Being Body Positive Is An Act of Rebellion – Voluptas

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Begging for Nudes on Social Media in the Name of Body Positive Art

A request for nudes from strangers led to a beautiful cacophony of photographs of women of all shapes and sizes. And a mother of two sons opens up about the changes to her figure that knocked her confidence so badly that she never wanted to leave the house again.

When I appealed to Social Media for pictures of naked women, unfiltered and unedited, I was not expecting the response I received. I mean, a stranger asking women for nudes online is nothing new, but usually the kind of comment that gets reported and blocked. Maybe I have a trustworthy face or something. But from the moment I’d typed the words three months ago, I was inundated with photographs of women from all over the globe, and they’re still coming in now. 

I’d posted Venus, the start of my body positive series, and followed it up with a plea for more photographs of nude bodies. Nude bodies on real women for me to paint studies from.

Venus - My First Body Positive Piece

I wasn’t expecting any responses, to be honest, but within minutes, I’d had my first glorious photograph. And then my inbox started flooding with messages. Every single woman who contacted me had a story. The woman with the C-Section scar; the woman who’d had a double mastectomy; the woman who had been told by her mother that she was too fat to be pretty her whole life; the woman who wanted to be an actress, but had alopecia and was too embarrassed; the woman who had escaped an abusive husband and was covered in pocks and scars. And more common than that, tens of women who had seen Venus and felt seen – women who just hated their beautiful bodies because of the messaging we’re all fed from the minute we’re born about how we should look.

I was absolutely overwhelmed with gratitude and completely blown away by the raw honesty of it all. I’m welling up just thinking about it. How could all these amazing women feel such hatred towards themselves? I mean, I get it. I really do. I’ve never been skinny, even when I was running 14* miles a day and dieting like crazy. I was a lot thinner, but even that wasn’t enough to make me feel “good enough”. And you know why? Because the way we’re supposed to look involves a lot more than just exercise and diet, and even those who have gone under the knife have their demons when it comes to their bodies. After all, there’s a reason cosmetic surgery is addictive.

Body Positivity is Not About Skinny Bashing

As I mentioned in my previous body positive art blog post, this isn’t a bash at those who have chosen to have surgery or botox. It’s not supposed to make those of us possessed of a naturally fast metabolism feel down. I don’t think women of a curvier frame are “real women” where skinny women are underdeveloped waifs. This body positive series is about inclusivity. It’s about being body positive for all. It’s not just about weight. And I intend to include as many body types as I possibly can. And address as many forms of discrimination as people can provide me with.

Natural Beauty - Third in My Body Positive Series

Confessions of a Former Skinny Girl

Bodies change all the time. They change size, they change shape, they can even lose parts and whether you have control of those changes or not, nobody likes to admit that they aren’t going to look the same way forever.

To Sophie** it was a shock when, after her second son was born, she didn’t lose the baby weight within a few months. In fact, she began to put on weight. Sophie had always been naturally very thin. A UK size 8 since she was a teenager, she wasn’t much of a gym bunny and could eat whatever she wanted. When she got pregnant with her first child, she remained skinny and during those early days of morning sickness, actually got skinnier due to all the throwing up. When the baby bump kicked in, she had a perfect, cute little bump. And after the baby was born, the tiny bit of excess she had put on disappeared within weeks.

When Sophie got pregnant with her second son, she instantly felt different. She had cravings for junk food. She wanted KFC for breakfast, double cheeseburgers and fries for lunch, and her local Dominoes didn’t know what had hit it. She figured it wouldn’t make any difference – nothing ever did. But something about that second pregnancy affected her differently. She didn’t have a cute baby bump – she piled weight on all over her body. People treated her differently, strangers and loved ones alike. Some people were downright nasty to her, thinking she was fat until she explained that she was pregnant and their attitudes changed. It was a shock to Sophie that when people thought she was fat, they treated her like a second class citizen. 

After the birth, somehow she just didn’t bounce back the way she had before. Her body didn’t look like hers anymore and she absolutely hated it.

Sophie’s Heartwrenching Email

The message I received from Sophie was absolutely heartbreaking. Honestly, I noticed the photos that Sophie sent before I even registered the email, because they were stunning. She only sent me three and I was blown away by them. In two of the photos, Sophie had a pained expression on her face, but there was one where she was smiling (albeit somewhat wryly) and I knew I had my next study. But Sophie’s message was full of pain. She apologised repeatedly for sending me her nudes, despite the fact that she’d done me a huge favour. She explained the situation with her pregnancies and went into detail about how she used to look and how she’d always felt like her bottom was too flat, but now wished she could have that body back.

I’m really sorry about my extra chins. I have a stupid little face and now I’m massive, I just feel like it looks like a pea and no neck. lol!

Sophie also told me she hadn’t left the house in months at a time after her son was born. She saw the lockdowns as a blessed relief so she wouldn’t have to go out and explain that she was “going to lose weight soon”.

She finished by saying that the photos were probably not what I was after, but that she was  quite proud of herself for sending them. I tried explaining that they were perfect and, if anything, I was slightly concerned that the finished painting might be slightly too sexy*** for the series. But she just didn’t see it herself. 

"Perfect" Baby Bump

The Final Body Positive Study

When I finally did show Sophie the finished piece, she seemed pleased with it and gave me the go-ahead to share it on social media. I’d changed a couple of her features so that she wasn’t recogniseable and, since even her partner hadn’t seen her naked in a very long time, it seemed unlikely that she’d get recognised for her body alone. The response to this painting was immense. Women loved it. They said she looked strong, and she does. Several women said they had the same breasts. A lot of women said they felt seen. They all told me I had to pass on their comments to my model. So I did.
I’m literally crying rn Emily. I’ve never been strong. I’ve never worked out. I can’t believe they said that about me. Maybe I should do weight lifting!!! 

Being Body Positive is Good for Your Mental Health

I have my own issues with my body and actively seeking out diverse women has been amazing from my perspective. But being able to connect with other women and point out how amazing they are (and mean it), while they’re trying to put themselves down, has been eye opening. Talking these issues through, seeing how different everybody is and how they all hate parts of themselves in different way. It gives you a dark insight into the inherent message we’re fed through the media. They want us to believe that there’s only a handful of ways to look and if you’re not exactly that, then there’s something wrong with you and you need to change it. They NEED us to believe that so that they can sell us expensive “solutions” to our “problems” with the pretense that they can make us look like the shiny, Photoshopped celebrities we idolise. It’s just sickening. 

This series may not have the power to change the world, but if I can help a handful of women open up about their bodies and feel more comfortable in their skins, then I’ll be a happy bunny.

I have had hundreds of images to create studies from now. I am so grateful to everyone who has sent me photographs of themselves for this body positive series. If you’ve sent me photographs and I plan to use them, I will let you know asap. It may take me a while to get to you – there’s a lot to work through, so just hang tight. Some of the photographs I just can’t use, but I can assure you, it’s just the quality of the photograph or it’s just a picture of a random body part, and nothing to do with your figure. All the photographs have been wonderful in their own way and I’ve enjoyed the conversations and connections I’ve made so much. Stay in touch wonderful women!
* That’s not an exaggeration. I used to get up at 5am to run my half marathon every day. Running is my religion, even though osteoarthritis in my right knee has put a stop to that.

** Not her real name, but I didn’t want to refer to her as “my model” throughout this post

*** There’s nothing wrong with sexuality in art or in general, but this is more about representation


Get Your Hands on Voluptas

The original body positive painting, Voluptas, is available to buy direct from the art shop. The art download can also be purchased from the art shop – art downloads give you the freedom to create your own prints and merch as many times as you like. 

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Voluptas - Body Positive Art

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