Why My Fear Of Lingerie Wasn't About Body Image

by Alysse Dalessandro

When you are on your self love journey, images can be so powerful. I always admired gorgeous plus size women in lingerie but thought, "That's not for me." This feeling of discomfort had nothing to do with my size. I've worn a bikini publicly many times and even been published in a magazine wearing one. But while lingerie shows almost exactly the same amount of skin as a bikini, it's the purpose of the lingerie that made me uneasy.

As a designer, I am an advocate for inclusivity and have focused heavily on making body chains at every size. I've made it a point to show that body chains can be worn with swimwear or just an everyday outfit. But there's another element to body chains that I haven't necessarily talked about much — because like lingerie, it didn't feel safe for me to personally acknowledge the sexual nature of body chains.

I remember the first time it was pointed out to me that some people saw body chains as only for the bedroom. It was at a festival and I had my mom helping me run my vendor booth. My mom is a true salesperson. She tried to sell everyone and their mama a body chain. And the reactions to this 50-something year-old woman selling such a progressive fashion item were certainly mixed.

Some simply rejected the idea of wearing a body chain altogether and others liked it but didn't feel like it was for them. But what struck me most was people saying, "I'm not into that." Despite their judgmental tone, I wanted to tell them how I designed them for everything but "that." But thinking about it for too long just made me uneasy.

As someone who has been plus size most of my life, I had insecurities about my body growing up. I went through puberty in the fourth grade, which made me feel extremely isolated from the other kids my age. In middle school, I lost a lot of weight, but even though I had dropped nearly six dress sizes, I felt worse than ever. Throughout all of my struggles with self worth, I never once changed how I dressed. I wore what I wanted to wear at all times. As I began to feel physically uncomfortable in jeans, I started wearing mini skirts and never looked back. Even when I felt worthless as a person, fashion was always the one thing I could feel good about.

As I tried to navigate dating, sex seemed like the only thing anyone wanted from me, and I felt constantly uncomfortable being seen as sexy.

When I started dating in high school, my insecurities about not being good enough or feeling worthy of love kept me mostly at a distance from people. As I gradually gained back the weight I had lost and then some by college, I was completely convinced that I was unloveable. And in my mind, this loneliness and isolation were not about how I looked, but more about who I felt I was.

I remember the first time I wore lingerie: I was probably 20 years old. I remember how significant it felt for me and how traumatic it was when it didn't seem to matter to the person I was with that I was wearing it. I had no insecurities about how I looked in this lingerie. I foolishly thought the lingerie would make him see me as someone worth loving. But I didn't see myself as someone worth loving and no amount of lingerie would change that.

Fashion was something I did for me, but lingerie was something I thought I had to do for someone else. By the time I entered into my first serious relationship, I was 21. I was mostly still scarred from my first experience with lingerie and didn't really feel comfortable testing the waters again. I also didn't really feel like I had to use this method as a means to prove my worth. My partner made it very clear to me from that beginning of our relationship that my body type was his ideal. But nothing else about me felt good enough for him or anyone else. He had his own insecurities about his worth and combining that with mine made our relationship a constant struggle.

When it finally ended, I felt like all my fears about being unloveable came true. And since I was pretty confident about the fact that I was physically attractive, I started casually dating anyone who would take my mind off of how terrible I really felt on the inside. And only a few months after my traumatic breakup, I was raped by one of the people I was dating.

I ignored what had happened for months. I never dealt with the trauma because I didn't want to admit to myself what had happened. But even with that denial, dating and especially sex didn't feel safe. As I tried to navigate dating, sex seemed like the only thing anyone wanted from me, and I felt constantly uncomfortable being seen as sexy. When I would try to express this uneasiness to my partners, they didn't seem to understand. I was even told that I was a "sex symbol" and because of my hourglass shape that my "body was made for sex."

Lingerie felt like something that women wore who were proud and comfortable being sexy. I felt like lingerie wasn't possible for someone like me, who still mostly felt afraid in sexual contexts. I kept my experience secret from everyone, including the people I dated. I didn't want to give them another reason to find me unloveable. My fears and discomfort caused many of the people in my life to write me off as being "crazy" and to this day, this is a label that will hurt me more than a word like "fat" ever did. "Crazy" felt like validation that I was not worthy of love.

Through therapy and a lot of exercises in self love, I began to work through the feelings surrounding my sexual trauma. I had to learn that it wasn't my fault and that it wasn't a reflection of my self worth. And in the process, I started to unpack the old feelings from my childhood that planted this seed in my head that love was for other people and not for me.

Lingerie still felt scary but I started to get more comfortable telling my partners up front that I was working through feelings related to sexual trauma. Some of the guys I dated wrote me off immediately because of it. But this rejection was different; instead of seeing it an indication of my self worth, I began to feel grateful that people who were not a good match for me saw themselves out.

I finally learned that it was completely reasonable to expect that my partner respect my comfort levels and move at a pace that felt safe for me. I remember telling my current partner for the first time about my past, and his reaction struck me. He made it clear that my trauma wasn't something he had to learn to deal with and it wasn't a burden to him as I had always been told before. He expressed genuine empathy. He recognized that I would need time to feel safe around him and unlike a lot of my partners, he didn't make me feel guilty for that or take it personal. And most importantly, he stressed that sex was not necessary until I felt comfortable.

I would be lying if I said I am now completely OK and that finding an understanding partner made all of my fears completely disappear. It's still hard sometimes to express my boundaries or feel valid for needing them. Comments made by men on Instagram about my body still trigger me. And as much as I try to explain why I see these comments as harassment, certain people will always feel like I should be flattered by them.

But writing this and taking these photos is about my journey. My body is not made for sex. My body is mine. And I am worthy. I wanted to celebrate finally finding comfort in that. While I certainly could have picked lingerie that was more overtly sexy, I had to wear something that felt right for me. I picked the lace tulip balconette bra and the essential boyshort from Curvy Couture. I paired it with my favorite body chain from my most recent collection, The Nicki Caged Body Chain. I added a vintage blue robe that made me feel as devastatingly beautiful as Blanche Devereaux. And the whole look made me feel comfortable because for the first time, I wore it for me.

I no longer look at lingerie (or love, for that matter) as something that's for "everyone but me." I had to learn that I can be sexy and still keep my humanity. I had to learn that I am not defined by my experiences. It's been an emotional journey to self love, but it's something that I make sure I work at every day because I realize that the most important relationship I'll ever have is with myself.

Images: Alysse Dalessandro