Meghan Trainor is my hero for yanking her video when her waist had been photoshopped. The "All About That Bass" singer told Good Morning America it was ironic, considering her whole song is about loving your body, whatever size.
I spent years fantasy photoshopping myself. I wanted to be tall and slim like Giselle, but my ankles were too thick. I was knock-kneed and short. My hair was brunette and my skin olive. I tried to wish away the dark fuzz on my forearms. I feared my face was ugly, spending hours studying blond classmates with cute turned up noses and wondering why I was so cursed. My rounded belly was the worst flaw of all.
Mirrors were tricky since my stomach could look blubbery depending on the angle. It didn't help when others said I was thin or cute. I felt like the Michelin Man.
When I landed at Bard College, I was far away from my parents and felt drunk with freedom. Yet, loneliness plagued me while I studied the confident girls who wore bare midriff tops and tossed their heads back in flirty laughs. When their ringlets of hair bounced, the boys drooled.
Confiding my insecurities to a dorm-mate, she said, "If you act self-assured, you'll be treated like you are." I had an impromptu chance one afternoon when my figure-drawing instructor said, "We have to cancel class. The model didn't show."
"I'll do it!" I said spontaneously.
Heads swirled towards me, eyes popped and eyebrows arched, yet instead of losing my nerve, I abandoned my easel and headed to the podium at the room's nucleus. There was an absence of fear. Instead I was now excited about the room of 20 artists who'd render my body. It seemed like I'd taken a dare to go on a brave adventure.
The teacher told the class to take a five-minute break. When the room cleared he said, "Are you sure you're okay with this?" My heart quickened when I smelled his aftershave. I smiled and nodded and he said, "I'll give you a minute to get comfortable."
In the silence of the empty room, I pulled my black, crew-necked T-shirt over my head. Next I unhooked my bra. The pumping beat in my chest felt like conga drums until I unsnapped my pants. Suddenly I was overcome by an intrusive memory.
My mind drifted back to elementary school when I was nine and on a gymnastics team. "Everybody, line up," Coach Tepper had said. "Today we're going to add something new. It's called a weekly weigh-in." He held a clipboard as he explained a BMI index and the desired height and weight for a professional gymnast. Coach motioned to what looked like a nurse's scale.
We all worshipped Coach and did what he said. When it was my turn to step on the scale, I had nothing on my mind but pleasing him. I climbed atop the wiggly scale platform. He checked my height, and wrote on his clipboard with a pencil while I studied his face. Next he moved the sliding metal piece and I awaited approval. Instead, Coach frowned. He muttered, "Hmmm," like my dad did when displeased. "You're too heavy, you have to lose five pounds," Coach said.
I stood frozen, stunned, unable to move. "Step down," Coach said as he scribbled on his chart. Then he called out, "Next."
Now, in my college art class, I shook the shameful memory from my head and continued to pull off my jeans. A montage of near-naked, 5-feet-10-inch Victoria Secret models like Miranda Kerr haunted my brain. Thinking of their flat stomachs, I folded my pants and tossed my shorn undies to the pile of discarded clothes while I worried about my belly. It wasn't flat like Keira Knightley's or Gwen Stefani's. Fighting to banish androgynous figures from my mind, I replaced those thoughts with images of voluptuous sirens like Meghan Trainor. My favorite meditation phrase came to mind: breathe in good, breathe out bad.
I arranged myself on the model's platform amidst paisley shawls and striped scarves and thought of Matisse's painted women, then I chose a reclining position I could hold for the first 30-minute pose. It was an odd sensation sitting there naked while students studied me.
Pupils scanned parts of me, then looked to their canvases. I knew staring at a nude model was less about sexual excitement and more of a concentrated study of shapes and shadows. It helped to imagine each artist filled with doubts—yearning, trying, but knowing they'd never be Michelangelo.
When the timer rang for our five-minute break, artisans set down paintbrushes and Conté crayons. After stretching my arms and unfolding my legs, I pulled one of the long paisley shawls around me like a cape then made my way around the circle to view each illustration.
The first was a detailed pencil sketch of my feet as they extended gracefully past the edge of the platform. One curled downward off the corner ledge. I'd never realized I had such lovely toes. The next was an intricate ink drawing that detailed the way my neck curved into my shoulder and down the side of my arm. In another, the artist had rendered my breasts symmetrically with champagne nipples nestled against pastel-peach areolas. My belly was gorgeously rounded like a figure in a Rubens' painting and my forearm rested next to it along my thigh. I saw why my mom had always told me I was lucky to have my paternal grandmother's ample chest.
The experience made me look at myself in a new way. Suddenly I saw my body as that of a healthy, complex, multi-faceted woman. I saw beauty in my lines, curves and shadows. I let go of the yammering critical voices in my head. Instead of picking myself apart, I finally saw how beautifully other eyes saw me. I realized that the only person who thought I was inadequate was me.
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