This is 19-year-old Cecelia. She’s a sophmore in college, avid concert-goer, and hater of the cat that she’s holding. She also HATES her body.
At 19, I was roughly 130 pounds, a size 6, and clearly, adorable AF.
But I thought I was fat. I thought I was ugly. I thought that I needed to do 200 (not kidding) crunches every morning when I woke up and every night before bed. I thought it was necessary to spend over an hour EVERY SINGLE DAY slathering my young, young skin in makeup that would cause breakouts that left scars that I still see in the mirror now, 11 years later.
I grew up poor, brown, and chubby in a tiny town, in a tiny school, in a tiny class of about eight. And when you’re in a class of eight, you’ve got to make fun of somebody to keep the heat off yourself. And, you guessed it, I was that someone.
That narrative stuck; poor, brown, and chubby. When I was in high school: poor, brown, and chubby, in college: poor, brown, and chubby. In my mid-twenties, while I was living well, and independently, so far from where I’d come, it was there: poor, brown, and chubby.
And wanted to be beautiful more than ANYTHING. I had it in my head that if I was beautiful, that it would get me whatever I wanted: a good paying job (really), a husband, likability. Ultimately, I thought being beautiful would give me security.
And never for a second did I let myself believe I might be beautiful. I spent my twenties, so much time, and sooo much money (on make up, clothes, workout gear, diet pills, ect.) desperately trying not to be those three words that I was so sure defined me: poor, brown, and chubby,
I was exhausted and I (stupidly) assumed, inescapably ugly.
I couldn’t even really see me.
I’ve thought about this inability to see myself clearly a lot as I’ve gotten older, and how my body has morphed through my shitty first year of marriage (don’t worry, it’s better now), my weight creeping up a little bit more as I finished my graduate thesis, and hit an all-time high as I carried a tiny person inside of me. I’ve thought about it most this past year as I’ve struggled to lose the “baby weight”.
I was a beautiful girl and I couldn’t see it. I had exactly what I wanted and I missed it.
I’ve been following the news of all of the survivors of sexual assault in (primarily) the film industry and I’ve felt everything from disgusted to grateful. So many of these men have decided and shaped our cultural imagination for what’s appealing and desirable.
They made beautiful women the subjects of stories that were really never about them, but about the men they could “catch” and the lengths that they went through to do so. And these were just the “chick flicks.”
In the movies that were mostly made by and for men (although no one would ever say that), women were hardly more than ornaments. Pretty (and by pretty, I mean mostly middle class) girlfriends, pretty (and by pretty, I mean mostly white) wives, pretty (and by pretty, I mean always, always, always skinny) best friends, always there to unequivocally support their man. Even if he wouldn’t grow up, even if he wouldn’t commit, even if he belittled, mocked or abused her; the pretty girlfriend would be there, smiling all the while.
I think about some of the male characters who have I’ve seen on film; playboys and philanderers, rapists, lost boys, straight-up assholes, all rendered in that glorious Hollywood glow. Painted as “lovable, after all”.
These were the men that I was supposed to love and these were the women I was supposed to be. And if I could be one of these women and get one of these men to love me, it would mean I was beautiful and would get my happily ever after.
Of course, I never could really think I was beautiful within this world. I didn’t fit that mold, and all of the jerky boys I liked were only justified in their jerkiness by what we were being spoon-fed by these men making movies about monsters, probably so they could feel better about themselves.
The horrible thing is, the stories these men put out into the world left scars.
A few weeks ago, the fantastic Leanna Ramsey-Corrales from Leanna Bre Photography came to take some pics of Ammie and me in our natural habitat. Leanna is an awesome, talented, body-positive, documentary style photographer dead set on demolishing outdated beauty standards. She loves people and sees our beauty, and wants to capture it on film.
I was nervous about it because, I’m fat now. It’s what my body is for the time being, and I wish I was thin again, but I’m actually healthy and I have a rich, good life.
I was nervous not only because I’m fat now, but because if there were pictures, there would be evidence of it. There would be a reminder of how I don’t fit into that idealized world of beauty and desirability that a few misogynistic men have created.
After years of contemplation and research and therapy, years of being loved and cared for and celebrated, I’m still trying to belong there. Somewhere within me, that world still matters and it makes me a little sick.
I think the thing I’m most grateful for about all of these men being outed as abusers and ousted from their places is influence, is that it means that there’s now space for new stories. Better stories and better worlds where women are strong, have rich inner lives, and can validate themselves. Stories where men can reckon with their demons on their own (or better yet, within a community of people who love, support, and challenge them) without an enabling Barbie doll, and emerge as better fathers, lovers, and sons.
I want these stories for my daughter, but I need them for myself. And until I start seeing those stories on a screen, I have to write them with my own life. I have to share them with my own body.
I’m proud of those pictures Leanna took of my daughter and me. They’re evidence of my life as an artist and a mother, as a whole human being. I only wish I would have looked more boldly into the lens. Next time, I will.
If you’re interested, you can find the pictures from the shoot here: