I used to walk along the halls of the Philadelphia Museum of Art soaking up self esteem from the curvy bathers of Renoir, the tender and thick thighs of Botticelli, and the voluptuous lines of Rubens’ ladies. Gazing at these images, I found a reverence for bodies like mine. In these bodies’ lumps and bumps the artists found something worth not only honoring through the creative process but also preserving for years to come on canvas. Fat was not the antithesis of beauty; it was a part of the beauty.
Each time I undress for a shower or bath, I try to take a minute to look at and really appreciate myself. Some days it’s harder than others. Embarrassing as it is to say, I pretend I am art. Sometimes I’ll be Venus on the half shell, or one of Renoir’s bathers. For an instant, the countertops and jars of lotions and creams disappear, and there I am in the canvas of my mind’s eye in all my curvaceous glory, surrounded by a lush landscape.
But imagining is one thing; to act is another.
A friend of mine recently asked me to pose nude for her. At first I was confused that she wanted to paint me. Why me? I’m just…so not perfect. Why spend the time to paint someone so flawed, who could really only achieve that magical standard in her mind’s eye?
As a word of advice, she told me “This sounds silly, but think ‘Draw me like one of your French girls.’” As I stretched on her couch, my head resting on my arms, I was self-conscious, constantly noticing the swell of my tummy, the folds of my chubbiness, the stretch marks that tiger stripe my hips, and wow, my nipples are weird looking. Slowly but surely I became more comfortable as I watched her measure my thighs with her charcoal and gauge the rosiness of my breasts. After a while, it stopped feeling weird and started feeling comfortable. When I began to recognize that sense of comfort, I found a new sense of liberation.
The first time she showed me a painting of myself, I was shocked. Where I saw imperfection, she found grace, comfort, plushness.
I was beautiful for the human body’s sake, not for sake of sexuality or of being objectified. It didn’t matter what anyone thought of my body or whether they considered it sexy. All that mattered was that I existed in curves and swells, in tangled curls of too long brown hair, in pointed toes, in a sloped neck.
In that moment, I got to stop pretending to be art. I was art. Everything shifted. My own body became infinitely more precious to me. Other people’s bodies became more precious to me, more beloved for their individual quirks and characteristics, for their myriad shades of color, for their thousand perfect details.
So, if you have a minute to spare today, just stand before your mirror and remember that your body is complex and amazing. Try your best to ignore any habitual criticism of yourself and silence those unkind voices attempting to compare you to others. Just be, and be beautiful. Let yourself be art for art’s sake.
I love Leslie Knope of Parks and Rec’s unabashed use of compliments to celebrate the people in her life. While her metaphors may seem absurd, they speak of the intensity of her love for her colleagues and friends. She values them, and they’ve come to accept that, bizarre as Leslie’s esteem may be, it comes from a profoundly genuine place.
So when I had the opportunity to spend some time with one of my favorite Tinder fellows this week, I found myself surprised as I reconsidered my own relationship to compliments.
This gentleman does wonderful things for the world, for his community. He stumbled into an opportunity to help others and has seized it, serving on a board advocating for those who need a champion and a role model. He worked hard to get a job at a place he dreamed of working. He mocks people on HGTV like a champ.
Oh, and word around the block is he can make chocolate chip cookie dough spring rolls.
I think he’s pretty amazing. He jokingly attempted to refute me. I wasn’t having it.
Then I realized I was being a giant hypocrite. So often when people pay me a compliment I try to brush it off. I try to play it as humility, as if modesty were some magic circle that made being complimented acceptable.
However, that’s operating on the assumption that accepting a compliment is somehow to be vain. I’ve spent my life treating embracing compliments as a shortcoming. I want to appreciate people. I love telling people why they inspire me, why they bring me hope, joy, and inspiration. Why would I not give them the joy of appreciating me if they should want to do so? Why hide behind the guise of modesty?
The answer immediately rang in my head, and I’m ashamed to admit it’s because I don’t think I deserve it.
I’ve spent the past year feeling like a giant loser. Hell, right now I’m applying to jobs like crazy and can’t manage to get an interview. I’ve taken to paying for groceries in change (sorry not sorry, people in the self-checkout line at Kroger). I couldn’t even afford my own car insurance (generous grandmother to the rescue!), can’t afford to get my eyes checked, and haven’t had a haircut in over a year. Between stress eating and OCD meds I’ve gained a stunning number of pounds, reducing my wardrobe to mostly jeans, leggings, and t-shirts.
My ego has been shot to pieces.
I didn’t realize how vain I was until I found myself hitting what has felt like rock bottom. Me, Miss Phi Beta Kappa, fancy liberal arts degree, talk your ear off, charming to a fault, somehow held down three jobs at a time during college—an incompetent mooching failure laid low by OCD and the job market.
And yet people still seem to like me. As all the things I thought I valued in myself have fallen away, academic success, employment, even my old appearance, people still like me. People still somehow have compliments for me. It’s absolutely blown my mind. I found myself attempting to dismiss kind words with a laugh, or sentences starting with “yeah, but…” Upon further thought, as someone who so values words, how unkind of me to dismiss someone else’s for the sake of my current lack of self-assuredness.
I’ve learned people value who I am so much more than what I achieve. They celebrate for me when I succeed and hurt for me when I struggle, but at the heart of that is a profound respect for who I am as a person, in spite of what I may or may not accomplish.
So often we forget that the measures of our own esteem are inherently flawed, twisted by years of assumptions and false comparisons. While we may think we fall short, in another’s eyes we may absolutely shine.
Even if in my heart of hearts I’m struggling to see myself in a positive light, I owe it to these people to believe them when they say kind things to me and to trust, even if I can’t quite see the good things myself, that compliments come from a genuine place based on their experiences with me.
So, you beautiful tropical fish, if I tell you you’re wonderful, trust me, and I’ll do you the courtesy of trusting you. Here’s hoping that the more we let ourselves be wonderful in each other’s eyes, the more we’ll learn to be wonderful in our own.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org and I will gladly send some resources your way!)
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.
This afternoon I was talking to a guy I’ve been chatting with for a a few weeks. He’s super nice, but very intense. Here’s a good example of why you shouldn’t totally freak out when someone doesn’t text you back ASAP (For the record, I never text back when I’m doing work things or driving, because (A) Professionalism is important and (B) Safety first). I’m including the time stamps on this one just so you get the full effect of the ridiculousness.
Guy (1:00 pm): So I think I am going to work on getting a full sleeve tattoo. The ones I did in my arm when I was younger just don’t look that good. What do you think?
Me (1:00 pm): Nice! What do the ones you got when you were younger look like?
Guy (1:04 pm): Lol not very good. Some are okay. Just not much to them. I’ll send pics tonight. I did most of them with a home made machine.
Guy (1:04 pm): <sends 2 pictures of tattoos>
Guy (1:05 pm): Hate this one the most of all my ink.
Guy (1:06 pm): I let someone else do it for one.
Guy (1:10 pm): I hate the design. I was 16 when I did most of this.
Guy (1:16): …? Uh oh I scared you off huh?
Guy (1:20): Guess you really don’t like tattoos huh?
Guy (1:29): No closure or anything? You really don’t want to talk to me anymore because of these dumb tattoos? It won’t even look like this in a few months.
Guy (2:03): Okay last message, should I lose your number? I hope you just fell back asleep.
Me (2:04): Oh my word I was on the phone with my boss. Jeeze