One thing I don’t do a lot is take pictures of myself in my underwear with a professional camera. For years, I only saw photographs of myself that were taken on a disposable camera from Walgreens or a digital camera. Primarily, these were single shot, no retakes, guerilla-style family photos.
The way I saw my body was largely mediated by others’ opinions of me and whatever I could glean from making sexy faces at myself in the mirror.
Over the past few years that changed. I have come to understand the way my body looks through the images taken on my smart phone and, perhaps even more so, through the filtered and highly stylized lens of Instragram.
This more recent photo documentation has been invaluable to me. My body looks different all the time. My bangs are super greasy in the mornings and my left eye is super smooshed because that’s the side I sleep on. My boobs look fluffy in my wraparound dresses, and they sag when I’m wearing a tube top. My chins look different when I’m wearing a choker versus a v-neck.
Essentially, I have come to understand that the way I look is dynamic. When I move the camera a few inches to the right or left, up or down, my features change. Sometimes, I look at pictures of myself from the same day and can’t understand how I’m looking at the same person.
Plenty of bloggers have written about this, and I feel like the maxim “I’m fatter in person” really sums up my sentiments.
After years and years of fatphobia-induced body dysmorphia, it’s hard to actually just see my body with anything approaching objectivity. I mean, honestly, what does objectivity even mean? Different cultures feel differently about fatness and thinness. In Mauritania, for example, women go to extraordinary lengths to be as fat as possible because where they live, fat rolls and stretch marks are the height of feminine beauty. Just as in the West, women go to extraordinary lengths to be as thin as possible.
When I looked at the images of me in nothing but lingerie, I saw all the little stories that each part of my body holds.
The way our culture views our body is typically the way that we view it. We don’t develop our lens in a vacuum. As a fat woman in a fat-hating culture, how can I possibly look at my body and leave that behind?
So, when photographer Suma Jane Dark asked me to model for her for a boudoir photo shoot, I was both excited and also a little fucking terrified. When I arrived at the hotel near Union Square, the MUA did my face and before I knew it, I was holding my butt cheeks open on the edge of a satiny sofa.
The shoot was really fun. Suma lavished me with words of encouragement as I rolled around on the king size bed. But in the back of my mind, I felt vulnerability grow. I didn’t have control of the camera, and she was photographing parts of my body I have never had documented in high resolution before.
A few days later, she sent me the photos. I sat looking at the zip file for a while, but not right away. I was afraid that the horrible asshole who had burrowed his way into my mind when I was five years old would escape the vault that I had locked him in, and that he would have a lot to say about these images.
Finally, it was time to feel the fear and do it anyway.
What I saw was a woman with lustrous black hair, mostly wavy with a little bit of a curl. She has full cheeks that look super cute from the side, like that image of Betty Boop. Her jawline is soft and melts into her double chin. She has dimples. Her eyes are dramatic and dark, almond shaped, and they almost disappear when she laughs. I saw the curve in her back, and the chubby parentheses that bracket it. I saw her tan skin, soft and rippled with stretch marks. Her legs have very defined musculature from carrying her big body. Her breasts are a little firm and a little soft, just like her belly. There are scars from chub rub on her inner thighs. Her feet have high arches and pretty toes. Her lips are a pronounced cupid’s bow. Her belly folds in the center, and hides her belly button like a secret.
When I looked at the images, I saw all the little stories that each part of my body holds.