Tag Archives: self image

Sinful Sunday: Selfie

I take selfies for a lot of reasons. I’ve sent them to partners, lovers, friends and family (look, mom! I was here!). I’ve posted some and keep others in a  file that no one will ever see. When I look through the selfies I’ve sent, I remember how I felt at the time – the mad attraction, the contentment, the sense of a start or an end. I remember the impulse that prompted the shot. I remember a shard of time.

Screen Shot 2016-07-08 at 10.32.30 PMDespite the fact that I’m posting it here, I took this last night assuming that I wasn’t going to show it to anyone. I’m preoccupied and tired from not sleeping enough but, for the first time in a couple of weeks, I felt still and relaxed. I just wanted to remember that.

More than one article has asserted that selfies are a form of self-objectification. Inherent in self-objectification is the treatment of your body as an object and, in the case of this photograph, it’s true. I did make my body an object – I made it a memory aid. And given that it is my body to do with as I choose, I’m perfectly fine with that.

To see more Sinful Sunday, click the pretty lips….

Sinful Sunday

The Love That Destroys You

Fine art nude of a woman sitting in a human sized bird's nest for The Love That Destroys You by Malin James

The Nest by Serena Biagnini

Ages ago, (it was actually just last year, but it feels like ages ago), I wrote the initial draft of this post. A lot has happened since then and my understanding of how love works for me has changed.

So, rather than starting from scratch, I’m inserting commentary into the draft I initially wrote. The italicized bits are me now. Me a year ago is in standard text. It may end up being contradictory, but love is complicated – so complicated that, in the end, it’s fairly simple. If that’s not contradictory, I don’t know what is.

I recently had a conversation about love – specifically, the “love that destroys you”. My initial response (and the one I ultimately hold to) is that, for me, this kind of love can happen once or twice in a lifetime. While some people stay open enough to get destroyed (in a good way) again and again while, for others, the damage incurred makes staying open hard. I fall into the latter camp.

My initial response was impulsive and, quite honestly, defensive. Having been decimated twice, I was trying to distance myself from the possibility that it could happen again. But buried within that anxiety is the fact that, for me, loving means vulnerability, and that’s terrifying because love routinely destroys me, to varying degrees, on any given day. A special kind of super combustible love is not required. 

What is “the love that destroys you”? It’s love on a cellular level – love that hurts in its absence, like a phantom limb. It’s the kind of love that changes you, slowly over time, or all at once. Either way, it alters you. You aren’t the same person you were before you met and loved (and possibly lost) that person.

I do agree with this definition, though I remember thinking purely in terms of romantic or sexual love when I defined it. The truth is that any love can do this to you, from the love you feel for your mother to the friend you can’t live without. It just depends on context and circumstance.

I have loved in that insane, chemically induced, destructive way and, in both cases, I got dismantled and had to rebuild. As a result, I became a more solitary thing. This isn’t to say that I can’t love passionately. I can and do. I just can’t love in that young way anymore. Over the years I’ve developed barriers – the ability to jump in with both feet was burned out of me.

It wasn’t really, it was just safer, at the time, to think so. Loving in any way – sexually, romantically, platonically, maternally – is a fucking risk. There are no guarantees. Guarantees create the illusion of control, but control goes out the window when you make yourself vulnerable. It’s impossible to predict who you’ll love in that cellular way, but regardless of who it is, barriers won’t stop it. You can either shut down and avoid it completely, or accept it and take the risk.

My daughter is the exception to all of this. Loving her destroys me every day because barriers don’t work with her (nor would I want them to). Every time she wraps her hand around my thumb or cries because her “feelings are big”, part of me crumbles and has to rebuild. Loving her is compulsive and holistic. I could never not love her. But there was something in those early experiences that changed me. I can’t seem to stop protecting myself, even (shamefully) sometimes with her.

Which makes me sad, because what I couldn’t consciously see is that nothing in me had fundamentally changed. I was just so used to guarding myself that it felt like a state of being rather than a choice.

The odd thing is that I still feel that crazy love in random pockets. It’s in the way my mom smiled when she bought orange shoes or how my brother limps when he’s tired. I feel an intense pop of love in small, unconscious moments. Those pops get under my heart, and in those moments, my love for them is so huge that it undoes me. But destruction on a grand scale, I suspect I’ll only feel once or twice.

Here’s the thing. Those small destructions, like the orange shoes, are no different than the big destructions, like the attraction that poisons you or the loss of your right to kiss him. Regardless of scale, those feelings reveal, if only for a moment, the true extent of your attachment. Sometimes that awareness is AMAZING. Sometimes it hurts. Sometimes it guts you. That emotional intensity means vulnerability and loving enough to be vulnerable means loving enough to be hurt. 

I’ve known great love with friends, lovers, partners and family members. But the love that destroys you, that remakes you in some way…that’s happened twice. I’m not saying I couldn’t feel it again, or that others don’t feel it all the time. I just suspect that, for better or worst, I’ve had that experience and won’t have it again.

Comforting at the time, but wrong. While not every love destroys you, the reality is that, barring complete emotional shutdown, how a love affects you is out of your control.

People die. People leave. Feelings change. While not every love destroys you, any love could if you experience it fully, (which isn’t to say that’s the mark of “real” love. All love is real love. It’s just one way that it can go down). A year ago, that scared me too much to contemplate, so I wove a self-image that helped me feel safe:

Sure, I love. I love like a champ, but I can’t get hurt because everything flammable has already been burned.

Like I said, comforting but wrong. If I can love, I can be hurt. That’s just the way it is for me. So, rather than tell myself pretty stories, I can acknowledge my vulnerability and get on with it. It’s not exactly comforting but it’s honest and, at this point, honesty, even painful honesty, is better than the illusion that I won’t get hurt again.

On Seeing Yourself

A wet plate portrait of Malin James on glass beneath water. Wet Plate Collodian by Nicolas Laborie for On Seeing Yourself by Malin James

Portrait, Malin James. Wet Plate Collodian by Nicolas Laborie

I’ve been bumping up against my own self-image recently, which is a curiously exciting and unsettling thing. It’s been happening in several ways, some easier to define than others, but the overall effect is the realization that I don’t know myself as well as I thought I did, and that that is absolutely fine.

Being photographed by someone gifted is its own kind of gift – one that I couldn’t accept when I was a young, distracted thing. A gifted photographer can distil you with an odd sort of purity. If you’re lucky and the stars align, what you end up with are visual representations of various facets of yourself – shards of personality that often operate beneath your conscious understanding.

Black and white head shot of Malin James taken by Nicolas Laborie. For On Seeing Yourself by Malin James

Photograph by Nicolas Laborie

The self-image I’ve nurtured over the years is that of a controlled, measured woman. I don’t let down my guard unless I choose to and it’s rare that I do. Like most people, I wear a social mask and it’s that mask that I recognize in pictures. I rarely see the person who watches the world from beneath it represented on film. That’s probably why the images Nicolas Laborie took this past week-end pulled me up short.

The wet plate above is recognizable insofar as I recognize the interiority it caught – that particular mixture of nameless emotions is essentially my resting state. I’ve just never seen it on my face, not even when I look in a mirror. I’m not entirely sure how the wet plate caught it – maybe it’s just having to stay perfectly still for the exposure – but it’s the first time I’ve seen an accurate visual representation of my internal life.

Black and white portrait of Malin James taken by Nicolas Laborie. For On Seeing Yourself by Malin James

Photograph by Nicolas Laborie

The other three were taken after the wet plate and they do something a bit different. When I was younger, I longed for self-possession. When someone photographed me, I very consciously cloaked myself in imitation poise. The problem was that I always knew it was fake and I didn’t like seeing that gap between reality and aspiration caught on film.

As I got older and grew increasingly uncomfortable with what I saw in images of myself, being photographed stopped being a pleasure. It was too much of a personal minefield. Participating in Sinful Sunday has helped me enjoy photography again, but only to the extent that I control the image, and I rarely let down my guard.

But these are different. These are just of me being me in the moment because I no longer know how to be something I’m not. That’s why they mean so much to me.

Black and white portrait of Malin James taken by Nicolas Laborie. For On Seeing Yourself by Malin James

Photograph by Nicolas Laborie

The person in these pictures is the woman I wanted to be when I was a confused mess of a girl. I wanted to be calm and hungry and strong, so much so that I tried to pretend to be something I wasn’t and failed every time.

It’s magic to me that I became someone I could respect. I never trusted myself – I never gave myself a reason to – but the person I see in these pictures is someone I respect and trust. That’s why these photos are a bit of a revelation. In many ways, it’s the first time I can say that seeing myself on film is comforting rather than proof of the gap between my reality and everything I want to be.

To see more of Nicolas Laborie’s work, please visit his site, and follow him on Twitter. He’s brilliant. 

NB: I nearly didn’t write this post. Ironically, there’s still something uncomfortable about talking about myself, especially in what could be perceived as an arrogant light (and let’s face it, talking about pretty pictures of yourself skates that boundary uncomfortably close). Ultimately, the fact that the experience was so unexpected and revelatory in its way was the reason I decided to go out on a limb and write it. It was an amazing experience and I hope other people are able to experience something similarly positive in front of a lens.

Small Breasts

Portrait by Tabitha Rayne

Portrait by Tabitha Rayne

Ah, breasts. They’re lovely, right? Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about breasts, (I know, it’s hard not to), mostly because I realized that the only time I ever describe them in my erotica, is expressly to say that the breasts in question are small.  If I don’t describe them, it’s fair to say that the character’s breasts anywhere from average-sized, (whatever that means), to large and that they are, of course, lovely.

However, if I take the time to actually describe them, it’s almost always to say that they are small or “delicate” just as the bodies that go with them are “boyish” with “subtle curves.” I don’t do it often because most of the time, I want the reader to slide herself, (or himself), into the story and, for better or worse, tiny tits are not very common. At least, they never were, especially in the erotic content I read when I was younger.

In many ways, popular erotica tends to traffic in ideal body types, which means that the genre has been graced by an abundance of full, heavy, goddess-like breasts – the sort of tits a man can lay his head on after fucking the slender yet curvy woman they’re attached. There’s nothing wrong with that, per se. Erotica is, in many ways, a fantasy driven genre, and for many people, slim bodies and large breasts are the fantastic ideal. Recently though, we’ve seen more stories featuring women with true-to-life proportions, which I think is wonderful. These women are sexy and hot despite not being a size-4. They rock those goddess-like breasts in a whole new way, and it’s wonderful to see the slow integration of realistic body types in erotica. But this left me wondering about those of us who do not have full, goddess-like breasts; ladies who, rather than rocking a pair of D’s, are sitting pretty with a set of A’s?

I read a lot of filthy romances growing up, which meant that I was exposed to a great many “bountiful  orbs,” (no joke). Somewhere along the line, I internalized that a woman’s orbs should be bountiful, and that, if they weren’t, it was something of a problem, if not an outright flaw. I’ve often wondered where my insecurity over my small breasts came from, because I’ve never once been with anyone who complained. In fact, the men and women I’ve been with, (and there have been quite a few), never once criticized my breasts in any way. Nor was I ever on the receiving end of another woman’s platonic critique. In fact, as a younger woman I was a ballet dancer and briefly modeled. Both industries are brutal in their own ways, and yet my A-cups were ideal by the requirements set by each. And yet, I’ve often found myself reflexively fixated on my chest, as if somewhere along the line I judged my breasts to be a flaw. It’s bullshit, but it’s true.

My first serious exposure to sex and desirability were in those trashy romances, at the age of 12 or 13, when I had difficulty distinguishing a fantasy from my real life body image. So, despite the fact that my small breasts work in proportion to my long, tall body type, I got used to wanting fuller breasts, breasts that adhered to my own false notion of what sexy should look like. It took a long time to unwind that internalized sense of proportional failure. And then, very recently, I realized that I hadn’t unwound it as thoroughly as I’d thought.

The portrait above, which was done by the massively talented Tabitha Rayne, arrived in the mail last week. When I opened the soft paper that protected it, I was reminded of something I often forget. I was reminded of what I look like. I have a hard time seeing myself in photographs, or even in the mirror. But I can see myself in this portrait to an almost uncanny degree. That’s my hand, looking strong and capable, my shoulders and my collarbone, and yes, my breasts. They are small, and yet within the context of my figure, they are undeniably right. Change those breasts in any way, and the subject would no longer be me.

We are all more than our bodies. And yet, our bodies are the conduit through which we engage the physical world. For years, I held myself to an impossible self-imposed ideal, impossible because, short of silicon, my breasts were never going to change. Now that I write erotica it gives me pleasure to let that ideal fall away. It gives me pleasure not to describe a woman’s “orbs” in lurid detail, but rather to have her partner say “god, I love your tits,” regardless of what her tits look like. And, on the rare occasions that I do describe a woman’s breasts, it pleases me to make them small and delicate. The perfect mouthful. Because I think if I’d read something like that at 13, it might have made all the difference.