After Experiencing the Worst Year of My Life, I Bought a Nude Portrait of Myself
"I wanted this painting to depict the exact moment I learned to love myself again."
How I Bought That takes a peek inside the process of making a major purchase, whether your budget is big, small, all your own, or supplemented by family and/or financial institutions. In this series, we look at many different spending situations, from how people afforded big purchases like first homes to electric vehicles to splurge-worthy bags.
My body has never been something I’m particularly adoring of, but I’ve never appreciated it more than I do right now, because, less than two years ago, I went through the worst few months of my adult life so far. I had been working myself into the ground, was in a failing relationship that I tried so desperately to make work despite distance and in-laws who would never accept me, and I wasn’t looking after myself, mentally or physically.
It began when everything in my life exploded a few days before Christmas, and I found myself in and out of doctors’s rooms for weeks on end. I’ve always been anxious—which eventually progressed into an anxiety disorder—but this was an episode I’d never experience before: All of the colors were sucked from the world; my skin had broken out; my hair was dry and constantly knotted, as I couldn’t do anything but lie upon my unbrushed head day in and day out; and food didn’t taste of anything anymore so I had no urge to eat. I’ve always been slim—I’m 5’8″ and have always been described as having long, thin legs—but this was different. I was nearly three stones lighter than I was a month or so before. So each morning I would open my eyes and pray for bedtime to come so that I could sleep away the pain.
Then one morning last spring, I looked at myself in the mirror and saw somebody I didn’t recognize.
I noticed my posture had changed, my hip bones stuck out more than they previously had, and the body I was so comfortable living in was gone. I was physically reflecting on how hollow and torn I felt inside and within my mind. I realized the year before had taken more out of me (and from me) than I knew I possibly had. So I started paying more attention to how my body was physically responding to what I was going through.
The months that followed were some of the most formative in my lifetime. I’ve been to college, I’ve been through breakups, and I’ve experienced things that people say will “shape you”—and they did, but not like last year had. Noticing that everybody around me had learned the need to be fragile with me and my body, not only made me physically sad but also emotionally sad, too. I got to a point where I realized that no amount of medication or counseling would help me get past the point it already had—so I needed to learn to love myself.
Over time, I learned how to come to terms with how my life was different from the one I thought I’d have in my early twenties (I still hadn’t found “the one,” and I wasn’t necessarily smashing my career) and become grateful for all that had brought me to this point. I had managed to put all my lost weight back on and started freelancing more and working for a company that I adore. I got back into yoga and surrounded myself with love and things that made me happy. I reconciled my feelings about myself—the anger, the fear, and the disappointment—and began to love myself again. Not just love parts of me but love every part of my being, even the flawed ones.
So when the relationship I had with myself started to get better about eight months later, I remembered how I always joked I would get a nude portrait painted of myself before I got “old and looked different.” Since watching Titanic, I fell in love with the idea of having something so intimately created of myself, but deep down, I didn’t think I’d ever really get one. But that’s just it, we are never the same as we are at this very moment.
I wanted this painting to depict the exact moment I learned to love myself again. I was fascinated with how my physical was a canvas for how I was feeling inside.
And while no version of myself is better than the other, this seemed a particularly poignant moment to immortalize. So I went for it; I decided this was as good a moment as ever to finally get my nude portrait commissioned.
I found a young female artist on social media, and asked her to depict me in my true, raw form; I wanted nothing airbrushed. It was a worrying feeling to prepare myself to surrender the most personal of my body. But as soon as I began to take the nude photos for the artist, I felt so recharged. This was a completely new experience; I’d never spent time taking photos of myself just for me. I wanted to be depicted for myself, rather than anything that was designed to “impress” somebody I was interested in and position myself in a “sexy” light.
Two weeks and £50.00 later, a brown paper envelope arrived through my letterbox. Inside, encased in tissue paper was a biro-drawn picture of me. It felt strange to hold myself in my hands in that way. My body in the painting was covered in pink watercolors, resembling my bright, colorful nature spilling outwards. Reds and purples blended into one other, resembling love, pain, anger, peace, and the outlines were focused on simplicity.
They say that how you see yourself in a photo is how you truly look, but I felt as though this painting was the most accurate depiction of me I’ve ever seen.
For the first time in a long time, I looked at something with fire back in my eyes, as though because I’d made myself the most vulnerable, nobody else could push me to that point of pain ever again.
Now that portrait hangs proudly on my bedroom wall, right next to my mirror. And it will always be a constant reminder on how I took something that made me feel very vulnerable and painful and made it into a powerful thing. Nothing ever stays the same for long, but now there will be a piece of me that remains vulnerable forever.