Photography by Claire Oswald
A few days ago my friend Claire hit me up asking if I could help her out last minute with modeling for a bra company that she was working with. Typically, I’m not one to shy away from being in front of the camera, but this gave me pause. Let me preface this by saying that I know that I am not overweight or ugly or undesirable or gross. When I look in the mirror most days, I can logically recognize that I was given a very capable and active body that has the ability to accomplish pretty much whatever I ask it to. Mentally, that’s not always the case.
I’ve had body issues ever since I can remember. Growing up as a classically trained Balanchine ballerina until age 12 does a fucking number on you, let me tell you! I started dance classes at age two and quickly discovered my natural rhythm and love of performing. But while I overall enjoyed dance, I knew that I wasn’t like the other girls. “You just have bigger bones” my mom would tell me trying to comfort me. I wasn’t an idiot – I saw how the other dancers and teachers looked at me. There was one moment in particular that stands out in my mind – I was about 6 or 7 and was getting fitted for my Cinderella costume. Already self-conscious about the fact that I was taller and just generally larger than the other girls, I wasn’t looking forward to this moment. As the resident seamstress got to the ribcage area and started to zip up the beautiful costume, my worst nightmare came true – the zipper would not zip all the way up. “Looks like someone needs to stop eating so many McDonald’s cheeseburgers!” the seamstress sneered. Desperately hoping no one had heard, I cast my gaze to the floor in an attempt to ignore the color of scarlet that my face was turning. My self-image was never the same after that moment.
From there, it was what I like to consider a pretty typical journey of someone with an eating disorder. All throughout middle school, I battled forms of anorexia or bulimia masked as over-exercising. I would team up with a friend and compete to see who could eat less or who could take the most laxatives to flush any unwanted traces of fat from our systems (we clearly had no regard for or clue of what this was doing to our developing 13-year-old bodies). When high school hit, I felt a little more confident. I was maturing, getting breasts and hips. My athletic career had blossomed into something I was proud of, I’d switched dance studios and pretty much only enjoyed hip-hop (where all bodies are celebrated). I still wasn’t pleased with what I saw in the mirror, but it was better than it had ever been.
Then there was college. I worked my ass off for the opportunity to swim at a Division III level. Truthfully, one of the proudest moments in my life was when my coach told me he’d be happy to give me a spot on the team. I made it my mission to train harder than I’d ever trained. It paid off, but it also morphed my body into something I’d never seen before. Suddenly I went from a toned high school athlete that spread herself out over three sports, to a buff, college swimmer with shoulders and traps to match. I was still in shape but suddenly I was living in a body that I didn’t recognize. Hadn’t I just gotten used to where I was at?! What the actual fuck.
As you can imagine, the story continues, as I believe it will in some capacity for the rest of my life. Today I am in a place where I’m thankful that I’m healthy and able to move and dance and live with little inhibition. Do I love what I see? No. I know I’m capable of looking “better,” I know that this isn’t the best I’ve ever looked, I know that I’m not exercising enough (which for me is HUGE for my mental and physical health), I know that my body will continue to fluctuate up and down and change shapes for the rest of my existence.
When Claire asked me to model bras for her, I said yes with little hesitation. Yet, it was the most vulnerable I’ve ever felt. It’s hard not to want to nitpick everything that I wish I could change. Thanks to Claire, it was easier to open up and push through those insecurities and find the fun and joy in it all. I’m appreciative that this unearthed some shit that I’m still working on and I’m thankful for the opportunity to share my story of struggling with body image with all of you. I say it all the time but social media is just a highlight reel. If this reaches just one person and helps then push through their own body insecurities then it was all worth it.