A Turning Point in my Life
In our bedroom, there is a large oil painting of me hanging on one of the walls. Oh, wait… I rephrase! It’s a huge painting of me – about 120cm by 80cm – created from a nude photo shoot that I did in May 2015.
I am standing sideways, and the view is such that one can see my whole back but only a side contour of my front body. My skin glistens under yellow spotlights shining on me and It’s easy to see tiny little dents and the impressions my spine makes on my skin.
It takes me by surprise how comfortable I am being in my natural state and sometimes, I am lost for words. I grew up as a Muslim woman in the slums of Karachi, Pakistan and I was taught to always cover myself. A ‘good’ Muslim woman kept her gaze lowered in public, covered her body so her beauty didn’t distract the men of the society.
As a young child and in later years, I always wore loose clothes so as not to show the shape of my body. Though I didn’t wear a proper hijab, I always wore a scarf over my head. This was quite different than many of the other girls, who covered their faces and, in some cases, even their eyes. It was considered inappropriate for a woman to think about her own self in any pleasurable or appreciative kind of way.
I didn’t dare think about my sexuality.
I didn’t dare think I was a beautiful woman.
I didn’t even look at myself in the mirror ‘til I was in my late 20’s.
Years have passed and I have managed to leave Pakistan and live in Western countries. I have attended many workshops, but I still find it hard to embrace my femininity.
It is now the year 2008. I am attending the Love, Intimacy and Sexuality workshop – A clothing-optional event and though I am here, I don’t think that I am ever going to take off my clothes. I feel awkward.
As the workshop progresses, slowly other people’s clothes start coming off. I look around and I see all shapes, all sizes. I see awkwardness. I see shyness… and suddenly I know that I am not alone anymore. The time is now or never.
I take off my clothes and let my curly and wild hair out.
I am naked though funny enough, I don’t feel naked. We are all sitting in the group and the facilitator asks if any of us want to speak in front of the group. I stand up.
Looking at these naked bodies, I feel nervous but it’s time to own what I have just done; it’s time to declare. I start speaking…
I am a Muslim woman, raised to disown my sexuality and cover my body. Here I am standing naked in front of you…
And then I burst out crying. It’s too much to bear. The respect that I feel in the eyes of these men and women is not something that I have ever experienced. The ‘good’ feeling doesn’t sit right. Where is the abuse? The absence of it makes me feel empty…
But wait, it’s not over yet. In the next activity, I am asked to lay on the floor and five men and women ask for permission to caress and kiss my body. I am trembling but I say Yes. They ask me where the no-go areas are; I point towards my pelvic region.
I lay horizontal on my tummy and this feels OK. Their touch feels like a massage and their kisses feel like little pecks. My bod starts to relax. Very soon though, I am asked to turn over.
Things completely shift for me when I turn to lay on my back. I feel exposed; I feel vulnerable and very scared, but I keep quiet and let tears run down my face.
Their kisses and caresses don’t feel sexual in any way. Instead, I feel like a Goddess. My body feels like a temple receiving adoration, respect and admiration from these humans. I start sobbing.
This is the first time in my life that I am exposed but I am not abused.
This is the first time in my life that my femininity is worshipped and admired
My muscles don’t know how to be. The years of trying to hide myself and living with tense and contracted muscles have left my body contorted. It wants to break free, but it doesn’t know, how.
It takes me hours to recover from this experience.
The journey from this point of complete bewilderment to the nude photo shoot in 2017 has been long but I have felt that somehow embracing my sexuality has allowed me to embrace more of my own power.
I have allowed myself to trust people but more importantly, I have allowed myself to trust men. In a non-sexual kind of way, my fellow workshop mates have taught me how to be intimate with myself and with others.
Love, Sex and intimacy have never felt the same.