'I did an underwater photo shoot... naked. Here's what it taught me about my body.'

Look, I’m not the kinda gal who’s usually in a hurry to put her hand up for a naked photoshoot. 

It’s just not me, you know? 

I don’t have the chutzpah for that sort of thing.

That’s what I told myself, anyway, when the opportunity to take part in a nude underwater photoshoot presented itself last year during an incredible women’s summit I attended.

And it’s why I said no. Hard pass, firm decline, no thank you and good day sir.

Watch: Body shapes are not trends. 

Video via Mamamia.

When the conference kicked off, and the first speaker talked about tackling things that are out of our comfort zone, and by the time her keynote had ended, the idea of an underwater photo sesh butt-neked seemed like a flippin’ great idea… To me and everyone else in the room. 

Next minute, the photographer was booked up and while she promised we’d try to squeeze me in, it wasn’t to be. 

“Next time,” she promised me (and I promised myself).

But I was harbouring a little secret.


While I was disappointed not to take part, there was a little voice inside assuring me that this was actually a good thing.

“This gives you time to work on how you look,” she whispered, that inner critic who was so aware that I hadn’t been feeling great about myself lately.

“You can go to the gym heaps in that time and then look sooooo great when next year rolls around.”

FYI, before you get up in arms, I know this is problematic thinking. I truly do – and I'm not proud that this was the first thing that popped into my head, but social conditioning's a bitch and I am working on it.

It wasn’t an intellectual battle I was waging in my head. I know, on a cognitive level, that I am worthy exactly as I am. I also know I am in a straight-sized body and that there is a certain level of privilege that comes with it. But this wasn't actually about size, shape or anything external at all.

It was the inner voice that has been trained up so immaculately by diet culture and deeply entrenched societal 'ideals' telling me to change my body before immortalising it naked – and that voice is a hard one to shut down when you’ve spent your entire life being subtly (and sometimes not so subtly) told that you need to shrink your physical self.

Listen: Mia Freedman talks body image with 2023 Australian of the Year Taryn Brumfitt. Article continues below.


So, all the wrong reasons aside, I secretly planned to get "in shape" (whatever the heck that means) and feel so bloody good by the time the next chance for a naked shoot rolled around!

Fast-forward to a week ago, when I was back at 2023’s iteration of the very same summit and the photographer – the incredible Emma Maggs, who takes these particular shots for her stunning Wildfemmes art series – messaged me.

“Let’s get you in first this time so you don’t miss out!”

My stomach clenched.

I hadn’t been working out like a mofo for the past eight months, as I'd silently sworn I would.

I hadn’t been “eating right” every day in preparation.

I did not feel “bloody good” as that judgy little voice had promised.

In fact, if anything, I was feeling less comfortable in my skin at that exact moment than I ever had before. I’d been going about my business, living my life – which had included starting a new job, so things had been pretty darn busy in my world – and forgotten all about it. Because… that happens with life, right?

I thought about cancelling the shoot, which I mentioned to Emma when I saw her the morning we were scheduled to kick things off. And you know what she told me?

No matter the size or shape of the women she shoots, nine out of 10 tell her they’re unhappy with their bodies.

Nine. Out. Of. Ten.


Women apologise for themselves; say they were planning to lose weight (ahem, guilty), that they "don't usually look like this".

Which actually made me really, really sad.

And kind of kicked me up the butt.

Now, I wish I could tell you something wildly profound happened in that moment; but honestly, I just copped a sudden burst of ‘f**k it' energy.

(The pina colada I’d just finished may’ve had something to do with my rush of bravado, too.)

This wasn't actually about how I looked. It was about how I felt.

I knew there was a good chance I'd never feel 'ready' – and I didn’t want to wait until the moment I did, because I knew that feeling might never come, and if I waited for it, I'd miss out on the chance to do something totally wild.

So off we trotted, down to a secluded part of the lagoon…

Image: Emma Maggs/Wildfemmes.

Now, this wasn’t an “Okay, kit off, jump in” kind of deal. Emma’s a pro at making her subjects (muses? Models?) feel comfy, and made it clear the whole way through there was no pressure to even lose the swimsuit if I wasn’t feeling it.


But we weren’t there to, er, cavort with spiders – so after a few bikini pics, getting the vibe, getting used to the way Emma worked, I popped my shoulders under the water and stripped down.

The current was unnervingly strong, pulling fiercely in the direction of the main lagoon, and I was more than a little terrified I’d be dragged naked around the small cliff to where families were swimming and have to run back through the resort starkers to get back to my clothes.

That... didn’t happen. Thankfully.

Then an old bloke appeared on his balcony that overlooked the nook where we were shooting, so that was… uncomfortable. I don’t think he was actually looking (or that he could even see from that angle), but knowing he was there made it a little hard for me to relax.

But despite nature and old mate trying hard to kill my vibe, I did eventually get into the flow. And let me tell you, I have never felt more like a mermaid in my life. The silky water wrapping around bits it doesn’t usually touch outside the shower gave me all the goddess feels and I was so busy having a good time frolicking, I forgot to even give a f**k about how I looked.

Image: Emma Maggs/Wildfemmes
Image: Emma Maggs/Wildfemmes.

 A week later, there was a definite knot in the pit of my stomach as I opened up the folder Emma had sent me containing the shots.

I was nervous. 



Would I look like a mermaid?

A sexy water nymph; a glorious goddess?

Would I look as beautiful and feminine and powerful as all of the other women who’d shot with Emma before me?

Or would I only see the ‘flaws’, the bits that weren’t – to my mind – worthy of being on display?

As the first picture popped up on the screen, I admit, I felt... strange. Disconnected. Not disappointed, but somehow disengaged. 

The body on the screen was mine – the proof was there in the birthmark that sits at the top of my butt. But I didn’t feel connected to it (and I do wonder if that speaks to a larger sense of disconnect I feel with my body).

Image: Emma Maggs/Wildfemmes.

 But as I scrolled through the images, one by one, I started to ease into the sinuous flow of the feminine form; the softness and the strength (because believe me, it took a lot of muscle power to battle that current).

I was intrigued by the patterns, the lines – whether they were stretch marks or dappled sunlight, I couldn't tell and I didn't care. Here, they were art; captured through the eyes of someone who sees me in a way I've never seen myself.

My size, my shape, my dips and bumps and curves and angles weren't things to be hated or loved or judged. 

They just were.

Image: Emma Maggs/Wildfemmes.

I wish I could tell you that I jumped into this experience feet first because I am just so in love with my body.

But that wouldn't be the truth.


The truth is, I still have a very difficult relationship with this mess of skin, bone, muscle and fat that’s carting my soul around – as I know many women do.

But there was (and is) something very powerful in not waiting for the day when I felt 'ready' or 'worthy' or 'enough' to strip down and have a mate (because that's what Emma is now) snap my naked form underwater. And I think it has helped move me closer to acceptance and appreciation.

Image: Emma Maggs/Wildfemmes.

 So, the big question: do I love my body now?


Hmm… I wish I could say an outright 'yes', but that would be lying. And I'd never lie to you! 

But I’m definitely working on it. And I am proud of myself for capturing my bod as she is in this exact moment, because doing so has made me more accepting of myself.

Will I ever love my body? 

I sure hope so! But I know it's a big ask in a world that has traditionally been (and still is) so cruel and demanding when it comes to women and their bodies – so I'm not pressuring myself.

Acceptance, appreciation – for me, they're enough for now.

Feature image: Supplied/Emma Maggs, Wildfemmes.

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