This happens almost every day.
Let’s get this out of the way — I’m not a model. I’m too short (5’3’’), I’m pretty fleshy in a lot of areas, I have a big old bone structure (wide shoulders, giant rib cage, size 10 feet, big man hands). I have an unambiguously Italian nose, short, crazy hair, and small boobs. I also have a bunch of those “bulky” muscles so many women seem keen to avoid — especially in my traps and my legs.
I think I’m gorgeous.
That’s not some agenda in me talking. That’s not the body image activist in me talking. That’s actually how I genuinely feel. I look in the mirror and feel grateful for looking the way I do. When my fiance tells me I’m hot, I believe him readily.
It’s not just because I have big, round green eyes that I adore (though I do). It’s not just my high, sharp cheekbones, my cute chin, my wide smile, all the features I have that I know are considered to be classically, conventionally attractive.
It’s my big nose, complete with the Roman bump (I love my nose so much I got it pierced, because I want people to pay more attention to it). I love my big hands — love how they wrap around my fiance’s small ones so easily, span the width of his shoulder blades when I massage his back. I love the fat veins that ripple across my hands, hell, I even love my hairy knuckles, and I especially love how these big, capable hands look against a piano.
I love the way my triceps, housed in otherwise fat upper arms, can be seen through some of my sleeves. I love how much fat is on my ass — no, it’s not one of those high, tight big butts people seem to covet. It’s the kind of ass you’d expect to see on a woman thirty pounds heavier than I am, and I love how it jiggles.
I love my bulky legs. The toughest part of wearing skinny jeans is pulling them over my calves, which are huge not only from ten years of martial arts practice, but from holding up a body that was, at times, considered “morbidly obese.” My legs are strong, fast, big, curvy.
I’ve even been growing out my stomach hair for a lark. I’m not usually into being hairy — I shave most of my body hair — but my happy trail, likely caused by my PCOS, is actually kind of cute, as is the downy, lighter hair covering most of the rest of my pale belly.
I feel beautiful.
I haven’t always felt beautiful. I had an eating disorder for nearly a decade. I felt invisible for years. Growing up, I thought of my uniqueness as gangly, rather than lovely. People I used to think were important told me not to avoid profile pictures because of my nose, told me I looked like a boy, told me, after I gained some weight and landed the part of Snoopy in my high school production of You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown, that it was a good thing I was “playing a dog.”
But somewhere along the line, that changed. And when I get up in the morning, get dressed, do my makeup, and look in the mirror, I love what I see. It is exactly what I want to see, and I feel lucky to see it. I am a very pretty woman.
It shocks some people that I feel this way.
It shocks the kind of people who do buy into that one-size-fits-all notion of beauty, that perfunctory notion that beautiful is always tall, slender, delicate, long-haired, white, large-breasted. Beautiful is sometimes those very things! And beautiful is oftentimes something very different.
Beautiful can have large wrists, as I do, and hair on its knuckles, its toes, its belly. Beautiful can have bulky legs! And when I say this to people, they sometimes look at me with pity. I had to double-take the other day when I revealed my shoe size, and I got a look of pity — how sad that I’d acquiesced to the reality that my feet are so big for a short girl, that I’d ceased to feel bad about it, that I’d given up.
I’d have no chance of being that feminine ideal.
And it’s true — I do have no chance. And I have given up on it. And you won’t see me getting work on my nose, or having my hip bones shaved down, or whatever it is I’m expected to do. I have pale, freckly skin I have no intention of tanning. I have a crooked tooth I have no intention of straightening. I have small, pendulous boobs I have no intention of replacing.
Why is this something to feel sorry for?
I don’t eat salads because I hate salads. It’s wonderful — I simply eat foods I like, and don’t eat foods I don’t like. I do have dietary restrictions because of my hormonal disorder. I don’t eat a lot of carbs because carbs make me feel sick. But I make lots of baked goods with Splenda and almond flour and butter and chocolate because fuck, I love chocolate. I was fat for a while. It sucked for a while, but then it got better. I stopped believing a long time ago, well before I lost weight (mostly by accident), that fat was the end of the world, the worst fate imaginable.
Why is this something to look at with pity?
I have a sexy fiance. I didn’t need a man to feel beautiful, but I’m lucky to have one who finds me beautiful, who found me beautiful when I was seventy pounds heavier, who fell in love with me when I had a “morbidly obese” BMI (whatever the hell that means), who loves that I have a nose just like his and doesn’t mind having smaller hands than I do and thinks my stomach hair is “cute.” After over a year of being together, the infatuation between us has not waned even a trifle — we are lucky enough to be all over each other like hormonal teenagers, and to feel like the sexiest two people on the planet when we are in each other’s presence.
How is that something to sympathize for?
There is a poster in my workplace of a conventionally attractive woman in a bikini. She is gorgeous! And I have had moments, because we all have moments, of walking by her and lamenting that I’d never reach that ideal. My hair could never be that long, thick, meticulously waved. My thighs could never be so long and lean.
After I cut my hair, though, I haven’t had a single one of those moments. I’ve created my own look, one that suits me perfectly at this time in my life. And I don’t look like the woman in the poster, and I’ll never look like that woman in the poster, because I look like me, and that’s pretty damn special in itself.
I know it’s not easy to like the way you look. Much of what has brought me to this point is luck.
This is a struggle for most women — it certainly was for me. I respect wherever you are in that journey. Maybe there are parts of you you hate. Hell, I still contend with that. As much as I’ve embraced my big legs, I’m still not in love with my inner thigh fat, though I’d like to be. I’m still getting used to being thinnish, to being inside a body that doesn’t command as much space as it used to. I still felt sexier when I was fat.
But I do think I’m damn sexy now.
And I’m genuinely surprised that people think I shouldn’t think I’m pretty.