in my thirty six years
i have considered myself :
funny with an adventurous streak.
intelligent & inquisitive.
never beautiful & sexy.
ive dared to be bare.
& in turn
i see myself
i trace the stretches & folds
where skin meets the lights & shadow
i see where the crevices of age
dance with the space of youthfulness.
i feel where time makes a mockery
of vanity with its branches of stretchmarks.
i embrace all
i love myself.
By Muthoni Njogu
We recently happened upon a photography project called nee.KKID by Kenyan, Muthoni Njogu. We were interested to learn more and got in touch to ask her a few questions.
Her Zimbabwe (HZ): Tell us a bit about yourself.
Muthoni Njogu (MN): In my previous lives, I have worked in advertising and Internet startups, copy editing and most recently in banking. Now, I am an image doula (through photography), social crafter over at RUVA and a reiki teacher.
HZ: Tell us a bit about nee.KKID and how that came about.
MN: I saw Michael’s work and I immediately felt compelled to reach out to him and congratulate him. I thought it was commendable and brave that a Kenyan photographer would openly explore sensuality.
I had no previous inclination towards asking him to do a shoot with me, but after the process, I felt incredibly beautiful and healed. I instantly knew that I could not be the only one who would feel this way. Let’s say, I was re-born into myself.
Days after the shoot, we decided to make this a joint effort. Combining skill, sensitivity and desire to be a conduit for others to see themselves, we choose to call our offering, nee.KKID. We recently launched our blog and have a presence on Facebook.
HZ: What was the rationale behind the naked photo shoot?
MN: In my 11 years of living abroad, I felt invisible and unnoticed. At other times, I felt I was viewed through the lens of cultural or racial curiosity. In the eight months since I have been back in Kenya, I have felt pushed between spaces of traditional expectation and the burgeoning consumer market. In all these spaces, I have felt estranged and required to perform based on said expectations.
I have felt lost. I don’t want to drown. I want to see myself, fully.
HZ: What was it like stripping for this photo shoot? Did you have any apprehensions?
MN: I was very, very nervous. I didn’t know how I was going to feel during and after the shoot. Michael was gentle and kind. He ensured there was food and that I was super comfortable throughout the shoot. We had a series of conversations prior to the shoot to map out expectations, technical aspects and fears. I trusted in his ability to provide a safe space. In retrospect, I felt, I was providing a space for me.
HZ: And what was it like publishing the pictures?
MN: I felt a sense of accomplishment. I knew the images were sensual, appropriate and tasteful.
HZ: How ‘tolerant’ is Kenya of women’s ‘unconventional’ bodies and the space they occupy?
MN: Kenya is a reflection of this push and pull between tradition and a public that is exposed to the world. Because of this, I feel, there is very little tolerance towards anyone or anything deemed different. Diversity is not celebrated. We are encouraged through media to see ourselves as a homogenous monolith.
The bodies of men and women that are celebrated are those that are within the parameters of the western aesthetic. Anyone who doesn’t fit that mould is encouraged to strive to fit within those parameters. Those who can’t or who are unable to squeeze into this space are reminded constantly on their ‘unattractiveness.’
MN: Being the only girl in a family of boys, I was taught and instructed from an early age to levitate towards the realm of responsibility.
I was taught to be a mother and/or wife. Intelligence was celebrated. Motherhood was exalted. Marriage was sought after.
The idea of pleasure, desire and sensuality were negated to the things done in the dark, in private and within certain, specific spaces. The very thought or actions geared towards self-discovery were thwarted with guilt and shame.
HZ: Usually, we are told that our hangups about our bodies end after adolescence, but from your depiction of yourself, there seems to be a much longer journey to self acceptance. What would your message be for women who are still struggling to accept their bodies?
MN: Can you dare to be bare!