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I want to begin by saying I do not believe anything I am about to tell you sets me apart as special or different from most of the women I know.  In many ways, I am just a typical woman who was acculturated into lifelong body image issues and repressed sexuality.  Although my journey began when I was very young, there are a few lasting themes that have persisted into adulthood.  I was already boy crazy by the time I was in preschool; in fact, thirty-five years later I can still remember the name of my very first crush (it was Doug.)  However, it was mostly unrequited, at least by the boys for whom I pined. Once, in the third grade, I sent a friend to ask a classmate to be my boyfriend.  She reported back to me that he declined because I was too fat.  He may have actually called me a “pink pig.”  I immediately internalized the message that boy communicated to me through my friend:  that I was fat and thinness was to be revered, coveted and desired, especially if I wanted my attention reciprocated from boys.  By nine years old, I was obsessed with my body size and shape.  Sadly, when I look at photos of myself from that time I was actually quite thin.  The fact that generations of women in my family were also obsessed with their own bodies and weight and did not try to minimize the premium they placed on appearance further served to compound my mistaken belief that I was fat.  It is so cliché I am almost embarrassed to say it aloud: I never felt comfortable in my own skin.  I always felt too tall, too big, too sturdy, too broad, too thick, too fat, too loud, too much.

In addition, I was highly sexual from a very young age.  I am not sure if that was the result of childhood experiences, or if I was simply born that way.  At this point, the reasons are irrelevant and I cannot remember a time that I was not fascinated by all things related to sex.  However, in our 1970s WASP family my parents forbade my sister and me to even use the word “sexy” because they considered it too suggestive.  Like many women my age, my childhood sex education consisted of a basic explanation of male-female penetration and a short lecture on abstaining from premarital sex, because that is what good Christian girls do (is is not?) I later learned to argue that it is not premarital sex if I do not plan to marry. Much to my mother’s chagrin, I was constantly posing seductively for the camera.  Once a grade school teacher asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up and I responded, “A supermodel!”   She replied (I imagine she had to stifle a giggle) “Okay…and what if that doesn’t work out?”  I was fresh out of ideas because although my family also placed a high premium on intelligence, education and achievement, I do not remember anyone encouraging me to explore my passions or possible career paths.  To the further detriment of my social life, my school placed me in its newly created Talented and Gifted program.  In keeping with that theme, my parents enrolled me in dance classes and piano lessons.  I became an accomplished enough pianist to participate in student music festivals at Bass concert hall and I won awards in National Piano-Playing Auditions.  When I was twelve years old, Duke University selected me to participate in a study in which they administered the SAT test to seventh graders.  In return for our participation in that study, they offered us the opportunity to attend a nerdy summer camp, on a real university campus and I went, not once but twice.  It probably goes without saying; I was not the least bit interested in studying Archaeology or Architecture. I was away from the ever-watchful eyes of my parents, surrounded by boys and we were staying in college dorms.  By the end of camp, I had blisters on my feet from dancing to Dead or Alive and a bruised heart from even more unrequited crushes.

In the years that followed, I completely lost my way.  I gave up playing the piano and I stopped caring about educational success or any other worthwhile pursuits.  Nearly all of my energy was devoted to getting loaded and chasing older boys.  Even as I took nine years to graduate from college and then make my way in the corporate world, I was deeply unhappy and felt empty inside.  Sometimes the walk of shame entailed retracing my steps back to my car parked on some downtown side street and then trying to appear professional when showing up hours late to my high-powered job.

Thirty-nine days before my thirtieth birthday, I made one of the most difficult decisions I have made in my life:  to give up drinking.  It had become clear to me that my life was out of control and it felt as though something catastrophic loomed around every corner, just out of sight.  As anyone who has quit drinking knows, the transition from a life fueled by alcohol into a sober one can be quite painful.  Suddenly I felt vulnerable, raw, exposed.  I no longer had the mask of inebriation behind which I could hide.  It was painfully obvious that I had no idea who I was, what I wanted or even what I liked and enjoyed.  For several years, I tried to box up my kink and put it on a shelf, tucked away neatly with many other behaviors I attributed to my drinking.  However, at some point the kink began to bubble over and I realized that it was not a prosthetic piece of me that I could simply detach and ignore.  As part of my ongoing commitment to discovering and becoming who I truly am, I began to embrace the kink and became determined to fly my freak flag with wild abandon.  I reached out, started networking with the local BDSM scene, and connected with an entire community, of which I had previously been only vaguely aware.

I became fascinated and enamored with beautiful and erotic images of Shibari I found online.  In October 2009, I heard that a well-known rope bondage photographer from L.A. was going to be in town that month for a local rope event. I had been perving on his photos for months so I contacted him about possibly doing a photo shoot together.  One of my mottos is, “the answer is always no, unless you ask.”  I was astounded when he agreed to work with me.  I was very nervous and had no idea what to expect but he would be staying with a woman I knew so we agreed to have the shoot in her home.  I had done one erotic photo shoot several years earlier but the results were less than impressive.  Having taken many photography classes over the years, I know what I like and I am extremely particular.  I had no interest in creating tawdry pornography, I wanted to create art and it was very important to me that we keep it tasteful.  I realize it may sound like a contradiction in terms, but one might argue that my entire life has been a contradiction in terms.  After getting sober, I aspired to be the kind of woman who behaves like a “lady” in all settings, whether a professional luncheon or a kinky party.  Moreover, I was thirty-six years old and had never allowed anyone to bind me, not even privately or just for fun in the bedroom.  I had always identified as Dominant and had not yet entertained the idea of submitting or being a bottom of any kind.

The shoot was amazing and I loved every minute of it.

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Afterward, he asked me to explain to him why it was so meaningful to me.  I feel emotionally attached to the photos we created for so many reasons that there is no way I can sum up the how and the why concisely in one sentence, or even a paragraph.  Those photos are a symbolic representation of a pivotal point in my growth as a woman.  During our shoot together, I had the recurring thoughts, “I am modeling…I am a model!”  One of the few things I remember that as a shy, insecure and socially awkward child I thought wanted to be when I grew up.  It was the first time I allowed someone to bind me and the first time I permitted myself to acknowledge that I might have a submissive side after all.  The relinquishing of control was both liberating and exhilarating.  It seemed almost paradoxical, the way it quelled my anxiety and quieted my mind, neither of which comes easily to me.  Being bound in rope seemed to have a swaddling effect.

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At the time, I was in the third year of an unintentionally extended bout of celibacy so it was the first time in many years that I was completely sober and mostly naked in the presence of a man whom I had just met. He was clearly enjoying it too.  In fact, after he bound my ankles over my head leaving my naughty bits entirely exposed he admitted that he was aroused.  I probably would have agreed to fuck him at that point had he been just a bit less professional.  I was acutely aware of my beauty, femininity, sensuality, sexuality and vulnerability all at once and more importantly, I allowed it, sank into it, absorbed it and was truly present for it.  I even let myself feel precious and cared for.  On my 37th birthday, he sent me the first set of edited photos and they blew my mind.  I could not believe the woman in the photos was ME.  Years of feeling inadequate, unworthy, undesirable and fat fell away in mere minutes.  Unwittingly, he gave me a gift more valuable than anything material.  Although… he may have known exactly what he was doing; after all, he has had a lot more experience with this than I have.  Each of those photos reminds me of that gift every time I see them.

With some trepidation, I posted a few of the photos online.  To my surprise and delight, they met a warm reception.  In fact, a couple in Boston purchased a print from the photographer to hang in their bedroom; they tell me it is still there. Apparently, the BDSM community heartily embraces ample, curvy women and the rope enthusiasts celebrate tremendous flexibility. I never would have imagined that, among other things, the ability to touch my elbows behind my back unassisted would turn out to be so advantageous.

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Just for fun, I decided to set up an account on a modeling website and almost immediately several photographers contacted me to shoot with them.

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Again, I was stunned.  To this day, I am astonished that amazing photographers have blessed me with opportunities to collaborate with them. More than once, I have thought to myself, “who am I and whose life is this anyway?”  I have come to understand that fetish modeling is my body image therapy.

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However, I am more than just a fetish model; I certainly hope I am greater than the sum of my parts.  I finished graduate school after finally closing the door on a potentially lucrative career in an industry I had grown to despise.  The past few years have been about even more awakening, surrender and acceptance.  I made a conscious decision to discard some outdated beliefs and extricate myself from some unhealthy behavior patterns.  The results have been profound for me and I am happier than I have ever been.  I finally figured out what I want to be when I grow up and I am on the path to making it a reality (newsflash: it is not being a supermodel!)

I am perpetually curious about human behavior.  Now I have the pleasure and honor of being the kind of sex-positive and kink-friendly nerd who helps guide others on their personal journeys.  I learned that being a rope bottom (personally, I prefer “rope bunny” or “rope slut”) is not necessarily synonymous with being masochistic, or even submissive.  True to my maverick form, I rejected the idea of being a BDSM “lifestyler;” I have never been much of a joiner. However, I have come to accept my own brand of kink and continue working toward owning it.  Personally, I identify as kink-curious because for me it is an ever-evolving and lifelong journey.  I have finally begun to love and cherish all of me, including my mind, body, shape, size, flaws and scars as important parts of the entire story that is uniquely mine.  For all of that, I am truly grateful.

- In case you missed it, I read this piece at BedPost Confessions on June 21, 2012.