I AM naked in front of a mirror. It’s 7am, the children are asleep, the cold slate tiles press up through my feet. I move inch by inch, examining the topography of my frame in the diffuse morning light. I know my shapes so well. The dome of a breast. The peak of a nipple. The Bezier curve between ribcage and pelvis. Instantly recognisable – in reflection, on a page, in a tweet from a cruel stranger.

There’s a standard script shaming is meant to follow. It’s instinctive, primal, and we’ve been using it to exploit human frailty since time immemorial. You do a thing, someone finds out about the thing, someone then uses the thing to extort you in some way – morally, emotionally, socially, financially. Public humiliation is so instantly effective, it’s been a weapon of justice for centuries. In times past, malefactors were brought before the people to atone. We latched them in stocks, pilloried, tattooed, dunked them in water, paraded them on donkeys. Such cruel and unusual punishments have fallen out of favour. They’re not in keeping with a civilised society. The age-old formula has found new ground in the digital world.

Online, naked women are the currency of shame. Sex tapes and nudes are a scandal in waiting, ready to be deployed. A scandal where men are forgotten and women are immortalised through their transgression. Jennifer Lawrence. Kim Kardashian. Paris Hilton. Jennifer Lopez. We know this formula works, so we use it when we have nothing else to play or when we wish to inflict a deep level of lasting harm. It’s so inhuman in thought, and yet so depressingly human in practice. Public shaming appeals to the barbarism within. To the shard of glass that changes the eye and cools the heart, making us only capable of seeing the world in shades of darkness – bad people, bad things and just deserts.

A picture is potent. It captures a moment in history, fixing it in amber indefinitely. We can’t grab a hold of the future, but we can drag the past forward in the images we make. We see so much of our lives through a viewfinder because taking a picture is otherworldly. It’s an everyday transmogrification. It’s magic in action. One click turns a memory from the intangible into a possession. You can’t steal a memory, but you can steal a photo. They can be used to extort. Combine the potency of the picture with nudity and you create an alchemy of nonpareil. Our nudity is our most intimate physical attribute, and in itself a source of power. Revealing ourselves is how we transform relationships from one status to another. In religion, it can signify both the sacred and the sin. In society, we can use our nudity to disrupt and to protest. The naked body is power, and so readily packaged for exploitation.

When you stumble upon a salacious picture, what a ripe cherry that must be. Impossible to resist. You possess not only the picture, but power. What is more tempting? Humans crave power for its supernatural ability to alter the future. To have power is to be able to inflict control over the destiny of another – how they think, how they feel, how they behave. Armed with it, we are elevated above the mortal. We are Zeus with a lightning bolt – the strike is to be administered at will for maximum devastation.

I, like many women, have taken nude photos, as those around me so visibly and painfully learned this week. Some of my pictures made their way through the backstreets of the internet and wound up on a porn site. In response to my writing, one made its way back to me, publicly, on Twitter for the world to see. The usual script did not play out because I’m not ashamed. What those photos mean to me can’t be erased in a single callous act. Those photos were and are an affirmation. They captured my full-frontal nude body, but they also captured my sense of self-worth. Something that can’t be eroded by an internet stranger.

I was in my mid-20s when I took the first one. I’d had my last child.

It took me that long – the ageing of my bones and the growing of four whole humans – to like what I saw in the mirror enough to even look, let alone take a picture. For as long as I could remember, my reflection tormented. Big feet with long chicken-bone toes. Ears protruding though long hair. The large dog-bite scar earned at seven, when my uncle said I could be a model in long socks. The glasses at eleven when the same man called me Olive Butler. By the time I was 13, I had thrice as much hair as any of my peers, and my hobby was plucking, shaving and burning it it into submission. My relationship with the mirror was strictly business – shoulders and up, to be actively avoided except for inspecting each and every defective pore, hair or follicle.

At 15, I’d sharpened my hip bones and clavicles with fad diets and self-loathing. That quickly became disordered and life-controlling. This planing and padding of my body continued in waves for the next 15 years. By 24, I’d widened my pelvis with childbirth, earned sergeant’s stripes with each pregnancy on hips and bum – but I finally felt beautiful. I looked in the mirror at a body chamfered by the passage of time, and for the first time it was not defective. It was interesting. There were lines. New shapes. Grey hairs. My body moved in new ways. I was no longer freshly unwrapped and trying to compete with the girls. I had earned a woman’s skin and I loved what I saw. A full breast, a thicker thigh, the bones that had moved to make way for people. It took a lifetime for me to like myself and I wanted to capture that feeling.

Would I trade my painful last week for privacy? Not for a second. Those photos captured a transformation in my mind. A moment when I no longer felt cheated by my reflection. This leak has been a reminder that even in the face of exploitation, the love of my own body endures – a feeling it took far too long to find.

I am naked. I am eight years old. I am standing in front of the wardrobe door mirror. I am turning myself inch by inch. I examine the topography. The long chicken-bone toes, the big ears, the new bruise-coloured scar on my right shin. My arms are too thin. My hair is too long. My belly-button is too deep. I’m crying. I hope that I will grow tall, that my ears will shrink and my boobs will come in, that time will do what genetics have not.

I am eight years old and I am ashamed. I wish to be beautiful. I wait a lifetime to see it.