Social distancing has made me nostalgic for a specific type of intimacy. I miss being close and held, warmed by a feeling I’m learning only another’s affection can give. There is a kind of touch I can offer myself—the instinctive kind only my own hands understand. The chest pat I rely on when I need comfort. The clitoral caress I don’t have to explain. This self-touch is natural and sensual and mine, but it is different from what I’ve been craving.
I want to embrace my friends. I want to peck my mom’s freckled cheek. I want to dance in the middle of a crowded room, barely grazing a stranger I find beautiful. And as quarantine continues, I’m finding that my hands don’t know how to substitute these losses. I don’t think they can. The attempts are empty and sad and just thicken the desire.
In realizing that this void cannot be filled, I am focusing on new rituals: spicing my coffee with cinnamon, buying flowers for a neighbor on Mondays, sitting in the living room during golden hour, admiring the light, receiving what I can. These charming gestures prevent me from spiraling and give me something else to think about. Which is not to pretend that quarantine is just a self-care retreat or a new normal that we should make the best of.
Distancing ourselves from each other is not normal. People dying at alarming rates is not normal. This is not normal. This is not beautiful. The romantic routines I am creating are a reaction to grief. I am tending to myself to survive. And I’ve found that my sadness is guiding me to the animal of myself. There is catharsis in my own sounds and shapes, in my bare and primal nature.
In an effort to pay attention and make new intimacies, taking nudes has become a surprisingly healing, necessary practice.
In front of the camera and the mirror, I can be whoever I am, I can feel whatever I feel.
Months before quarantine, I half-heartedly tried to pick up the habit, in a quirky self-help intention to cultivate contentment while being single. After months of mediocre dates and unrequited love, I figured maybe if I just stared at my pubes enough, then my romantic frustrations would disappear. (Obviously, that didn’t work, but it felt exciting and worthwhile nonetheless.) It started simple: photograph a nude, rarely send, never filter. I’d photograph myself wherever and whenever I happened to be naked: after a shower, in a dressing room, before taking a nap. The habit never fully cemented then, but I still cherished the idea.
Now, on my 60th day of quarantine, I’ve found solace in taking nudes. And look, I’m fully aware of how corny and intense that might sound. I don’t mean to liken naked iPhone portraits to therapy or yoga or prayer. But this activity has become a sort of spiritual outlet for me. Under the dim bathroom light, my natural form exudes herself and all of my emotional contradictions are in conversation. Insecure, confident. Sexy, prude. Melancholic, thrilled. Open, shy. In front of the camera and the mirror, I can be whoever I am, I can feel whatever I feel. And in the midst of a global emergency, it is so crucial to welcome all of those complicated, inconsistent feelings. To see them, to document them, to find solace in their ever-present company. Everything is so uncertain right now, but this ritual feels sacred enough to honor the complexity and all its colors.
After yet another strange day, it is relieving to return to the cold tile, the peeling eggshell paint, that dim bathroom light. The evening quickly becomes dramatic and sensual with shea butter hair massages and body oil rubs. I decorate the silence with D’Angelo’s “Untitled (How Does It Feel)” and it nurtures me. How does it feel? how does it feel? For a moment, everything feels good. And because optimism is so scarce these days, I cling to that goodness for as long as I can. I mean this quite literally. Some evenings I stay in the bathroom for 50, 60, 70 minutes, clinging and clinging.
I stare at the mirror, gazing fondly, feeling a sense of togetherness with myself. Unclothed, oiled, me. Brown skin, kinky hair, me. I hold my iPhone in my palm, arch my back, gently touch my thighs, and snap a few photos to celebrate this body of mine, to archive this scarce goodness. I stare at the mirror. I am calm. I am scared. I am naked. I am here. I am trying.
Loré Yessuff (she/her) is a writer based in Austin, TX. She enjoys writing essays and poems about intimacy, identity, and interconnection. You can keep up with her on Instagram @boogieandblues.