* Vulvodynia is a persistent, unexplained chronic pain that effects the vulvar area and occurs without an identifiable cause. It has only recently been recognised by doctors as a real syndrome.*
* Bulimia is an emotional disorder involving distortion of body image and an obsessive desire to lose weight, in which bouts of extreme overeating are followed by depression and self-induced vomiting, purging, or fasting.*
What is your relationship with your body?
It depends on the day, the hour, what I’m doing and it depends on my underwear. I could look like shit, have the worst breath, haven’t slept but if I’m wearing good lingerie, I can feel like the sexiest woman in the world. It makes me feel very confident
I’ve heard that from a lot of women. I think I feel most confident and sexy when I’m naked! How confident would you feel standing in front of me naked?
I would be confident because I’ve let the idea grow in my mind. I’m at a point in my life were step by step I’m reconnecting with my body and my mind. The thoughts that could stop me would be “I’m not pretty, I’m fat, I haven’t shaved, my skins dry”. However, recently I’ve been a lot more active; Dancing, Long Boarding and Yoga. They’ve all encouraged a sense of letting go. I would approach the idea of try something like Life Modelling with the same mindset. I may have thoughts of insecurity, but I would focus on letting go.
I’ve been life modelling for a year now and I’ve found it’s liberated me, feeling strong in my body.
Yes! I think it does this. I think it’s something we could all benefit from learning to do, to be naked comfortably. When we’re little we’re taught how to walk. At school we learn how to speak, to read. And like anything, if you don’t learn it then you don’t know how to do it. How do we know how to undress and feel good about ourselves if all we’re told is to cover up? It’s indirectly encouraging shame about our bodies.
So do you think this is why people can be so embarrassed and uncomfortable when
naked in front of each other?
There’s many reason, but for me it’s about the way you’re educated and how you grow up as a human being. It’s fine for a dude to be topless because even tho it may be sexy, his upper torso isn’t sexualised. However, for a woman to be topless means showing her
boobs which are recognised as sexual objects, and so to show them becomes a taboo.
Free the nipple! I think this is changing slowly, especially in certain cultural settings. You’ve grown up and gone to school in France. What sort of education do think would have benefited your younger self?
To look at each other, really look at each other. Not to be shy. I wish I was told to look at a man, look at his dick, look at a woman, her lips, her scars, every part of the body because we make a taboo of things we don’t want to see. The things that scare us are the things we’re not used to seeing, they become a taboo. If you see someone walking naked down the street you’re going to think “What the fuck?”, because we’re taught that it’s completely out of the norm. We don’t want to see it so we’re going to teach you not to look. That’s why I liked working in a gym. You saw women with all different types of bodies, comfortably getting dressed and undressed in front of each other in the changing room.
There is something special about that setting! I feel it’s healthy way to embrace and celebrate our bodies, their differences, just by seeing them without a filter, a push up bra, a disguise. What part of your body do you love the most?
My smile because I know it’s true. And my boobs, I adore my boobs! I find them amazing; they’re firm, they’re high, they’re a beautiful shape, they’re soft, they’re not too big, not too small. And I love my ass. Especially as I’m cycling a lot, doing lots of sport and I have developed this beautiful, full, firm ass!
Have you had a point in your life when you didn’t feel that way?
I’ve have bulimia so yes. I didn’t feel good about my body for a very long time. I still put a lot of my feelings into my relationship with food. It started when I was 13. My family life was complicated and I had to be the grown up even as a teenager. I was holding on to everything, carrying the weight of many peoples problems but with food I completely let go. Food was my escape. I would eat as much as I could until I got sick. So obviously I didn’t like my body; it was this shape where I would put all my misery.
Food was my escape. I would eat as much as I could until I got sick. So obviously I didn’t like my body; it was this shape where I would put all my misery.
What have you experienced that’s helped your relationship with your eating disorder?
Years of therapy has helped a lot. Falling in love, which reflects the value of who we are. And my vulvodynia.; even though this has brought me pain and struggle, it’s pushed me to look at my body, to accept it, to care for it, to find ways to make myself feel good. Masturbation has been important in this process. Exploring the love i have for myself and my body
Dancing, yoga, meditation all played a big part. And moving to London. Because when I was in France I wasn’t the kind of woman that people looked at on the street. In London people seem to prefer women who are bit more shapely, a bit more fatty. In France it’s not like that. So when I moved here I suddenly got all this attention from different guys and I was like “What?! You want to undress me?”. Guys would look at me, tell me I was beautiful and that turned my whole world upside down. Because showing yourself to the world is a scary thing. When you’re naked physically, you’re also naked mentally. This is the tough part.
Aged 16, what would you have done differently so as to help yourself?
I would say don’t wait for your mum’s approval and start therapy now. Because I fought with my parents to go therapy. They weren’t against it, they are doctors, they understand and recognise the need for that.But I saw a nutritonist instead because they understood the issue was with my body so they thought, lets fix the body. Now I would say to myself never to go and see a nutrionist when you’re 13 and you don’t know what the fuck is going on with your body, treat your head. I wish that at 13 when I told my parents I wasn’t feeling good, that I needed to talk to someone who’s not family, that they would have said yes. But it took at least 3 or 4 extra years which made it harder and harder.
How do you feel about your body and bulimia now?
I want to keep improving and working on myself, my ideas. I know it’s not finished. One of the reasons I dance is because my body felt achy and I want to free it. It’s the same idea about being naked, embracing and enjoying it. The more I experience new things with my body the more I’m going to feel it’s actually mine. That I know each part of it, that I love each part of it.
Interview between Suzanne Ventadoux and Bethany Burgoyne
Artwork by Bethany Burgoyne