Body image has always been a tough one for me. After puberty, my relationship with my body turned dysmorphic. I’ve tried plenty of diets: counting calories, cutting out carbs, counting calories, cutting out food, counting calories, exercising obsessively, cutting out food while exercising obsessively…it goes on. My diets have focused more on denial and punishment than on fads or superfoods. It must have something to do with control. When I’ve spent several days eating well and exercising regularly, I feel like the shit. But then, inevitably, I slip up, give up, and start binging: I feel bloated and all I can see are love handles and cellulite and a stomach paunch.
In the interest of full disclosure, I should note that ~technically~ I am very thin. I know that I benefit from thin privilege on a regular basis. But as anyone who has ever habitually criticized their body knows, it is very, very difficult to see my body as anything other than the sum of its flaws. On a given day, I might notice something I like about my body (hey collarbones!), but my mind immediately juxtaposes this trait with a flaw (“your collarbones aren’t any good when you’ve got armpit fat bubbling out of your tank top”). I’ve grown so accustomed to analyzing my body against an impossible, arbitrary standard of perfection. I’m not used to searching for anything good.
A little less than a year ago, I found myself in a long-distance relationship. I was looking at eight months worth of long distance, and I’d only get to see my special boink buddy during major holidays. It sucked. So, like any horny millennial, I sent my boo some naughty pics. In general, I avoid taking pictures of myself—poor body image and seflies do not a happy pair make. But seeing photos of myself was different this time. I went into my little photo shoots with the intention of taking a picture that would turn someone else on. It wasn’t like looking in the mirror, where I’d trained myself to hunt down imperfections. I was trying to find something that I liked, something I’d want someone else to see. I scrolled through photos of myself, and I ended up keeping more than I deleted. I didn’t just want my partner to see these, I wanted to see them.
Objectification isn’t for everyone. In a better world, I wouldn’t need to see myself as something desirable to someone else in order to learn to like the way I look. But this shift in perspective was what I needed. I probably look at nude photos of myself more often than my partner does, because I like how sexy they make me feel. I check myself out in the mirror when I’m changing. I parade around our apartment in cute underwear. I still hate my body sometimes, but slowly it’s getting better. I’m getting better at reframing the gaze I direct at myself.