I noticed my stretch marks for the first time when I nonchalantly passing by my mirror naked, twirling around my new apartment. The Brooklyn sunlight was pouring through my carefully selected, overpriced silk curtains, and Lana Del Rey's voice was pouring out of my Alexa. I sipped a cold brew, scurrying between my bathroom and bedroom, fetching hair extensions, bronzer, deodorant. That's when they caught my eye: Stretch marks. In the past, I've made peace with my body by taking nudes — but this time, reaching for my phone wasn't my first move. Insecurity was.
I looked closer, and sure enough, there were red and purple lines dancing across my lower stomach. I had been writing them off as sex scratches in the dull light of my old apartment for weeks — but the sunlight in my new place was unforgiving and clear as day. They were certainly not trophies from the rough sex I had over two weeks ago. They were stretch marks. Stretch marks! I know basically everyone has stretch marks, and they are NBD, but for some reason I’m not proud of, I felt bad about them.
I’ve never been thin. I’ve teetered between a size 10 and 12 most of my adult life— but with all my curves, I’ve never noticed a stretch mark. I felt something inside my brain snap. (Very similar to the meltdown I had when I firmly decided I looked like Chaz Bono, but that’s for another essay.) I told myself I was disgusting, worthless, a failure. I blamed the stretch marks on my Prozac. I worried about what I was eating. I eyed the bottle of pinot noir on my counter and debated if 10 a.m. was too early to start drinking. I played on a loop in my head, "I am fat and ugly. I am fat and ugly. I am fat and ugly."
So I took nudes.
I know that seems ridiculous, but it seemed as if the only thing that could snap me out of my downward self-hatred spiral would be to see myself as sexual and desirable. My whole life, the mirror has been an enemy, but nudes have been my knight in naked armor. When I look in the mirror, I pick myself apart — but when I take nudes, I have fun.
Of course, part of why I love taking nudes is the validation from sending them around. Clearly, those assemblies in middle school designed to scare kids out of sexting didn’t work on me. No one exists in a vacuum, and doing things for ourselves often feels even better with the approval and adoration of others. (Particularly from hot butch lesbians, but as I often say, that’s for another essay.) I like validation — from myself, and yes, from my Instagram followers, too.
My foolproof formula for raising my self-esteem is masturbating, then taking nudes. Everyone looks prettier after an orgasm. I've had body image issues my whole life from benign and debilitating, so it seems counterintuitive that seeing my naked body makes me feel better and not worse. But something about controlling the shot, owning my sexuality, and capturing my likeness makes me feel good as hell. It's like looking at art rather than scrutinizing the mirror.
Curating the perfect Instagram is like therapy. Instead of fixating on my hips or thighs, I put my energy into getting the lighting right. Instead of obsessing over the shape of my breasts or the length of my neck, I concentrate on producing the best smoky eye a sh*tty makeup brush from CVS can produce. Picking out sexy lingerie has done more for my confidence than years of talk therapy has.
So, it only made sense that my remedy for the soul-crushing reaction that my newfound stretch marks produced was to put on sexy lingerie, listen to Lana Del Rey, and drink pinot noir by myself. After work, of course; I was a productive member of society before I got my drink and nudes on.
That evening, in the twilight of my apartment’s evening lighting, I could hardly see my stretch marks. I began to wonder if I had always had them and never noticed them until I was in direct sunlight. And if I had, then I had certainly felt sexy with them before. So why shouldn’t I feel sexy now?
As I snapped mirror pics, I felt my confidence soar, and I made peace with my body as I have so many times before. I privately admired the way I looked in the photo, then uploaded it to Instagram and felt a rush of validation as the likes rolled in. Both experiences led to feelings of peace.
I know there are other ways to take care of myself and celebrate my body: I can nourish myself with delicious meals, I can say yes the next time my friend asks me to join her at spin class, and maybe I can even cut down on the wine. Maybe. But in the meantime, taking nudes boosts my self-esteem — and my number of Instagram DMs.