I always thought dating was something that happened when your life was perfect.
I’d be thin and absurdly pretty, with a well-paying distinguished job and a classy apartment filled with practical but comfy boho-chic throw pillows and exactly zero stuffed animals. I would wear contacts instead of glasses, having gloriously overcome my fear of things being near my eyeballs. And then love would find me.
In actuality, the stars don’t align. I still don’t fold my underwear, and I can’t wear liquid eyeliner. I wear my hair the same way I did when I was 8 (ponytail, slowly drooping over the course of the day). Sometimes my twenty-five year old face spontaneously erupts in acne. I still sleep with my stuffed snow leopard. His name is Sam. He’s every bit as snuggly as the day I got him in Kindergarten.
I’m chubbier than I’ve ever been, thanks to the depression (and carbs. God I love carbs.) that came with my OCD battle and now my OCD meds which cause weight gain.
Two months ago, I had to have a ping pong ball sized super glue tangle cut out of my hair.
I work two jobs, both of which I love, but neither of which are particularly fancy. At one, I still manage to push on the door you have to pull and then run into it like a bird on a cruel Windex commercial. Every. Damn. Day.
I never evolved into glamour, grace, or effortless charm like post-makeover Mia Thermopolis in The Princess Diaries (though I have my moments). Clearly someone should have tied me to a chair with Hermes scarves more often.
There’s no magic timeline. At no point does the mystic love cuckoo bird that lives in your biological clock stick its scrawny little neck out and suddenly go “you’re a legitimate enough human being to date now.”
Because you’re legitimate already. Messy, ridiculous, not always pulled together you. Or even if you do have it all together, you don’t have to wait for some magical someday when your schedule becomes free and clear, or when you’ve done enough yoga that your tummy won’t be jiggly when you’re making out, or that you’ve mastered cooking and calligraphy and how to fold a fitted sheet without watching a youtube video.
You get to be you. And if dating/romance/love/like/monogamous handholding is something you want to pursue with someone, then you can. And if you don’t want to, that’s great, too! You do you! But know there’s no formula. You don’t have to wait to become perfect. You can enjoy meeting people and kissing people and dating people and all sorts of things at whatever point in your life you find yourself.
Show that screwy cuckoo clock love bird who’s boss, you lovable imperfect bad ass, you.
I remember being about 7 or 8, looking down in the bathtub, and being so excited! I had hair down below! I called it my “Teddy Bear hair,” convinced that somehow it was a magic initiation into the world of fuzzy things. Bears would love me! I could commune with nature! I sang little songs about my pubes, with extremely unimaginative lyrics. I would be the Disney Princess of pubic hair!
And then I grew up, inundated by a world of Cosmo articles that claimed to espouse equal-opportunity-pube choices, but in fact heavily emphasized the popularity of the Brazilian wax and its presumed superiority.
I had a man once tell me “I like my women shaved bare.” Oh, how nice. I missed that part where you own me just because I’m down to sleep with you.
But you know what? I shaved.
It was interesting and exotic for a few days, but the novelty was quickly overtaken by the incredible itchiness. I couldn’t wear any of my favorite underwear, because it caught on the stubbles like Velcro. Plus, I felt babyish. I missed that sense of bad-ass primal curliness that laid in wait between my thighs. I felt exposed, and not in a fun way. It may work for some women, but it definitely doesn’t work for me.
Worse, I realized I had let somebody else make that decision for me through the power of suggestion. I felt ill about it. Heck, sometimes I still feel ill about it. I didn’t speak up for myself and defend what I like. After all, if you’re lucky enough to sleep with me, you can just feel damn lucky to get to see my body in all its bad ass curvy splendor. You can take it or leave it, but I won’t change it for you.
Somebody else’s personal preference doesn’t trump what I want for my body. Ever. If I want to dye my pubic hair hot pink, look upon my work ye mighty and despair. Vajazzling? More power to me.
The one great thing to come of this is I realized it’s okay to experiment with my body my way. I don’t have to shave to know I like being unshaven. I don’t have to comply with someone’s standards to be sexy. And if that’s a turnoff for them, then that’s their problem, and I can walk away.
Society may condemn something about your body, and individual people may condemn something about your body, but nothing else matters but your relationship to your body. People can critique all they want, and while words may hurt, words don’t dictate my shaving regimen or how I interact with my body. In loving ourselves on our own terms, we open ourselves up to find people who will gladly do the same.
Disney Princess pube powers ACTIVATE!
(P.S. Everybody send their love to my mother, who still reads and supports my blog even when she has to deal with me being a sexual being or me talking about bizarre things! You’re the best, mom, and I love you heaps!)
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.
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.
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!
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.
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 email@example.com and I will gladly send some resources your way!)
Last night I had someone I thought really cared about me as a person call my reaction to getting Friend-zoned a “meltdown,” all behind my back. I was livid. But beyond that, I was hurt. This was someone I’d sat with through all kinds of rants and rages, driven by Facebook, by jobs, by friends, by frienemies. This was someone I trusted not to speak ill of me behind my back. I was shocked.
Then I realized I don’t think he understands why getting Friend-zoned hurt so much this time. This man who considered my feelings an overreaction is beautiful. Stunning. So frighteningly handsome it hurts a little. I realized he just didn’t get it.
I grew up the fat kid. I went to all-girls school, where almost everyone played sports. I vividly remember being made fun of as we changed for ballet because I had to wear a bra in third grade. In retrospect, I think that’s why I quit dancing. The other girls were lithe and graceful, shopping at Delias and Limited Too, while I wore clothes from Cold Water Creek. P.E. was my nightmare because they were all faster than me and because my leg chubbies rubbed together in my gym shorts. I spent my life hiding behind my books, because in books it didn’t matter what size pants you wore. When you raised your hand to answer a question in class, nobody was thinking about how fat your arms were. So I voraciously learned, and I hid in plain sight.
I was convinced I was the elephant in the room.
The few times I encountered boys (namely Bat Mitzvahs, school dances, and church), they never gave much notice to me, excepting for my personality. I became the fat friend. I felt destined to be somebody’s witty sidekick, their Sookie St. James, who only got to have tangential adventures and always had to be charming and funny and a lotta bit quirky. Even when I’m at my most workout intense and am the queen of salads, I’m still a plus-sized girl. It’s how my body is built, though my deep and abiding love of Southern cooking doesn’t help. And I’m okay with that. I have great self-esteem, especially thanks to how much time I spent looking at Titian, Rubens, and Renoir paintings that celebrated curvy female bodies (thanks art history for my self-esteem!). But what I’m starting to realize is that I’m still contending with how being fat controls and alters how I expect people to relate to me, especially in romantic and/or sexual situations.
Did you ever watch that weird ABC Family movie Beautiful Girl with Marissa Jaret Winokur? Basically, a plus sized woman competes on the beauty pageant circuit and challenges the norm. Also she wears a kick ass squirrel costume at one point. She was fat like me! And she got to be the protagonist! She got her own story! Maybe I could have my own story, too!
I remember watching that at age twelve and, beyond my surprise at seeing a plus-size heroine, just being in complete shock that she was engaged to a doting Mark Consuelos in the movie. A man that handsome, that extraordinary and Greek-god-esque, wanted a girl like her? Like me? And he was so supportive of her dreams! They talked about her hopes, her plans, her shortcomings, all within the pleasantly contrived super moralizing ABC Family movie format. Surely a relationship between such a beautiful man and a chubby jovial woman like this were the fictitious fluff that only ABC Family movies are made of!
Just the idea that someone so good looking and smart as friend-zone guy wanted to go out with me made me feel, well, princess-y. I was fucking Marissa Jaret Winokur! And I didn’t even have to wear a squirrel costume!
It’s lame, it’s shallow, but it’s none-the-less true. Having a pretty person be, for one shining moment, a little bit into me enough to tell me I’m pretty, go out with me, kiss me on the top of my head…it felt magical. In contrast, realizing that yet again you’re not in the “girls I would want to makeout with” category but rather the “girls I can have a really great conversation with” category sucks. The guys that want to hookup with me often can’t hold their own on the conversation front, and rarely are they one of those absolutely beautiful people who make your mind go blank for a second. The guys that want to have great conversations with me rarely want to makeout with me, and often I don’t want to makeout with them either.
If life were a Venn diagram, I almost never get to be in that category in the middle. That’s what sucks the most. It’s not the loss of this particular guy, because let’s be honest, I haven’t lost him. He’s still my friend, and a pretty gosh darn excellent one at that. It’s that I’ve made this move so many times to the point that it feels like a pattern. It’s that I never get to be the girl in the middle.
Don’t get me wrong. I like my body. Would I like it to be stronger and faster and healthier? Yes. And I’m working on that. But I know even with all of my body’s curves that I’m beautiful; in fact, part of my beauty comes from said curves. Hell, I know the guy who friend-zoned me knows I’m beautiful; he reminded me of this mere hours ago. But having someone else whom you find stunningly attractive and intellectually stimulating and who treats you like an equal not only find you beautiful but find you alluring…that’s magical. That’s rare. To be perfectly honest, that has yet to happen in my life, even for a shining, singular moment.
And it’ll happen someday. It’s just that once again that someday wasn’t today.
And on top of my long sick day and a very strange week, that made today a very hard day.
Jesus had to postpone, for a completely legitimate and very important reason. He is just as disappointed as I am to delay our date.
That said, I wasn’t exactly on my game for getting ready tonight anyways. I sprinted up the stairs 20 minutes before I was supposed to leave screaming “I FORGOT TO SHAVE MY LEGS. SHAME. SHAME UPON MY HOUSE. SHAME UPON MY FAMILY.”
I hopped out of the shower to find a text postponing our date, and I shouted “my date’s cancelled. I shaved my legs for NOTHING.”
My mother, ever astute, replied, “No you didn’t. You can still enjoy them.”
This was a revelation unto me.
I’ll go through so much trouble just to sit there on a date and know my legs are shaved, just in case I decide to let someone touch my legs.
I’ve spent a lot of my life professing that if someone gets to touch my legs then they can feel damn lucky, whether they’re shaved or not. And that’s true. I’ve gone on plenty of dates without going to the trouble of shaving my legs. Have no fear-I really feel no shame if I don’t shave my legs for a date. There is no actual dishonor on my house, my family, or my cow. At the same time, I love the way my legs feel when they’re smooth.
I like to lie down on my softest sheets and pretend I’m a starfish and rub my legs all over the bed like I’m making a snow angel. It’s basically 700 thread count heaven.
But I forget that that counts just as much as the feeling of someone else’s hands on my legs, if not more so. My happiness counts just as much as someone else’s delight in touching my smooth legs.
So why won’t I invest the time in my own enjoyment? In my own body, for my own sake? Why does hypothetical potential touching on a date hold so much more sway over my time than just what makes me happy? Have I placed myself so far down on the list of priorities that men I’m just getting to know take precedence?
Why don’t I wear my sexiest underwear just because I want to? Why don’t I let myself enjoy those 30 seconds of looking in the mirror and the knowing all day that’s what’s under my jeans and my t-shirt? Why don’t I do my makeup so I can enjoy exploring my face and celebrating the arch of my eyebrows and the lengths of my lashes? Why don’t I paint my nails so I can enjoy the flashes of color as I type? Why don’t I spritz on my favorite perfume so I can bask in how fantastic I smell? Why don’t I wear those spindly black heels to get coffee when it’s just me and a copy of A. R. Ammons’ selected poetry?
When did we let other people become more important to us than ourselves? It’s not selfish. It’s care-taking. It’s celebrating our bodies and our joys. We are worth our own time, our own energy, our own efforts. We are worth not being overlooked, even by our own selves.
This is my challenge to myself for this week and my challenge for you as well. Do something for yourself that reminds you that you are worth your time. Be a priority for yourself.
Let’s channel the L’Oreal campaign here: because we’re worth it.
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.
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.