Walking around nude? Swimming nude? Sharing a changing room with a girlfriend? Sure dude, no problem. Being photographed nude? Yeah, OK, that's cool.
Looking at the pictures afterward?
So excited, so excited, so excited, wait, what? Wait, is that really me?
Honestly, um, was not ready to see how chubby my cheeks are. I didn't know they are that chubby. Actually, did not wanna see how big my arms are. Didn't know they're that big. Don't wanna see my back rolls, my lack of a collarbone, and my monster thighs. Oh my God! That fucking cellulite! Until you showed me that picture, I honestly didn't know that much of it was there. Is my right thigh a Costco-sized carton of cottage cheese? What is happening?
I did a boudoir photo shoot last week. The photographer? My friend. Her skill level? Beyond professional. The setting? My air-conditioned apartment, on a bed with white sheets. My state of mind going into it? This is going to be so sexy and I'm so glad I'm single and can use these in sexts from now on.
My state of mind when she showed me the first picture that she thought was absolutely stunning?
Nonononononononono, badbadbadbadbadbad, wahwahwahwahwahwahwah can we stop now?
Literally have never felt more weak and disgusting in my life. I felt weak because I'm supposed to be all BODY LOVE BODY LOVE BODY LOVE and I felt disgusting because, seriously, do I have magic mirrors? Who is that woman on your camera?
Honestly, I almost cried several times during the shoot, and I definitely cried once she packed up and left — taking my sultry makeup from terrific to terrifying in one blink of an eye. It wasn't anything that she, as a professional photographer, did to make me feel anything less than fierce. I was just on a judgment train going so fast that I literally couldn't see straight to find the emergency brake.
Because, I didn't look like Pinterest. I didn't look like Playboy. I didn't look like Ashley Graham, or Robyn Lawley, or Nadia Aboulhosn. And seriously, if we're being 100% honest here, I absolutely expected to.
Instead, this incredibly surprising thing happened.
I looked like me.
Seriously, so blown away by that.
And...I didn't know that I didn't like me so much.
I think maybe I've been pushing too hard in my journey to body acceptance, or maybe I've been so busy helping everyone else on theirs, that I skipped a few too many steps in mine.
I walked away from this boudoir shoot, that was supposed to be incredibly empowering, questioning so many things. I actually had to make a list on the big Post-It tablet — like, it didn't even fit on the square ones.
I came away asking: How can I teach dance for a living and still have that much fat on my body? How can I be two and a half years into eating disorder recovery, without a binge in almost a year, and still have a non-functioning metabolism? How do I have such body dysmorphia that I actually thought I was a sexy woman? How, why, what, where, when?
Honestly, I thought the shoot was a bust. I wrote it off. I decided I wouldn't be able to use any of the shots, even the ones she took of me in my tap shoes for my personal website — like, I just looked terrible and I decided that I would just continue to use pictures of me from when I was 26 and 50 pounds thinner for the rest of my life and just let people be surprised when they meet me.
And then, I got the Dropbox link to the pictures.
Pictures like this:
Wow, I thought. I'm kind of obsessed with myself. Like, I am really, really beautiful.
I do not look like that on a regular basis. I live my life in spandex, in a sweaty dance studio, with sweaty children, sweating off sweaty makeup. I live in Hawai'i. The humidity is 250% on a good day, and my hair is unfathomably large and again, sweaty, at all times. People here don't wear makeup — they're too beautiful from, like, pineapple air and rainbow drops. I need to wear makeup. I feel like a boy without it. It's a choice I make because I spend five hours a day teaching in a mirror, and when I look in that mirror I want to feel like a star, and so I choose to wear makeup.
Still, on the best day, when the breezes are flowing and I put myself in a dress, I do not look like these pictures.
Or do I?
Friends texted me when they saw one of the pictures posted on Facebook. “Yowzah!” They said. “I can't deal with your gorgeousness.” “Stunning pictures!”
I texted back, yes, thank you very much, but have you EVER seen me look like that? Seriously though.
“Absolutely.” They said.
I have never seen myself look like this. I mean, all things said and done, no one has ever seen my hair like that. I got it done the morning of the shoot. I drove straight from the air-conditioned salon, in my air-conditioned car, and ran into my air-conditioned apartment like I was running away from a group of zombies. I did my own makeup, but again, air-conditioning. Constant re-application. Powder for days.
And I honestly can't imagine I've ever looked like that before, during, or after sex, but if I have, God bless the man who gets to witness that.
If we are being 100% honest, the photo shoot did not empower me.
What came after the shoot is what gave me the vigor I didn't know I was missing.
Just seeing that girl in those pictures made me want to channel her more. More femininity, taller posture, funner clothing. Yeah, I said funner. Sparkly things. Pink things. Earrings. Lipstick.
You may call it superficial. I call it making time for myself. I want more of that.
The best part about that Dropbox link was, as I looked through the pictures, my first thoughts were not thinking about how much weight I wish I could lose. They were all about how much I wanted to look like the girl in those pictures. She looked powerful. Curvy. Plus-sized. Feminine. Owning it. Strong. Tough.
And I know I can’t live a life that looks like those photographs all the time. I don’t actually know if I would survive if I wasn’t sweaty all the time. It would mean that dancing would have to disappear from my life and, like, just, hell no.
As my friend Jill reminded me, that girl in the pictures, she has no life. She doesn't sweat. She doesn't get tired. She doesn't stress. She doesn't overheat.
Those models we see in magazines? They don't have a life either. The versions of those models that we see are products of quality makeup, professional lighting, specific poses, and flattering backdrops. The women who pose in those photo shoots? The women that get paid to pose? They live a life. But the pictures we see of them? That's not real.
Like, here is an example of that.
Me, the girl typing the words here, I have a life. I'm real. I have bills to pay, meals to figure out, hair to brush, 14 projects to manage, and a six-hour time difference between me and my closest friends.
This girl cries. This girl has laugh lines. This girl gets pissed.
That girl in the pictures, yeah, she's beautiful, yeah, she got 182 likes on Facebook, but she doesn't live the badass life that I do.
And so, I walk away, after changing my email signature and updating my website with some new photos knowing that, me on a sweaty day, and me on a photo shoot day, those girls are both me.
It's just that the sweaty one doesn't stop moving, so you're not gonna catch her in a pose with her arms tucked and her shoulders forward and her chin out and down. You're not gonna catch her with her hair down on an 87-degree day. You're probably not even going to catch her wearing a real bra for 364 days of the year.
But that doesn't mean that she's not as gorgeous as the girl in the pictures. She lives the essence of those pictures. She smiles when one of her students has an a-ha moment. No one's there to capture the moment, but I know the smile would look proud and easy, like this:
She doesn't wake up after a great night with a man with her mascara in place, but if it truly was a great night, I know she probably looks at him in the morning with this face.
Tammy took one final shot before she left my apartment that day.
This is a very real picture of me. My life. My mess. It is a picture I will cherish for the rest of my life, because it means I am busy as hell, fulfilled by my passions, and exhausted from opportunity.
See? None of the photos are a lie. They're just an exaggeration of the truth. And for that reason, I recommend every woman suffer through a photo shoot. Because if it can give you the clarity it gave me this week, then it's literally priceless.