For the last five or six years, I have wanted to be a nude model for an artist or art class. I’ve dreamed of my rubenesque body being sketched or, if I were really lucky, painted. When I lived in Chicago, I reached out to dozens of art schools, workshops, and even individual professors, offering my services. I never got a response. Since then, I’ve periodically perused Craigslist to see if anyone was hiring nude models, but that always brought up really creepy posts.
I’d been passively hoping for an opportunity to come up when I stumbled upon Anessa, a photographer. Anessa’s page featured women of all sizes, shapes, colors, and gender identities. Not everyone wore lingerie—the women in her photos wore all sorts of clothing. Her portfolio felt alternative to the traditional boudoir, where women gave photos to their new husbands (which there is nothing wrong with, but it was not for me and my purposes). I knew that I wanted her to shoot me.
Throughout the shoot, Anessa showed me some of the photos on her camera to make sure she was capturing what I wanted. When I first saw some of the full body photos of myself, I was struck by the size of my stomach. I didn’t realize how far it stuck out, which is an odd thing to not realize, especially since I know that am at my biggest weight right now. But I tend to have an idea in my head of what I look like that’s much thinner than I actually am, and I usually don’t notice the physical changes until I see a photo of myself, after which I’m always depressed. More than once in my life, I have sobbed after seeing a photo of me that showed how big my stomach was.
For my entire life I’ve thought I was fat. At the very least I thought I was chubby and needed to lose weight. In high school, I developed a binge-eating habit with fast food, but I never gained weight, just a really unhealthy relationship with food. I always thought I was fat because I compared myself to other girls I went to school with, but I look back now and know that I was never fat. I just had curves. But I felt different. My dance team even had to order a special skirt because no one on the team had ever been my size—I was a size 8.
Now I know that I was not fat and my body was hot throughout high school. After my freshman year in college, I started to gain weight. I’ve fluctuated ever since. It’s been a long, mostly boring journey with my body. Mostly what I can tell you is that I have spent the majority of the last 10 years hating my body on a bad day and tolerating it on a good day.
My beauty always came with a qualifier. In my head, I could not be hot with stomach rolls. When I was looking at the photos during my shoot, my stomach glared at me and I glared back. I thought the same thing that I always do: “God, these pictures would be so hot if I just didn’t have that fat stomach, cellulite, and stretch marks.” I would mentally take an eraser to my stomach to trim it down a few inches, removing any sign of imperfection.
Here is a list of things I have thought to myself hundreds of times throughout the years:
I would be so hot if I lost 20 pounds.
I would be so hot if I started working out every day.
I will be so hot once I do Whole30.
I would be so hot if I lost 40 pounds.
I would be really hot if I did yoga every day for 90 days.
I would be so hot if I lost 60 pounds.
I am going to be so hot once I start doing Orange Theory Fitness six times a week.
But the pictures Anessa was taking were hot. I was hot. I looked so good. Why did my stomach define my beauty?
We’ve been told in America that the white European woman is the standard of beauty. Historically, that means women’s bodies are lean, trim, and skinny. In recent years, our society has fetishisized women with big hips and butts, like Queen Bey. But liking big butts is not the same as body positivity and fat acceptance. This new standard of beauty is far from inclusive or even obtainable. In the wise words of Tina Fey in her book Bossypants, women are expected to have “long Swedish legs, small Japanese feet, the abs of a lesbian gym owner, the hips of a nine-year-old boy, the arms of Michelle Obama, and doll tits. The person closest to actually achieving this look is Kim Kardashian, who, as we know, was made by Russian scientists to sabotage our athletes.”
I started to think about bodies as geometric shapes. I thought, I have a circle on my stomach and the sexy women in magazines, TV shows, and movies have flat lines for stomachs. Why did the line equate to beauty? Why did the circle mean I was ugly or fat or not enough? Why did this difference in shape stop me from fully loving my body?
Thinking about bodies as shapes made me realize that there was no logic to my thinking of “I would be so hot if…” There was nothing stopping me from being hot now. It was just my belief that flat lines are the only shape that can be hot. It’s not true. All shapes are hot. They’re just freaking shapes.
The pictures were hot because I was hot. I am so happy for every single photo. Not just for the content I can use on my website and Instagram, but because the whole experience allowed me to do something I so badly needed—love my body unconditionally.
For a long time, I’ve been listening to and reading the body positivity beliefs of the likes of Lena Dunham, Lindy West, and Roxanne Gay. I have really, really wanted to be like them. But for whatever reason, I couldn’t love my body. I was still mad at it (me) for not looking like Jennifer Lawrence or Beyonce.
I have been mean to my body. I’ve talked so much shit about my body. I can’t believe how mean I am to it. I pump it full of fast food and cigarettes and alcohol and deprive myself of sleep and peace. And then I tell everyone how disgusting my body is. But now I know that I can still work on my body and believe it’s perfect at the same time.
My body is amazing and strong. My body is beautiful. It is Rubenesque. It is big and sexy. I take up space. I fill out dresses; my hips, stomach, legs, and breasts form beautiful, supple curves. My stomach has cellulite and stretch marks from gaining weight rapidly. My belly is full from eating and drinking and having too much fun. I am sexy and I am strong.
To my body: I am sorry that I’ve been so mean to you. More than that, I’m sorry that this won’t be the last time I’ll say sorry. I don’t know if I’ll ever truly accept you. I say I do. Sometimes I think I fully accept you. But I haven’t gotten there yet. I’m so sorry that I’ll probably be mean to you again. When I do, please forgive me. I’m not perfect. But I’m working on it.