The Ultimate Body Positive Challenge: To fall in love with yourself

Back in February, I participated in a body positive challenge. I was needing to feel more confident and sensual in my body, needing to accept where it is now. I’ve grown so weary of my body wearing my trauma for me. I’ve grown so tired of trying to protect myself from the opinions of others by covering up and denying that my body can be beautiful and magical and downright amazing when I decide it is.

But like most women, I have a complicated relationship with my body. When someone compliments me on it, I react rather adversely and predictably. “Oh no, it’s not.” In my mind, I’m just echoing the ongoing opinion of larger, older women’s bodies. In my mind, I’m enforcing a truth universally acknowledged. But what I’m really doing is rejecting my own beauty, even if it’s a sliver of what I’d want it to be. I’m denying that to myself over and over again.

Taking a Risk for Myself

trapped by fearFor the past year, I’ve been inching towards making my living as a sex, relationship educator, writer, consultant something or other. Basically, everything that I love to do that isn’t the practice of law. To do any of this, I needed to start curating more of an online presence. It means more writing (yay!). It means developing content for a more expansive website. And it is showing who I am as an educator and professional. And because I’m teaching about intimacy and sex, that includes representing who I am as a sexual woman.

The only professional photos I have are ones I got done about 4 years ago for my mediation practice. And while I love those photos, they aren’t the best representation of what I offer as a sex educator. So I contacted my friend, Anthony Graham, with Broken Glass Photography.

I have tried and failed to do boudoir photo shoots. It usually becomes a last minute cancellation because I’m curled up in a ball crying with the anxiety of it all. Most shoots I see with women of my size and with my belly don’t look comfortable or at ease. And each time I would see such little representation of either women my size or women of color, I felt more and more that I didn’t have any assets worth seeing once you know that women of my size aren’t usually celebrated or revered. 

The only reason why I was willing to try this time around is because Anthony has already captured images that made me feel more confident and self-assured. These are some of the first photos that I was truly proud of. I feel like they show a part of me that I never get to see:  me in the present moment, unpolished, unaware of anything except the movement of my body or the space I’m occupying.  You can even see Warrior behind me on the left. I trust this photographer to see me in a way I can’t yet see myself and to reflect that back to me with reverence and joy.

I deserve to be seen

Those words don’t flow easily. They get stuck in my mouth if I try to say them out loud. I’m conveniently averting my eyes so I don’t have to see that I wrote that. Tears are welling up as we speak.

I deserve to be seen.

It’s not normal for us to believe that. For me, it’s a lot of old, Catholic guilt and personal trauma that is still healing. For you, it could be ideas about relationships, about selfishness, about your own value.

To be seen is a fucking scary thing for someone like me. I’m comfortable in the shadows. I’m a good companion for the quiet of darkness. I shy away from the spotlight and most kinds of recognition or praise.

Over the past year as I have actively participated in the healing of old wounds, I’ve had to confront the deep, dark baddie in my soul: my sense of deservingness. It’s taking a long time, but by practicing more mindfulness about my flawed relationship with my own sense of worth, I start to recognize all the small ways I tear myself down all the time. Patterns of self-deprecation and sacrifice. It feels impossible to unbundle what is my actual personality or sense of humor from the mess of coping mechanisms that put myself down. Hundreds of little put downs, and assumptions that I make about myself that are overwhelmingly negative and apologetic for taking up space.

What would my life look like if I didn’t feel that way?

It feels glorious

One thing to know about Anthony if you ever shoot with him (which, you totally should) is that he is the most enthusiastic mofo out there. Every shot is a celebration and you damn near expect him to burst like a bottle of champagne after each photo. That effusion of energy is contagious and so what you see is inspired in part by that. But what you also see is that I chose this. I chose to be there in that moment, crawling across a bed, playing with my hair and gripping a crop in my hand. I chose to be seen and more than that, to have this part of myself seen–the sensual, the wicked, the innocent and genuine.

Or at least that’s what I see. And that’s significant–because if I see it, maybe that’s what others see too. Maybe they don’t see the judgmental, jealous parts of my mind that have me convinced I’m never going to measure up. Maybe what others see is the very beauty, light & soul I want to share with the world. Maybe it comes through like I have always wanted. But for a moment, these photos make me love who I am. They make me appreciate and see what my laughter and presence can do. For a moment–for a brief moment, I love myself.

I always hear people say, “You can’t love others until you love yourself first.” For my anxiety brain that sets off a ton of “oh god, now I’ll never be able to love anyone” panic attacks. But what this shoot gave me was a glimpse of what it can feel like to feel admiration and love for myself. And all you need is just a moment where we let go of our self-judgment and open ourselves to even the possibility of loving who we are. It’s glorous and beautiful ad scary, but I’m here to tell you, just a sliver of openness is worth it.

That gift of being able to see myself is life altering. To see my body and soul  as desirable and alive, vibrant and fuck me, so damn happy, my god, that is a blessing. There are a lot of photos of me laughing. Some photos of my smile with an abundance of cleavage, just like I like it. There were playful moments and others where I could glimpse the goddess others claim to see in me. Just the smallest sighting of the goddess I would like to be.

I’ll post only a few here, others are featured in other posts or on my bio page.  But these are my favorites because they reflect the truth of me – all the different facets of the Queen I want to see myself become.


One comment

  1. You are beautiful! Still it is often tough to see it in ourselves….

    Your post is a good reminder that even though I might think I’m “ok” with my body that it is complicated… Do feel that I “deserve to be seen?” Now that is a different question…and a very powerful one that touches on how we
    value ourselves. We can say “I’m beautiful despite societal standards so I’m going to flaunt my body (I use “flaunt” in the best way) but that feels more like a political statement- an eff-you to the body-shamers but it doesn’t mean necessarily that we *really* think we are beautiful. At least for me it doesn’t feel that way when I say it.

    But asking myself, do I think I deserve to be seen… wow…it really asks me how much I value myself and value the space and air I take up on this earth…

    I’m going to have to think about your question for a while. I know what the right answer *should* be…

    Great post and beautiful pictures of you Bella!

    I like them all but I especially love the one where you are laughing with an open smile. It’s lovely and so are you.

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