“The Struggle With My Body and My Identity”

CW: gender dysphoria, body anxiety
I have always struggled with my gender identity. As a child I would have dreams that I was the opposite sex and wake up disappointed when that wasn’t the case. Sometimes I’d dream that I could change between a man and a woman at will and, again, be sad to find myself in my regular old body when I awoke. This struggle with my identity has had a huge effect on my relationship with my body.

I struggle with a pretty bad case of body image anxiety. I’ve been getting better over recent months, but it’s still a struggle. Sometimes it’s really bad, sometimes I do okay. There are ups and downs. Due to a lack of decent sex education, I didn’t know that I would start to grow body hair as I entered my teen years. When I did, I thought maybe it was some weird anomaly. I was scared for people to see my armpits or legs and especially frightened of anybody ever seeing my pubic hair. But in school, everybody has to get changed together and it’s hard to keep your privacy. At times I was made fun of for being too hairy. At times I was made fun of for being too hairless. I wasn’t doing anything to my body, yet it was still disgusting in the eyes of these other people and in contradictory ways. It really hurt me. At the same time, I was struggling with my weight and with comments about that too, I tried to eat less to lose weight. In the space of a few months I lost five stone and didn’t notice. I was underweight. I hated my body so much.

All the while, I was figuring out my identity. I wanted to be very feminine, but at he same time, being too feminine and not very masculine didn’t feel quite true to my nature. I realised that what I really wanted to be was gender neutral. In many ways, I was very much a woman, but in others, I was very much a man. Realising this, it’s hard to know how to present yourself. Society says men have to look this way and women have to look that way. It makes things very difficult for those who don’t fit into either category.

But though this has been a rather negative piece of writing overall, I’d like to end on a positive. I wholeheartedly agree with the idea of nudism: it reflects a healthy perspective on one’s body and it’s good to see the human body desexualised in a world which is always so keen to sexualise it. The human body is beautiful in all its shapes and sizes. Reading some of the stories here on Project Naked have made me feel a little better about myself. They’ve given me a few more drops of confidence. Below is a picture of my naked body. Yes, I know I’m concealing myself and that it’s blurry and not very good – but that’s not the point. That picture was so hard for me to take. I was shaking as I took it, because I knew I’d be posting it publicly and others would see it.. But the point is, I did do it. While I would say that there are a thousand and one things wrong with my body, I also know, in my heart that I am wrong. I am beautiful just like everybody else. If I can push myself to do this, maybe I can push myself to see the beauty of my body. If you’re struggling with the same thing, I hope you can see your own beauty one day too.


“Feminism isn’t all about women. Feminism fights for the equality of ALL PEOPLE.”

CW: mentions of rape, sexual harassment, sexist language in the context of a critique

‘Feminist: A person who believes in the social, political and economic EQUALITY of the sexes.’

Every morning, I like to start my day by having a quick look on social media. I have a lot of political and science groups on there that always post new articles, and as a sufferer of MS I am also part of a few support groups. But recently, I have noticed an increase in guys posting ignorant/sexist and misogynist memes on there also. Some even post long rants at the absurdity of women campaigning for equal rights, “What about men’s rights?” they argue.

In fairness to them, how can they possibly understand what it’s like to be a woman on a day-to-day basis? How are they expected to understand what it feels like to be talked down to, leered at, judged more harshly and treated differently more-or-less every day? And how can they grasp what it’s like to be female when they can go to a pub/club without any expectation of being harassed, groped… or worse?

I know one friend who was urinated on by a guy on a night out. His response when questioned by a bouncer… ‘She had a dirty face and I thought she might like it’. Myself and nearly all my female friends have been groped so harshly (both bottom and breasts) that they bruised and I know of one friend who lost her mates on a night out and was dragged down an alleyway and raped… she was 17. She hasn’t been to a club since.

Outside of the club scene, two of my mates were raped when they were 13 by men they trusted, another at 15, and another was raped by her boyfriend when she was 21. Oh, and none of these men were held accountable for their actions (lack of evidence, fear of not being believed, invasive medical examinations, recalling the event at the police station and reluctance to go up in court to relive the event again as well as being interrogated and made accountable for their alcohol consumption and/or clothing choice – adding to that the fear of them being found not guilty).

How many men can honestly say they’ve had firsthand experience of any of this? How many of their friends have horror stories of being sexually abused by women? It exists, but nowhere close to the level that women experience it from men; for a woman it’s almost normal.

In the UK today, that is what most women have to put up with. In other areas of the world, the reality of living as a woman is truly terrifying in comparison. Forced marriages (often underage), genital mutilation, breast flattening and in some areas women are murdered or forced into slavery/marriage just for wanting an education!

Therefore, I fully stand by the women’s marches recently. A lot of people have been posting on social media stating ‘it’s a waste of time’ and ‘what about other countries where women are stoned to death or face genital mutilation?’ and one that strikes a particular chord with me: ‘you have equal rights, what are you marching for?’

The western media focused on the inauguration of President Trump as the main reason for the marches (which was the case in America) but most men and women were marching to protest the inequality women face all around the world. Officials reported around 673 marches worldwide, including countries like India, Nigeria, Columbia, Iraq, Ghana, South Africa, South Korea and many, many more. Each country marched to highlight the inequality faced in their respective countries. Some marches also included members of the LGBTQ+ community who are also campaigning for equal rights.

In regards to the other comments, according to western law: yes we (more or less) have equal rights.  But women are still treated very differently to men, whether it’s positive or negative – we just want to be treated equally. We are fed up of some men making inappropriate comments, both in and out of work. We are fed up of being groped by men in clubs, then getting called things like ‘frigid lesbian’ when we kick off about it. We are fed up of being ignored, talked down to, mocked and judged. We are not allowed to be sexual, in the way that men can be. There are a plethora of negative words to describe women who are promiscuous (slag, slut, whore etc.), but how many negative words are used to describe men who sleep around…? None. They are described as a ‘stallion’ or a ‘ladies’ man’ – both with positive connotations.  According to some men, if we complain about being oppressed but wear short skirts occasionally or dance provocatively then we have no right to say we are being oppressed, and some even go as far as to suggest that it’s our own fault when we are assaulted or raped, suggesting that we ‘asked for it’. Their mentality is shocking.

Feminism isn’t all about women. Feminism fights for the equality of ALL PEOPLE. The only reason the focus mainly falls on women’s issues is due to the constant discrimination and injustice of the treatment of women in every country on the planet.

We want to make our voices heard, for ALL women and ALL men. It’s not fair that men are expected to act a certain way. They can’t express how they feel or show emotion because it’s not ‘manly’. They have to conform to a very narrow stereotype in order to avoid ridicule or worse. The biggest reason for male deaths under the age of 40 is suicide. Most men feel like they can’t report abuse and most men are refused the right to see their children as priority goes to the mothers and I don’t agree with that.

I can’t imagine how difficult it must be for some men to navigate themselves in this world, I’m not a man and therefore I’ll never properly understand.

But I can empathise and try… all women want is for men to try and do the same for us.

– by Victoria Lee

“I can hear my 23-year-old self now saying: ‘look at all the things we’ve done! I can’t wait for the rest.'”

A lot can change in 5 years. I have since changed jobs 4 times (with the odd one in between), I have adopted a dog, moved in with a loving boyfriend, and completed/am continuing study in social welfare/counselling/psychology.

Through this study I have learned a lot, and my self awareness and awareness of others has grown considerably.

I have also become so accepting of myself. Of the things that caused me so much hate and anger. Sure, I still have bad days where I feel like my brain has reverted back to my 14-year-old self and it’s fighting against me but instead of counting the bad days and thinking how horrible it is, I now count the good days. I count the days where nothing fantastic happened other than I got to the end of the day without a negative thought. And I sit in my garden and light a cigarette and think “well this is fucking nice, isn’t it.”

I have also been in situations that have challenged me more than I ever knew were possible both physically/mentally, positive and negatively.

I have worked in an environment that had constant physical fights that posed me real physical risk and made me almost vomit when I got home from the sheer thought that some serious damage could have been done. And I realise how strong my body is and how powerful I can be. I have been in situations that required immediate action to prevent myself or someone else physical harm and trusted my body to handle it – and it did.

On the other hand, I have swum naked on one of the most remote beaches in the world, and realised how small and innocent I am in the grand scheme of things. I don’t have to be powerful or strong, I can be small and vulnerable and still feel beautiful.

If I could tell my 16-year-old self anything it would be: “don’t do it just because everyone else is, or that boy wants you to.”

If I could tell my 18-year-old self anything it would be: “you ain’t seen nothing yet, if you think this is good, just wait…”

If I could tell my 20-year-old self anything it would be: “trust me, he’s a good one, just give in and trust him, forget all the fuckboys of the past, you have no idea how well you are doing with your life.”

And I can hear my 23-year-old self now saying: “look at all the things we’ve done! I can’t wait for the rest.”

My 14-year-old self sits and can’t believe how good she will be and how far she would go, she only wishes she could have seen how powerful, sexy, vulnerable, strong, creative, and loved she is. But that’s ok because future me does, and that’s all that matters.

“It’s taken me a while of being by myself to come to the realisation that I like me; I like who I am, and how I look. I don’t need anyone else to validate me.”

Warning before you scroll – NSFW photo at the end! – Project Naked


I took a naked(ish) selfie and put it on the internet…

… I never thought that I would say that.

I used to be so shy that I couldn’t talk to a group of more than 2 or 3 people without blushing furiously. I would intentionally keep quiet if I thought that too many people would start listening, because I just could not deal with kind of attention.

I am so different now, but I will never forget that freckly little nerd who so badly wanted to speak up, but was too scared.

I realised that being shy was holding me back from all the fun things that I wanted to do. Until one day I thought to myself ‘Fuck it, what would you rather, miss out on all the fun shit and stay quiet, or speak up, occasionally make a twat of yourself, but have fun doing so?’

That shift has helped me to realise that I like life at it’s most ridiculous.

I enjoy saying and doing odd stuff, just because it’s fun, just to see what happens. I like asking questions, having solo adventures, and trying new things, even though I still find it scary and unnerving.

I like awkward situations; they make me laugh.

Which I guess neatly leads us to the naked photo… because sexting is ridiculous and occasionally awkward right?

The naked self-portrait that you see before you was one that a guy that I find to be pretty damn fine asked me for, which is weird for me, because even though I think that I’m beautiful, I still can’t quite wrap my head around the idea that someone else will think that.

Especially if I happen to think that that person is a babe.

Which you know, is a thing that I need to work on, but I’m enjoying this period of self-growth that I’m going through. It’s neat; I’m pushing my boundaries and figuring out who the fuck I am without a guy that I was in a relationship with on and off for nearly a decade.

That man told me that he loved me, and that I was beautiful in all the ways, but when he left I suffered all this self-doubt… He left me for someone else, many other someone else’s… And I couldn’t help but think that I wasn’t good enough, not pretty enough, not sexy enough… I was sure for a while that I must be the one lacking. I have come to realise though, that it wasn’t me, it wasn’t him, it was ‘us’, that just didn’t work.

It’s taken me a while of being by myself to come to the realisation that I like me; I like who I am, and how I look. I don’t need anyone else to validate me.

You are not the first ones to see this photo; I have shown it to a lot of people, I love it. I’m not ashamed of it, or my body, and that makes me really fucking happy.

Shout out to that nerdy kid who was racked with self doubt; it gets better kiddo.

– by “Madam Editor”


How I Learned to See Myself as a Work of Art

Body image is not something I have had trouble with for a long time and I would love to share my story of how I learned to be at peace with the way I look. I’ve successfully helped a few of my girlfriends to like their bodies a little more and to stop over scrutinising themselves, so my goal is to impart this onto the wider internet community.

When I was at art school the most valuable thing I learned was how to mediate your own terrible self criticism and censorship. So many times artists create a piece of art, whether drawing or painting, or even a piece of writing, only to destroy it before anyone sees it because they have convinced themselves it is atrocious. I call it tortured artist syndrome, and I know it is rife. It prevents many a budding artist from even trying. When the thing you create is not as perfect as it appeared in your mind’s eye it leads to dissatisfaction, disappointment and, too often, destruction of the creative endeavour entirely.

As a tentative and youthful art student I was reminded that ability to draw is a talent you are lucky to possess, honed and improved usually over many many years. Most people can barely draw at all, so when they look at the work of an artist it looks incredible to them. They cannot fathom having such skill. When we critically examine our own work, it is difficult to remain objective for we have been so closely and intimately involved in each millimetre of pencil laid down on our sketchbooks. Any flaws stand out as if they are drawn in red pen and triple highlighted. But that is only because we are so closely involved with what we have made. A casual observer sees the whole picture, and is so awed by the incredible end product of a skill so coveted and envied that they do not see the flaws. Even if you insist on pointing them out, they will not see them. They will see the whole image and judge it based on this, not on the sum of its parts.

I have learned that the same seems to be true when people, especially us girls, are scrutinising a picture of themselves. How many times have you taken a nice photo of your friend only for her to declare “Oh no, my nose looks hideous in that, delete it immediately”. How many girls stand in front of the mirror trying to select an outfit that hides the cellulite only they see? For all the selfies taken, what proportion end up rejected? Have you ever taken a nice group photo for every participant to swear that some tiny imperfection in their expression ruins the entire tableau? But the fact is, nobody zooms in on your imperfections except yourself.

When I look at my body, I use my artist’s eyes. I use the skills of objectivity I acquired and applied at art school when critiquing my own art work when I look in the mirror. I look at the picture as a whole when I take a selfie. I imagine it was a stranger looking upon the photo. They would not pick fault with the angle of my chin or a blemish on my cheek. People look at eyes and smiles and if you post a genuine happy, radiant photo I guarantee it will be better received than any stiff duck face selfie. If you post a full body shot of yourself in that sun-dress with your legs bare, the sun shining and your hair falling sun bleached around your shoulders then nobody but you will notice that you need to touch up your roots. I know this is true because I test it all the time. I regularly post selfies where I can see hairy armpits, double chins and spots. But I am smiling and happy, and nobody has ever commented. I told my friends that I had started doing this and they all had to confess that they had never noticed. You should try it sometime. it’s very liberating.

As for selfie face, there really no need. Girls always have a go to face when a camera is thrust before them. I just pull a happy and genuine smile. All your friends know what your face looks like girls, we aren’t fooling anyone with that stiff, lips parted, eyes smokin’, chin down, vacant expression. We only use our selfie faces when taking selfies, you would never use that in any other situation. That is not what you look like. Do you want to look back on a lifetime of stilted selfies or a collection of photos where you look happy and natural?

My favourite photos are always the ones where the object was unaware that their photo was being taken. The non posed, natural photos of someone occupied by happiness, deep in conversation, or lost in contemplation. When we are unaware that our photograph is being taken we don’t have the opportunity to project awkwardness or self consciousness, and thus we are more beautiful for it.

This is the basis through which I maintain my positive body image. I know that I am beautiful, for I look at myself through my artist’s eyes. My friend’s are equally beautiful in the diversity and disparity, and I wish they could see themselves through my eyes instead of through their own harsh criticism. I hope that this blog might give anyone who reads it pause for thought. I hope they will look at themselves differently because of it. We are all beautiful but too many people cannot see it in themselves.

By Victoria Haswell. Visit her blog Nurse Vendetta here.

“Periods were imbued with the mystery of the adult world – a strange and slightly frightening thing which I both wanted to experience and was a little horrified by.”

I don’t remember when I first learned that menstruation was something shameful. Certainly it was before I bled for the first time at the age of 13. Periods were imbued with the mystery of the adult world – a strange and slightly frightening thing which I both wanted to experience and was a little horrified by.

I remember being about 9 or 10 years old and being at my friend Vanessa’s house the first time I found out what periods were. Her mum had bought her a book and we were reading it together. I distinctly remember saying, “You bleed from THERE?! It would be bad enough if it was from your thumb or something!” A week later my own mum bought me a book – it was called “Have You Started Yet?” and she had picked it up in the sale section at the library. The book itself was quite old fashioned, illustrated with bad pop art and containing references to the type of sanitary pad you had to clip onto a belt. I remember the awkward conversation which started with the words, “Have you heard any of the other girls at school talking about periods?” and my mortified silence. It was not my mother who instilled this shame in me, but somehow I already knew that this mysterious blood which would start coming out of me one day was something a little disgusting.

I remember being on a hillwalking trip with the Guides – I must have been about 12 – and, in the dorm of the basic SYHA hostel where we stayed, the slightly older girls talking about periods. One of the girls had unexpectedly got her period (although not her first) and Captain had had to take her to the chemist to get pads and painkillers. These girls, just a year or two older than I was, seemed part of an adult world which I was a little jealous of, but also a little scared. Their talk of cramps and pains and blood was alien to me, and while I was at that age where I so badly wanted to grow up, this whole business of being a woman sounded difficult.

When my own first period came, I didn’t tell my mum. I knew where she kept the pads and I knew how to use them, so I just put one on and went about my day. Strangely, I don’t really remember how it made me feel. Embarrassed, I think. I have often felt a little guilty about the fact I didn’t tell my mum right away, wondered if it made her sad that I didn’t tell her. I was always a child who didn’t like to cause a fuss. I remember even as a very young child not wanting to bother people with things, being kind of embarrassed to admit personal things about myself. I don’t know where that comes from. I have always been in some ways an anxious sort of person, who would rather sort things out for herself than ask for help.

I have always been quite lucky that my periods are not much of a trial. They were fairly predictable, from the days in my teens when I used to mark the dates in my diary with crosses, to this day when I record them in an app on my phone (aside: The app I use is called Clue and I love it – it lets you record all sorts of different data from your moods to the heaviness of your bleeding, and it doesn’t come in a twee pink colour scheme full of flowers and other dubious visual metaphors for vaginas. And it’s free!) My cramps have never been debilitating, or my bleeding inconveniently heavy. So although menstruation was something I, like most women, was a bit secretive about, a little ashamed of, at least my period wasn’t something I approached with dread each month. The dirty womanliness of it was something society taught me to hide, but at least the experience itself wasn’t too awful. I know that makes me lucky.

Period sex wasn’t something that really became a part of my life until I was an adult. Although I lost my virginity at 16, I never had a steady boyfriend as a teenager and had only had sex a handful of sporadic times until I went to uni. At 18 I went on the pill for the first time, and it gave me spotting for the first 28 days and then settled down into a clockwork-regular cycle. I’ve always liked this aspect of the pill; I find the bleed comforting. I have friends on forms of contraception which – in their cases at least – stop their periods entirely and they love it, but I’ve never liked that idea. I find something reassuring in the bleeding. Firstly, of course, was always the comforting knowledge that there was no foetus growing inside me. But I think it also just feels natural. Somehow it wouldn’t feel right to me not to bleed, even if it’s the artificial bleed during my break each month.

At 20 I got my first properly serious boyfriend. I was still awkward about the idea of period sex at this point, not because of any particular experience but just because of the idea that people found it disgusting. It has never been that I was disgusted by the idea myself, more the fear that the man I was with would be grossed out. As I’ve got older, I’ve realised they mostly don’t particularly care, but I’ll come to that more in a bit.

When I was with this first boyfriend, I decided to get the contraceptive implant. It seemed convenient – no pills to remember, for years. So I had it put in, watching in fascination as the doctor shoved the huge needle into my anaesthetised arm (I have never been squeamish about this stuff and I always like to watch when they take blood or give me a jag – weird, I know).

The implant made me bleed every day. Not a lot – it was like the very last day of my period, every day. The doctor had said it could take up to six months to settle down with my body, so I kept it in to see if anything would change. But it didn’t. For months and months, I didn’t have a proper period but had spotting every day. And I hated it. It felt so unnatural. I had the implant taken out, watching again as this time they sliced my arm open and pulled out this tiny wee stick which had had such an effect on my body. Having proper periods again was a relief, and I went on the pill again for contraceptive purposes. I could bleed every month again, in the way that felt right for me.

So, period sex. I said as I’ve got older I’ve found that men don’t care much, and that’s pretty much true. But it’s only half true. Every time I’ve got into a sexual situation with a new man for the first time on my period, there’s this awkward moment where I feel the need to say, “Just so you know, I have my period, and that doesn’t bother me, but I thought I should let you know…” And it really doesn’t bother me. I’m not grossed out by my period. I have enjoyed non-menstrual bloodplay during sex in the past, so the blood aspect is actually kind of sexy. There’s something extra animalistic about the blood smeared across sweaty skin, about being so caught up in the pleasure of sex that you don’t give a fuck about the mess.  So I’m more than happy not just to fuck on my period, but for them to go down on me, to kiss them after, to taste my own blood on their lips. It’s sexy in and of itself, but it’s also sexy because they have embraced my body in all its bloody glory.

I’ve found that, while most men are happy to fuck you while you’re on your period, most aren’t as enthusiastic about oral sex, even those who normally love it. And I’d never want a sexual partner to do something they weren’t comfortable with so I would never force it, but I wonder where that comes from. Men are socialised with the same disgust of menstruation as women, but stronger because they don’t usually have to live the reality of it in their own bodies. So I understand, but I wish more of them would be prepared to give it a go.

The first time I was with a man who truly didn’t give a fuck about it, it was a revelation. When I told him I was bleeding, and he still put his face between my legs – and I mean fully, joyously, not a genteel dipping of the tongue – and came up with my blood all over him, it was one of the sexiest things I’d ever experienced. He didn’t find this disgusting. He found it sexy and dirty and erotic, and he embraced this aspect of my womanhood. He didn’t just deign to put his dick in me even though I was bleeding; he fully immersed himself in sex as he would have at any other time of the month. I was 23 by this point and I genuinely hadn’t thought that was possible. It remains an example of what I expect from a truly fulfilling sex life with future partners.

At the moment I don’t have a steady sexual partner, and I decided to stop taking the pill. It had been years that I’d been on it and, not needing it for contraception, I thought I’d see what it was like without it. My first real period after stopping felt great. It was heavier and more painful than my bleeds on the pill, but – in a way I hadn’t expected – I enjoyed the feeling of my body actively doing that, not just letting down blood because of how my hormones were being regulated. I liked the sensation that this was all me.

Don’t get me wrong – I think hormonal contraception is one of the greatest inventions of all time. Giving women the power to control conception is probably the single biggest factor in allowing us all the other freedoms we have in the West today compared with even 50 years ago. I am so incredibly grateful to have the range of contraceptive choices that is available to me as a woman in Scotland in 2016. But I have also enjoyed not being on the pill any more. I’ve found my sex drive has increased (actually kind of an inconvenience sometimes when you’re single…) and I still like the feeling that a “real” period gives me. A sort of comforting feeling that all is as it should be.

I’m not sure what I’ll do the next time I’m in a sexual relationship where we’re going to stop using condoms. I know the implant isn’t for me, and I have doubts about the injection for the same reasons. I have realised that I think I prefer not being on hormonal contraception, but I don’t love condoms so if I’m in an exclusive relationship I prefer something else. I’ve been considering the coil, but a lot of women say it makes their periods more painful. I’m not sure how that would change my relationship to an aspect of my body which I’ve always quite enjoyed. But I’m happy to make compromises to not have to deal with an unwanted pregnancy, which would be the biggest of all possible inconveniences. So I suppose I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it and make whatever decision feels like the right one at that stage of my relationship with my body.

I think perhaps that is the thing I’ve always liked about my period – that it makes me feel a connection to my body. It makes me think of my body and consider what it will feel about something. It can make me present in my body. And the older I get, the more I try not to be ashamed of it. I try not to be coy about it. I try to present the fact confidently to men I’m about to have sex with. Because I don’t think it’s disgusting or shameful, so I shouldn’t bow to the fear that others will.

by Hannah, age 27

“I had lost a considerable amount of weight and despite being able to fit comfortably into a size 8-10 I hated my body for not being able to protect me against infection, vulnerability, moodiness and a loss of friendships.”

The other day when working on a piece I came across a really interesting quote, “Be careful how you are talking to yourself because you are listening” (Lisa M. Hayes).
I found myself reflecting on this, what other people say to or about us can have a profound effect on our confidence and our self-perceptions. Why should what we tell or say about ourselves be any different?

My body and the perceptions I have of it have changed dramatically over the years. Puberty, illness and fashion have all played their part.
When I was younger, I stressed over my frizzy hair and crooked teeth. Now, at 27 I barely give them a thought.
I remember the days when everyone wanted to have Jennifer Aniston’s haircut, you know the one, the one with all the layers that beautifully framed her face.
I got that haircut, but it didn’t change how people, or perhaps more specifically, men, perceived me. It didn’t make me more beautiful, or sexy or attractive because ultimately that comes from within. It’s a cliché, but it’s a fact. The more confidence you have on the inside permeates the skin and radiates on the outside. Your body is a shell that needs to be nurtured and cared for, while simultaneously nourishing your mind.

My body has seen me through many incidents and events. When sexually assaulted at 18 by a close friend, my body felt dirty and damaged. However, no amount of bathing or pampering could heal me. It was my mind and soul that was injured. It is not the scars on my body that people notice, it is the way I flinch when approached or touched without warning.
I threw myself into running, and took up self-defence classes at university. I wanted my body to be ‘strong’, to resist harm. I had relationships with emotionally unavailable men and convinced myself that my body was responsible for their inevitable demise. I told myself that I was disgusting and that I needed to change my look. When my look didn’t change, I cemented my relationship with Dairy Milk, gained half a stone and ‘proved myself right’.

After a string of destructive relationships, I moved to Edinburgh for a Masters. I decided I would live alone, ensuring full independence and threw myself into studying while working nearly full time.
In January of 2012, a curved ball was thrown. I was given a life-changing diagnosis that was the beginning of a whole new body ‘image’.
Due to the medication, my weight fluctuated, my skin and hair became dry and I had to ensure I wore make up constantly so I didn’t scare anyone.
In the summer of 2013, I was told that I was harbouring a growth the size of a grapefruit. The grapefruit, as it became lovingly known, was responsible for the biggest change thus far. Two months after its removal, I had lost a considerable amount of weight and despite being able to fit comfortably into a size 8-10 I hated my body for not being able to protect me against infection, vulnerability, moodiness and a loss of friendships.

The truth remains though. We should not be focusing so much on what others say or how they may perceive us. Let’s build up and congratulate ourselves. I look at myself each day, now with a short, dark pixie crop (watch out Emma Watson and Carey Mulligan!) and despite still feeling a sense of sadness at how it would be nice for my stomach to resemble jelly a little less, I look at my face and focus on how I am still smiling, my eyes convey mischievousness and warmth to all they rest on and how my legs still have the ability to walk up Arthur’s Seat, to run marathons, or perhaps more importantly (or realistically) to wonderful coffee shops and eating places that host a variety of wonderful conversations and incredible people. These are the things, and the people that matter. Your body will inevitably change and alter but find a way to love it regardless.

– by an anonymous woman, aged 27. The author asked me to include a link to EWRASAC, an organisation in Edinburgh which provides support to survivors of sexual abuse. If you would like to support their work, you can find details about how to donate here.

“It’s hard to explain how pain can feel like pleasure.”

Content warning for discussion of consensual BDSM, specifically spanking and caning.

I went to a Torture Garden event in Edinburgh last weekend. For those that aren’t aware, Torture Garden is a club night with a fetish element and a strict, sexually charged dress code. I’m not really involved in the fetish “scene”, having only really explored that side of myself privately, but a group of friends were going and I decided to join them.

There’s something wonderful about the atmosphere created by a club full of people who’re into kink. Everyone is there expressing a side of themself that they don’t usually show to the wider world, and everyone there is mindful of the importance of consent. There is something incredibly freeing about being able to walk around a club in a fishnet dress, everything on display, and not feel that anyone is creeping on you. All around you are people being led around on leashes, people half naked, people cross-dressing, and when people stopped me to compliment my outfit I never felt like they were really complimenting my tits. It’s funny that an atmosphere so openly full of sex and sexuality should feel so much less frightening, so much less full of harassment, than your average, fully-clothed club night.

I am someone who has explored her share of kink behind closed doors. It has by no means been a part of every relationship I’ve been in, but my hottest sexual memories are of blood play, of being tied down and degraded, of being spanked until there are bruises. It’s not for everyone, and it’s not the kind of thing I would usually engage in on a one-night stand, but in the right situation it’s never been anything but enjoyable. There is pleasure – for me – in surrendering control, in giving into sensation for its own sake, and in pushing the boundary between pain and joy.

One of my friends was there with a guy from her work. Lining up for one of the playrooms upstairs, she asked me if I would like to be caned by him. I hadn’t really come there with the intention of getting involved, but in that atmosphere it felt right. I watched him cane another woman in front of me and I knew that I wanted to do it too.

When it was my turn, he asked me if I’d done this before and I said yes, in private. He put his hand on my face and looked me in the eyes. He said, “I’ll start slowly, with my hands. Say ‘red’ if you want me to stop. ‘Orange’ if you want to slow down. Ready?” I felt an instant trust. I felt safe. This is one of the things that a lot of people don’t understand about BDSM – when you submit you’re giving in to a fantasy of surrender, but you retain all the control. Whenever I want it to stop, it stops. And part of the fun is discovering that I can take more than I think I can.

I knelt over the table and he clipped a chain around my neck. I was so aware of my body. More aware of my body than of the fact I was in a room full of people, chained to a table, arse in the air. Aware of every sensation as he whispered in my ear for me to tell him how bad I’d been, to ask him for my punishment. I became someone else, or maybe I became a pure form of myself. I felt free, chained to that table. As I counted aloud the strokes of the cane and thanked him, I was lost in my body, lost in taking direction. Lost in the anticipation, in the sting of wood on skin.

It’s hard to explain how pain can feel like pleasure. Maybe it’s all in your head, in the context. It’s not like I enjoy stubbing my toe or burning myself making coffee at work. The pleasure comes from having the freedom to just experience the pain – to feel it as a sensation, not as a jolt of warning. Psychologically, it’s in the joy of letting go. You don’t have to make decisions, you don’t have to be strong. You’re submitting, but you’re in control of everything.

When we were finished, he lifted me off the table and set me down on my feet. He kissed my cheek and hissed in my ear. I leaned against the wall, my heart fluttering, my hands tingling, my skin stinging. I couldn’t stop smiling. I felt light and giggly.

The skin is bruised beneath my clothes now. A vivid canvas of pink and purple, vicious-looking welts and dark bruises. I can’t stop admiring them in the mirror. I get a little twinge of pleasure when I feel them as I sit down. A spark of a memory.

I love the feeling – physically and psychologically – of these bruises. I love knowing that they’re there, secretly, while I’m at work, or running to the shop. I loved every second of having these bruises put on my body, and I love looking at them now.

I suppose the point of this piece is to highlight the fact that there are many different ways to enjoy your body. There isn’t one “right” way to explore your sexuality, as long as everyone is consenting. It doesn’t make me less of a feminist to enjoy consensual submission, any more than someone would be a “better” feminist because they enjoy dominating men. Embracing my sexuality in a trusting, consensual context is a feminist act.

By an anonymous woman, aged 26

NSFW photo after the jump

“I have never felt so lacking in agency as I do out in public here, because clearly my agency doesn’t matter to them.”

Last week I hit a teenage schoolboy in the face. Now, that’s a way to get your attention. Except what I was trying to do, at the point when this happened, was to not get any attention, to walk unnoticed through the streets of the city I live in. You wouldn’t think that’s too much to ask, but here in Cairo it is an impossibility.

Put your phone in your bag, grab your keys, one last check in the mirror to make sure you’ve not got toothpaste around your mouth again. As you walk out of the front door and lock it behind you, you feel your shoulders start to hunch, your eyes fix on the floor, lines and knots of tension spread down from your neck. Step out into the streets of Cairo; your body is no longer your own.

Harassment here is a well-documented phenomenon. There are even those who believe the increase in reports of harassment since the revolution is a positive sign, that it shows more openness and a willingness to talk about it. This means in theory that the problem might be one minuscule step along the way to being solved. Be that as it may (and for what it’s worth, from my three years of living here I don’t see any progress at all) – these reports and the articles and the discussions cannot cover what it feels like to walk down the street in this country.

Impossible to explain the effects of the staring, the nudging and pointing, the jeering, the honking of car horns. The way you shrink inside yourself. The depression or the incandescent rage, depending on your mood and how much sleep you’ve had. This overwhelming feeling of how DARE you. What makes these people think that my body is something to be commented on, shouted at, gawked at?

I have never felt so lacking in agency as I do out in public here, because clearly my agency doesn’t matter to them. It doesn’t matter that I am an actual person, with thoughts and feelings and a reason to be walking somewhere; all that is totally irrelevant. To them I am just a body. All-too visible while my ‘self’, for want of a better word, feels like it is fading. It wears you down, this assault on your sense of self-worth and self-esteem.

I cannot offer explanations, and to be honest by this point I can’t be bothered to. Unsympathetic as it might be to say it, I don’t care why it’s like this anymore. I just wish it wasn’t. I shout, when the effort isn’t too overwhelming, and give the finger a lot, just hoping that even among the laughter and jeers some part of the message that this behaviour is not OK goes in. I am not optimistic about attitudes so ingrained changing.

So this brings us back around to the teenage schoolboy, who I hit in the face because he grabbed me in the street. It was 8:30am and I was walking to the swimming pool, a half-hour walk in the early-morning cool which in another city would be a pleasant way to wake up. Not here, however. I always have to run the gauntlet of a group of 50 schoolboys hanging around on the street, and on this particular occasion one grabbed me. Pushed by a friend, dared, by accident, on purpose? Quite frankly, I don’t give a shit.

While writing this I was all too aware that it is perhaps not directly relevant to the message of this blog, but the experience of daily harassment has made me more aware than ever how our bodies can so often be viewed as detached from us as people, and how this treatment can affect how you see yourself, how you carry yourself, how you react in different situations. I never thought that my refrain would be ‘just leave me alone’, but now the ability to walk down the street, going peacefully about my dull daily life, seems a necessity to keep the relationship with my body secure.

Welcome to Project Naked

Project Naked is a safe space for women and non-binary people to speak about the stories of their bodies. We want to rebel against the voices that tell us we’re not good enough and then shame us for believing it. We want to share the real stories of our bodies, from the painful to the joyful.

We want this to be an inclusive space for all women and non-binary people to share their stories and speak out against gender-based oppression of our bodies. We want to be as inclusive as possible here so we’re always open to feedback about how we could be doing better at sharing more voices.

If you would like to send us a story, an experience, a photo, a poem, a rant… then we would love to hear from you. We will put up all submissions body related – positive, negative, long or short.

Every body has a story. What’s yours?

Submit your story using this contact form, or using the details below.

Or email us at projectnaked@gmail.com – let us know if you prefer to be anonymous, or if you have a blog you’d like us to link to.

You can also contact us on Twitter and follow us on instagram @project_naked