How I learned to stop worrying and love myself.

When I was 22 years old, I moved from Canada to Singapore for a year-long internship. Over the course of my year there, I had many firsts–the first time I blacked out, the first time I had vodka watermelon, the first time I woke up next to a guy whose name I didn’t know, and most memorable of all, my first attempt at a sexy photoshoot for a guy I was courting (because it was 2011 and women could make the first move if they wanted).

Things had eventually escalated to the point where nudes had to be shared (he was back in Canada and I still had two more months in Singapore and we had blue-balled each other long enough over Skype). Exchanging nudes wasn’t something I could have ever imagined doing back home in Canada, where my parents lived on the same soil, but in Singapore reality had been suspended and I could do whatever I damn well pleased away from the prying eyes of my family, friends, and above all, my community. There was only one problem: I didn’t know anything about taking tasteful, nude selfies.

I had never used my body as a form of self-expression before.

I could have just taken a blurry, badly angled close-up of my crotch and sent it off, but I was classier than that. My mother had taught me better, and she had especially taught me about the dangers of men taking advantage of women and fucking them over whenever they could. I had read enough on the horrors of revenge porn and private pictures “leaked” onto Facebook for all the world to see. I knew better than to send some guy a picture with my face and boobs in it. This had to be sensual, not sexual. Therein lay the first challenge: tapping into my sensuality.

Growing up in a Pakistani family that placed a lot of emphasis on looks and physical aesthetics, many of my fears and anxieties about my body surfaced at this point. I had crazy insecurities about myself–my body was too hairy, I had blemishes on my legs, living in Singapore had given me a tan, and of course, I was too fat. If I was going to take these photos, I had to put aside all my “complexes,” especially if someone else was going to be in the room with me taking the pictures.

I turned to my “photographer” roommate for the shoot–another Canadian in Singapore for an internship who had a fancy Nikon DSLR that she only ever used on Auto mode. I asked her to help with some photos for a charity event, I felt a little ashamed telling her the truth. Maybe she’d think it was slutty of me to send nude photographs to a guy online. I was afraid of being judged. In any case, she looked puzzled when she walked into the room with lit candles and me in a see-through sarong, golden chandelier earrings, and not much else. But she was a good sport and went along with it. We actually were able to laugh throughout the whole thing, even when my boobs popped out by accident. It was exhilarating posing, finding the light, playing with angles. I had never used my body as a form of self-expression before.

Later, as I scrolled through the 30 or 40 shots of myself in various revealing positions, I couldn’t help but think I actually looked good. It was strange to see myself on screen like that. Years later, when I thought back to it, I realized that up until that moment I had never seen myself as an erotic being. Being told my whole life who I was, I had shut away one of my basic human needs in order to continue being who I was supposed to be–a good girl. Seeing myself in those photos let me see the parts of myself I didn’t know I had. For one, I found my body wasn’t as gross as I had imagined it to be my whole life. There was something radical in letting myself be viewed in a kinder and gentler light, and to be able to admit to myself that I was beautiful, no matter what anyone else said.

This photoshoot was one of the first steps I took in my adulthood to claim my adult body and my adult expectations and my adult sexuality.

I thought about the guy who I took these pictures for. I wanted desperately to show him something I had never shared with anyone else, that I could be bold, daring, teasing. That my sexuality had many sides. It was my personality extended. I wanted him to know I wasn’t just some horny chick in Singapore snapping nudes. I was more: artistic, flirty, wild. I wanted him to know the person who would be returning home soon.

This photoshoot was one of the first steps I took in my adulthood to claim my adult body and my adult expectations and my adult sexuality. It didn’t matter if my mother thought I was 5 pounds overweight or if my father made fun of my “lady beard” in passing. Those didn’t show up in the pictures. What did show up was my body and how I moved in it. My unconditional love for my body, with all its perceived flaws, were what I saw in my pictures.