Tag Archives: bodies

My Thighs are Applauding (Shamu, Chub Rub, and our Secret Bodily Shames)

“When I said cute dress, I didn’t think you’d wear leggings underneath,” he said, resting his hand on my knee as we sat having drinks by the fire at a rooftop bar. Given I didn’t know quite how fancy the date was, I had asked if I should go with a cute dress or jeans. He’d suggested the dress, and realizing that if we walked anywhere my thighs would be rubbed raw, I stuck a pair of leggings on underneath. I feigned some excuse about how it was cold, but in actuality, I was trying not to blush that they were necessary to keep my curvy self rash-free.

I wasn’t bothered by his personal preference that I didn’t have them on (while I do take suggestions on occasion, no one gets to say what I wear but me), but the fact that I too would have preferred otherwise and couldn’t figure out how to make that happen.

it burnsThis chafing issue has plagued me for much of my life. I vividly remember getting splashed at the whale show at Sea World. My parents shepherded one drenched and exhausted little girl to the car. Yet as I walked back to the entrance, my legs burned. They felt like they were on fire, my soaked jean shorts suddenly grating my chubby thighs. I found myself hobbling, legs splayed, walking with a weird figure 8 motion as I tried to keep my legs apart, tugging my new black and rainbow t-shirt with a panda on it as far down as possible in a vain attempt to stop the pain.

That was the beginning.

take off pansIn the fifteen years since then, I’ve nearly stopped wearing dresses, skirts, and shorts, and on the rare occasion I don one of these non-pants articles, I typically only do so with a protective layer of leggings underneath.

I hated the rubbing feeling, the red rash on my inner thighs, spoiling my walks places, making even a short errand uncomfortable. And the sound! That slight smack-pull-smack-pull as my thighs rubbed against each other made me cringe. I was convinced everyone could hear my chatty thighs which inevitably screamed “LISTEN TO HER FAT THIGHS. SHE’S SO FAT THEY’RE CLAPPING THAT SHE CAN EVEN WALK.”

These days, the sound doesn’t bother me (they’re applauding my awesomeness!), but the burning that accompanies the sound does. It’s hard to have a night out dancing with your friends or strolling around town when you’re walking like you’re sheltering a herd of puppies beneath your thighs.

And then, low and behold, I saw that episode of The Office in which Andy contends with nipple chafing as he runs. WHAT. Chafing happened to people! Or at least, to Andy “Nard Dog” Bernard. I felt less alone, at least in that “oh, well, if it can happen to someone on tv, maybe I’m not being individually punished by the chub gods with my freaky thighs” kind of way.

I heard a rumor deodorant would help, but it was a shortlived solution, and there’s only so many times a day a girl can sneak off to apply antiperspirant to her thighs without beginning to loathe the smell of cucumber Dove.

oh my godA few years, many thigh-hole riddled pairs of leggings, and way too many sticks of deodorant later, I happened upon an article on chub rub. And not just any article-an article with actual preventative measures and garments! It was a revelation unto me!

And by “a few years later,” I mean last week.

So I’ve ordered a few different products! I used one today, wearing that same dress I’d worn with leggings on my date. It wasn’t the best choice given the nearly freezing weather when I got in the car, but I spent all day thrilled that I could walk around in a dress comfortably AND see my knees at the same time. Hello knees! You are beautiful, you dimply lumpy bumpy bendy things!

So what’s the moral of this? It’s simple. I felt so alone about something so normal. Something that was in the realm of my control, and I didn’t even know it. Why the hell don’t we talk about these things? Why did it take me 25 years and American sitcoms and the internet to realize my thighs weren’t outliers but were perfectly a-ok, and simply victims of friction? We all have bodies. We don’t have to be alone in the struggles bodies inevitably bring.

I’m challenging myself to talk more openly with people about the challenges of embodiment. Oily hair, sweaty thighs, that weird chin hair that sneaks up on you every few months…brace yourselves my friends. I want to know your tips and secrets!  I want to share your mucus-y, rashy, painful woes!

After all, as the newly half-score old great piece of cinema that is Highschool Musical reminds us, “we’re all in this together.”

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Just

doug sadI was sitting in my car listening to my driving home from work playlist (a mix of Lil Dicky,  Clairity, and Fetty Wap), and suddenly I just wanted to cry.  Staring into the dark studded with streetlights and the red blinking of brakes in traffic, I took one deep breath, then another, feeling as if a pressing sorrow had wrapped itself around me like a second seat belt.

Oh, it’s just PMS I thought to myself, trying to brush it off as nothing.

Those four little words didn’t take away the crinkly feeling at the corners of my eyes or the overwhelming sense of sorrow. If anything, I found myself more upset at trying to ignore these feelings.

Hormones

“Just” belittles PMS. It takes away from the validity of an experience simply because it happens to be grounded in hormones and reproductive function. It says honey, how you feel doesn’t matter because your body decided it for you. And the relationship between your emotions and your body is irrelevant.

It’s the same rationale that gets thrown in the face of those struggling with mental health. You know what this is; therefore, you can and should build a bridge and pretend it isn’t happening.

That doesn’t work. Knowing why you’re feeling what you’re feeling doesn’t mitigate the experience. It situates it, certainly. It gives you a way to consider it, sometimes to work through it. But it doesn’t magically put that feeling on hold. Knowledge is not a pause button for emotion.

soft pretzelsBut why am I supposed to want to mitigate this anyways? What’s so wrong with being sad, or with having emotions that don’t necessarily have an external cause? We spend our lives being told to cheer up, to smile, as if someone else’s words get to hold more sway than our own existence. As if we have a right to command each other’s bodies and deny people their emotions. As if there’s something inherently wrong with having negative feelings.

 oprahSadness has a sweetness to it. In that moment, I was sad because the world is too beautiful, and I really wanted a hug, and why in God’s name were taco places not open later, and some wonderful soul thought up that commercial the elephant tap dancing in the rain, and why is Tina Belcher not real, and why do so many of my best friends live so far away. For that time, there is so much world and I find myself so much more open to taking it in. It is more than I can bear, more than I can process, more than I can hold inside my body. And the way I can best explain it is by calling it sadness, though that’s not quite a full enough word for these moments.

For half of the world, this experience is a monthly reality. Women and trans men alike find ourselves contending with a tide of emotions both small and profound, and that’s not something to brush off lightly for ourselves, or for others. It’s wonderful, and hard, and frustrating, and a million small things all at once. It shows us at once just how strong and how vulnerable we can be. How amazing is that?

It’s just a part of being who we are, in the bodies we have. And that’s just a-ok.

One of Those Stories (bodies, mortality, and a spectacularly bad first date)

Sometimes it takes us a while to tell a story. This story has taken me a long while to be able to find the right words. Bear with me. This is a little longer than usual. I promise, it gets back to Tinder and dating (and an amazingly bad date at that), and to how complicated it can be to balance little moments such as in dating with major stressors.

That said, let’s do this.

Everyone spoke in weirdly calm voices. In retrospect, I have no idea if the calm was only incongruous with my own thoughts, or if they were putting in particular effort into keeping their voices calm. Two minutes into my lying on the paper covered table in one of those blue open in the front nightgowns and staring at a poster of kittens on the ceiling, my doctor felt the lumpy spot I had found in my breast a few weeks before. She and the nurse put on their smiling-trying-to-keep-someone-from-panicking faces. “We’ll get you an appointment for a mammogram for tomorrow right across the street. They’ll take good care of you.”

That 20 something life
That 20 something life

TOMORROW, I thought. Damn. That’s SOON. Normally, if a doctor thinks I need a follow-up, I can manage to get by with a few weeks in between. I remember forcing myself to be chipper. The receptionist called the mammogram office for me, trying to be polite, describing the spot on my breast in terms of a clock. Tick, tock. Tick, tock. Will they find a lumpy spot. At this point, I felt like I was watching some bad Lifetime or ABC Family movie, even as I was trying to convince myself to not worry.

Somehow I drove to Target. Somehow I parked, got out of the car, and wandered past the Starbucks, the produce, the laundry baskets and into the baby section.

lions and tigers and bearsI stood in Target staring at baby toys, trying to pick the right one for my soon to arrive bonus-nephew. Rows upon rows of stuffed animals waited on the racks, just waiting for someone to slobber on them and throw them out of the playpen. I wandered up and down the aisle in a daze. Lions and tigers and cancer oh my. No no no, think about the cute fluffy animals. It’ll all be fine. No point in worrying until tomorrow. Bears? Yes, bears. Lions and tigers and bears, oh, my. Not “cancer oh my.” Keep it classic. WWJGS? (What would Judy Garland Say)?

My phone rang, startling me out of my plush fauna revelries. It was my mother, offering to come with me the next day. At which point, I descended into panic, staring down at the rough gray carpet under the fluorescent lighting and trying to calm my mind. Taking your mom with you on a doctors’ appointment when you’re in your 20’s feels like admitting your own mortality. She was there at the beginning; God forbid she not be there at what could possibly be the beginning of the end, or at least the start of a fight against my own body.

I wasn't very sad. Just overwhelmed. But I was definitely making this face. Though decidedly in a less tanned and handsome form.
I wasn’t very sad. Just overwhelmed. But I was definitely making this face. Though decidedly in a less tanned and handsome form.

“Mmmhmm, mmhmm, um, sure it’d be great if you could get off work for a the morning to come with me, great, thanks mom, oh so you read today’s Tinder Buttons, no I don’t want to talk about it even if you do, no, no, this is about me not you, mhm, well I should go, because I don’t want to talk about this and I’m in Target, yeah I’m ok…bye mom.”

I love you, mom, but I don’t know if I was ever so glad to hang up a phone. My brain didn’t have enough words to talk about anything of substance, let alone my freshly posted piece The In Between Place, which had already taken a considerable amount of energy to share. I went back to bears, relieved that their little sewn mouths wouldn’t try to talk to me and that their brains were full of fluff.

Which bear was it I wanted? Brown. Fluffy. Ag his mouth is a funny color. This is stressful, there are too many bears, no just buy this super cute bear so you don’t have to stand here anymore and be surrounded by fluorescent lighting and happy people who probably aren’t thinking about strange growths in their bodies or their mortality. They just want to buy frozen peas and fabric softener and maybe to pick up a pack of gum as a minor indulgence in the checkout line to remind themselves that they love themselves enough to spend that extra $1.29. I was stricken by hypothetical envy. I want to have my biggest issue to be if I want double mint or bubble mint gum. Gosh, this bear is cute. Cute is good. Cute. C-U-T-E. Two letters that are in “cancer” are in “cute.” How weird. Wait, that’s not weird. That’s just the alphabet. Maybe if I have cancer it can be cute cancer? Wait, what? That’s not a thing. You probably don’t even have cancer, let alone cute cancer. Cancer isn’t cute. Bear. Just hold the bear and carry it to the checkout line. One step at a time. Bear.

smiling's my favoriteAt the checkout counter, I fidgeted nervously and made too much eye contact in a vain attempt to convince the cashier that the vague glazed over look of panic in my eyes was actually good old fashioned over enthusiastic friendliness. Instead, I just came across as a super creepy smiling woman buying a teddy bear and sneaking pointed looks at the many gum options near the register.

I went home, zoned out, and then somehow magically the next day came. Fortunately, my mom happens to be not only a totally hilarious and all around fabulous lady, but she has already had breast cancer and spends a lot of her life contending with pills and things that will keep it from returning. So she knew the ropes.

A few hours into my appointment, including some time dressed in a surprisingly comfortable clinic robe and sitting in a waiting room that was vaguely spa-esque, I had a mammogram (Which, contrary to what everyone had hold me, was not at all painful and in fact oddly comfortable). Then I had an ultrasound in which I got to see the inside of my breasts. I chatted to the tech, asking about what I was seeing and the process of training to be a tech and did she like it and how many of these did they do a day. I attempted mindless conversation to keep myself from wondering about what the machine would tell me about my own body. And then suddenly there on the screen were my breasts. The inside of a breast looks like the most beautiful ocean waves or hills. There’s a whole landscape in there, a world unto myself, and it was fascinating. And in my case, it was not just fascinating-it was lump-free.

My hills are alive with a lack of cancer.
My hills are alive with a lack of cancer.

It turns out I had an agitated lymph node, but that it was all a-ok. I walked out of the clinic, passing on my way women who wouldn’t be getting such happy news, who were already fighting the good fight, or who would find themselves suddenly drafted accordingly within a matter of hours.

All I could feel was overwhelmingly lucky.

It was at that point that all the little bits of panic, the ones I had managed to keep at bay excepting for that moment of crisis in the Target baby aisle, converged. I was overcome with joy and relief and terror for what could have been, finally giving myself permission to feel all the things and to think the darkest thoughts that only optimism coupled with all of my willpower could keep at bay. My subconscious was tired from holding back as it tried to keep my consciousness sane and functional. I was exhausted in every sense.

But I, in my infinite wisdom, still kept a lunch date I had made for the afternoon after my appointment, having made the date far before I knew this would all be going down.

I stirred my iced tea and kicked my heel against my chair leg, zoning out as he talked about the book he wanted to write and his kids.

MarilynIn my mind, the conversation went a lot like this: “oh, you did time? What for? Oh, drug dealing?” Jeeze this guy’s too intense for me. Oh, Tinder. Oh fuck yes no cancer for me, thank you boobs thank you. You’re the best breasts in the whole wide world. Good job, guys. I’m going to put on the extra cute bra when I get home. Y’all earned it. “Oh, and you have five children? What are their names?” Shoes on a monkey, I could’ve died. Hello, mortality. “Wait, FIVE? Oh, and you have grandchildren? Whom you don’t care about at all? And you’re already talking about getting new furniture for your apartment in light of my existence?” Wow, at this point there are so many red flags about this guy that the room looks like the inside of a matador’s cape. He’s so young to have that many grandchildren. Huh. Yeah, I shouldn’t have come on this date. Fuck. This is why we meet in public places, and don’t tell men our last names. Also why we insist on longer conversations before agreeing to a date. Oh my God cancer. I don’t have cancer. “Yes, the lamb is very good here.” Oh, do I want more iced tea? “No, thank you.”

Amen, 'Ders. Amen.
Amen, ‘Ders. Amen.

What I actually wanted was to run home and bake a cake for my cancer-less breasts and dance and sing a song and cry in my closet, not necessarily in that order.

Check, please.

What this boils down to is how on earth are we supposed to reconcile how complicated, bizarre, and painful real life can be with the friendly small talk of a first date? Or even with the ordinary moments of daily life? The dishwasher keeps needing to be filled. People buy gum. People have babies, stop at red lights, bake cookies, and sit in waiting rooms. Life goes on, even when our minds are continually grinding to a screeching halt.

you keep goingSometimes I find it incredibly offensive that life keeps going even when I’m struggling, in a way that’s wholly illogical. I remember being really depressed one day in high school, sitting in a corner of the library, and being absolutely annoyed at all the people being happy because it was exhausting to listen to other people be joyful. It left me frustrated. I felt I’d somehow failed myself in that I couldn’t just hop back on the happy train. At the same time, I wanted somehow the world to match my mood, to validate it so I wouldn’t feel quite so out of sync or so alone in that moment. Even when we reach out to a friend, that process of externalizing our emotions can be so hard. Try as you might you can’t get the contents of your mind out, let alone explain your feelings (especially when said feelings are exacerbated by teenage hormones). It makes that loneliness all the more isolating.

But we exist in a world full of other people. Our moments of struggle inevitably will not always align with the world around us or with what our schedule holds. Life can be terribly inconvenient like that sometimes, and it’s so tempting to try to not only not acknowledge that, but to not even reveal that to other people. As if that’s somehow weak to mention our struggles, or that it’s a cheap way to get at someone’s feelings, or it might be too inconvenient to other people if we burdened them with our woes.

I'm gonna go with this advice from Dr. Kelso. There's probably no right way. Just what's right for us.
I’m gonna go with this advice from Dr. Kelso. There’s probably no right way. Just what’s right for each of us.

In my last post I focused on not hiding my personality. But what about our lives? How on earth do we hide that? Should we hide that? Gradually reveal them? How quickly?

To what extent do we owe it to ourselves, our friends, and even relative strangers to keep our private life private? Is the idea of private life whatever one makes of it? Does it make it easier to have secrets, or does it make it harder? Or, perhaps, there are benefits and drawbacks to each. How long do we have to hide our most precious and powerful stories? The stories of our bodies? The lions and tigers and bears? Oh my.

I treasure all my stories, but the stories that are written on my body, that my flesh remembers, are the most precious to me because they are the hardest to tell. The ones that hurt. The ones that scared me or left me confused. The ones where the telling leaves you every bit as vulnerable as you felt in that moment, the memory of physical pain matched by the stress of capturing what that tale means to you. The ones that remind you that being alive is precious.

So this is one of those stories. I don’t come off as particularly sane, optimistic, or pulled together. Nor do I come off as having judgment when I picked that guy to go on a first date with (sorry, mom. I promise, he doesn’t know my last name AND I ordered dessert AND I made much stricter first date rules for myself). But I hope, if you’ve managed to make it this far in this piece, that you find comfort regarding your own body’s stories. It’s okay that they’re complicated. It’s okay that the weight of memory matters. It’s okay that double mint gum will never taste the same to me after standing in that Target aisle.

Or at least that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

In other news, celebrate every single healthy bit of your body today, and any parts that aren’t so healthy and need extra love, send that love their way, be they tiny or major ailments. It’s beautiful to be alive and have the opportunity to have moments of crisis. Every bit of sadness and struggle is only possible because we’ve been happy, and because we’re gloriously, tenuously, ridiculously alive.

Damn, ain’t we lucky.

no day but today
No one captured the power and complexity and glory of bring alive like Jonathan Larson, so I’ll leave you all with this.

The “Dad Body”: Male Body Image, Ancient Philosophic Poetry, and Oprah-with-Bees-Level Hilarity

With as much time as I’ve spent on Tinder feeling wary about my body and worried people won’t like it, I’ve also discovered a number of guys who feel similarly. In fact, a number have thought I was a spambot just because they thought a girl who looks like me wouldn’t be into guys that look like them. It turns out convincing people you’re not spam is kind of difficult.

So when I came across a fat shaming post on BetchesLoveThis.com insulting the new trend of women adoring the “dad body,” specifically referring to men who are less buff and more fluff (and which also is limiting in terms of the way we conceive of the bodies of fathers) and I found myself outraged, I knew male body image was something I needed to address ASAP. Admittedly, some of Betches Love This is tongue-in-cheek, simultaneously mocking and celebrating the superficial and narcissistic habits of some women. However, I’m opposed to anything that takes body shaming and runs with it as a joke. Bodies aren’t jokes. Mental and physical health aren’t jokes.

There are two major issues with this article. It’s (A) insulting men who have the “dad body” and (B) insulting the men and women who are into men who have the “dad body.” (There are also some other issues at work with the “dad bod”/”dad body,” namely its giving more acceptable options for male bodies while still limiting women to conventional hot bodies in media, which Time addresses here, but I’m going to focus on the problems with this blog post rather than with the trope itself.)

Firstly, insulting someone’s body type can have serious ramifications on his or her mental health and in turn their physical health. I have known and loved too many men with eating disorders to overlook the fact that guys struggle with body image, too. While it’s not plastered about Men’s Health as much as it pops up in Cosmo, it’s a fairly prevalent thing among men, and just as heartbreaking as when women struggle with it. Watching someone you adore waste away because they simply can’t bring themselves to eat is honestly one of the hardest things I’ve ever witnessed.

As Stan Marsh shows us here, American Dad has brought up issues of male body image. It's time to fight the stigma against men and eating disorders.
Even American Dad has brought up issues of male body image. It’s time to fight the stigma against men and eating disorders. Though not with a gun and maybe not with pink legwarmers.

Gents out there, you get to have the body you have. You get to love the body you have. And if someone has the gall to tell you to hit the gym more, or that your hard-on should touch a woman before your tummy does, then they’re just some mean people, and do the best you can to brush your shoulders off and remember that you get to enjoy your body the way it is. That’s not to say that you and your health care professional can’t come up with a plan to make your body healthier and stronger, but as far as aesthetics go, you get to rock what you’ve got.

If you’re reading this and you feel you have a problematic relationship with the man in the mirror or with food, please know that you’re not alone and that there is help out there for you. Even if you just have days when you don’t feel very confident, please know you’re not an anomaly and that this isn’t just an issue for women. Please know that I’m sitting here sending you good thoughts of hope and health and self-love. And, because let’s be honest my positive thoughts need some real world grounding, there are some amazing resources out there. You can call the national hotline at 1-800-931-2237 or check out their very thorough and wonderfully body-positive website.

Eating disorders find some of their greatest success through shame and secrecy. The more we remind the world and each other that we will stand by each other through our struggles and the more we fight secrecy and stigmatization, the better place it will be for all of us.

Hello, Matt Bomer. You're pretty. Also, GLASSES. *fans herself*
Hello, Matt Bomer. You’re pretty. Also, GLASSES. *fans herself*

My second problem with this issue comes from the disrespect to the people who prefer the “dad body,” After all, we all have different tastes. It took me a long time to realize that I like broad shouldered, bearded guys who wear glasses. I’m just now starting to recognize that I’m partial to older men as well (though I do like guys my age, too). It just does good things for me, though honestly I’m far more invested in who someone is as a person than how they look  or how old they are. Aesthetics are just icing on the cake in my opinion, and when I care about someone, then they’re beautiful to me whether they fit with my particular leanings or not. But that’s another post for another day.

This resistance to acknowledging that people have different preferences isn’t a new issue. It’s been around literally 2000 years. Don’t believe me? Obviously, we’re going to do what anybody would do: we’re going to discuss this issue using ancient Roman philosophic poetry!

Yes, ancient poetry can make you laugh as much as women weeping while Oprah joyously releases swarms of bees upon them.
Ancient poetry can make you laugh as much as women weeping while Oprah joyously releases swarms of bees upon them makes you laugh! How BEE-utiful!

That’s right, we’re turning to Lucretius’ 1st Century B.C.E. text On The Nature of Things. I’m a giant nerd, so it’s my jam. There’s a lot of cool stuff about perception, which I find fascinating, but even more importantly, it’s HILARIOUS. Like Amy Schumer meets that gif of Oprah with the bees hilarious.

At one point Lucretius insults the way other men describe their girlfriends. He maintains that they’re using these terms to excuse and overlook their ladies’ imperfections. In the process, he ignores that these men may find these “imperfections” to be sexy and appealing qualities. He pays no mind to our particular preferences, let alone our fetishes.

Plus he comes from a place of cleverness rather than utter rudeness, so while it’s still problematic, I don’t feel bad getting the giggles. And now you can brag to all your friends that you read classical philosophy this morning, and oh gee wasn’t it a hoot and a half!

The black girl is brown sugar. A slob that doesn’t bathe or clean
Is a Natural Beauty; Athena if her eyes are grey-ish green.
A stringy bean-pole’s a gazelle. A midget is a sprite,
Cute as a button. She’s a knockout if she’s giant’s height.
The speech-impaired has a charming lithp; if she can’t talk at all
She’s shy. The sharp-tongued shrew is spunky, a little fireball.
If she’s too skin-and-bones to live, she’s a slip of a girl, if she
Is sickly, she’s just delicate, though half dead from TB.
Obese, with massive breasts? – a goddess of fertility!
Snub-nosed is pert, fat lips are pouts begging to be kissed –
And other delusions of this kind are too numinous to list.

-Book IV: The Senses, lines 1160-1170 (Stallings translation)

Why on earth is finding someone’s body alluring a delusion? Let’s think…oh wait…it’s not. EVER. Whatever terms someone uses to celebrate your beauty/handsomeness/general awesomeness, accept them! Enjoy them! If someone has swiped right on you, trust them that they know what they’re doing and they know what they want. Trust that you are their brown sugar natural beauty, their delicate beanpole, their goddess-esque sprite! Their handsome, “dad bodied” catch!

So when it comes to our friends who are into the “dad body,” or whatever our friends may be into, trust that other people know what they want. Don’t question their choices in terms of their partners’ bodies. Just celebrate that they’ve found happiness right along with them.

This says it all.
And so does your significant other.

All my love,
Your favorite spunky fireball goddess

(And again, if you are a lady or gentleman struggling with disordered eating or with body image please don’t hesitate to reach out to the people in your life or to access some of the amazing resources out there! Having trouble finding said resources? Shoot me an email at tinderbuttonsblog@gmail.com and I will gladly send some resources your way!)

When a photo in a leopard print dress changes everything (Tinder meets self-esteem meets Mister Rogers)

He had asked for one body shot and two face shots, “nothing R rated” in his terms. I sent my favorite photo of me goofing off in a leopard print dress that hugs all my curves. I found myself surprised at how nervous I became. This man was ripped, handsome, with a collection of tattoos that made me all but drool and the kind of shoulders that make you want to climb a man like a tree. Would he hate the photo? Would he hate my body? Would all of our conversation be for naught once he saw me?

The response was immediate and unhesitating: “YOU’RE PERFECT. 🙂 We’re so on for tonight!”

He quickly followed up with a “Not to sound shallow or anything. I had just been worried you were too skinny for me.”

I was immediately overcome with shock. WHAT. There were men out there to whom my body wasn’t a concession but rather something to be wholly delighted in? Who were drawn to my body just as I was to theirs? I knew I loved my body, but out there there are other people who do, too! I get to be perfect to someone other than myself!

It was one of the most liberating text message exchanges I’ve ever had, but it called into question a lot of things I believed about myself and my self-esteem. I love my body. I adore the swell of my hips and the curve of my waist, my absolute mane of hair that makes me crazy but that falls like a water fall. I love the freckle on my left shoulder that peeks out of tops and my super high arches in my feet that let me dance like a maniac.  I like me. But I don’t ever expect other people to. I constantly anticipate a battle to justify my self-acceptance.

And if that’s the case, am I really accepting myself? Am I truly loving myself?

Fred Rogers, who is essentially the patron saint of my family to the point that my mother periodically still weeps that he lives among us no longer, tells us that love is an active noun like struggle.

From The World According to Mister Rogers by the ever incredible Fred Rogers

I firmly believe that this doesn’t just apply to loving others but to ourselves and our bodies as well. It’s just as much a struggle to love ourselves the way we are in a moment. Self-esteem isn’t a state of perfect caring. Yes, we can want more for ourselves. We can want stronger, faster bodies while still loving who we are in this moment. And there are moments when we don’t feel so great, when no outfit looks right, when our hair won’t quite stay, when we stand before the mirror questioning ourselves. Those are the moments when I end up with outfits strewn about my room, my third eyeliner attempt still crooked, with no shoe sufficiently sexy and comfortable to merit being worn out for a night of dancing, and I just want to sob. And that moment MATTERS. It is every bit as perfect and normal and beautiful as the days when I walk out the door feeling absolutely fierce and fabulous, if not more so, because it’s a moment in which I have a chance not to love myself in spite of my seeming inadequacies but rather to love myself through them.

We have to let ourselves struggle in these moments. That’s when growth happens. That’s when real love happens. When we know we’re not perfect, but we fight through the self-doubt and choose to love ourselves as we are in that moment, that’s when we’re making progress with our self-esteem. The struggle is where the love happens.

Self-esteem is a constant and continual process, not a pinnacle of achievement. It’s a journey not a prize to be won. It’s okay to have setbacks. It’s okay to keep learning. It’s okay to be surprised at that moment that someone says we’re perfect, so long as we take that surprise and we learn from it.

There’s no such thing as a perfect body. There are only bodies which are perfect to us as individuals, who each have distinctive preferences. We have to leave room for others to accept us and adore us, including our embodiment. And we have to leave room for ourselves to figure these things out and be okay with those moments that surprise and challenge us. We owe ourselves the patience to work through the hard moments, through the revelations, through the days when nothing looks right.

What surprises me is that this revelation came via Tinder. This wouldn’t have happened without me contending with an app that in many senses reduces people to a single image on which you can swipe left or right and make snap judgments based on that photo of whether or not you deem someone worthy to communicate with you. I’m finding myself constantly challenged by this. My family keeps telling me that Tinder can’t be empowering.

I’m going to go ahead and beg to differ on this one.

I’m going to let Tinder keep pushing my buttons, and I’m going to keep pushing back.