Each month at Salty, we celebrate one of our favorite high profile, sex positive women, trans and non binary people as our Salty coverstar. Meet our first Salty cover star: the bold, unapologetic model and mother, Tiah Eckhardt.
Mother, Model, Feminist. I’m All Three- and More.
Written by Tiah Eckhardt.
Sexuality and feminism have always been linked in my mind. Maybe it’s because my development and understanding of both occurred at the same time. Or perhaps it comes down to the fact that the two have intersected so many times throughout my career. Either way, the connection has been a constant for me.
Growing up in a house dominated by women, my earliest perception of the world was one where we were the majority. My mother was a badass career woman, working seven days a week and looking after four kids, emotionally and financially. I had no doubt that men and women were equal; If anything, we were more powerful. We gave life, then we nurtured that life. I witnessed my mother not only handle that responsibility, but do so with love, fun and a cheeky sense of humor. I saw from a young age that women could do everything and anything.
As a teenager, though, I started noticing all the casual misogynistic statements in the world around me. Male teachers talked down to female students, and classroom chatter centered around all the things only boys were allowed to do. Whether it was “you can’t make out with two boys in one week” or “you can’t join our band, because you’re a girl,” the messages stuck. Hearing that last one sent my dreams of becoming my tweenage idol, Courtney Love, right out the window. I regret it to this day.
I had no doubt that men and women were equal; If anything, we were more powerful. We gave life, then we nurtured that life.
I got bullied at school, and realized the most common insults were always gender-based and of a sexual nature. Always “slut” or “whore.” Boys introduced those terms to me at a school dance because I chose to wear a sixties-style, A-line mini skirt. I was eleven years old.
As an adult in the modeling industry, the critique I got sounded eerily similar to those slut-shaming sixth grade bullies. Judgement, I noticed, always stemmed from someone else’s interpretation of my femininity. An editor once said my natural breasts made “all the garments look cheap.” Another designer humiliatingly made me walk up and down in a fitting until I could “find a way to walk where my boobs didn’t bounce.” In heels and no bra, mind you.
It’s no secret that misogyny exists in the fashion world (and classism, racism and sizeism — for further note and their own much-needed discussions). I’ll forever be grateful to my work, but the industry is one of extremes. There’s one that empowers women, and one that knows what insidious marketing tools insecurity and self-doubt are.
For this very reason, every occasion I ever chose to shoot nude, act overtly sexual, and still demand respect (and adequate pay), felt like a big middle finger to the whole institution. In a character trait that’s persisted since my middle school dance days, being told I couldn’t do something just made me want to do it more. Not just for the petty enjoyment of proving people wrong, but also to assert myself in the world — on my own terms.
For this very reason, every occasion I ever chose to shoot nude, act overtly sexual, and still demand respect (and adequate pay), felt like a big middle finger to the whole institution.
I’ve been blessed with the support of progressive stylists, designers, and photographers who helped me realize this, and liked me just as I was. They loved the notion of a strong, sexually powerful woman, and introduced me to the work of Helmut Newton and Guy Bourdin, as well as curvaceous nineties models and vintage icons like Bettie Page. They found it funny and punk-rock to let my cleavage spill out of respectable Prada button-ups. I’m still so grateful to the people that neither desexualized me to be palatable, nor exploited me by taking away my autonomy. They just let me be who I am: a curvy loudmouth who likes to fuck just as much as the next person with a pulse, and never wanted to be a two-dimensional, asexual representation of womanhood in order to be mainstream “respectable.”
I’m done with boxes. I will never exist in just one.
Because, really, in a world so determined to put us in very small boxes, allowing nuanced individuality is paramount. Too much categorization just becomes another form of oppression. Just look at how we are categorized on social media alone: Thot. Angry Feminist. Devoted Mother. I, for one, will not edit myself. I will not censor out chunks of my personality to be make others more comfortable, or to be socially acceptable.
I remember less than a year after having my daughter, a fashion editorial where I was topless in one shot was posted online. One specific comment so succinctly summed up society’s attitudes. It was to the effect of “There are enough mothers in the world, and enough models willing to pose topless, we don’t need someone who’s both.” Why the fuck can’t I be both, asshole? I was beyond enraged at these directions from a stranger on what I should or should not do. I was pissed on behalf of women and mothers everywhere. Like, “here, do this awesome thing, create life, raise a human being, now never show your body, be or appear sexual ever again!”
I, for one, will not edit myself. I will not censor out chunks of my personality to be make others more comfortable, or to be socially acceptable.
It’s insane we are still even discussing this in 2018.
First as a girl and now as a mother, the same message: you don’t get to control your sexuality.
I was already aware, and upset, that it seemed I was expected to take on some bullshit role of matronly “earth mother” post-pregnancy. Like, I needed to all of a sudden adopt a palette of neutrals and think only of organic baby food and yoga, just because I’d birthed a human being. Motherhood seems to be the current-day equivalent of moving to Stepford. Become a mother and never talk about anything else ever again. If you still happen to enjoy having your partner tie your hands to your ankles and bang you senseless while you scream expletives through fingers shoved in your mouth, my god, you better not talk about it. Baby food and tasteful mom clothes only!
I’m so sick having to explain to narrow-minded people why their attitudes towards women’s sexuality are so shitty and damaging. What we need to do is open up dialogue and normalize it all. Censor nothing. Refuse to edit ourselves. We need to create our own content — whether it’s images or words.
What we need to do is open up dialogue and normalize it all. Censor nothing. Refuse to edit ourselves.
The world is ripe for the likes of Salty. We don’t need another Mommy Blog. We don’t need another Playboy, who — bless its heart — removed it’s augmented, 90’s ideal only to replace it with a trail of size four Coachella clones. We need a platform to expand beyond the dull spheres that are currently our only options when it comes to discussing our loves, our fucks, our parenting roles, and our goals. I’m done with boxes. I will never exist in just one.