Erica LaVoie

“When I heard about this project I was very impressed with the concept and wanted to be a part of it. I used to be a nude / erotic alternative model and I had always found posing nude for artwork to be an empowering experience. Since that time however, a lot of bad things have happened.  I spent several years on the street addicted to heroin and other drugs, and was raped and physically assaulted multiple times while homeless,  as a result I am diagnosed with PTSD, anxiety disorder, and major depression.

 It is an everyday struggle to feel safe, and my sexuality in particular has been difficult to reclaim,  I thought this shoot might help me feel more comfortable with my naked body again. Unfortunately, right before I was supposed to leave for my shoot I started to have a panic attack and disassociate.

I felt like I was disappearing and felt completely fractured from my identity. I tried to calm down but was unable to get into the mindset necessary to go through with the shoot. Before having this panic attack I had been having a lot of doubt about my ability to go through with the shoot, but I felt guilty about wasting Anastasia’s time and resources, so I didn’t immediately cancel it.

The night before the shoot was scheduled, I took my clothes off and stood in front of my full length mirror. My heart sank as I peered at my own reflection, now alien to me, and felt intense cognitive dissonance at the changes that have occurred in my appearance over the past few years in contrast to the way I remember my body. As a result Of abusing drugs, not taking care of myself or having access to medical care, being malnutrition, and simply getting older, my body had undergone a drastic transformation. My skin looked sallow and translucent from lack of exposure to the sun, my large breasts had lost some of their fullness and lift, scars crossed my arms and two dark purple puncture marks marred the skin to either side of my pubic mound displaying the spots where I had repeatedly injected heroin into my femoral vein after my other veins had collapsed. My face looked tired, bitter, and sad. Deep, dark circles lay underneath angry, untrusting eyes. My teeth were twisted, broken, and stained by cigarettes, chipped from a car accident, various fist fights, left that way by my lack of funds for cosmetic dental care.

It was like being punched in the stomach to see the terror and neglect I had visited upon my once beautiful body, as if I had tried my hardest to make my outsides match the way my insides felt. I wondered how I could possibly stand strong in front of a camera, in front of another woman near my age, I asked myself if I had any right to force my aesthetic depravity onto others through art. Even more than my shame at my physical deterioration, I felt dirty and weak, like the word RAPE was somehow visibly scrawled across my skin for all to see. In that moment I felt the terrible weight of my trauma pushing me to the ground. I felt the intense urge to run, to curl up into the fetal position, most of All to hide from view. I tried to talk myself out of it, to tell myself that it’s not as bad as I think it is. I asked my partner for advice and they told me I am beautiful and strong but I could not take their words in, the fear was just too much to take. As I attempted to regulate my breathing, to reign in my runaway anxiety the next morning, just minutes before the shoot, I decided that I could not go through with it.

Though I feel guilty and disappointed in myself for canceling on the project, the experience helped me realize that I still have a ways to go in my recovery, a ways to go before I find my strength and feel at home in my skin again. I need to listen to my instincts and not push myself too hard out of concern for other people because I will only be hurting myself. I think this is a beautiful project, and though I could not fully participate, I still learned something about myself and my own boundaries.”