At twenty, I modeled nude. My mom called mid-shoot to threaten the photographer, a close friend, with ruthless castration in the event he got fresh. My dad nodded politely at the news as he delicately fingered the invisible shotgun resting in his palms. But joking aside, my experience was wildly exhilarating and wholly empowering; an opportunity to capture a state of being not typically observed and a testament to my monumental self-confidence.
Because, in my opinion, I’m the most lovely drenched in jasmine, skin, and a smile.
In December, I found myself facing the lens of another brilliant photographer with my thumbs carefully looped around the base of my t-shirt. Beyoncé’s “Flawless” pounded over the loudspeakers as I let my heavy-knit sweater slip from my shoulders. It collapsed on the floor of the studio, a smile curled the corners of my mouth, and the shutter clicked.
My body is my autobiography.
The poorly healed, y-shaped mark beneath my chin—the result of my mom’s playful teasing with a splashing hose, and my misstep backward off a deck step at the age of five. The drip-like scar on my stomach—a fresh addition from an unfortunate gin-induced stir fry accident. The miniature crater on my right shin—a souvenir from a graceless tumble from a chainlink fence onto a guardrail. I’d refused help despite my sundress and thong sandals.
Scars from years of athletic valor, calluses from too much writing, drawing, walking, and running, wrinkles from laughter, stretch marks from puberty, cellulite from age, chewed nails from habit, freckles from the sun. Every experience marked me, in some form, on my skin or under it. It’s all proof of living.
And it’s all mine.
When the edited beauties arrived in my inbox, I nearly choked. Breathing became a conscious, labored task. My heart rate soared, and my body flushed with unbearable heat. I tore my wool vest from my shoulders, sweat pooling in my armpits. Tears welled atop my lashes.
I’d forgotten this anxiety.
You see, photographs offer a sense of permanence more substantial than a glimpse in the mirror. They rip you from your own perspective and thrust you into the view of a lens that sees you as the world does. And while a vast majority of the world isn’t allowed the privilege of my nakedness, that notion of an unbiased, honest glimpse of myself became the catalyst for a wave of panic-inducing fear. But only momentarily.
We are our own worst critics. But I have nothing for which to apologize.
Despite rampant eating disorders and impressing societal opinions, I somehow escaped teenage-hood with a sound body image and a strong sense of self-worth. How, I still can’t quite articulate, but I’d like to think supportive parents and my realist notions about bodies played a significant role in building confidence.
I fit one mold; mine.
I accept my body for everything it is, isn’t, and won’t be. My luscious mane, my glowing smile, my strong back, my golden heart, my teeny breasts, my mighty ass, my thunderous thighs, and my little feet; all perfect. My height is average, and my waistline too. I’m pale, brown-haired, blue-eyed, and prone to adult acne.
And I’m damn extraordinary.
There’s a real lack of celebration in our uniqueness. It’s not enough to own our features, no. Humans lust for the elements of each other, and that deep yearning for something more physically appealing is guided by a set of impractical beauty standards. Think, for one moment, how absurd it is to conform to an idea of beauty constructed by an otherwise anonymous third-party.
As females, we must be taller, slender, sun-kissed, well-endowed, and delicate. Thin is not an option, it’s a requirement. As males, you must be chiseled, strong-jawed, clean-shaven, well-endowed, and dark.
When did our own opinions of beauty become less important?
No one has the authority to dictate my form.
Skinny is not a compliment; it’s an observation. Subsequently, fat is not an insult. Hair is hair. Skin is skin. Bodies are bodies. Consider your idea of beauty, ask yourself why it’s so, and start from scratch. Rebuild your opinion, own it, and leave everyone else with their own.
My body is the most incredible piece of machinery I will ever own, and I have it for a lifetime. My beauty and my worth are not measured by the inches of my waist, the size of my dress, or the gap between my thighs. It is, in fact, measured by my doings. Because this body, and yours, is capable of astonishing things.
On average, we will take 23,000 breaths in one day, without asking our lungs to do so. Our hearts will beat nearly 3 billion times over the course of our lives. One square inch of skin yields 20 feet of blood vessels, four yards of nerve fibers, 1,300 nerve cells, 100 sweat glands, and three million cells. Our noses can remember 50,000 scents. Our brains are capable of retaining memories, and allowing cognitive thought.
Our bodies can heal and repair themselves in the event of even the most severe trauma. When threatened or afraid, our bodies can produce enough adrenaline to wrestle a shark, and win. As a female, I can grow a fucking human being.
Orgasms. Enough said.
Take a moment to thank your body for its selfless acts, and offer some gratitude for all that it does for you. Now forgive it for its shortcomings, and take ownership of this incredible apparatus. Because it’s yours, and that alone makes it infinitely more beautiful than your neighbor’s.
I tapped the first image, exploding it to full screen view, and hesitantly scrolled left through a sea of images. With each swipe, anxiety fled my body. I reached across the table for the hand of the incredible man that captured my essence, and thanked him for giving permanence to this beauty.
His photos, my photos, are as unapologetic as I am. They’re honest. They’re authentic.