I recently received a call from a concerned loved one about an image I posted on Instagram.
It was a photo of me on vacation in Mexico, smiling into the sun in a vibrant red suit, my hands grasping the sides of my bikini bottom with my knees in the sand.
I was told that this photo was suggestive, oversexualized, and objectifying. My loved one worried what people who didn’t know me—or worse, what those who did—might think.
When we hung up, I felt a shock wave of shame take over my body. I wanted to crawl into a hole, delete my Instagram, and hide from the world.
I asked myself why I posted this image. Was I seeking male attention or approval?
I am in my early 20s and arriving into my womanhood. I want to be an adult, but until recently, I believed that in order to be seen as good, I had to remain a soft, innocent little girl.
Lately, I have been exploring other parts of myself: my intelligence, intuition, voice, strength, pain, and sexuality. I felt empowered to post that picture because I am learning to own more of myself.
After that call, I imagined what it might feel like to live my life guided by the voice of fear—to stay small in order to make those around me feel safe and comfortable. Though I’ve never had to live with a dilemma like this, I thought about what it might be like for a gay person who has not come out yet, who can’t live their full truth out of fear that they will not be accepted by their family, community, and loved ones.
My sexuality is part of my truth. I am in touch with my body, I am a sexual being, and this part of me is just as important and authentic as the business woman, the sister, the daughter, the friend, the innocent little girl, and the responsible, capable woman part of me.
About a month ago, I had a vision of the divine masculine and feminine in unity. Men were standing in a pack holding up their strong arms as the foundation to support a soft, powerful woman, communing with other goddesses. The men served as a safe container for the women to express themselves, create, make magic, and commune.
Part of the power we hold as women is the ability to listen to feelings, intuition, dreams, and the unknown. We have the capacity to be nonlinear and inclusive. We soften the edges. We can hold the paradox of injustice and acceptance. We can bypass the “us versus them” mantra and remember the wholeness of this existence in all its beauty and pain.
But without the container of the masculine, there would be no structure. We would exist in a void and have nothing in which to hold the beauty and mystery of creation. We need men to potentiate and organize life. We need physical matter to exist in this realm, to give us a story and a linear beginning and ending. This is the gift of masculinity.
When men and women support each other in their power, we are capable of beautiful harmony. By stepping into these roles, we are able to participate in the dance of creation without as much friction.
I believe that sexuality is one way women can explore and express their divine femininity. It connects us to the wisdom, pleasure, and power of our bodies.
We have been living in a patriarchal age for too long, dimming the light of the sacred feminine. As we shift into a time when women are finally embracing their voice, we are too often emulating the male-oriented culture of success—but there is more to us than holding a CEO position or the right to vote. Our power runs deep.
When I was having my picture taken in Tulum with my hands on my body, I didn’t feel like a passive object for the pleasure of others. I felt powerful, alive, and whole. No wonder our bodies can sell cars—they are wildly compelling. But the shoot was for me, and for the women and men who support my full exploration of self.
I find women in any empowered role—mother, businesswoman, beach bunny, artist, visionary—to be inspiring. I love looking at the bodies of women of all shapes, ages, and skin tones. Women are beauty.
As women, we no longer need to feel at the mercy of the male gaze, and men shouldn’t feel shame for wanting to experience our magic. When there’s a safe place for all of our parts to be seen, nothing needs to be taboo or illicit.
I invite you to see me as a multifaceted, integrated human being. I wish that for you, too.
I am grateful for the feedback from my loved one because it gave me the opportunity to better know myself and my wish for humanity. I accept that everyone is going to see me through their own lens of understanding. And I feel more connected to myself than ever.
My sexuality, a part of me that once felt like a shadow and made other people uncomfortable, has come into the light—and I love it. I am a sexual being, and oh so much more.
Author: Leila Rader
Image: Author’s own
Editor: Nicole Cameron
Copy Editor: Catherine Monkman