I had my first naked photoshoot completely unplanned. The photographer was a Turkish-Dutch man I met through Tinder in Florence, Italy. Yes, my life is exactly as glamorous as those two sentences, so please keep reading and buy my book.
‘You are a unicorn, you are a mermaid’, he texted me, and I was out the door without shoes on. As I sat eating my cannelloni one hour upon meeting Mouhmid he asked me out of nowhere what my biggest fear was, and I knew that he was something else.
‘I am afraid of dying alone, and of not creating enough’, he told me without hesitation. His words stunned me into silence. I mumbled and tried to buy as much time as possible, so I would not burst into spontaneous tears. So that I would not squeeze him tightly and whisper back ‘Those are my fears too’.
That evening between starch-white bed sheets Mouhmid and I eye gazed in silence for what felt like hours. Excited at having met another creative soul, I suggested we caress each other for as long as we could without kissing. Forty-five minutes of tantric sex practice built our desires to the ultimate crescendo and the release was explosive.
The love-making of two artists is as poignant as poetry. Sex is art, but somehow someone took the art out of sex and sold it to the world in bulk as a cheap synthetic that sees emotion as the wrong ingredient. So much of our lives we create sex with those who do not understand us. But when we find another who enables our body, mind and soul to merge effortlessly, so that we glide and dance as one form, this is like nothing else of human experiences. I experienced this with Mouhmid.
The next morning before Mouhmid flew away he took some shots of me, rolling around naked in our white sheets. I had nothing to hide or be shameful of. Why would I? He had already been inside me. I didn’t get naked to convince others that I was sexy. I got naked to worship myself for being brave enough to revel in my own sexuality. When he sent me the photographs, I was delighted. Most people I know do not love their bodies completely. They spend their entire lives yo-yoing between acceptance and loathing. I had not gone to the gym in a solid twelve months and ate with absolute abandon – croissants and gelato daily. I had strange tan lines, unshaven hair and a bulging stomach. But in the images, I saw nothing but raw beauty, captured perfectly be a very talented artist.
Travelling in Europe I saw nudity in public for the first time. Oiled women lined the beaches with their faces hidden under hats and their nipples perky in the air. No one reacted because the female nipple is not sexualised in Europe like in South Asia. Many Europeans are progressive thinkers; their evolved approach to sexuality and understanding its distinction from the human body meant that the female form was freer there than in the rest of the world. This was a right I could definitely get used to.
I tossed up for a long time if I wanted to share the black and white nudes Mouhmid had taken on my social media. I had cousins on Instagram who would no doubt tell their mothers if they saw my nips while scrolling through their feed. It would create a scandal I imagined. Even if I was on the other side of the world my bare body on the internet (the internet for Gods’s sake!) would immediately shut down at least fifty marriage prospects. My grandmother might faint from shock. My parents might have to move houses. Was it worth it?
I decided that it was. One shocking image with a strong message could start a ripple through the judgemental minefields of the people I knew, trigger a shift in their thinking of what it meant to be a respectable woman. I was a grown-ass woman and I was finally beginning to learn what taking complete autonomy of my body, my thoughts and my life looked and felt like.
Myth: when a woman shows her naked body to the public, every hour and every year she has spent on becoming intelligent, resilient, powerful, empathetic and respected instantly vanishes and all she is reduced to is shameless, egotistical, pitiful and devoid of morals.
Fact: My nipple is no different from a man’s nipple. What a woman chooses to do with her body is absolutely no one’s business except her own. It is high time that we desexualise the female body.
My second naked photoshoot happened in a desert oasis in the conservative Muslim country of Morocco. The photographer was my American filmmaker roommate. We hid between palm trees in the arid deserted landscape and constantly checked over our shoulders so that we would not get arrested. Mina and I had formed a beautiful friendship in the month prior. We shared the same values on feminism, creativity and self-discovery. We cooked cheese omelettes for each other and smoked joints on our balcony.
Mina knew that part of my artistic exploration was in stripping my external layers to examine my body; to de-mystify the act of being woman and being naked. Gradually I shed my layers in the desert over the span of an hour as Mina directed me. I not only felt incredibly comfortable, I felt enormously free and the act of becoming naked felt so right. It was like my body knew at a cellular level, from a primal understanding, that being naked was natural. And anything so natural brings with it surges of endorphins that tingle in all the right places and radiate from your heart to your smile.
I laughed and rolled around covered in golden particles, I ran up the sand dunes, I gazed at my armpit hairs lovingly, and I transfigured into the camera lens with serenity and confidence.
The photos came out gorgeous. My golden body blended into the landscape seamlessly. I was a part of the desert; the desert a part of me. I was taken aback at how my eyes pierced through the images to show so many emotions; my innate power, my hunger, my desire, and my unabashed claim over my imperfect body. The viewer didn’t have even a glimmer of doubt that I was the subject, not the object of the image. There was no faltering that the woman cupping her bare breasts had autonomy and complete control of her flesh.
My third naked photoshoot happened in my parents’ home in Australia with a male South Asian photographer, a stranger. I invited him to photograph me with a clear vision and concept of what I wanted to embody. I had several lingerie set changes, my hair and makeup done, and cigarettes, strawberries and crystals for extra appeal. I felt more like a model than myself. I was on a set rather than in nature. I was posing for perfection rather than unravelling for vulnerability.
This photoshoot occurred at a very different mental and emotional state than my first two which had been during a life-changing journey that had freed me, enlightened me, and brought me to my core. Since returning home I had fallen into depression, gained a lot of weight and had my heart broken. I felt deeply wounded in my everyday life so I orchestrated a glamorous photoshoot oozing with sexiness to reconnect with my well of self-love and body positivity.
It worked to a certain extent; I was very happy with the photographs which reminded me that I was sexy as fuck and gave me something to reminisce on when I was eighty, sitting on a rocking chair with back problems.
The bigger catalyst these photos served as was in amplifying my words about female sexuality in South Asia, about the taboo of sex and the constant judgement and criticism we face in being confident sexual beings and pursuing our desires. I was able to connect with hundreds of women and the badass goddess we all have living inside us that wants to scream- I have desires, I have cravings, and I am sick of being sexualised and objectified. My body belongs to me, not to the eyes of strangers on the street, not to the corporations selling underwear, not to my parents nor my partner. Only me.
Sharing my flesh through the artform of photography taught me that the power of women does not come from the image we project of ourselves with the formula of beautiful clothes, shoes and hair. There is potency in being raw. People are terrified of a woman who is unapologetically in love with herself as she sits butt naked on an empty bed. Let’s go scare more aunties and men.
The author is a 26 year old Nepali-Australian queer writer currently based in India. She’s working on her debut book Wanderess, a travel memoir about a fifteen-month solo journey she embarked on across fifteen countries across Europe, Africa and Asia. The book delves into her journey navigating between her South Asian identity and a desire for liberation, exploring romance, sexual conquests and self-love, finding a purpose in life and understanding what a global womanhood looks like.