As told to writer Sophie Saint Thomas by Instagram model Tatyana. Trigger warning: This piece includes mentions of disordered eating and body dysmorphia.
When Tatyana (now 33) was 19, she was diagnosed with third-stage Hodgkin’s lymphoma. She survived. Now, she uses Instagram to come to terms with all she’s been through. To a stranger scrolling through her feed, which is primarily semi-nude photos of herself, Tatyana appears to be a confident, hot woman with tons of tattoos and great taste in music — and she is. However, if you take the time to read her captions, you’ll learn she’s also still wading through not only the effects cancer had on her body but surviving another near-death experience, as well.
Three years ago, she fell off a mountain and broke her back in seven places. In addition to living with resultant chronic pain, Tatyana has also had “every eating disorder in the book” and struggles with body dysmorphia, a condition in which you perceive physical flaws others don’t notice. The images she posts — and the community offered by a digital platform such as Instagram — has proven an invaluable tool in her healing.
While many incorrectly assume that Tatyana’s Instagram is for the male gaze, just like the thoughts that come with dysmorphia, that’s not the reality. She posts the images she does because they help her see herself through a kinder lens, even when commenters can be cruel. She’s also built a stable of feminist friends who support her on both good and bad days. Tatyana doesn’t consider herself above posting a hot selfie to intrigue a crush, but by and large, the photos are for her.
To dive further into the motivation behind why women post nude or semi-nude photosonline, Allure talked with Tatyana (aka @badjuju69 on Instagram) about trolls, the male gaze, and how a self-directed semi-nude photo shoot can help fight body dysmorphia. Here’s her story, which has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Hi, I’m Tatyana, and This Is What Nudes Mean to Me
I started posting nude photos online about six years ago. My ex was a photographer and he was always taking nude photos of me. After we broke up I found I missed that, even though it made me anxious at the time because I was insecure about my body.
I’ve had nearly every eating disorder in the book. I’ve also had really bad body dysmorphia. So when I started posting the photos, I was like, “Wow, people are responding positively to this?” because I had never looked at myself that way.
When people ask me how I take my pictures now, I’m just like, “It’s called a self-timer.” I do most of them myself because it’s what I’ve become comfortable with.
Building a Community on Instagram
I have a group of friends who are like an online support system. Every time I post a picture, they make me feel like a beam of light has hit their lives. That’s so powerful to me.
And their reactions aren’t, “Damn girl, all the dudes are going to holler.” It’s just, like, “Good job.” I’ve never had that kind of support. In fact, I always had really toxic female friendships, until I hit my 30s. Now that I’m 33, it feels good to be able to post pictures and get feedback like that.
Sometimes I completely forget how much this body has endured.
If you were to look at them without knowing anything about me, you’d probably think, “Oh, she feels so good about herself.” In reality, I have felt like fucking garbage. My weight has fluctuated, and with it, my self-image.
The thing is, regardless of what you look like, people will likely say mean shit to you. Literally, every time I post a picture of my butt, because it’s not particularly huge, people say, “Your butt is so small, you shouldn’t post pictures of it.” But I have tattooed the fuck out of my body and for all the pain it has cost me, I’m going to show it off.
Giving the Middle Finger to Body-Shamers
I do experience body-shaming, but I’m also white and cisgender, and I know that because of that, I escape a lot of hate. I’ve never experienced and can’t imagine someone saying something to me about, say, the color of my skin. To some degree, I also understand that I’m conventionally attractive, even though I’ve never seen myself that way.
About three years ago, I fell off a mountain and broke my back in seven places. I spent a month in the hospital. I was in a wheelchair. I had to learn how to do everything again, and now I don’t have a choice but to work out. Watching your body atrophy fucks you up, and it was the second time it’s happened to me; when I was 19, I was diagnosed with third-stage Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a form of cancer. I’ve been sick every day of my life since then, and I’m still here.
Sometimes I completely forget how much this body has endured. Depression gets the best of me and I can’t look at myself the same anymore. All I can think is something counterproductive like, “Oh fuck, I look fat.” Putting those pictures on the Internet and being able to look at them objectively, on a platform where I can’t hide behind my own depression, snapped me out of what could’ve been a really dangerous spiral.
I dissociate when I’m looking at myself in a mirror, but when I look
at pictures, I can see myself more objectively.
It’s hard to say that I truly love anything about Instagram, but it’s this little space you get to carve out for yourself and curate. That’s why I talk about dysmorphia. I don’t want people to think that just because I’m putting myself out there I have some crazy confidence. I have to be realistic about it because I do have young girls who follow me, and I want to be transparent that it gets better, but I still have bad days.
Remember: Trolls Have More Problems Than You Do
I’ve gotten pretty good at writing off trolls. If you leave a bad comment, I’m going to block you and delete it. And if you make another fake account, I’ll notice it because you’re just going to say the same shit and I’ll block it again. So I say, ignore your trolls. They have way more problems than you do.
Sadly, sometimes the worst reactions — the ones that really bother me — are from women. They’ll say, “Oh, you’re just doing this for dudes.” I also get really insulted when people insult my intelligence. I get really, really fucking angry. The idea that some guys are so narcissistic that they think we’re all posting these photos for their attention just blows my fucking mind. What if I just like dressing up in fun underwear, taking pictures, and putting them on the Internet? What if I just like how I look, or what if I’m doing it to get to that point? It’s definitely not because I want the attention of total strangers. It’s a creative outlet.
Getting Away With Being Naked on Instagram
Instagram’s rules about nudity are just so absurd and puritanical. The rules perpetuate this idea that women’s sexuality is somehow evil, and that’s insane. So I say, “Fuck this, I’m going to post them anyway.”
If you want to put your nipples on the Internet and you don’t want to
get in trouble, buy a mesh top.
Once people started flagging some of my pictures, I was sent the email saying that they were censoring me as an artist. But I learned as long as your nipples are covered with mesh, you’re fine. That’s like the big tip. If you want to put your nipples on the Internet and you don’t want to get in trouble, you buy a mesh top. At this point, I’ve been doing it for so long that I just want to see what I can get away with.
My Photos Aren’t for Men — They’re for Me
I won’t lie: I’ve also posted things partially hoping a crush would see. But that doesn’t mean the pictures are for dudes. That kind of thinking is so reductive, and it says so much more about the person making that conclusion than it does about you. It’s not some big accolade if some dude wants to fuck you — feeling good in your skin is much more important.
You don’t need to read my words or see my nudes to feel empowered, but I’m sharing my own strategy in case someone finds strength in that: I dissociate when looking into a mirror, but in photos, I can see myself more objectively. My hope is that someone could see any of my pictures and captions and that something may resonate, or help with something they’re going through. Why not be that catalyst, if you can? Bonus points if my favorite hobby is involved.