I will show you my body so that you might see a body that looks like yours.
On a down comforter-covered king-size bed, in a Courtyard by Marriott hotel, I got naked for Substantia Jones and the Adipositivity Project.
I don't mean that I took off my pants or my shirt. I mean that I took off my clothes, all of them, even the ones underneath. Just me and my bare-naked ass and Substantia and her camera (and my daughter, Kelsey, to tell me I'm a badass).
It's a radical act, I guess, stripping for a relative stranger — showing someone your wobbly bits, your unkempt bikini line, the topographical map of varicose veins that run across the back of your thighs.
You might be asking yourself, “Why would she take her clothes off?”
A fair question.
Let me hit you with this hard fact: Ninety-eight percent of the bodies we see displayed in the media are a form less than 2 percent of us can achieve.
(Congratulations, 2 percent. I salute your perfect bone structure.)
When I say you can't look like the woman on the cover of Cosmo, I mean you literally cannot look like the woman on the cover of Cosmo. Even if you could starve yourself to a size 0, even if you had a team of makeup professionals and Paul Mitchell himself doing your hair, it's highly unlikely you're going to ever look like Beyoncé. Beyoncé probably doesn't even look like Beyoncé.
People will say this sort of brazen nudity is an act of exhibitionism or narcissism, that bodies should be kept private, sacred, covered.
But I will get all the way naked to argue for visibility.
I will bare my dimpled ass to prove that the body is just flesh, bone, fat. I will show you my body so that you might see a body that looks like yours. I'm here, naked, for the fat girls who think they are “too fat,” the thin girls who think they are “too fat,” the guys who think they need a six-pack, and the teenagers who loathe their thighs.
I'm here for myself, too; loving this body is a journey, not a destination.
I'm here, saying, fuck flattering, fuck filters; the rolls you see don't need to be Photoshopped.
Because check it out — my body is fat.
It didn’t use to be fat. In fact, it used to be pretty thin. But it's not now, and that's real.
I've put my body through a lot in its 41 years — six babies, countless pointless diets, anxiety, stress, too much wine, not enough sleep — and it's still showing up every day to breathe and walk about and generally exist in a completely functional manner.
Thanks, body, for showing up, even when I treated you like shit.
In adulthood, I've starved myself, run until I was broken. I’ve lost and gained and lost and gained hundreds of pounds. And I’ve finally landed in the plus-size section, in the back corner of Target, or else relegated to online shopping. My metabolism is sluggish, destroyed by years of deprivation. My body that is now 40 pounds heavier than it ever was when I was dieting.
It's fat. It's not “I'm not fat, I have fat” fat. We can call it curvy, voluptuous, luscious. And yes, it is all of those things.
It's also fat. There is no placating necessary.
It’s a hard body to live in at times. But I live here. I wake up here, and I go to sleep here. I go on vacation here, and I wear a bikini here. I walk the streets here. I turn heads — and not in the way that people want to turn heads. I haul my fat ass up on my beach cruiser. I take the criticism, the emails, the comments, and whatever other unpleasantries come with living in this body.
In spite of this — not because of it — I try to spend less time thinking about my body itself, and more time thinking about what my body can do, what it does for me every day. And it can do a lot (see: breathing).
But there's really no way to avoid thinking about your body when you're sprawling naked on a bed or kneeling on a sofa or reclining on a chaise lounge — or at least not with a camera trained on your every move.
I poured over Substantia’s work long before she photographed me.
I was looking at other nude fat people for a sense of solidarity, of self, when I hadn't quite worked out how to live in this fat body, the body I had stopped abusing and allowed to simply exist.
I saw the radical beauty in the lumps of their backsides, the rolls of their waists, the double chins, the double knees, the stretch marks; I saw serenity and love.
I tried to see myself.
When Substantia sent me the photos she took, she included a note at the bottom of the email: “I must warn you. You're AWFULLY cute in them.”
I figured she must say that to all of the folks she photographs. Fat-photographer code: Make Them Feel Beautiful.
I didn’t open the attachments right away, because I was sure she was lying.
I don't do anticipation. I fail at surprises. I shake the gifts; I get the early ultrasound. I can't even let bread rise without lifting the towel to beckon it to completion, to see and smell the yeasty dough in progress.
But I didn't open the attachments.
When I did finally open them the next morning, it was on my phone, which was somehow less intimidating — as if the smaller screen would create a smaller me, the blow softened when dealt in 1:27 scale. How much could I shrink myself? Half-size? Thumbnail? Avatar? On the 4.7 inch iPhone screen would I look less fat?
I don’t know what I expected to see when I saw myself. A Rubenesque Beauty, serene, smooth, supple skin, arching curves, beautiful lines? Someone that was smaller, smoother, softer? No. Just the same fat person I see everyday in my full-length mirror. The same birthmarks, the same cellulite, the same rolls — completely average in every way.
Was I deluded enough to believe that her camera was magic?
I mean, I knew I was a fat person.
Didn't I know I had all of those rolls?
Didn't I know about the back fat, the side fat, the arm fat?
Didn't I know about all the dimples, the stretch marks, the double chin, that my right butt cheek is smaller than my left (though that does explain my perpetually uneven wedgie)?
I suppose I did know all of those things; I just hadn't been able to really see them.
And I didn't know I could be so shocked, and so utterly OK.
I didn't know that I could see these pictures of myself objectively. I didn't know that, because I've spent very nearly my entire life packaging my body, my beauty, my worth, into one tidy Instagram-worthy human. I didn't even know I could be more than the sum of my fatty parts.
I only knew that since I can recall being aware of my body, I've been aware of the importance of its beauty.
4-year-old me poised on the grass, tiny head full of plastic rollers. A little girl so desperate to be a big girl.
15-year-old me, poised on a chair, lean legs crossed at the knee, lips parted seductively. A teenage girl trying so desperately to be an adult girl (that hair though).
34-year-old me, the smallest version of me there would ever be, poised in a bikini, right leg, right hip, thrust forward. A self-loathing adult desperately trying to look self-assured.
41-year-old me, with the dimples and the rolls and the lopsided ass cheeks, she is fat — and that is fine.
That is fine, because fat is one thing I am, but it is not the only thing I am.
That is fine, not because I'm complacent or in denial, but because I'm keenly aware of my physical body, and I'm also keenly aware that it is not the most important thing about me.
That is fine, because this — all of this, you see — is fleeting, erasable.
This body, even if it were thin, could not replace the warm embrace of a partner who loves me; the breathy, sweaty hugs of my children; the rich soil of my garden; the slice of freshly-frosted birthday cake.
There is nothing a thinner body could give me that I do not already have.
I see fat in these photos. I also see a mother, a wife, a sister, and a friend. A woman who has sacrificed, struggled, strained, and clawed her way through life.
I see a face built of the wrinkles of a million laughs — and just as many tears. I see dimples and lumps and bumps, and courage and tenacity and triumph.
I see much more than fat.