A dear friend of mine gifted me with the book This Is Who I Am: Our Beauty In All Shapes and Sizes by Rosanne Olson yesterday. I devoured it last night before going to bed.
Olson is a photographer who has taken nude photographs of 53 women of diverse ages, races and backgrounds, and shared their portraits, along with each woman’s thoughts about her own body.
It was hard for me to read many parts of the book, because I was confronted by so many of my own negative beliefs about my body, and about beauty.
I was sexually abused, starting at age three. At the age of ten I became self-conscious about my body for the first time, when I gained a lot of weight during summer vacation at my grandma’s.
I filled out early, and was the object of a lot of my male classmates’ attention in elementary school. In high school I was terrified of dating and boys. I hated my voluptuous body. I swung between two extremes: starving myself to get skinny, or bingeing to relieve my emotional anguish. Throughout my adult life, I have continued to lose and gain 50 pounds, depending on how disciplined I am, or how tormented I am feeling.
I look at my 44-year-old naked body and I notice all its imperfections. The skin on the backs of my hands is starting to thin and crinkle. I have what Isaac Mizrahi calls “UADD” (Under Arm Dingle-Dangle). There are puckers of cellulite on my buttocks, belly and thighs. My legs are crisscrossed with varicose veins. Acne scars dot my face. My breasts sag. I have body hair in all the places that body hair grows on an adult woman.
Added to that, my body hurts a lot of the time.
And yet… it feels good to be in my body. I’ve been moving to music lately, in the privacy of my apartment, in odd moments. I like the physical power of my muscles. I like opening myself up to the vibrations and rhythms of the songs. I like telling stories with my bone house.
I took my night clothes off this morning and sat down in front of my full-length mirror with my iPhone. I started taking self-portraits in Hipstamatic – stopping to reflect on each one as it finished “processing.” The light was perfect, and the Hipstamatic filters were forgiving.
I seriously wish I could post my favorite full-body photo here in public. But the instinctual creature who has survived abuse needs protecting. There are still men in my life who would sexualize a nude photo of me, and that’s not what I want. These photos aren’t about my ability to attract a mate.
They’re about my capacity to love myself with my own eyes, and heart.
And about allowing the worthy spirit that dwells within this soul-home to shine.
Update: I’m really proud to be able to tell you that this blog post was published on Stop Chasing Skinny – a community blog of personal stories about finding life beyond the scale – on April 10, 2012.
All self-portraits taken with Hipstamatic for iPhone, Buckhorst H1 Lens, DreamCanvas Film, No Flash.