The bare series is a series of empowering nude portraits that I am currently shooting. It is an ongoing conversation that I am having with people of all types. We talk about their relationships with their bodies, insecurities, mental health, physical health, empowerment, shame... all laid bare.
I am still looking for participants and would love for more diversity in the bodies reflected here. If you would like to volunteer to be involved, please reach out to me at @cathcathaway on Instagram or via the contact page in this website.
I remember day-to-day being pretty tough. Meds helped and, I guess, gave me space in my life to sort things out and put things back together in a way that was more sustainable. And so, yeah, day-to-day now is easier. But it’s like you can catch yourself in a moment, right? When I think about being comfortable, I think about being in your body or being in the moment. Like not having that thing where you escape out of yourself and are looking down on yourself. It’s easier now for me to notice when that happens. So if I see it happening, it’s like being able to just gently sort of say to myself, “Oh, that’s happening now,” and then using my breath or something.
I have a mental illness which I openly talk about and I challenge other people to do the same. Because by not talking about it, we perpetuate the stigma. I've had ECT treatment. Electroconvulsive Therapy - so, shock treatment. That was about 8 years ago and it saved my life because I was so depressed. I believe there are a lot of leaders in our community that actually have diagnosed mental illness that they are being treated for but that they don't disclose. I think it's 1 in 4 are affected by a mental illness throughout their life. So if it doesn't happen to you, it's going to happen to a family member. So that's why I talk about it. Because I've done lots of amazing things. I've accomplished lots. And I'm mentally ill.
So I was born with a genetic illness called Tuberous Sclerosis Complex. And so my relationship with my body has always been very complicated. Because there's sort of abnormalities... pretty much: I have benign tumors in my brain, kidneys, lungs, that kind of thing; and it requires a lot of maintenance. And it’s also meant, you know, I can carry it on if i reproduce. Which is why I decided not to reproduce and get my tubes tied. So I've had to struggle with that for a while as well. But, yeah, it’s sort of the best thing, I think. Yeah, it’s just been a bit of a journey. With Strongman and stuff, it’s really helped, I think. Because, like, with the genetic illness and my mental illness, it’s kind of been a bit rocky. Kind of like self-acceptance about like sort of the abnormalities my body has, the struggles with that, and then, you know, the sort of pressure you feel from society about how you should look as well. I have Borderline so my identity is all over the place and, you know, I'm human... I think training and that sort of thing, it reaffirms that I’m strong. I'm a strong woman. And it really helps a lot to remind myself of that.
The way that I started to feel really good about my body was when I started to see all kinds of different bodies in a way that was sexy instead of just the same bodies looking sexy in magazines. Seeing people’s bodies who looked like my body and me looking at them and thinking that they were sexy helped me to feel sexy as well.
I have fluctuated in weight my whole life and no matter how small or big I was I was never happy. I lost so much weight at one point I had a breast reduction and lift where they cut out about 120grams of skin from each breast. Even then, at my 'skinniest' with perky perfect boobs, I was so unhappy. One day my therapist told me that, this is me, this is my vessel, I need to nurture and care for myself. And that’s when it kind of clicked. I decided to just stop and love myself. It's obviously not as easy as that but no matter how I am feeling – if I’m bloated or having a breakout – I get up in the morning and say 'Today I am grateful to be alive, today I am grateful that I am me. I am beautiful and I love myself.' If I am having a particularly low day, I look in the mirror and pick one thing, even something as trivial as my eyebrows looking good or my hair being shiny, and that’s what I focus on instead of bogging myself down with negatives. Presently, I am not close to what I would call an ideal weight but I wanted to do these photos because this is me and I am sexy as hell. Loving yourself will set you free.
I’m all for body positivity but I’m more for fat positivity. We have a right to exist and we have a right to be catered to. Not just to exist, but to have amenities that fit us and to have clothes that fit us and don’t cost three times as much as the retail version of a smaller size. And we have a right to be seen in media and we have a right to eat in public without feeling ashamed of what we’re eating because it’s exactly the same as the skinny person next to us. Or to eat a salad if that’s what feels good, if that’s what tastes good, without it being assumed, ‘oh, of course you must hate being fat. You want to be skinny.’
Really independent. A lot of people would choose the word “empowered” but there’s something about the whole idea of empowerment in the sex industry that just makes me feel like it doesn’t do us justice. Because sex work is just work. And, you know, like does any one feel empowered when they go and work in retail? Does anyone feel empowered when they, like, drive a truck for 16 hours? I mean, maybe. But independence is the one thing that sex work has given me. And, yeah, that’s what I love about it.
I never used to be confident about my body when I was in my teens. As you do when you’re growing up. You compare. You always compare. I got to a point when I was 17 or 18 and I just said, ‘You know what? I’m going to try something.’ And I did this thing. This thing - which I try and recommend to everyone but it just seems like such a confronting and weird thing to do - it’s literally just standing in front of your mirror and, you know, saying, ‘I love you,’ ‘You’re beautiful,’ and all those, like, self-affirmations. And, you know, I did it. It didn’t really take long. Maybe once a day for a week or two. And it just kind of helped heaps to just stare there and look yourself in the eye. But I did it. And it kind of helped improve my confidence a lot.
I think being pregnant has been an interesting. I wasn’t really sure how I would handle all of the changes to my body and how I would feel about that. I know that some people find that quite a challenging thing. But I’ve really enjoyed actually seeing the changes. Because there’s no specific, like: this is what’s going to happen. Like, if you start like this you’re going to end like this. You know, pregnancy is different for every body. People’s bodies react really differently to it. You know you put on weight in different places or, you know, you hold water differently. There’s no trajectory of how you’re going to look... so I think that’s been just interesting, growing the bump and seeing that, and being like ‘this is amazing, this is so cool.’ And then also being, like, weirded out about all the new things your body is doing. And being like, ‘ah there’s an alien inside me moving around and that’s weird because it’s not my body anymore.’ Like my body is, you know, helping to keep this foetus safe and nurtured and alive and it’s kind of just like, ‘wow.’ And then it’s got to get out somehow, which is kind of terrifying. And then also thinking about, ‘well, what’s my body going to look like after?’ You know? And just thinking about the experience that your body is going to go through: through birth, through labour and then all of the amazing things that your body does afterwards as well... so I think that has been and continues to be quite interesting.
4% of babies are born on their due date. It’s like everything with motherhood and babies and people... there is no standard. If you expect, like, ‘this is how it’s going to be,’ you’re going to be disappointed. So I’m just like yeah, no, just... whatever happens.
For me it’s just dancing around my house to kind of sexy classic rock music (because those words have been put together before). That’s it. It’s something I only really realised lately. The more you get to know yourself and you work out what you - I don’t know. I was in this box of trying to fit into the person that I thought society was expecting me to be and then everything that I had planned or that I was trying to do to fit into the plan just went haywire and then I was like, ‘Well, fuck it. I’m just going to do the things that make me happy now and I’m going to listen to the music that I like and if I want to run around the house naked and not worry about whether the neighbours are going to cop an eyeful, then I’m going to do that.’ And, yeah, it’s been good to just kind of come back to myself.
I’m very upfront about my age because my big thing now that I’m older - I’m 40, the big four-zero - is that I want older women visible. Because, as society does, you get to a certain age and they start disappearing and it’s like, ‘oh, you’re not attractive anymore’ unless you look like a certain way and everything like this. And, yes, I have got a fit body right now because I personally want that. Not because society is ‘telling me you must do that to be acceptable.’ And for the fact that, also, I want to show that every body is literally different. Yeah, I’m not a certain way and I’m very petite but there’s petite bodies like me out there, with the small boobs and blah, blah, blah. Yes, that’s acceptable as much as any body is acceptable
So many people don’t live to 40 and so they’d love to be able to see their first greys and everything like this. So I’m kind of, in my own way, giving the finger to all the bullshit about silver hair on women and grey hair and it making you look older and it’s not attractive and all this sort of stuff. I’m kind of showing my way of saying, one, why are you afraid of it? And for me, honestly, it’s like, are you afraid of death? Is that what I’m showing you? Your mortality. The grey means you’re getting older, you’re getting closer to death, you know? How scared are you of death? Whereas, I’m not. I dealt with that a long time ago. I have very comfortable feelings of death.
I’m having more fun with my body this year. I’m more into just taking photos of it and enjoying that. Because I don’t really have anyone cute to send them to. I went on this Tasmanian trip of re-discovery last year when some shit had gotten really bad and there was a lot of self-love about halfway through that. I was realising that was maybe the point of it all. Rather than like being disappointed with where I am or frustrated with where I’ve been and stuff like that, just being happy with where I am… not just accepting myself but maybe loving myself a bit as well was kind of radical to me at the time.
I remember someone took me home earlier in the year, which hadn’t happened in like three years, and that felt really gender affirming. Even though that didn’t amount to anything it was still a nice experience to be like, ‘yeah, go me. I can still do this.’ There’s a still a bit of the old muscular me in there. Earlier this year Living Dead Clothing put out this crop top and tights set for a character I really like and I was like, ‘oh yeah, I’d never have the confidence to wear that.’ And then later that day I was moving equipment around at work and I’d seen the ex-military guy I worked with get up to help and before he’d finished getting up, I’d finished moving the heavy thing and he said, completely involuntarily, ‘fuck, you’re strong.’ I was like, ‘aw, here we go, body. We got this.’
I guess my whole thing with my body has been that I’ve never felt like I’ve had the same one for long enough to be comfortable with it because it’s always changing. Getting into kink was really, really good for my self-esteem because there’s so much body positivity in the movement and everyone is so comfortable and it’s such a supportive environment. Like, before I started doing kink and rope and stuff, my worst nightmare would be getting naked in front of a crowd full of people and getting tied up. Like, that would have just been out of the question. But it became like my favourite thing to do and I guess I can understand people who do stuff like pole or stripping or burlesque because there’s a real sort of vulnerability in putting yourself out there in that way and it can be really empowering. I totally got that from kink. And, yeah, I just started feeling really good about how I looked and didn’t care so much about what anybody else thought of it. I was happy with it and that was all that mattered, I guess.
I’ve not felt fantastic self-esteem-wise recently. It’s hard because I have come so far in terms of self-confidence but I still have times where I feel shit about myself. I love my body but I still have days where I’m bloated and my clothes don’t fit comfortably and it’s harder to quiet the negative self-talk.
I grew up in the midst of the 90s/00s thin is in kinda vibe. My mum was on diets for as long as I can remember. I grew hips and an ass when I was like 11 (my boobs never caught up). I dealt with stretch marks and bullying and being catcalled in the street while I was a literal child.
I haven’t counted calories for at least 2 years (after doing so for most of my adult life). I remember so many times trying to exist on 1200 calories per day AND exercising, it was miserable. I don’t think any amount of punishment or deprivation or starvation is worth having a smaller body.
In one word: complicated. Partly as a trans person, partly as a human, and partly as a neurodivergent person whose neurodivergence impacts how I work with my body, I guess. Not that 'work' is the word I'm looking for but how I live in it. So the way I realised I was trans was actually genital dysphoria. I was fine with doing most of the bullshit social stuff. I felt a bit uncomfortable sometimes but it wasn't ruining my life. I don't remember how I noticed, but I remember one night I was having dinner with two of my trans friends and their two cis partners and I was like, “Guys, I think I've been having genital dysphoria.” And they're like, “Hmm, probably not. Either that, or we'll see you in three months.” And, sure thing, three months later I bought my first dress. Well, my first dress seriously because I had taken every single opportunity to try on someone else's dress. And I was like, “Oh, shit. I'm trans.” And then three months after that, I was on HRT.
One of the things I think about when these conservative fundamentalist Christians hate trans people for no real reason is if you take a religious view of it, trans people are this beautiful act of participating in God's act of creation by continuing it onwards in the way that we all shape who we are. It's this really fundamental way of shaping who we are.
So I've got my three little tattoos and I did all three in one session, just on a whim. I actually booked the day before. I'd been thinking about it for a while but I thought, "Alright. I'll just book it in." I remember it was this really empowering thing that effectively just made my dysphoria go away because I felt so connected to my body after making this change that I desperately wanted. Much like starting HRT, it was participating in that act of creating my own body. We all do, we all create the body that we want and the person that we want within that body - or at least try.