I am going to take a moment as part of this social experiment broadcast to talk about self-image, body positivity, and confidence. What you see above are the photos I personally curated for a social experiment concocted by my friends, seen here. The goal was a few laughs and to see how desperate and hard it can be to deter attention on dating sights and social media. And even though I have social media accounts and wanted this experiment to be in my image, it still makes me nervous to post them.
I do not like these photos particularly. My face is hidden by makeup and hair and making faces. My body is slouched in odd positions. If this were any other dating profile, I would be worried that my looks, interests, and style wouldn’t be well represented. Yes, I like costumes, can be a goof and a romantic around my friends, and I am proud to have traveled across the country and to the Grand Canyon (the picture with the bagged bottle) all by myself. None the less- I usually wouldn’t want anyone seeing these pictures who I hadn’t decided I could trust yet. Such it the time of trolls and the internet. But this story isn’t about trolls who seek to body shame women on the internet. This is about me and my ever changing view of my body.
Let’s start with the obvious: I am a nerd. I have always known I am a nerd, and nerds have always been my friends. I prefer the company of non-confrontational intellectuals who challenge me to look at the world in different ways. I knew the popular girls pretty well because my misguided parents, bless their hearts, tried to get me into sports as a child. Soccer, little league, the only thing that stuck was swimming. I also wear glasses. THICK glasses. You will find almost no pictures of me wearing them past age 10 because of how I begged for contact lenses. I am not exaggerating when I say I look like Professor Trelawney from Harry Potter when they are sitting on my nose.
Anyway- like I know pretty much every woman or girl can relate to, popular girls get to define your self worth in elementary school. There really isn’t any getting around this: children are constantly testing their social roles, lack filters, sometimes empathy, and this means bullies and outcasts one way or another. My role was teacher’s pet, and books didn’t seem as needlessly cruel to promote their personal merit. I was always asking questions because I wanted to learn, but it put attention on me for being a know it all. When some of the mothers of the girls found out I was teaching them to question things as well, I was less welcome for play dates. For the better since this is how I met my current best friend of 20+ years, Muffin, this way.
Between glasses, lack of athletic ability, and bookish awkwardness, the sudden onset of early puberty around age 11 left me… scared. I was never really a cutter, I simply picked at loose skin, pimples forming, and my new “excess” of fat on my chest, hips, thighs and arms. I also would dance in my room for hours to the Spice Girls and then cry into the early morning, trying to smother my face into a pillow.
I hated my body. I hated how fast it grew: 6 inches of height and from a size 0 women’s to an 8 in a year. I hated how the popular clothes in stores failed to fit and still struggle with my extreme hourglass shape. I had an incredibly high libido from the onset of hormones and had no idea about how to deal with it or what the feelings were. And all the girls who didn’t change much from elementary- tall, skinny, athletic girls, seemed to be the only one who the boys cared about. I still, rather maliciously, refer to those girls as twigs. I was jealous not just because of them attracting boys, but because their clothes seemed to fit better too. I thought I was pretty enough when I looked in the mirror, but thought others found me hideous and somewhat deformed compared to “their” standard of beauty.
Hall monitors would harass me about my shirts being too low cut. Low-raise jeans made me look like I had an exaggerated muffin top. I often grew out of clothes too quickly for my family to purchase more. Add the influence of my emerging endometriosis, depression, and raging hormones- BOOM! Low self-esteem, codependency on the first person to tell me I was pretty, and body image issues I still struggle with today.
Don’t get me wrong, now I will be the first person to tell you I am more comfortable naked than with clothes on. I love the curves of my body, how corsets can hug them, and the accents that well made clothes can highlight. Unfortunately what we see in the mirror doesn’t always translate to photos.
This brings us back to the original photos I chose for the fake profile. The fact that it was SO popular SO quickly was really an odd affirmation experience. I like to think that somewhere out there men were thinking “Wow, this girl is not afraid to express herself, might have a sense of humor, and is hot enough for my standards.” Although I am sure the last thought is much more… crude. None the less, I am usually the kind of girl who feels slightly flattered at catcalls that might make many other women feel unsafe. I also finds comfort is sex positivity, and in educating others.
Although it might not have been the healthiest method for body positivity, I find great amounts of growth and confidence in sharing my body with a lover of my choice. When I worked as a bartender, I called it my year of the booty call, and felt I had any choice of man I wanted. I finally considered myself hot and had other people confirming it. I also regularly dressed like this:
To see the first set of pictures have such an overwhelming response is really making me rethink a lot of the reservations I had established about how I present myself to others. You always hear the adage of being careful of what you post online because you don’t know who is looking at it. Yes, many of the men who responded were creeps or couldn’t take a hint, but there was still acceptance of the girl in the photos none the less. It is confusing for someone like myself who so deeply desires validation to allow such vulnerability because of the fear someone will try to use it against me. But I am stronger than that now, I am not that person who can fall for that deception any longer.
The other side is that I worry it is all my own pride and ego going to my head, but I also think that’s the depression talking. I think there is room to be able to love myself, and my body, without filters, restraint, or poise every once in a while. But sometimes it takes a little chaos to see what’s at the bottom of the pot.