Five foot four, naked & nowhere to hide

Few things are scarier than taking one’s clothes off.

A 3-hour car journey up to Cambridge. The dark, grey skies are chucking oceans of rain on dangerously busy roads, and it’s like the planet is telling me:

Where are you going you stupid idiot, seriously? You are going to a photoshoot, A PHOTOSHOOT?! How bloody narcissistic are you??

And that’s how I feel most of the way, uncomfortably shifting on my seat. Instead of excitement, my body hurts, and my usual over- apologetic self is sorry for the inconvenience, sorry for the traffic, sorry for the rain. Mostly sorry for being such an arrogant silly girl — not even a woman. What a lovely inner monologue.

Last Friday I stood in front of a stranger and took my clothes off. I let her see all of my tattoos, my breasts, my awkward “I’m nekkid” smile, and have her take some pictures.

Like almost every person on this planet, I’ve had a complicated relationship with my body. As a kid, it was that thing that allowed me to run long distances and win Judo competitions, but occasionally let me down through a dodgy disposition to dizzy spells and embarrassing sleepwalking.

As a teenager I developed an eating disorder, in part due to years of soaking up magazines aimed at teenagers, full of reasons to lose weight, useless diets to get rid of cellulite — that’s never going anywhere- photo spreads with impossibly thin models. I’d stand in front of the old mirror we kept in my parents’ room, stare at my thighs and squeeze them. They were too wide. I wanted thinner arms and a narrower waist. It never occurred to me that the shape of my body was defined by solid bones and that no matter how many numbers I erased from the scales, I would retain my pear-shaped silhouette and never look like Kate Moss.

Kate Moss by Corinne Day, source Vogue

Not eating what was on my plate meant having power over my weight. I now understand I did it to regain a sense of control. I had suffered a harrowing emotional and physical incident as a child, the only way I could feel safe was by starving myself.

Barely 15, and not only did I despise the skin I came in, but I had began torturing the crap out of it.

In my twenties I joined a gym and sought to sweat and lift weights almost daily. Unsurprisingly, by my early thirties I had a back injury and walked with a limp. I studied Pilates and Yoga and was forced to look at my body in a more patient and kinder way.

A couple of years ago, I was diagnosed with endometriosis, and my body collected the surgery scars that came with this illness. Sometimes I look pregnant even when I carry no baby inside. Others my limbs hurt for days, for no apparent reason.

Even though nowadays my body is a battleground, it’s one I handle with care. It sometimes returns the favour in a very karmic fashion by bleeding for weeks, leaving embarrasing stains and putting me through excruciating pain. A few weeks ago, in Brooklyn, I lost so much blood I was almost taken into ER. Because of the occasional blood loss, I can suffer from anaemia and bruise very easily. When I walked into the photographer’s studio last week, I asked her not to photoshop my scars, my burn marks — I have a tendency to hug scorching hot water bottles — my cellulite, nor my bruises.

Nervously, I cracked a couple of jokes about undressing in front of a huge window, looking out on the street outside. Alexandra Cameron, the photographer, uses mostly natural light, so of course, I had to stand near the source of said light, with my nipples al fresco. My thoughts went back to Brooklyn, to my room up on the 5th floor, overlooked by hundreds of other windows. And I remembered undressing every night, before getting into bed, and how surprisingly easy that had felt.

I wonder what makes us hate the body that carries us. It’s probably a long list of scary moments from childhood, plus traumas acquired in high school, a careless comment from a stranger, or who knows what.

I look at the pictures Alexandra took of me and happily see, not Kate Moss, but me.

I honestly don’t know when I stopped hating the skin I inhabit. I don’t remember having a light-bulb moment, or a sudden Eat-Pray-Love realisation. All I know is that I am truly sorry to myself. No one has been a crueler bully to my thighs, wide nose and big mouth. The biggest apology of my life goes to my arms, my legs, my boobs, my face… my self.

Thank you so much for reading, it means the world to me. Feel free to leave me some love in the form of claps, or buy me a coffee. x Jessie