Six weeks ago, I attended CatalystCon East—a conference held in Washington, DC designed to spark communication, acceptance, and activism in the field of sexuality. It was literally a life changing experience. I have long struggled with body image and low self-esteem. I decided that if there was anywhere in the world that I would possibly accepted for who I am and not shunned due to my ample curves, it was this conference. I promised myself that I would try, just for that weekend, to see what being confident felt like. Well let me tell you – it was incredible. I was approached and appreciated by men, women, trans men and women. I was kissed by two people that I liked and found attractive. I was fortunate to meet the members of Life on the Swingset and had the opportunity to build a Blanket Fort with them. I met people that understood my sense of humor, appreciated my ideas, and enjoyed spending time with me. It was a breakthrough. No slouching to hide my stomach. No baggy clothes to hide the bulges. I was finally accepting and, dare I say, LOVING my body. It felt phenomenal.
This past weekend I went to visit one of my friends who own a photography studio. She did a photoshoot for me so that I would have professional photos for my website. We had a blast! Naturally I brought the vulva puppet so that she could be featured in a few of the pictures. I sat with her after the shoot and watched her retouch the pictures to edit out shadows, dust, and other tiny details that the naked eye would not normally see. I learned that the camera sees everything–every wrinkle of cloth, every speck of fuzz, and every single imperfection on the subject’s body. I was a bit worried as I saw some of the photos. I felt some of that newfound confidence slip away as I looked at my stomach bulges. I was tempted to ask her to photoshop them away. That is what they do in magazines, isn’t it? She replied calmly, “I could do that, but then these photos wouldn’t be of you anymore.”
She was right. She showed me how easy it is to completely reshape someone’s body in Photoshop. A few clicks of the mouse and pounds vanish. No bulges, no cellulite, no stretch marks. Then I started thinking about it. That confident girl who attended CatalystCon was not Photoshopped. She wasn’t perfect. She was just me, and me was pretty great. I decided not to remove the imperfections. I decided that if my curvy body was enough to keep someone from dating me, or even hiring me as a presenter, then I was probably better off. The confidence is what’s sexy, not the body. I looked back at the pictures and saw myself smiling and happy, not caring about the camera, just enjoying the experience. That was sexy. That was genuine.
I kept the Photoshopped picture as a reminder that anyone can have a “perfect” body with a few clicks of a mouse. Those images online and in magazines are the product of experts who spend their days hiding real bodies and creating fake ones. When we look at photos of models and celebrities, it gives us a false idea of beauty because those photos are not real. Beauty comes from confidence, and confidence comes from loving ourselves as we are–not how we think we “should” be. It’s a daily struggle. Confidence takes practice, but it’s worth the time it takes to develop.