There was a time when I wouldn't even let my own mother see me in a swimsuit because I hated my body so much. There was a time when I quit baton lessons because I was embarrassed to wear the sparkly leotard. There was even a time when I wore tons of clothes to the beach in case someone from school saw me. It was more than just swimsuits, too. The first 30 years of my life were a battle between me, my body, mirrors, clothing, other people's opinions, low self-esteem, eating disorders, and isolation.
Today, I actually do love my body (mostly) in a deep, genuine way. But it wasn't something that miraculously happened. Others showed me the way. It was plus size Instagram models and fat fashion bloggers saying, "This is my body, and it's OK that I love it," who began to change the way I viewed my own shape and size. It was photos I took of myself then examined for hours without judgement, where the truth those brave bloggers were trying to show me really sank in. Photos are powerful. Sharing your body truth is powerful. Those women taking photos gave me a gift: They made space for me and gave me permission to celebrate myself. Their very existence changed my reality, and my life.
The following photos feature the different parts of my body that I hated the most. Looking at them now, everything has changed. I'm not saying these photos will change someone else's life like similar photos changed mine, but I'm sharing because there is power in owning your truth and being yourself with no shame. So here I am. Here is my beautiful body. Here are the struggles I used to face and the love I fought hard to feel. I hope it helps you find your own body peace.
1. This Is My Face
I used to have a really strange relationship with my face. I would look in the mirror or see pictures of myself and think, "Is this really what I look like? I don't feel like this is how I look. I feel like I'm looking at someone else." It was mostly because I was in denial about my fat face.
In the amount of time I spent learning and practicing different angles to make my face look thinner in photographs, I could have written a novel. It was truly wasted time, motivated by self-hatred, that I'm really sad about today. I'm still guilty of taking a hundred different selfies from a hundred different angles, but these days it's more about getting my makeup to look perfect than to hide the fat parts of my face.
My face is long and double chinned. My cheeks are full and my jawline is wide from fat. I can see that now. It's beautiful.
2. These Are My Arms
Women in my family do not wear tank tops. I've known since I was old enough to pick out my own summer clothes that sleeves were necessary. Sleeves protected the world from grotesque, flappy upper arms. It was kind of like big arms had to be hidden as if they were private parts. I never understood why, because sleeves don't exactly make big arms any smaller, but I wore then anyway.
The first time I wore a tank top in public, I was wrecked with fear. I was so self conscious, I almost went home. Why? Because I had arms?
I'm no longer going to create my own prison of fear and shame. I will wear sleeveless everything. These are my arms. They're big and wide. They jiggle when I wave. They've done nothing wrong. They're beautiful.
3. This Is My Belly
The first time I went to the gynecologist marked the peak of my belly (and body) self-hatred. I was nude, under fluorescent lights, spread open, and already feeling exposed and afraid. My doctor poked around a little bit, then sighed and snapped off her gloves. She pressed her hand into my belly and said, "You're too fat. I can't see your cervix. Lose some weight if you want a better exam." She left the room and I could barely get dressed because I was crying so hard. The way she touched my belly wasn't medical. It was with pure and utter disdain, like she had to touch it to believe it was real. (Side note: All the wonderful doctors I had after that had no problem providing me with exams, even though my belly is even bigger than it was then.)
This visit triggered all my eating disorder thoughts and patterns. I'd fantasize about having a surgeon cut out my belly rolls. I'd isolate myself and wonder how much better my life would be without this huge belly. I passed on opportunities, flaked on friends, and avoided living my life because I had this massive, multi-layered gut.
Now, believe it or not, it's actually my favorite body part. It has huge rolls. It flops sometimes when I run. It sits on top of wide hips. If you look through art history books, you can see it's kind of goddess-like. I love it. It's so beautiful, and it's like the centerpiece of my bodyscape.
4. These Are My Thighs
I've never really thought much about my thighs. I had enough to worry about with all the other parts of my body that were so much more hate-worthy that I never got around to picking my thighs apart. That doesn't mean others haven't. Once, when I worked at a daycare, we were drawing pictures of each other, and a little boy lovingly drew me like a beached whale with two hams for thighs. He said, "I made your legs big, 'cause they're fat!" He didn't mean it with any malice, just pure childlike observation.
At the time, I just thanked him and added it to the pile of things wrong with my body, even though he didn't think they were wrong. That just how trained my mind was to view myself. Ham thighs. Yup. That's pretty accurate.
But my thighs are absolute magic. They carry me through this life. They're stronger than they look. They make me feel powerful. Yes, they're wobbly and dimply. Yes, they're fat. There's no gap between them. They always seem to have random bruises I can't explain. They're lined with stretch marks. They're often hairy. They're beautiful.
5. These Are My Breasts
A guy in college told me that as long as as a woman's boobs stuck out farther than their bellies, they were hot. Even though I knew it was ridiculous and offensive and stupid, I still found myself upset by the fact that my boobs were small and my belly was large. That encounter was one of the reasons I tried my first piece of too small, circulation crushing, breath-stealing, painful shapewear. I remember feeling like I was going to pass out in class because I literally couldn't breathe. It was torture. All because I didn't want my belly to stick out farther than my breasts.
I cringe thinking about it today. I don't worry about my breasts anymore. They're lopsided. They're a little deflated and saggy from weight loss and weight gain and more weight loss and more weight gain. One's noticeably bigger than the other. They're beautiful.
Here I am, every inch of me, from my chubby toes to my round nose. When I look at this picture, I'm truly able to see it's beauty — my beauty. I'm able to celebrate my size as just another part of a big,complex human experience. I'm able to see that beauty is absolutely present in all people. I'm able to believe my wife when she tells me how gorgeous she finds me, body and all. But perhaps more importantly, I'm able to see that the size and shape of my body really has nothing to do with my self-worth. As a woman in my thirties, I can't go back to that pudgy kid and put her in that sequined bathing suit, or let her have worry-free fun at the beach. But I can show my truth, share my body, and take my own photos, even if only as a testament to the fact that body love and acceptance is possible for anyone.
I'm proud to say that this is my body, and this is what it looks like. If you're unable to see my beauty, that's OK. It's finally enough for me that I see it.
Images: Arin Altomare