I write this on a train to Oxford, zipping home to my Mum’s for a weekend in the family cocoon. Last week was difficult, slightly out of control; one of those weeks where life tests your mettle. There’s been no time for photography so I sit here as the Oxfordshire countryside races by, scrolling through my photo stream for something appropriate. 

I love this photo. It’s imbued with happy memories. Taken down at Christchurch Meadows at the end of last summer, it was never intended to be more than a quick flirt to a lover. Hastily taken on an iPhone, my friend chortling as she looked out for walkers, me trying to frame it so I captured the studious boys reading in the background, but not an unflattering double chin. It was hilarious!

But don’t you find that out of laughter and exuberant behaviour sometimes comes reflection and seriousness? I can’t remember how the conversation evolved but I know I told my friend about this crazy thing I’d started doing in the last couple of months – posting naked pictures anonymously online. I told her about the words I wrote to go with them, little pep talks to myself as much as anything. If she wasn’t the first friend I told about these photos, she was certainly one of the first. And she was definitely the first to get involved in taking a photograph.

We moved to a pub on the river where we savoured the last rays of sun over several glasses of wine. The conversation flowed, vulnerabilities were shared. We talked about the relief that comes with casting aside the assumptions of how life ‘should’ look in favour of living the life you want. How we found a stronger sense of self as we hit the business end of our thirties. 

Looking at this photo today I smiled at the memories. We may have ending up having that conversation anyway, but there was something about the pure fun of taking the photo and the surprise and amusement in her eyes that I was even doing it that changed the tone of the afternoon. Walls came down a little. I wasn’t to know then where my baby steps were taking me, or that the genuinely enriching conversation she and I shared that evening would be the first of many similar ones I’d enjoy with friends over the months to come as a result of Exposing 40. 



‘Instead of photographing what I saw, I photographed what the camera was seeing. I interfered very little, and the lens produced anatomical images and shapes which my eyes had never observed.’
                                                                                                                                                     Bill Brandt

Flicking through my photo library recently it struck me how frequently when photographing other people, male or female, intimate or not, I choose to drop down low and shoot up the body. I love the way the camera holds the body in reverence when working from that angle.

This week, as a result of turning that angle on myself, I found myself appreciating my shape in a way I rarely do. As we lie in bed looking down our bodies or as we stand in front of the mirror we are often subjecting ourselves to a gaze of judgement and self-criticism. With photographs that capture these perspectives the pavlovian response can be to look for flaws. But here is a view I have never seen before and instead of judging myself I find myself admiring my curves, thinking my shoulders look strong and smiling at the memory of the sun bouncing off the side of my body. I celebrate the landscape of my body.



A Date With My Past

LettersI revisited my past last weekend. Did I time travel? As near as feasibly possible I did, yes. I am moving house soon and am currently dismantling my home of 11 years, deciding what comes with me and what goes. Shoved at the back of a cupboard, untouched for the whole time I have lived here, and in reality much longer, was a box of letters. A very large box of letters. In fact, all of the letters I received from the point at which I went to university aged 18, to my mid-twenties.

I read every one of those letters. I read from 6pm on Friday evening until 1am on Saturday morning. I was on the sofa again by 7am and read through the day. I returned from the theatre at 11pm and folded the last letter away at about 2am on Sunday morning. I am sure those letters bought joy, comfort and some sadness when I received them, but reading them 20 years on in one intense sitting was a truly hilarious, heart-warming and eye-opening experience.

We all know teenagers and young adults are a seething mass of uncontrollable hormones, right? We probably all remember when the benchmark of a good night was whether we had ‘pulled’ or whether the current object of our infatuation was in the pub. But my God, I didn’t realise how ardently we articulated this. Sex, it turns out, was the constant topic of conversation.

There was the urgent and hilarious: “I am so horny I nearly crawled across the bar and asked the hot barman to give me an orgasm”, “I am such a seething mass of hormones that I want to rip the clothes off every man I see”, and one letter from a friend on the occasion of me losing my virginity, “now you know how amazing sex is you’ll be gagging for it all the time, eh?” Poetry they are not.

Battles born out of immature emotions colliding with maturing sexuality are faithfully charted. An 18-year-old friend casually drops into conversation that her ex is using her handcuffs with a new girlfriend, before describing in exhaustive detail a ‘he said, I said, I stared out the window and pretended not to hear him’ exchange. I recall being frequently annoyed (jealous?) at her bragging about her sex life. I expect when I read that letter 22 years ago I rolled my eyes at the mention of handcuffs before devouring the more familiar territory of drawn-out teenage drama. I read it with more compassion this weekend.

Then there’s my worried Mum writing during my first week at university, encouraging me to use my thick duvet, including recipes for “tasty but cheap” meals, and then at the very end casually dropping in the brand name of her pill – “better to be safe than sorry”. I didn’t grow up with my Mum so never had the period or first boyfriends chat with her. I imagine this sudden concern for the potential impact of a horny 18-year-old experiencing independence for the first time was deeply mortifying for me at the time.

And there were letters from boyfriends demonstrating such maturity that I would welcome them now. One received from a 20-year-old telling me what our relationship meant him, but also explaining that with the heartbreak of his first love still fresh in his mind he didn’t want anything very serious right now. I do remember receiving that one. I also remember my flouncing hysterical response and the look of hurt on his face as he rushed out of our favourite university haunt, and I am embarrassed. Reading it now I see integrity, kindness and respect and the subtle bear with me message. I have no idea how much time he took writing that letter but it has taken me 20 years to appreciate it.

I don’t know what made 18-year-old me squirrel away those first letters and then faithfully add to the pile for some seven years. And I don’t know how they then escaped the inevitable purges that have come as a result of living in eight flats in the intervening two decades. I am very glad they did.

Wicked Wednesday

Elust #72

An Erotic Adventure Image
Photo courtesy of Tabitha Rayne

Welcome to Elust #72

The only place where the smartest and hottest sex bloggers are featured under one roof every month. Whether you’re looking for sex journalism, erotic writing, relationship advice or kinky discussions it’ll be here at Elust. Want to be included in Elust #73? Start with the rules, come back August 1st to submit something and subscribe to the RSS feed for updates!

~ This Month’s Top Three Posts ~

Invisible Pride: Bi Erasure
Disabled Gentleman

~ Featured Post (Molly’s Picks) ~

Erotic Fiction: “Passerby”
Overcoming resistance

~ Readers Choice from Sexbytes ~

#AskELJames: The Poignant & Profitable Martyrdom of E.L. James

Continue reading

On not wanting to talk to my body

I went to a School of Life event this week called Learn to Love Your Body. I’ve been to one of their events before and it didn’t really work for me; my default setting is ‘get shit done’ and the philosophical thinking style of the event wasn’t a match for me. I am one of those people who finds meandering brainstorming sessions deeply frustrating – I know they need to happen, but please don’t ask me to participate (although once you’ve come up with a shit hot idea, hand it over and I will develop a watertight project plan and it will come in on time and on budget!).

Anyway, I decided to go back because this event intrigued me. I was particularly interested in this bit: “We’ll experiment with sensitive, tactile drawing processes that keep the sense of sight out of the process to help us engage with and appreciate our bodies.” Now, I can’t draw for toffee but as Exposing 40 is at its heart a visual exploration of our relationship with our bodies I thought I would give it a go. In the end there was no drawing involved. There was lots of thinking though…

The day before the event we were asked to think about an “image of someone or something that speaks to you about a nurturing and emotional warmth”. The first image that sprung to mind was of me with my three oldest friends in New York a couple of months ago. We’re fooling around in a photo booth at the top of the Rockefeller Center, mocking up the famous image of the workmen having their lunch on a crane. We are roaring with laughter. There is no pulling in of stomachs, angling of legs, or jutting of chins to define the jawline. We look extremely and gloriously happy.

On the night we had to use the image as the starting point on a journey to find our perfect nurturer. We had to quietly imagine what this person will look like, sound like, what they will say, and what they will do. This perfect nurturer will become our ever-present friend and the voice of reason who speaks to us about our body concerns in times of doubt. Now, I could have run with this if I was in my chosen photo and imagining what my best friends with whom I am always happy and carefree would be saying to me if I was having a crisis of confidence, but this exercise started to come unstuck when it turned out this perfect nurturer was meant to be our inner voice. It completely unravelled at the point at which we were encouraged to talk to, touch and thank the parts of our bodies that upset us, for example “by placing your hands on your spare tyre to apologise to it and thank it.”

I shouldn’t mock too much because this approach could work for some people, I do of course appreciate the value of mindfulness exercises, and I also know that in the social media driven world we live in it is easy to become reliant on comments, ‘likes’ and positive affirmation from others. However, since the poor relationship many of us have with parts of our bodies is driven by the voice in our own head I am not convinced the solution is to be wholly found in our own heads.

When I think about some of the feedback I have had on images posted here, there were times when I thought ‘that’s a lovely thing to say but I think you’re just being nice’. I didn’t always believe them. But if I think about comments I have left for others when they have spoken of insecurities I know I have never once lied in a comment. I simply do not see what they do and if I say I think they look beautiful I mean it. So, if I don’t say things just to be nice, why assume others do when commenting on my images? This simple thought process and the conclusion I reached did so much more for me than laying my hands on my belly and thanking it for liking wine and cheese would have done.

Certainly we are responsible for our own emotional strength and happiness, driving personal change, and kick starting a process of reimagining our own self-image if we need to, but the fact is, when it comes to our bodies we are our own harshest critics so let’s not beat ourselves up if we need to look externally to help ourselves deal with our insecurities and vulnerabilities. For me, the snapshots of friendships that capture how we felt not how we looked, the conversations that are coming about as a result of this project, and the generosity and kindness of the online community is a greater foil to negative thoughts than having a conversation with my body.

Postscript 1: If I hadn’t been in a perfect storm of work and flat-buying stress this week I would have written this in time for Marie’s #wickedwednesday – sorry I missed the deadline, lovely. xx

Postscript 2: I did mention the absence of the drawing and now have two free places for future events. I am now torn between thinking ‘ooooh, freebie’ and accepting that the events won’t really be free if I come away thinking they were a waste of my time!