A few years ago, a professional photographer friend of mine, Dave Rodrigue, took my picture. Actually, he took many pictures, but you get what I mean. He does these beautiful black and white portraits of people wearing their own faces and clothing, being themselves for the camera. Nothing fancy, just whatever the person wants to wear (or not wear), and whatever expressions happen to flit across their faces during the shoot. Some of his models have done tasteful nude shots, others are shot in their homes, wearing house-dresses and staring out the window – he’s interested in catching sincerity in his lens. It’s pretty cool.
Mostly what I remember from my shoot is being superbly uncomfortable in the outfits I had chosen to wear. He took a professional portrait for me to use on LinkedIn, and my lipstick felt too bright. My jeans were brand new, and they fit well, but made me feel like a stuffed sausage. I’d brought along a set of very modest retro lingerie that covered more than my bathing suit, and the fabric felt like something you’d use to sew a backpack. The only outfit that really made me happy was an outfit I still wear today – a giant t-shirt and a soft pair of jean leggings. In those old pictures, I can now see the internal struggle that was going on. My softness was part of me, yet I insisted on fighting against it, insisting on constraining myself with these strict barriers of elastic and cheap satin. There was this sense that I was expanding, and it wasn’t going to stop. It was like I was using clothing as sand bags, trying to prevent the flow of my body.
A few days ago, Dave asked me if I’d like to pose for him again soon. Since then, I’ve been thinking about it, pros and cons. I’m about 30 pounds heavier now than I was, and I know from his series that he loves to use the same models and explore as they age and change. I want to say that I’ve been aging with grace, and perhaps I have, I don’t know. I know I have more lumps and bumps and wrinkles than I did then. But more important than my weight is my sense of self.
Back then, posing for Dave’s camera, I was given full permission to be myself. He made it clear to me that I was allowed to dress, pose, and act exactly how I’d like, and he was not to be taken into consideration. My comfort and freedom of expression were paramount. This concept was so far out of the norm for me in male/female relationships that it took me years to even understand how far removed I felt from the idea of being able to just be me, and not worry about how the man in the room perceived me. I’m still just barely able to understand how groundbreaking this moment was.
The problem of my sense of profound discomfort with my exposure during the shoot was not a problem of “showing too much skin.” At the time, I thought my sole problem was weight, and a general unhappiness with my body because I just wasn’t trying hard enough. In one small way, that was true. As a woman, I was used to feeling ugly and at the mercy of others on a daily basis. This meant that the shoot was a strange juxtaposition of feeling like I always felt, but being given permission to strip away all of the things that made me feel that way, should I so choose. I didn’t realize it at the time, but my photographer friend was returning my dignity to me by being more feminist than I was at the time. He had more appreciation for my complexity and comfort than I did!
The media tells us that it’s magazines and movies and other women that make women feel bad about their looks, and if everyone says so, who am I to argue? However, in my own reality, I felt the most pressure from my partners. Up until the shoot (and even afterwards) I spent my adult years only buying clothing that my lovers expressed an interest in, whether we’re talking form-fitting retro dresses, or lacy underthings, or thigh high stockings with a seam up the back. Hair, nails, and makeup must always be taken care of. God forbid you let your pubes grow out, or go too long without waxing your mustache.
I spent SO MUCH MONEY on services meant to turn me into the perfect woman, and it was never enough. I was never going to be a sex symbol. I was going to keep getting hairy, and chipping my nail polish, and getting that particular butt itch feeling that comes from sitting too long in lace underwear and having your fat ooze out through the tiny holes in the floral pattern. And honestly, many women get a kick out of taking all of these measures, pushing themselves to extremes to grasp at the fleeting concept of beauty. But for me, it wasn’t my thing. I do love mani/pedis and facials and massages, and there are comfort reasons to consider when looking into waxing the stray strands off of every conceivable surface…but I never wanted to be a magazine woman. The real me is more “let’s climb a mountain” than “let’s go to barre fitness.” Props to the dancers out there, and much love to gals who wear lace and heels and have the perfect dress for every occasion – but that’s not who I want to be when I grow up.
So I’m realizing that somewhere along the way, I lost my own personal style because I was too concerned with having men like me. I remember that once, back in college, a boyfriend was upset with me for not wearing sexy lingerie. I carefully explained that one little lacy outfit (even a cheap one) could cost around a quarter of my rent payment, and I wasn’t inclined to waste my money. He eventually offered to take me shopping and buy whatever we agreed on, but the things he liked were so ugly and – to me – demeaning that I didn’t take him up on his offer (in fact, we broke up not long after).
Another boyfriend loved for me to wear thigh highs and pinup girl style, and though it pleased me to dress up and go out on dates, I was never comfortable. When I did try to inject some items that made me feel sexy, it resulted in complaints that I wasn’t really trying. (My most upsetting example: a long, devastatingly sexy, curve-hugging satin nightgown, straight out of a film noir, casually referred to as something an old lady would wear.) Eventually I did stop trying completely. I exclusively wore pajamas in the house for the last few years we dated – Anna and the 24/7 stretchy pants. At the time, I didn’t realize that I was protesting having to stop being myself to be a girl that he could tolerate having around (not a girl he adored, not a girl that was beautiful in any light, just someone he’d be too lazy to kick out of bed in the morning), but that’s what was really going on.
So here I am, 30 lbs. heavier and a half-decade smarter, wondering if I have the courage to sit for Dave’s camera again. What have I learned about myself? Am I strong enough to make choices for my body that are truly based only on my own desires, and not rooted in my need to please everyone else? Time will tell.
Today’s Weight: 191 Lbs. (Mind: blown.)
Today’s Exercise: 16,858 steps (including 30 minutes on the elliptical), 8fit workout, foam rolling, weight machine stuff for arms, short ab routine.