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I am a 22-year-old, currently monogamous, bisexual, pescetarian, witchy woman who just graduated from college with a degree in fine art, and I’m still learning how to adult. Learning to love myself has been a long and arduous struggle, a path that zigs, zags, pitfalls, and plummets. For a long time as a teenager I would self-harm, and still have those urges occasionally. It was a time in my life where everything seemed to be falling apart at the seams, the foundation of my life crumbling everywhere I stepped. I hated the way I looked, the way I felt, the way I acted around other people. I was dissatisfied with every piece of myself.

That doesn’t sound much like a person who would allow herself to be photographed in the nude to be put on the internet. Reaching out to Braden to do this shoot was one of those moments where I realized just how far I’ve come in learning to love myself. It was something I did purely for my own pleasure, because it was what I wanted to do. It was so freeing to say “this is what I want” and to own that decision without being concerned about what anyone else would think or say. I was so proud of myself that I wouldn’t shut up about it for weeks.

As an artist, I recognize the beauty of the human body on a very deep level. I adore the forms of muscle under skin, soft curves, unique marks of life experience spread over this vessel like a map of the places it’s been. It has taken me a long time to recognize that beauty in my own body, but I’m making this experience a testament to how far I’ve come. These are pictures that make me feel sexy, that show how I love and accept myself.

My tattoos are part of my practice of self-love. They’re the stained glass of my cathedral, the tapestries on my palace walls. The body is intrinsically beautiful, adorned or otherwise, and I believe that adding more art onto it just makes it even more beautiful and interesting. I’m still figuring out new ways of making myself feel sexy. Sometimes it’s certain clothes, sometimes it’s the music I’m listening to, or that one dance where every move goes right. There are some magical unicorn days when I have nothing better to do than stand in front of my mirror and admire what’s there, and I’m really proud of myself for having those days.

One thing that never fails to make me feel like the sexiest person ever is when my partner can’t keep their eyes off me. A strong gaze and gentle caress make my breath catch and my heart race. Being seen and explored and known draws me in irresistibly. Knowing how to savor a moment, to take your time and really be present, is an art form in itself. The tease, the build up, that’s my favorite part because it’s where you really get acquainted with your partner(s). I enjoy the process of exploring, finding new ways to make their breath stutter, a type of touch that brings out a sigh of pleasure. Knowing these things about another person (knowing that they know that I know how to make them feel amazing) makes me feel sexy.

I think my favorite part about myself besides my tattoos are my hands. I’ve always thought they were long and elegant, and they’re the most important way I interact with the world. As a very touch-oriented person, being able to reach out and have physical contact with people is important to me. It’s one of the reasons I was so drawn to the world of social dancing: being embraced by so many different people, who have so many different experiences, and feeling like you’ve known them forever in those three minutes. It’s a beautiful way of connecting that I haven’t ever found in any other context. The other reason my hands are so important is that I’m an artist, and they are the avenue of creation. My hands are expressive and talented and I guess, by extension, I am too.

I also want to say that I had so much fun doing this shoot. It was way out of my comfort zone, but that just made everything much more exciting. If I had to describe myself in one word it would probably be “weird,” but in the best way, and as a practitioner of witchcraft (and former Roman Catholic), I particularly enjoyed playfully posing mostly nude on a church pew with a deer skull. Never thought I’d find myself in that position, but it was ridiculously satisfying. I’m glad I got to express that part of myself here, where I hadn’t expected to really find much room for it.