Listen to this story
I tell my friends I won’t know I’m famous until my nudes have leaked. I’ve been saying this for years. If The Secret is real, this is my way of asking the universe to just release them already. I’m also safeguarding myself by warning my friends that my nudes could leak, because I’ve been with men who were vindictive like that. What the men probably don’t know, and what my friends probably do, is that I’m fine with those nudes. They’re good nudes.
I have no fresh nudes. Every picture I took of my body was from a time when I was “thin enough” to do it, and I knew my angles. I know that, if they ever leak, the proverbial cat out of the bag would be that I had a goldmine of a body, and I am fine with that. I was well-versed in defending my sexuality, and its necessity, given the fact that there are so few Indigenous women who are overtly sexual and explicit in this world—publicly, at least. We’re victimized so often that some of us are convinced it’s our fault — which is how abuse works. We’re often congratulated when we’re modest, humble, and “sacred,” and I’m the opposite of these things and pride myself on it.
I don’t have fresh nudes because I’m no longer compelled to produce them. I don’t need to entice a man with nudity, or anything, right now — right now, all I’m concerned about are deadlines and crafting new work. I write and I eat when I’m hungry. I am less and less concerned with my body and its desirability. I am only concerned with its function and what I like about it. Carbs have become fuel for good work. I’m not being puritanical about it. Nudes are still good, and sometimes it’s one way of controlling the narrative of a body.
I felt strong when I took a picture of my naked back. The photo is black and white, which I have defined as a tasteful nude, or “tasty nude” for short. I look proud, like I never do. I took the photo after my uncle disowned me for showing too much cleavage on social media. The picture is an opposing viewpoint. Some Indigenous men hide behind “old ways” and traditions to tell us what to do with our bodies, when my people were fine with nudity. My people, and my mother, specifically, found sexuality to be an irreverent thing one could use to subvert a culture working against us.
Acknowledging my nude accomplishments doesn’t make me feel smaller or reduced. I think the impulse to not speak about them is coming from the way we have made slut-shaming normal, expected, and I’ve internalized it myself. There were feats of angles, technology, and artistry in how I projected the image of my body to the world. There was an era full of sheer desperation before I came up, before I thought I could defend myself from men. There was a posturing period, where I wanted to appear cool about my body, where it was ultimately about deception and necessity — I needed to see myself as cool before I could believe it, and there was a renaissance after I bought a tripod. The images from that time are melancholy, strong, and wielding a sexuality I was afraid to express in the world, because no matter how I dressed or acted, men found ways to subjugate me. The era I’m in now is the absence of nudity. Sometimes existing in the absence of something is still a testimony to its cultural significance. Resisting one aspect of craft is a viable aesthetic. Cormac McCarthy cut away almost all of his commas to make a statement about clarity and grammar. The absence of nudes in my life is a statement about value and commodification.
In the absence of enticement, I’ve found an appreciation for my body beyond how I present it. In this absence is where, in group therapy, I brought up that a male mentor of mine recommended the ketogenic diet, or Whole30, to drop weight before a feature article and an appearance on The Daily Show with Trever Noah, where my visibility would be massive and my unruly body might be criticized.
“How do you feel about that?” my therapist asked.
“Well, I like myself. But I think people would probably prefer I be slimmer — more socially acceptable,” I said.
“Let me stop you there, Terese. Did you just hear yourself?”
I was confused.
“You just said you liked yourself! This is a breakthrough.” She then described the state I was in when I arrived at the partial hospitalization program. She said my acceptance of self was huge. She made me stand up as my group members congratulated me and took turns complimenting me and how far I’ve come.
“You’re fucking beautiful, Terese.”
“You have nice boobs, Terese,” a girl said.
“Fuck everyone, Terese.”
I laughed hard, because of my discomfort, but also because it was true — it was a feat to accept myself and eat when I was hungry and reject advice that I should be dropping weight for the public, for men, or anyone. I use the word “accept” knowing the problem of acceptance. It’s as much of a problem as a word like “balance” or “love,” in that if we don’t give it a quality beyond what it typically signifies, people think we’re simpleminded when we say “But I love him,” or “I accept myself,” or “Life is about balance.” People don’t want to hear the simple things that make us happy, and I respect that, because I am suspicious of all words too. “Accept,” to me, means to regard and revere as much as I would regard and revere a loved one’s body. I would not look at my best friend, or my brother, and pick apart the oddness of their bodies, because those things are what I find endearing. I like my swinging heart and the three children I made. Overeating is welcome and better than not being able to eat or speak. I like the bad choices, and that I am on the cusp now. I walk by kale, and I can afford it for once. Someday I might get over growing up food insecure, and maybe someday I won’t feel as if I have to devour the world before it’s gone. Someday I’ll eat the damn kale. But I don’t need a food bank anymore. I don’t need a man to buy me dinner, so I just buy myself more dinners than I need. I like it. I like the culmination of it, which appears as pudgy knuckles and fuller cheeks. I like appetizers.
This was the mark of something. I felt as though the person I was becoming could not be rendered through photographs or physicality. I was becoming a thing on the page. I was becoming cheerful when I noticed there were days I could look in a mirror with my glasses on and see someone who appeared unruly, yes, and undetermined. People didn’t see my book coming, and they don’t see me coming — I do. It’s important to note that most Salish women I know are short, and our arms are typically large, at least in my family, which is good for pulling fish out of the water — and our backs are made for doing specific work in our community. The Eurocentric ideas about my body are boring, like the men who hounded me and policed what I could do with my body and how I should talk about it. I know if I should ever find myself hooking up a tripod, considering what I look like to myself and not what I look like to a man, it will be an art truly my own.
It’s going to be with a lens I acquired through self-interrogation. “Be yourself” always sounded silly to me, given my familiarity with theory and criticism on the self, on the body, on desire and heteronormativity.
My culture believes in circles. Things are cyclical, and we begin dependent on our parents and are then dependent on our children as we pass into the next world. I look at my body and think of a time when I didn’t concern myself with nudity. I was five and dressed like a boy for school because I was tired of being a girl. I told my class I was my twin, and nobody believed me, except myself. I remember when I was 11 and wore my brother’s clothing to school every day. I tucked in my shirt how he did. I felt like myself then. Boys didn’t look at me, and it made me content. My impulse is to return to the days when my body was my own. I’d like to pass into this next world in my old age, looking like a strong thing nobody has seen before. I’d like to exist publicly as a strong force, representing the diversity in Salish women’s bodies. I am not bound to convention, and if I return to nudity, it will dismantle all eras of nudity before it.