And embracing what I ACTUALLY look like is an ongoing process, but I like to think I’m getting there.
About two years ago, I came across a model search for a plus-size boutique that one of my good friends used to work at. They had lovely clothes, and I’d done a little amateur modeling in the past, so I decided to apply. Cute photos and store credit were in the cards if they picked me, so why not? Plus, I knew my friend would recommend me in a heartbeat. Then, without my friend’s prompting, they selected me to help model their new spring shipment — turns out, they didn’t even know she knew me.
What a short-lived confidence boost that gave me.
I felt great, and I was really excited for the photoshoot… even though I admittedly still struggled with considering myself “plus-sized.” Was I, really? I hadn’t always been, and I definitely wasn’t the last time I’d modeled before this.
(Cue the unnecessary weight gain guilt.)
When I arrived at the photoshoot, I learned that there was only one other model coming. When she arrived, my first thought was, “Damn, she could do this all by herself.”
She was tall, at least 5’10. She was curvy and voluptuous, with a flat stomach. A dark redhead. Fair, flawless skin. She looked like the perfect person to model this type of clothing. She was “plus-sized” in what is the considered the most beautiful sense of the term. She was the “plus-size” that society deems most acceptable: a larger and taller hourglass figure. I, on the other hand, though relatively hourglass-shaped, have a stomach that is nowhere near flat and never has been. And, I’ve been 5’2 since I was about 13. Definitely not model material by any normal standards.
There are the modelesque plus-sized women, and then there are the rest of us that don’t quite comply with the beauty standards that still manage to favor one particular type of body.
The photographer, who we’ll call “L,” prepped us for the photoshoot. She told us the entire shipment needed to be modeled, even if we weren’t crazy about some of the pieces. She encouraged us to just carry ourselves with confidence regardless, even if we didn’t feel like we looked our best in a particular outfit. But there was not a single outfit that my co-model didn’t look absolutely stunning in. Those clothes were, quite literally, made for her.
Some of the tunics fit me more like dresses. Some of the more slim-fitting tops, when paired with my jeans, hugged my stomach a little too close for comfort. I did my best to remain confident, but I couldn’t completely shake the thought that I wasn’t the ideal type of plus-size, whatever that means. By the end of the photoshoot, I’d found only one top I really wanted to use my store credit on.
I anxiously awaited the photos for the next two weeks. I had ideas in my head of what they would look like. I had an idea in my head of what I looked like in front of the camera, and I hoped the results would match it.
I did feel beautiful, but is that how I looked?
When I got the photos back and started to go through them, I realized that what I thought I looked like is probably what I look like about 5 percent of the time. The other 95 percent was really hard to come to terms with. There were lines and curves I didn’t like — lines and curves that definitely weren’t there 5 years ago. There were angles I knew people saw me from on a regular basis that were viciously unflattering. Out of the entire shoot, there were about 6 photos I liked and 4 that I loved. No more than 10 that I was okay with my partner, or the rest of the world, seeing. Photos outside that approved 10 made it onto the boutique’s website, and I wish I could say I didn’t care, but I did. L was a wonderful photographer, but I didn’t feel like a wonderful subject.
Of course, I shared that approved 10. I was still proud of the opportunity, and I still wanted to use it as a beacon of body positivity. But it wasn’t until I went through those photos that I realized I still fail to practice what I regularly preach at times. I truly believe in the importance of loving all versions of oneself, but I just couldn’t love the version of myself I saw in so many of those photos.
But that version is me, and she does deserve love. Just like all the versions that came before her, and all the versions that will come after.
The sobering reality is that embracing body positivity, while empowering and so important, doesn’t completely shield us from our own inner critics that base their criticisms on those age-old, imaginary standards we’re trying to fight. Those standards are what cause us to perpetually shy away from classifications like “plus-sized.” They’re what cause us to completely ignore the marginalized bodies of the “too” skinny, the “too” fat, the sick and the disabled. Those standards are what cause us to fail at seeing others and ourselves as worthy when we don’t fit them. Fighting them is a process, and I’m a work in progress.
Last night, the owner of the boutique reached out to me and asked me if I would be interested in modeling again this weekend. I accepted and went to try on my jeans, the only pair I own, that I’d worn in the last shoot. They were a little snug. I sighed, and my partner’s eyes widened.
“Damn, booty,” he said with an enamored smile.
I wish I felt the same way he did about what he saw in those jeans. But now, at least we see the same thing. I’m going to try my hardest not to meet the version of myself I see in these new photos with disappointment. She deserves to be met with the warmest embrace.
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