Exposing40

Friends. Photography. Adventure.

Tag: Body Image

Fat, beautiful, worthy

 

“The most attractive component to me of any woman is self-assuredness, willingness/ability to own their wants and desires, lack of concern about conforming. I’m obviously very visually stimulated and I think watching at a party is a great example of this; a ‘classically hot’ person who is boring is a whole lot less fun to watch than an average or whatever body type having a good time and feeling the moment.” American chap

A couple of weekends back I read a tweet that’s stayed in my mind. On the surface it was benign enough. A woman wondering why her friend was still single and listing various reasons why this was surprising – sparky, fun, bright. So far so good. The final thing on the list was “slim and pretty.” Someone responded saying they failed to see what being slim had to do with it. I took the lame option and fired off a rarely-seen-from-me subtweet about misogyny and women not needing fatphobia from other women.

Because comments like that are fatphobic. The subtext is that being slim is better than being fat. That being slim makes someone more worthy of finding a partner. And when slimness is held up as evidence in a case of ‘oh my God, I can’t believe you’re single’ then what does that infer about fat people who are not single? That they had some massive stroke of luck? That they must have bagged a partner and then ‘let themselves go’? That they’re a sympathy fuck? Even if this is not what people mean, when they hold up slimness as a barometer of attractiveness and worthiness then I can assure you that is what fat people will hear. It is what we are socially conditioned to hear.

Me: “What do you find attractive about me?”
Him: “I think it’s your mouth and your manner – the way you know exactly what you want and make sure you get it. Also the way my handprints look on your arse.”
Me: “My mouth as in what it does or what it says?!”
Him: “What it does, how it looks, what it says – it’s an all-round good mouth.”

The always brilliant Laura Williams wrote recently about why she’s no longer talking about weight and body image: “Yes, I am gorgeous. But on reflection, the only way to empower myself, and to also empower the women around me to accept their bodies in whatever shape and size they come in is to remove discussion around them full stop.” I grant you I am talking about it right now, but ignore that discrepancy for a moment and just absorb her wider point. Fat or slim, we all need to think a little bit more before we speak and become more comfortable in just being.

This post isn’t intended to be a massive dig at slim women – they have been subjected to the same social conditioning that all of us have. Fat women are just as bad at holding slimness up as a virtue. Whatever your size, when celebrating one type of woman puts another one down it is not a feminist action. And I believe it’s not all about how fat women are seen (although that is a huge part of it), it’s about changing the way we see ourselves too. We must stop thinking that our size and body shape is the defining benchmark of our attractiveness. We may not want to admit it but we are often our own worst enemies and in undermining ourselves we undermine other women.

What is the use of celebrating our beautiful undulating curvy wobbly sisters if we then berate our own bellies, bums and thighs? How can we hold up others if we don’t hold up ourselves? And if we continually talk ourselves down and believe ourselves to be unappealing what does that say about how much we respect the choices of the people for whom we are an object of love, affection or lust? I have not always been good at this. Full disclosure: the outward-facing body positive E40 is not always how I behave in private conversation with friends or when I am battling insecurities and taking them out on partners. But I am a million times better than I was.

In pursuit of evidence for this post I decided to do some deeply scientific research. It basically involved me asking men and women what they found attractive about me. Those polled ranged from one offs to casuals to established partners. The comments are peppered through this post. I highly recommend this glorious exercise in positive affirmation. Exhibit A came back with this:

“I met E40 five years ago, after some initial chat on a (non-kinky) dating site and several months of messaging. I’m not sure why, but the fact that she’s fat had never even crossed my mind during our various conversations, so there was an initial ‘huh!’ moment when she first opened the door to her flat and said hello. The kind of ‘huh’ you get when confronted by new information or something you hadn’t quite been expecting. After that, I went inside, took off my coat, and didn’t think about it again for the rest of the date.

“Nor have I really thought about it since then, to be honest, in the same way that I don’t really think about her toes or ears! The size of her belly is rarely a factor in anything we do, and as a result I consider it just another part of her – I don’t understand why anyone would choose to get hung up on it. There are way too many other interesting bits to focus on!

“So yes, I’d say I find E40 attractive neither despite nor because of her body shape – instead it’s her energy, openness, and creativity that draw me to her, as well as her excellent legs and ridiculously strokable hair. Five years later, those are the qualities (along with a hundred others) that make me glad that we met each other, and that we’ve managed to build the connection we have now. I wouldn’t change anything about that, and I wouldn’t change anything about her appearance either.”

There’s an important point there about acknowledging fat. We cannot expect partners not to notice it but we must also trust that this won’t negatively define their feelings and that to them we are more than the bodies we inhabit, just as they are more than their bodies to us. Would we ever say “I worry that you don’t find me as hot as other people because I am so slim?” I think not!

We also need to own our fatness more confidently. I realise I can be a bit Pollyanna sometimes and I know some people have had horrible experiences on dating sites. But if we are really honest with ourselves, how open are we in our profiles? I know my dating profile says “a little bit extra” when my belly is definitely fat. It is only in the last year that I truly shook off the shackles of fat belly shame and put a full length photo up. Yet I carry all of my weight around my middle. So when I was only putting up pretty smiley head and shoulders photos was I really owning my whole self? EA was justified in being surprised when he saw the whole me for the first time. It didn’t bother him but I have had comments from others that I looked different to my photos and they were fair comments.

I know some people worry that they won’t get attention if they are fully upfront in profiles, but there really is no point in being anything other than honest. Jedi Hamster pointed me to this article about a woman who created two identical profiles, except one used photos when she was a size 10 and one when she was size 18. Size 10 her got exactly twice as many messages as size 18 her. Predictable and disheartening you might say? Maybe, but like I said earlier we’ve all been conditioned to think slim is best so let’s not judge the men for a minute. What I liked was her closing comment: “You could interpret these results slightly differently. A size 18 woman, posting some of her least flattering, double chin-featuring pics, received 18 messages in five days.”

Interestingly, the profiles of the men who messaged fat her were similar to those who messaged slim her. Both versions of her attracted fat and slim men of varying degrees of ‘typical’ accepted attractiveness. This is an important thing to note. Fat people don’t sit in a little colony together, only fancying each other. A friend who is one of the most body confident people I know had this to say on the matter: “It’s important to remember us fatties don’t just fuck each other. We desire and are desired by people who would be thought of as conventionally fit/slim/hot. And we are not always defined in sex by our fatness. Sometimes us fatties get comments about how sexy we are that don’t refer to our size. It’s important to hear those comments and share them so that other fatties know that it’s possible to be sexy without it just being about the size of your body. Having lovers for whom your size is not relevant, for whom you are, simply, sexy enables us to feel like anyone else having (good) sex – it makes us feel transcendent.”

Tellingly she added: “At the same time I don’t wanna sound smug – like fucking handsome, fit men is some kind of prize for a fat girl. It’s tricky to get the tone right.” She’s right, we don’t want to hold up the conventionally hot people we fuck as trophies in our fight for fat acceptability, but we also need to recognise that people still express surprise at mixed size couples (of any gender make-up, actually). How often do we hear comments about similarly sized people along the lines of ‘don’t they make a lovely couple?’ or ‘don’t they look good together?’ whereas the bigger half of a differently sized couple will get ‘you’ve done well for yourself’ or ‘good for you!’ No! The fat person didn’t do well. Both people did well for finding each other, for having the good fortune to meet someone whose company they thrive in, who they fancy and who makes them feel good about themselves.

I am giving the last line to this lovely piece of feedback and I am paying it forward to any woman who needs to believe she’s hot and desirable. Own these words and go out and be your best beautiful confident self.

“You are so gloriously sexy and fuckable. Everything about you, especially when you’re turned on, is hot. Your movements, your facial expressions and damn it – your body just makes me want to work my way down to in between your legs. Feeling all of you on the way. You are fucking sexy”

 

Wicked Wednesday... a place to be wickedly sexy or sexily wicked

Do Not Delete

Yesterday I read this smoking hot guest post about the effect of a leather skirt over at Girl On The Net’s place (if you haven’t read it yet go and check it out and then come back!). It reminded me of some photos that Exhibit A took of us way back in early 2015.
This morning I went looking for them. I couldn’t find them. They weren’t in the folder with all the other photos we took in that hotel room. Then a little creeping dread came over over me. I remembered deleting those shots. I didn’t like them. I didn’t like the way my tits looked, the weird expressions on my face or the roundness around my middle. I kept them for a short while but every time I looked at them they made me feel bad so eventually I deleted them. After much rummaging in my recycling bin I found them and recovered them.
So what do I see today?
I see a snapshot of a really hot moment and remember a happy 24 hours. I think my tits look pretty good actually. I like the way he’s gripping my leather skirt. I smiled when I saw the green wristband that was such a part of him for so many years. I chuckled at the memory of his dinner turning up with teeth in it. I remember it was the first time he talked to me about Livvy and I feel a little bubble of happiness at everything that has happened on that front since. I think about walking in the New Forest and playing pool. I recall being annoyed that they’d run out of croissants by the time we went down for breakfast and picking all the chocolate out of a pain au chocolate. I grimace that we were charged £42 for two gin and tonics!
And I feel sad that it’s taken almost three years to appreciate the photo.
How many of us have deleted a photo in haste not realising that with it we have closed the door on a whole host of happy memories? How often do we take a photo then fail to appreciate the nuances of the shot because we are focusing in on our perceived flaws? Why are we not kinder to ourselves?
I’m glad I read that leather skirt post. I’m glad I fished this photo out of the recycling. I’m glad I’m sending it out into the wild. And I’m resolving to not delete in haste again and to zone in on the memories of moments, not the bits of me I don’t like.

Shapely Shapelessness

A few weeks back @19syllables and I went to a private view of The Photographers’ Gallery’s latest show, Feminist Avant-Garde of the 1970s. One of the pieces that caught our eye was Ana Mendieta’s Untitled (Glass on Body Imprint) series, where the photographer uses glass pressed against her face and body to purposely distort her features and natural shape, occasionally to quite grotesque affect.
After the show I read a bit more about her work in an article called Shapely Shapelessness. I learnt how she used her work to mimic, parody and distort the ideals of beauty perpetuated by the fashion and cosmetic industry. Last week as I arched and twisted on my desk to arty affect, her work came back to me. So I decided that this week I would parody myself. Where last week I hid the bits I don’t like and accentuated those I do, with careful composition and a moody black and white edit, this week I have squashed my least favourite bits right up against the glass and taken the colour down to a point where it is almost insipid.
Although this is the antithesis of last week’s shot, there’s something about it I actually quite love. I don’t know what. Maybe the fact that I thought ‘sod it, let’s do this!’
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Sinful Sunday

Bring on the men…

Some of you may have seen my post earlier in the week about male nudes. I mentioned towards the end of the piece that I hadn’t had any men get involved with Exposing 40 yet and I hoped that changed because body positivity is not just a women’s issue.
Mike H left this comment:
“I liked reading this. As a 41 year old who isn’t happy with my self-image and is more comfortable behind the camera, it would be nice to see the discussion opening up about men who aren’t buff, tanned, bearded or tattooed. I have moobs and love handles and a tummy so I’m doubtful that I would ever be brave enough to pose, but who knows, my partner likes my naked body – I may let her loose with my camera for a while.”
I suggested I’d be happy to host a photo when the time felt right. The conversation continued over DM on Twitter and, well, it turns out the right time was sooner than expected…
So, here’s Mike!
I am extremely honoured that he took these photos, very very proud that Exposing 40 has encouraged this bravery, and so happy that Sinful Sunday exists to give my little effort a voice within a community.
Mike sent me four photos and I chose two. I love the relaxed reclining on the sofa photo and the sense of humour that shines through with the use of the Beef book! And the chest shot? Well, the sense of power in the image and that strong mouth and fabulous stubble meant I just had to create a broody black and white edit to complement the colour version…
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The Legacy of School

I’ve had ‘school’ on my ideas list since not long after I started this blog back in February. I knew which of my own experiences I wanted to build the post around, but never got round to thinking how to articulate it.
Then in June @chintzcurtain tweeted this from a parents’ evening:

Yes. That!
Year 11 is far too late to be talking to young people about their attitudes to their bodies. The Institute of Child Health and Great Ormond Street Hospital published the results of a 6000-strong study in the British Journal of Psychiatry last month which showed children as young as eight are showing signs of body dissatisfaction that can trigger eating disorder behaviours in adolescence. Researchers are recommending public health initiatives that focus on body image. If this is going to reach children of primary school age then schools have a huge role to play in that.
When I was nine my primary school teacher decided I needed to lose weight. She suggested to my Dad I go on a diet and regularly announced my ‘achievements’ to the whole school as a cause for celebration. I went to a tiny village school with only 30 pupils, my Mum had left home and the teacher was trying to be a female role model in my life. I’m sure she thought she was doing right by me, but before I hit double figures age-wise I’d already started to be defined by the figures on the scales.
What is odd is there was no real consideration from my teacher about my family’s lifestyle or my natural shape. We walked a lot as kids. From the moment we could toddle we were off walking the dog across the fields. My brother was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes at five-years-old so we had a ludicrously healthy diet. Yes I was a portly little girl (and I am a portly woman!) but a lot of that was body shape and puppy fat, not a need to be put on a diet.
Happily I didn’t develop an eating disorder, but that early experience did set the tone for three decades of on and off dieting where I always felt that rush of pleasure when friends and I went to Boots to weigh ourselves during a lunch break, or when my loss was announced at ‘fat club’.
I put on weight again last year after running the London Marathon. More than one person warned me about the ‘marathon stone’ and I laughed at them. They were right. It is predictable I guess – however much you promise yourself you’ll stick to the running few people have the motivation keep up the weekly mileage that training for a marathon requires after the race has passed. But of course you’ve got used to the carb loading and the alcohol consumption creeps back up and your body makes your gluttony known in the pinch of a waistband. A couple of months back I decided the time was right to start shifting it again, but for the first time ever I am not weighing myself. I am exercising more and drinking less but I made a conscious decision that I was not going to be beholden to numbers, but that I was only going to judge myself on the fit of my favourite frock and how I felt when I pulled myself out of the pool.
And with that I’m going to (not very) neatly segue into my other point about school. Sport. Bloody sport. School does not always build a healthy love of exercise. Oh how I hated P.E. At 5’10” I should have been the best goal defender in netball; with my legs I should have nipped across the hockey pitch. But I have zero coordination, am clumsy, the speed of the balls always terrified me and I panic in team activities because I think I am going to let people down. I lived for summer term when swimming was on the timetable. With swimming it was all about the lengths, I was only competing against myself. I think this is why later in life I have come to love running so much; I happily plod away, writing stories in my head or working through problems, sometimes I am slow, sometimes I am really bloody slow, but that’s ok because nobody is waiting for me to pass or catch a ball.
If my P.E. teacher who yelled at me for not being able to cartwheel and made me stand in the playground in my leotard in January to “take six deep breaths and don’t yawn in my class again” had told me that 30 years on this would me I’d have rolled my teary eyes at her. I don’t know what school sport is like in 2015 but I hope someone tells young girls and boys that even if they don’t take naturally to school sport, they shouldn’t give up on finding what physical activities are right for them. The saddest legacy of school sport for me was that for years I was one of those people who carried the notion that exercise was something I should do rather than wanted to do. It took me years to see the fun in it.
So what made me finally ‘put pen to paper’ on all this? I read this in the Guardian this weekend.
I am about to go to university and really want to have a proper relationship with someone, but I’m too embarrassed to have sex because of my droopy, ugly breasts. I can’t imagine ever taking my clothes off for anyone.”
I’m assuming this young woman is going to university at 18, but whether that’s out by a year or so because of gap years, it doesn’t detract from the fact that this is incredibly incredibly sad. She should be excited about independence, freedom and the possibility of not-needing-to-worry-about-waking-up-the-parents-sex, not fretting about the shape of her breasts.
There is growing debate about the importance of SRE in schools and programmes like Sex in Class are taking it out of the broadsheet comment pages and onto the sofas of the great viewing public. This is good. But I hope that as well as developing appropriate sex education schools also start to consistently and responsibly help young people to deal with their body image issues so they learn to judge themselves not on what their body looks like or how much it weighs, but on what it can achieve, the wonder of how it works and the fun it’s helping them have – inside or outside of the bedroom.
 

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