Hot Girl Summer: Loving the Skin I’m In
I convinced myself I didn’t have body dysmorphia but would only go out half-dressed when I was squished in a corset that changed my shape into something more acceptable. I refused to wear shorts because my thighs are big and eat shorts like popcorn. I told myself I was comfortable in my body because I covered myself in sheer veils and learned how to position myself to look more acceptably shapely than I’ve ever been.
And yet, I fuck without shame with the lights on…So what am I really afraid of?
A couple of weeks ago, I went to TCFStyle Expo where they had a pajama jammy jam This past weekend I attended a fat lingerie party hosted by the non-profit organization, Spark Reproductive Justice. Both events were amazing and body affirming. They centered a range of fat bodies in various states of dress and undressed. I got to be in a space where I challenged my notions of beauty, some glammed up, others not glammed at all. There were cis people, non-binary individual, and people presenting in a multitude of ways that did not conform to what society tells us. Everyone decided how they wanted to look and then did that shit. It was an environment where people discussed and shared loving the skin they are in, which hits way differently than what mainstream pushes as body positivity.
Loving the skin you're in means being vulnerable with yourself and accepting who you are physically. It means recognizing that you do not exist for other people to like how you look. You do not exist for the consumption of others. It means accepting and embracing all the parts of you, even the parts you aren't proud of because all of that makes you who you are and owning the shit you don't like is the starting point for changing them.
Loving the skin you’re in isn’t about being performative. It isn’t about saying and doing shit for others to approve. It’s about centering yourself in all of you and being mindful of how you feel about yourself. I try to be extremely mindful, but my center is wrecked right now and I'm in the process of excavating and preparing to rebuild. These days I find myself struggling to speak about my journey - I'm too raw and vulnerable to share that in real time and space. I have started crying at every panel I’ve spoken on since May of this year. I am vulnerable and because I’m uncomfortable being vulnerable in public, I am closing myself off. Conversations are a struggle now. Engaging with people is a burden. I need time and space to heal so that I can interact with people in ways that feel authentic instead of guarded. I’m finally starting to take it.
But that takes work. It’s always work. Some of that work has been pushing my boundaries when it comes to how I see my body. There is a part of me that has always wanted to pose nude because I feel like that is the ultimate fuck you to a world that tells me I shouldn’t be seen. There is another part of me that doesn’t feel the need to share those images for public consumption. This is the constant battle because my love for myself is not and should not be rooted in anyone else’s approval of my appearance. Accepting, loving, and transforming yourself is some real humbling and evocative shit that deserves more than to be gobbled up by mass popular culture and shat into a pithy catchphrase.
I’ve been stumbling through this self-acceptance for a lot of the summer and most of it has been centered on my shorts and my belly and how I dress them up. I’ve learned that I use cosplay to get comfortable with my body…wait...that's not quite right. I use cosplay to get comfortable with being seen by others.
I'm comfortable with my body. I walk around naked, have sex in full daylight with the lights on, hot the beach or pool in a bathing suit sans t-shirt. I look in the mirror and look at myself. In real-time, I’m good with me and my biggest complaints are the extra work I have to do for my body to function with minimal pain and that’s more a function of age than anything.
For years, I chose my clothing based on functionality more than aesthetics, but over time I’ve learned to find functional beauty in what I choose to wear. It's still a choice I reserve for situations where I know I'm being judged...work, job interviews, parties, etc. Left to my own devices, I'm wearing jeans or leggings, a t-shirt, and sneakers because that's all I need to get shit done. I don't struggle with my looks; I struggle with my anticipation of other people's judgement of my looks. I also struggle with thinking my body is beautiful. I don't think I'm beautiful. I don’t think I need to think I’m beautiful to live my best life. All I think I need is to be me.
I know it's supposed to be important that other people think I'm beautiful - that lesson has been hammered into me every damn day. Attractiveness equals access, especially for womxn. I am very aware that my value to others is directly proportional to how attractive they find me. Imagine walking through the world knowing that you will never be the standard for what's considered attractive and having to work around a bunch of people who either gain power from enforcing it, are too cowardly to challenge it, or too willfully ignorant to fight it. Now imagine being told to not just anticipate but to give more of a fuck about what they think of you than what you think of yourself. Cuz that’s what it’s like being a fat, Black womxn.
I've watched people around me fight with themselves about what they eat and lament their need to eat for fear of being fat…all because for them, fat meant ugly and ugly means inhuman. Ugly means undeserving of respect and love. I was taught this lesson by my father who on multiple occasions told me that my life would be harder if I didn't lose weight. I've been told it by my mother, who nearly died from a weight loss surgery complication when I was a kid. I spent my teen years forgetting the taste of sugar because everything in our house had artificial sweetener and thinking milk was blue because milk with fat was evil. I would spend days trying not to eat, chewing gum to convince myself I didn’t need food. Sustaining myself on crackers and water because I was fat and therefore didn’t deserve to eat. I have swung back and forth between choosing to eat or starve myself because I wanted the benefits that came with existing in a smaller body. I wanted doctor visits where I received treatment for my illness instead of being prescribed a diet. I spent years of my thirties being a weight-loss asshole, stomping through the world labeling food “good” and “bad,” exercising on an empty stomach and adjusting to being light-headed and hungry all the fucking time. And despite all this, I haven't weighed less than 200lbs since college, firmly placing myself in the “before” picture category, regardless of how fit I was. And I did this until I almost died from a separate medical issue and argued with my doctor in the ICE about my treatment because I was worried about gaining weight. All because I wanted the social capital that comes with being closer to “beautiful.”
When I look at my life, I am my most content when I don’t worry about being beautiful When I’m not trying to get closer to that white supremacist, capitalist, patriarchal idea of what people should look like. I enjoy not thinking I'm beautiful. Trying to be beautiful is work...work I don't want to consume the limited hours allocated to myself during the day. I like not worrying about whether my lipstick has come off or sweating my makeup off. I like having a full range of motion because my clothes fit loose and comfortably. I like sitting with my legs spread all the way open and straddling chairs whenever I want. I like walking using my entire foot rather than teetering on the ball of my foot and a pencil. I don't feel like I need to move through the world trying to please everyone's aesthetic and projecting sexiness all the time. And I'm not invested in judging other people for choosing differently.
The one exception to this is when I cosplay. That is when I play with the idea of being beautiful and with my desire to be noticed. I make choices about how I want to represent myself visibly. When I choose my makeup, I usually choose beauty styles. Even when I'm being a monster, I like to be a beautiful monster because I want my beauty to be destruction of the status quo. I want my beauty to swallow you whole for daring to think you can shape me into who you think I should be. I want to be the beautiful monster of your nightmares because refuse to be anyone’s beautiful pawn. What you think of me doesn’t make me beautiful and if you think it does…you’ll learn.
Men spend so much time discrediting womxn they find attractive, sowing seeds of distrust of our motives while they work overtime to sell us the idea that beauty is submission. They hate nothing more than the womxn who flips their script and controls them with the tool they thought they wielded to control us. There is power in beauty, but there is also a cost because we don’t control the narrative. Not yet, anyway.
We can destroy that narrative. We can destroy all these standards of beauty, dismantle the reign of white supremacist patriarchal capitalism that wrecks our lives by telling us who and what we need to be to be acceptable. Smashing that shit breaks the hold it has over our lives and gives us the space needed to be whoever and however we want to be. It gives us the room to live how we want to live without worrying if we "look right" for the part.
If you’d never been taught that beauty was important, how would your life be different? What would you change about you?
I’m still working out what that means for myself.
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