*Warning: adult content and language ahead.
The first time I saw some of Natasha Komoda’s work was on a friend’s Facebook page about a year ago.
Gorgeous black and white shots of a curvy girl seemingly having the time of her life.
She was laughing, dancing, stretching, and alive.
And she was in her underwear. I was floored. Beyond impressed.
This woman had broadcasted her body and her story on the Internet for all to see. From that moment on I knew I had to book a session with Natasha Komoda at Femmeography. I learned that through these organic, un-photoshopped, movement-based pictures, women all over were “finding what makes them, as individuals, uniquely beautiful.”
When I finally booked a session for last month, I carried with me equal parts fear and excitement. My mind, body, and spirit have been through the wringer all before the young age of 22, and I wondered if I’d really have anything to gain from the whole experience. Turns out, this shit is legit.
But first, a little back-story.
I never used to qualify my body as part of me, a God given temple to house my soul. I looked at it as something to be manipulated, changed, loathed, and feared. From as early on as age ten, I felt uncomfortable in my own skin; big, awkward, unacceptable, gross.
As I got older I grasped onto my body as something I could control in a world that I felt was swallowing me whole.
Focusing on what went in and out of my mouth, how much I exercised, and how I looked, allowed me to obsess over something that seemed tangible.
I felt joy, sadness, anger, frustration, fear, lust, excitement, and disappointment, all within my little bubble of disordered eating, food, and body obsession. To me, it was so much easier to focus all of my emotions on a few concrete things that I felt were in my control, rather than to allow them to exist in relation to real life.
I didn’t like feeling vulnerable, I didn’t like that I didn’t get to decide who died when, how people viewed me, which friends were loyal, what job I got, or even if it was raining on a day when I had plans outside.
My disordered eating gave me wings—until it took away the sky.
I was never aware of how I really looked during that time. Even at 130 pounds, (I’m almost 5’9), as my hair fell out in clumps and my breath reeked from malnutrition.
My period stopped and I was tired all the time. I lost all of my friends because while they were out being teenagers, I was at home, watching Paula Deen on the cooking channel as I killed myself on the elliptical, wondering if today would be the day I finally passed out mid-workout.
I was anorexic and an exercise bulimic and couldn’t for the life of me figure out why the “chubby” girl on the street had a boyfriend, and I didn’t.
I hated myself, but I believed that was normal and that nothing would ever change that fact.
A doctor informed me that, with a resting heart rate of 30, I was close enough to death that I needed to do something. I was happy to assist in my recovery. It had been a long time since dieting and planning and obsessing had been enjoyable to me.
I was ready to get better and have my life back.
In my attempt to gain weight and get healthy, however, I began to binge eat. I stuffed my face with whatever I could get my hands on, justifying that it was “doctor’s orders.”
I often ate so much that I couldn’t get off the floor. I attempted many times to make myself vomit, but my gag reflex was nowhere to be found. I shot from 130 to 170 in a matter of months, aided by a three week study program in Italy, where I was either blackout drunk or too full to move the entire time.
The high one gets from being empty and the high one gets from binge eating are the shortest highs of any substance. Alcohol could keep me good and numb and allow me continue to stuff my face.
So began my senior year of high school. I was bloated and depressed. I cried and I isolated and I cut myself and I even ran manically out of the house a few times. I threw myself on the floor in tantrums worthy of a three year old, and swung around sharp knives, threatening to hurt myself and everyone around me.
I was having a psychotic break.
“Health” in those days meant solely physical health. I lost about twenty pounds and felt as though I was getting my life together. Food and body hatred and self-loathing still controlled my thoughts, but I was definitely on the mend.
In college I learned how to purge. I made friends with another anorexic girl and found that throwing up was easy when you have a belly full of booze. Thus began the cycle of my freshman year of college… restrict all week and exercise like crazy, binge drink on the weekends, and binge and purge while I was too blacked out to feel the pain.
I was dying on the inside.
During this time a very close family member went into outpatient rehab for drug and alcohol addiction. I felt so powerless being away at school. I couldn’t understand why she wouldn’t just stop when she was obviously hurting herself and those around her! Little did I know, she has a disease of mind, body, and spirit, which inhibits her from ever having the “willpower” to stop on her own.
The same disease I would soon find inside of myself.
I came home from that first year of college thinner than I had ever been. The difference was that now I was mentally fed up. I didn’t fucking care what I weighed or what I ate: it was too much work and I was exhausted, depressed, and hated myself more than ever.
I was alone. Suddenly, I had no desire left to exist in this world. I was a burden to myself and others and I just wanted out.
I prayed for my own death, I prayed for release.
The same family member who had been struggling earlier in the year was now a few months sober, and she could sense that I was finally completely losing it. She proceeded to tell me about a 12-step recovery program for Food Addiction and Disordered Eating which was pattered after her own recovery program.
I proceeded to tell her to fuck off, and that those kinds of things were for fat people.
Still, she somehow convinced me to attend my first meeting, which I sobbed the entire time through. Here I was, surrounded by people who were just like me!
People who had eaten out of trash cans, eaten things that were expired and/or still frozen, purged and then continued to binge, driven like a madman to get to food or to a place to “get rid of it”. People who had stolen food, hid food, horded food. My brothers and sisters.
I was informed that I do not have a moral problem, what I have is a disease. A mental obsession and a physical craving.
I have a disease of perception—and in terms of body image I was looking at my body through a dirty mirror.
You’d never look at a funhouse mirror with shit stains all over it and believe that the reflection was truly how you looked, right? Well, my mind was that shit-stained funhouse mirror.
I began to work that program with everything I had: getting a sponsor, going through the steps, attending meetings, fellowshipping with other compulsive eaters, and finding a connection with something bigger than me, something that was more powerful than little-old-control-freak me.
I spent the summer gaining time abstaining from my sick behaviors and finding nuggets of peace and happiness.
When I went back to college for my sophomore year, everything seemed to unravel around me. I began white-knuckling it, struggling to put even a few days clean together.
Turns out, it’s pretty hard to stay abstinent when you’re drunk all the time. My disease was like one of those plastic squishy toys filled with water: you squeeze one end and the liquid just moves to a new place. You’re never able to contain it fully.
I had swapped food for alcohol and was just as sick as ever, with a new substance.
I began carrying crystal-lite packets to parties so that I would always have a low calorie mixer; just add water and booze.
No matter how much booze you added, that damn drink would always still taste like pink lemonade.
I had people tell me they’d no longer go to social events with me because there was always drama. I agreed that there was always drama, but it wasn’t my fault, it just seemed to follow me, for absolutely no reason at all! I looked for approval when I only had two glasses of wine… “See, I told you I could do it!”
My whole life was being drunk, recovering from the drunk, or planning the next drunk. The food was also getting more and more out of control.
The drunken binges were becoming more and more consistent. If alcohol was offered, I drank it. And I drank to get drunk.
Strangely enough, when I was shit-faced and falling all over myself, I felt sexy. I lost all fear and inhibitions. I used the booze as a curtain to hide behind, always able to blame it on the alcohol.
Again, I was losing my mind. I planned my life around alcohol and food. I became defined by my drinking. Suddenly, just as I’d done with the food, I was nothing else but this substance. I had nothing else.
My last drunk was on December 15th at a party at my place, and I began binge eating even before getting any booze into my system.
I ate everything I could get my hands on, and eventually passed out drunk in my bed. My best friend put a trashcan next to me and while doing so reminded me how well I’d been doing in my food program in an attempt to stop me from purging.
Little did she know I’d already broken my abstinence with my binge. I was too far gone. The purge was just the exclamation point at the end of it all. The minute she closed the door I leaned over the trashcan and stuck my fingers down my throat.
I woke up the next morning sticky, sweaty, ashamed, bloated, and full of self-hatred.
I called my sponsor and she surprised me by telling me to maybe try 30 days without alcohol and to go to an open meeting in the 12-step recovery program from alcohol.
I tried to explain to her that I couldn’t take her suggestion because I was going home for winter break the next day and all my plans with friends in the city were to drink. The word “exactly” still rings in my ears. Had I really been this blind to my own actions?
I began going to this second 12-step fellowship, and found myself super resistant to admit I was alcoholic. It had been so clear that I had a problem with food, but I wasn’t exactly sure about alcohol. Yes, maybe alcohol fueled my food issues, but did I really have a problem?
Once I’d decided I wouldn’t be drinking for a while though, I found myself always craving a drink. The fact that I couldn’t focus on/fantasize about getting it like I always had, made me need it even more.
Then it was presented to me that maybe I’m an alcoholic with my drug of choice being food. I’d never looked at it like that! I was finally able to realize that I’m an addict through and through: alcohol, food, men, you name it.
I can’t have one drink and just stop. I drank to get drunk, I drank to escape. I drank to numb out the same feelings I had tried to stifle with food.
To my horror, I felt more uncomfortable in my own skin than ever before when I first got sober. Suddenly all my vices were gone. I didn’t have food and I didn’t have booze. I felt all kinds of wrong. I didn’t know how to be a person in the world, I didn’t have any tools for interacting with others or making friends or even how to get through each day without my mind obsessing over something.
I began interacting with other addicts in both my programs, hanging out with them, talking, and socializing. We were out in the world and we were recovering. I was safe and I was held. Through this I learned how to better care for myself. I began to gain self-confidence and self-respect.
I was no longer a shell, I was Georgia. I began to burst through little by little. I decided what music I liked and what clothes I wanted to wear, without worrying about “fitting in.” I’m quirky, loud, impulsive, energetic, goofy, loving, random, and me.
For the first time in my life I was making real connections with people. I was discovering my passions and my goals and my fears and my joys and not needing to stuff them down with food or alcohol. I was being spontaneous and living in the present moment. I began practicing yoga and am now a 500hour certified yoga instructor. I am the manager of the studio where I teach and want nothing more than to spread healing and love through yoga.
There have been some road bumps, (I have three and a half years sober, but only two years abstinent from my compulsive food behaviors), but mostly there have been triumphs. I lived in Vienna, Austria in college for a semester and had the time of my life and went to India for one of my yoga certifications.
I pay my own bills and I wash my own dishes. I go to bed and wake up sober and abstinent. My mind is calmer. I am less obsessive. I hardly ever think about binging or drinking and when I do, I have an incredible network of people just like me who I can reach out to.
I believe in a Power Greater Than Myself. I choose to call this power God, just because it’s easier and gets the idea across. I have a personal relationship with this power.
And today I don’t hate myself. Not to say that I love or even like myself all the time. I just don’t hate myself.
There are days when I’m completely in love with every inch of myself, inside and out. Mostly I’m just content and comfortable in my body. I have good days and bad days, but my feelings don’t always turn into actions like they used to. I don’t abuse my body anymore.
This Femmeography shoot could not have come at a better time. Last year I wanted pictures taken because I felt like my body needed to be captured and documented for all time. I felt confident in my body, but only because I thought it looked slender and thin and “acceptable.”
This year I’ve put on a few curves. I look more like a woman and feel more like a woman. This body was never designed to be a size 4. But pictures? In my underwear? Not photo-shopped or posed at all? That was daunting.
I knew what I needed to do. I needed to capture my essence, who I am, how I move, how I laugh. I needed to capture the twists and turns of my physical form, seeing all of the folds and ripples and spots.
I’m almost 23 and have my entire life ahead of me. I get the opportunity to make something of myself. I get the opportunity to help others. And I get the opportunity to have children who will never see their mother drunk or hear her making herself vomit in the bathroom.
Self love is essential to all of this. If I can’t respect myself, who can? If I let a random person on the street crush my self-image, then I am way too delicate to change the world in the way that I want to.
So many people are aware of recovery programs for alcohol addiction, but not enough people know that there is help out there for every addict, no matter their substance.
Once I broke through the protective shield I had created with substances, I was finally able to embrace my true potential and my true beauty, inside and out.
It doesn’t matter who you are, where you come from, what you’ve been through…the elimination of self-loathing isn’t a luxury—it’s a necessity.
You too can be happy, joyous, and free. Just look at me… I danced naked in front of a camera.
Natasha Komoda, photographer and creator of of Femmeography
Natasha Komoda, owner of Femmeography, is a therapeutic portrait photographer. Natasha strives to inspire profound self-love in the women she works with; this means loving our bodies from the inside out, just as they are. In this spirit, Natasha is committed to providing authentic black and white portraiture without digital augmentation (“photoshopping”) of the subject’s body. In a Femmeography session, subjects are asked to wear comfortable, form-fitting clothing while dancing and moving to their favorite songs. Natasha uses her knowledge of yoga and meditation to guide her clients through this process of discovering and expressing one’s authentic self. Natasha is based in Bloomington, IN, and travels widely.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Renée Picard
Images via the author and used with permission by Natasha Komoda; Bio Photo credit for Natasha: Aleksandra Dubov; Bio photo credit for Georgia: Kelly Kruse Photography