Jul 21, 2021
Trigger warning: sexual assault, self-harm, suicidal ideation.
Joy celebrated her body with a photography experience at Black Swan Boudoir. This is her story in her words. Dawn and I are in awe of her and the story she shared with us, what an honor it is to be apart of it.
The last 5 years, I’ve been at war with my body. Before 2016, I used to hike, paddle board, do yoga, weight lift. I used to disappear into the wilderness for weeks at a time, re-emerging smelling foul, hair tangled from the wind, and an unstoppable smile glued to my face.
But then I developed chronic, complex, dissociative PTSD after starting to process 9 sexual assaults. I self-harm. I have pelvic floor spasm that periodically levels me for weeks at a time and which requires bi-yearly Botox injections. I’ve had 3 different pelvic floor physical therapists. I’ve had 8 mental health therapists. My adventuring ground to a halt. I couldn’t be in the wilderness that long without my therapist. I couldn’t be that far from an emergency room.
And this was all before the pandemic.
I went into the pandemic with a small business that I’d built from the ground up three years prior. The first six months of the pandemic, we totally transformed our business activities to churn out PPE and raise funds so we could give PPE away to essential workers. I applied for loans and grants. I re-built the website twice. And then a mental breakdown necessitated me leaving the company and my business partner. Gyms closing brought a halt to my daily weight-lifting practice, and I subsequently gained 20 pounds. I moved in with a partner for the first time. My therapist ghosted me. And finally, suicidal ideation sent me to a psych hospital for a week.
When I left the hospital, I was ghostly pale and had new self-harm scars.
Post psych-ward, my survival felt more precious than ever. And I felt unexpected pride at what my body had achieved. Through the last year (and my entire life, for that matter), my body continues to keep me alive. It wakes me up every day and digests and breathes and moves and thinks. My muscles contract, my blood pumps, my cells respirate. And they do these even when I’ve gained weight, am pasty pale, and have scars.
I thought about putting off my photo session until I lost the pandemic weight. I thought about waiting until the end of the summer when I’d be tanner and have sun-streaked hair. I thought about waiting, waiting, and waiting some more.
But there was a little voice that kept speaking up and saying “Why wait? You want to document how you’re a resilient indestructible badass? That’s true NOW. Just do it now.”
For me, my boudoir shoot wasn’t about feeling sexy or even just attractive. It was about stripping
down and photographing as much of my body as possible. It was about celebrating this beaten, battered, resilient lump of muscle. It was about letting my body shine. It was about actually feeling proud of what I’ve survived.
Did the last year suck more than any year in recent memory? Yeah, it did. And I survived it. Did I survive it the way I wanted to? Not even a little bit. I didn’t come out of it super fit, with new hobbies, speaking a new language, having completed several home renovation projects. I came out of it minus a company, plus several pounds, and with two massive mental health breakdowns. Glamorous it was decidedly NOT. But could I have done it any differently?
A core tenant of DBT therapy is the belief that everyone is doing their best at any given moment. I asked my therapist if that was actually true and he said, “it’s in our best interest to believe that it is.” I’ve been mulling over that a lot this last year, especially in the face of people posting pics of the new deck they built or all the things they learned to knit or their backpack trip in the Yukon. I didn’t do any of that. Was I really trying my best? Couldn’t I have done better?
No one else can do this mending.
All this time judging myself didn’t actually make me DO any better. It just made me feel like shit.
When I lay out everything that was going on, every last detail, all my beliefs, the way I was raised, my trauma, all my patterns of behavior, every last piece of context… I can confidently say that I did my absolute best given everything that was going on. It isn’t my universal maxima – certainly not the best I’ve ever done in my life. But it was my best under THOSE CIRCUMSTANCES.
And THAT was what I wanted to document with a boudoir shoot. I wanted photographic evidence that I survived, that I got help, that I wanted to LIVE. Yes, the pictures show my scars, but I’m not ashamed of them. I understand where I was when I self-harmed. I understand how it happened. And I see how I was doing my absolute best at the time given the context. Context is key, after all.
And it did that. It kept me alive. It continues to keep me alive.
Part of the tattoo on my ribs is a sound wave of my voice reading the last two lines of a poem, the entirety of which says this:
If your story is Chosen you will receive a Gift Voucher for Professional Hair and Make-up and a Photographic experience, a $500 value!