By: Giselle General
CONTENT WARNING: Sexual Violence, Sexual Assault
One’s bedroom should be a place of rest, escape, peace and comfort, after a long day of exhaustion, activities and responsibilities. The darkness of the night should be an opportunity of calm solitude, an end of a long day, a pathway to a new morning with the hope that the new day will bring about new adventures and experiences. One’s womanhood and the journey to become one can be uncertain and confusing, but should be one that is filled with discovery, curiosity, and optimism, as one transforms physically into adulthood.
Sexual assault, rape, abuse, molestation, however you want to call it, regardless of how it happened, not only defiles one’s outlook in their life and their bodies, but also taints one’s soul with an indescribable amount of fear and pain.
There were roadblocks to be had, that dragged on and weighed me down for months and years, and clouded the vision of myself, my body, my behaviours, and motivations. From having difficulty articulating how I’m feeling physically, emotionally, and sexually in my romantic life, to feeling uninformed and afraid to learn about reproductive health. From nightmares about being raped with scenarios more gruesome than what I have experienced, to daydreaming while taking transit on what I would do if I get assaulted again, but this time in public.
The journey to healing started online, thanks to the increased discussions about sexual assault. Simultaneously, my current relationship played a huge role, from being believed after I shared my story, to having a voice and being heard when talking about issues related to sexual health and sexual activities. And then a few years ago, the healing became more professional-based, when I finally went to therapy to address the mental and emotional entanglements caused by this particular traumatic event, as well as others.
But there was one thing I mulled about for a very long time, and that is addressing how I view my physical body. The conventional assumption of “she must have looked or dressed a certain way which is why she got assaulted” is one of the key messages I wanted to debunk in my mind and heart. Mind you, during the assaults, typically I was wearing pajamas and clothes of my deceased parents as my sleepwear back then. This is the biggest reason why this assumption enrages me.
Finally, after some time hemming and hawing, browsing through several photographer’s websites, and convincing myself that my budgeting skills are on track, I finally booked the appointment. I chose for the photoshoot to be done on a rented studio, with a wide variety of backdrops for various effects. Many of the backdrops depicted typical parts of a house, just more glamorous looking: the bedroom with pristine sheets, a fancy bathroom with a clawfoot tub, elegant couches and plush chairs, and brick and pastel painted walls. I purchased a few outfits to help me have a theme in the photos, I had my hair done by a hairstylist but chose to not have makeup on. Finally, I told the photograher I’m okay with being a bit of a daredevil with some surprise poses.
It was hard to articulate how enjoyable and empowering it is to feel calm while practically semi-nude in front of a stranger. It is particularly freeing given that my sense of trust was broken by someone who is definitely not a stranger. I felt a bit awkward when I was asked to do certain movements, because part of the approach is not holding still for a certain pose, but instead, to do things such as move your arms and hips in a sexy way while standing, or play with your hair while imagining that you’re feeling like a superstar on the bed right now. But soon enough, the awkwardness transformed into playfulness.
The biggest surprise of all for me, is how I looked like in the photos she captured. When I was doing a ‘movement pose’ such as walking into the door ready to ‘have some fun’, she was pressing the shutter button non-stop while saying ‘oh wow! yes that’s good!’. Fierce, confident, alluring, vixen, all womanly, and not even needing to act like a skinny model while doing so.
When I picked up the printed photobook that was part of my package, I had a bit of a chat with the photographer. I was amazed at how many of the clients the photographer had, were indeed, survivors of sexual violence. Our conversations touched on perception of women in general, the “male gaze” and how it impacts our own perception of ourselves.
In the very visual way we live our lives these days, I figured, using that to my advantage is worth it. It was pretty neat to turn something used to objectify women, professionally photographs, into an opportunity to challenge unhealthy views about one’s self. I feel inclined to do this again, perhaps in five to ten years, to celebrate any transformations in my body, while celebrating my personhood and womanhood. This is something I definitely would encourage other people to consider, particularly if their trauma affects their outlook of their physical bodies and their vision of themselves.