When I first learned about the Nothing But Light project, I was intrigued. I loved the idea of desexualizing the human body, showing people at their most vulnerable and asking them to just be in the moment.
I immediately contacted Anastasia to see if there were still slots without giving myself a second to think about the reality of what I was signing up to do. It was impulsive and in that impulsive moment I committed myself to the project. Afterwards, I began to second guess that decision but I felt an obligation to Anastasia to carry through with it. When my partner learned about it, he inquired as to whether or not Anastasia was still looking for people, as he too was interested. Anastasia suggested we do the shoot together which we both thought was a great idea.
As the day approached, I became filled with anxiety. I tried not to think too much about it because I didn’t want to confront the growing dread in the pit of my stomach. I finally allowed myself to think about it the day of, as we drove into the city. It was early. I hadn’t eaten. I wanted coffee.
I thought about my relationship with my body. Over the years, me and my body had been through so much. There were the highs: completing a 269 mile bike ride over the course of a week when I was 10 years old; dancing to silly routines alongside my siblings until we couldn’t breathe; traveling through Europe with all my possessions on my back; standing up for the first time on a surfboard; letting my voice out through song in front of a crowd; holding close the people I love. And there were the lows: years spent sucking my stomach in and wishing for a thinner physique; diets that left my body starved for nutrition; cuts, burns and bruises I inflicted on myself in attempts to punish myself and release internal pain; medical problems that made it harder to do the things I loved; and over and over again, being taught through action that my body was not my own.
Even now as I think back on the positive interactions with my body, there is a huge gap from when I was 11 or so until a few years ago that I find it difficult to recall many highs.
From the earliest stages of puberty, my body and I began to have a rocky relationship. It began with insecurity, confusion and loss of confidence as my body changed shape and gained fat. I felt more aware of my body than I ever had and more aware of the way others were looking at it. My breasts developed quickly and emphatically, putting me in a 34C bra at 12 years old. The other kids around me took note and often drew attention to the fact, requesting to touch my breasts or doing so with out my consent. I stopped jumping on trampolines that year. I started to learn that my body wasn’t mine as the teens around me more freely touched me and volunteered my body for others to touch. I convinced myself it was okay, I didn’t mind, the attention was nice. It wasn’t until recently that I realized how much this shaped my future relationships.
Around age 14, my first boyfriend entered the picture. He was a few years older, I had never kissed anyone. My first kiss was rushed between the aisles in a CVS. Later he told me that he would’ve made it more special if he knew it was my first. We were together only a few months, and in those months I went from my first kiss to nearly everything short of penetrative sex. I drew a hardline at performing oral sex which resulted in the same pouting, begging and withdrawal that all my other hard lines had. I once again told myself it’d be easier to just do it than to upset him. I couldn’t do it. Shortly thereafter he broke up with me, the same day he started dating someone else. My relationships with men continued down his path for the next couple years. Pressure and coercion became typical for sexual interactions in my life. When I "lost my virginity”, I had convinced myself I was defective for not doing so sooner. I was 16. I stayed in a relationship with the person I lost it to for a year. I can count on one hand the number of sexual interactions we had that felt good for me. I no longer viewed sex as important or meaningful. It was just something that someone else did to my body. I convinced myself I was okay with that and that it meant they loved me. In the months leading up to my 18th birthday, a couple things happened that set in motion a change of mindset. The first was a close friend sexually assaulting me. He was high and drunk and I didn’t know how to tell him no. I tried to use my body language but he was too intoxicated to notice. I cried as he fucked me. When he finished, he went to take a shower. I cried and examined the many marks he’d left on my neck with his teeth. I didn’t consider it was rape for months. I didn’t stop blaming myself for years. The second was a 27-year-old man, a family friend, sleeping with me when I showed up tipsy at his hotel after leaving a friends party where I felt uncomfortable. Weeks later I began to question why a 27-year-old man would have interest in a tipsy 17 year old.
I felt broken and worthless. I felt like a machine you could put coins in until sex came out. An inexpensive one. As I replayed these events over and over in my mind I started to question my own willingness to allow these things to happen and to let my body go through that. I turned to self-harm, as I had many times before, to deal with that pain.
It wasn’t long after these events that I met Justin. He opened his heart and gave me a sounding board for my feelings. He held me close as I cried. He endured through anger and irrationality as I processed the tangle of events that had brought me to the place I was. He helped me to begin rebuilding my relationship with my body and with sex. He taught me through his actions the importance of consent and what it felt like to have a partner who cared about you. He helped me learn to love my body as he nuzzled his face into my chubby belly and ran his hands along the curves of my hips. He held me close when I lapsed back into self harm and kissed the self inflicted wounds and talked through my pain.
His support has massively helped me through the struggles of finding myself these past few years. I began to explore my sexuality and learn more about myself. Discovering my identity first as a pansexual and recently as genderqueer. I began to seek answers to help with my mental and physical health and to take better care of myself. I started having more and more days that I could look in the mirror and like what I saw. I began re-evaluating my past relationships and realizing that I wasn’t defective and that it was okay for me to set boundaries for other people’s interaction with my body. I stopped worrying so much about the scale. I learned to show my body and my mind more love and compassion. So many people helped me through this journey and it took a lot of internal struggling but I couldn’t have done it without the loving and supportive environment I found in my relationship with Justin.
I am still working towards loving myself and repairing the damage of my past. Some days are better and some are worse. But I know that I can always be 100% myself, physically and emotionally, around Justin. I am so comfortable in my skin with him. When I saw the photos Anastasia had taken, I expected my self criticism to come out. I expected to worry over the way my skin looked or my fat hung. But instead, I saw that comfort, that happiness, that purity and that light. I saw me, and I saw us. And I was so joyful at what I saw.
I’m not entirely sure why I agreed to participate in this project. I like tackling my insecurities and fears head on. I’ll base jump, take a beekeeping class, and make pictures of my insecurities public. There are others, but you know; rule of three. It was also partly a feeling I can’t really articulate. I remember when my partner Reb told me xe was going to be participating in the project and said there were still open spots. I thought about it for maybe all of 5 minutes before telling xir to do it too. When the day came I almost backed out but i'm glad I didn’t.
My relationship with my body is, I don’t wanna say complicated, but I guess there are layers. I have learning disabilities that I’m sure I inherited from my father. The ones I have come with personality traits. The difference between my father and I, is that I had access to the resources to help me deal with these things, and my father -who grew up very poor- never did. So, even though he loved me, I was never very high on his list of priorities. That’s right, daddy issues. However, the only time my father would show up consistently was during some sort of sports season I would participate in. Baseball, basketball, football, futbol, even fucking handball for christ sake. He wasn’t really around during off season. He didn’t go to parent teacher conferences, performances, presentations. I very quickly built the subconscious association between his attention and sports. I felt I only had value when I was being athletic. He always wanted me to be bigger, taller, stronger. He’d buy me clothes 3-4 sizes too big and say I would grow into them. My mom was 5’4” 110 lbs. I had about a snowball's chance in hell at being as big as he was.
Well, while my mom was at work being the boss ass single parent of the early 2000’s and my dad was probably doing construction; I spent a lot of time with my grandpa. We were all Puerto Rican, but my grandpa was very Puerto Rican. He grew up on a farm with 12 brothers and sisters and I’m not 100% he attended school until he was at least 15. He doesn’t really talk about himself much. He learned you had to eat quickly because everyone would have their eyes on your food. I the only other siblings I had growing up were already out of the house, and on my father’s side. I was basically an only child. I didn’t eat quickly. My grandpa hated that. That’s right, grand-daddy issues. I used to get punished for not eating quickly or enough. I wanted to be bigger I didn’t care if it was fat or muscle. I used to fantasize about finally making them happy.
I hated how small I was. I wanted bigger arms, wider shoulders, less knobby knees (nothing to do with size but I don’t like em). Also, you know, rule of three. I feel amazing after I leave the gym and I’m not sure if that’s because of endorphins or because there are still some lingering adverse effects from my childhood. I guess I still have some soul searching to do.
I’m not sure I would have been able to participate in this project without Reb. Not just literally I mean emotionally/intellectually. Since I’ve known xir, xe has taught me so much about politics, body acceptance, etc. Behind every woke man, there is a fucking exhausted feminist. The Nothing but Light project is amazing. Spreading body acceptance and desexualization. I commend Anastasia and hope she gets the success and recognition she and this project deserves.