Covering up my flaws and my masculine features. Covering up my bones poking out and my blotches of dry skin. Covering up the things that I couldn’t help. For years, my body was seen by no one but myself.
I don’t think people should feel particularly empowered through getting naked, but that’s not what this is about. Accepting my body for what it is extremely empowering. I don’t have to wait until I’ve had surgery or been on hormones to be happy with the body that I’m in.
As a transgender person, I’ve often felt shame. But I no longer want to be ashamed about anything, especially this body that I’ve been blessed with.
It’s been through a lot. Starvation, hair removal, a skin disease. And it’s about to go through a lot more. Breast augmentation, hormonal changes, even gender reassignment surgery. As much as I want it to change, right now, as a pre-op individual, I’m proud to say that I can finally recognise its beauty.
And accepting my body for just what it is has been the biggest transition that I could go through.
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The idea to do a nude shoot came about when the agency that I’m with asked me whether I’d do a photoshoot where I’d have to pose naked. I considered it for a while and I almost did it but upon further thought I finally decided against it.
I realised that doing a nude shoot like that would be quite a big step for me and I thought that deserved a bit more thought than spontaneously putting myself forward for a shoot that would be curated by somebody else. I decided that a video might be a good way of going about it, where I could include a voiceover about my previous struggles with body dysmorphia.
When I’m in the early stages of planning anything like this, the jumping off point is always thinking about what would have helped me when I was suffering. I think when I first began my transition and was researching the steps involved, so much of it was geared towards the future.
It was as though all of this literature was telling you to be patient, or to keep in mind that you’d get to where you want to be, but none of it told me how to be happy where I was. As someone who was in the early stages of transition and someone who was pre-op, I never saw anyone like me being celebrated, only the people who were at the end of their journey. I know for a fact that it would have helped me to see someone who was comfortable in their own skin at the stage that I was at, and that’s what I wanted to do for anyone who was feeling anyway similar to me.
It was at this point that I had to bring other people onto the project, something that I felt quite nervous about. I reached out to a friend of mine who is excellent at videography and who I trusted to carry out my vision in a way that I’d be satisfied with. Thankfully, he was very receptive to the idea and he agreed to do it for me. I was much happier doing it with someone that I felt comfortable with because it’s so important to feel comfortable in these situations.
I wasn’t sure how I’d feel on the day. In the week before, after securing a beautiful room to film in and getting everything organised, I felt both nervous and excited. The night before, I read my book and went to bed early. I always try to stay as chilled out as possible before any shoots.
I woke up the next morning feeling kind of numb about the whole thing. There were no particular extreme sensations that I felt, I just felt like I had a job to do. I got the bus into town where I met the two friends that would be helping me with this. We were let into the beautiful vintage style room that I had booked and I was delighted with the entire setting.
I slipped my clothes off, got into my silk robe and was ready to shoot. The preparation was as simple as that. As I’d never really done something like this before, I relied on the direction of my colleagues an awful lot. I was extremely lucky to have two people working with me that weren’t at all shy of either my body or my honesty about my body dysmorphia.
I think we spent about an hour shooting and about an hour and a half reviewing and editing the footage. When I watched the footage back I felt speechless. It was incredibly moving to see myself in a light that I’d literally never seen myself in before and watching the footage was overwhelmingly liberating. In that moment I felt as though I’d truly released all of my insecurities and that was momentous for a person like me.
I’m not going to lie, I felt fear when I pressed the upload button on that video. It wasn’t a fear of being judged or being trolled. It wasn’t a fear of the possible negative repercussions of doing such a thing. It wasn’t even a fear of being so upfront and honest. I think it was a fear of moving on to a new chapter of my life.
Releasing that shoot was acknowledging that a certain side of me, the side that hated my body was gone, and that felt significant. It’s scary to feel as though you’re putting a chapter of your life to rest and that’s exactly how I felt.
Now, a few months later, I still think about that shoot a lot. I think out of everything that I’ve accomplished, it’s actually one of the things I’m most proud of. I’d like to think that it helped people and I’m sure it did. But if nothing else, it helped me. Even if the video had gotten a ton of backlash, I don’t think I could have felt any regret for releasing it. After battling with body image issues for so long, it would have been hard to feel anything but grateful for the experience.
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There is one thing that I feel the need to speak out about. Since publishing the video, I’ve had so many people reach out to me to tell me that they think I’m so brave etc. which I’ve obviously really appreciated. But these people usually follow it up by telling me how beautiful I look or how pretty I am or with other superficial compliments.
And I’m not trying to moan about this. It’s always really nice to receive compliments and I’m extremely grateful that people would be so kind to me, but I would hate to feel as though the message of my video was being overshadowed by something as meaningless as my attractiveness. And I don’t actually believe that was the case, but nevertheless I felt the need to clarify something.
You’re calling me brave for doing this and in a huge way, I was brave. I overcame a lot to film this video and that was extremely brave. But in another way I wasn’t brave, because I knew that I had a certain safety net to fall back on in the form of my looks.
I do think it’s really important to always check your privilege so I try to speak about how privileged I am whenever it’s necessary. I think now is an important time to acknowledge my “pretty privilege” because it’s very apparent in this video.
I am, for reasons beyond my control, what society considers to be beautiful. I’m white, I’m thin, I’m “convincingly female” and I have a combination of other features that our society glorifies.
And don’t get me wrong, there’s no part of me that’s ungrateful about that but at the same time it irritates me that I’ve been given such an advantage by something that I’ve done nothing to earn.
If I was a person of colour, trolls probably would have called me an array of disgusting names for exposing my body. If I was a fat woman, I no doubt would have been fat-shamed to an enormous extent. If my face and my mannerisms were more masculine, I would have received a ton of transphobic abuse for thinking that my body is beautiful.
This upsets me. As a society, we place way too much emphasis on looking and feeling attractive at all times. And I’ll admit that I’m quite a vain person who likes to look good, but I’d like to think that, in the grand scheme of things, it’s quite low on my list of priorities.
So although you can look at my video and acknowledge that I look attractive, you should also acknowledge that this makes me no better than anyone else. You should acknowledge that everyone is attractive if you look at them in the right way, I just happen to be the level of attractive that matters to society.
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I’m afraid that this was tough for my poor mother. My Mam is always very supportive of what I do but unfortunately, she found herself struggling to support my choice to do this. I can forgive this. Just because I believed so intensely in such a project, doesn’t mean I expected her to. My Mam has always, always had my best interest at heart and she found it difficult to see me so exposed.
One thing I love about my relationship with my Mam is our ability to have an open and honest dialogue with one another. She told me of her concerns. Her concern about my future and the inability to erase things once they’ve been put on the internet.
I told her about my motivation behind the video, and my desire to help with body image. Both other people’s and my own. In the end, we agreed to disagree. We respected each other’s stances and we moved on.
When it comes to my own creative expression, I don’t think I’ll ever ask for people’s permission. I understand that everyone might not always agree with my decisions, but sometimes you have to do something for yourself and not for anyone else.
If I’m entirely certain of something in the moment, just like I was with this project, I will always go with my gut. I don’t feel the need to censor myself publicly, but I understand that some people do. That’s okay. I think we should all have a right to decide what we put out in the world and I decided to do a nude shoot.
Whether you believe that’s stupid or courageous, the only thing you can do is respect my choices.
That’s all I ask.
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I was shopping with my friend the last time I felt ashamed of my body. I picked out a size 4 navy maxi-dress and took it to the dressing room with me. One thing about me is that I have quite an odd frame. Broad shoulders, skinny waist, large hips and tiny legs. This means that it’s difficult to judge sizing, particularly with dresses, until I’ve tried them on. That day, I stood in front of the mirror under the harsh lighting and began to strip off.
I was dressed quite casually, wearing skinny jeans under a long blouse and a slouchy cardigan. When I wear jeans, I don’t need to wear any of my binding, so I was wearing an ugly old pair of loose underwear that were comfortable, but less than flattering. I hadn’t removed the hair around my stomach and pubic area in a while and it was extremely exposed in the bright light.
My long legs were looking less than smooth with clusters of hair and dry patches of skin all up them. I had a hormone patch stuck to my abdomen and it reflected the light in an ugly way. I had done my skincare routine that morning but for some reason, the lighting of my dressing room seemed to make my skin look extremely dry and tired. Basically, I was less than happy with my reflection when I stopped to take it in, meaning I stripped off my clothes in a rush, not looking at myself before pulling on the tight dress.
The dress wasn’t extremely flattering. I wanted to cry when I took in the way my shoulders bulged out of the seams. The bottom flowed out beautifully, but the top looked stretched in an almost comical fashion.
My friend insisted upon seeing what the dress looked like and I felt very reluctant to step out of the dressing room. I was in a sweat, wanting to just rip the dress off.
But then I stopped and took a deep breath, jutting out my lower lip to blow cool air on my overheated face. I opened the curtain and stepped out of the dressing room. My friend simply cocked her head, took it all in and said it was nice.
I closed the curtain again and looked at myself. Nice. It was nice. It was tight on the top but that was through no fault of my own. I only had to go up a size or two.
I took a deep breath. “Calm down, it’s not the end of the world,” I reassured myself. I pulled the dress off and I stood there in my underwear, taking it all in. I forced myself to look at my body and admit that it was beautiful. I slowly turned every negative thought about it into a positive one. Only when my breathing was steady and my mind felt calmer did I let myself step back into my clothes and exit the dressing room.
There will be days when I’ll wake up and not feel the way I want to about my body. There will be challenges ahead when it comes to my self-esteem. There will be many different mental issues that I’ll battle with as a result of my previous body dysmorphia, but I’ll get through it.
If anything, I’ll always be grateful for Exposition. Because at times when I’m feeling masculine, or ugly, or insecure, I can always look back and remember what I overcame to film it. I can remember how proud I was of myself and how good it felt.
This shoot may have helped you in some way, but you’ll never know how much it both helped and will help me.
I discuss my nude shoot in the below video:
Read about when I accepted that I have an eating disorder here.