Even at a month shy of 15, even as a model, even as a young girl who adorned the floor-to-ceiling window of a studio in the center of town, I hated my body. Image: Joni Edelman.
Content notice: alcoholism, emetophobia, internalized fatphobia, pedophilia/ephebophilia.
In my mid-teens, I did some modeling for a local photographer.
It wasn’t a paid or even remotely glamorous gig, but it landed my poster-sized swimsuit-clad barely teenage body on the front window of his studio, and it filled a folder with photos of me in various stages of undress that would only ever be used as spank material for my high school boyfriend — and this article.
I didn’t earn the opportunity in any way. My mom and the photographer, Harv (that’s his actual name), were friends.
By friends, I mean people who drank together, frequently flailed around in each other’s intoxicated arms, almost invariably, when the tequila came on too quick or in too high a quantity, slept on the same bed/floor/couch.
Only recently have I even paused briefly to consider that maybe my mother’s faculties weren’t completely intact, as she allowed me to travel to on-site shoots alone with a middle-aged balding man who lived in the back of his studio, drank some kind of hippie wheatgrass smoothie (before some kind of wheatgrass hippie smoothies were a thing), and showered in the same sink he rinsed his photos in.
Also, he photographed me topless. I was just one month shy of 15.
Sometime near the end of our professional relationship, he asked me to go to the coast with him. He knew of a particular rock formation that allowed for a certain type of desired artistic shadowing, if caught at the right hour.
This location offered the chance of capturing a silhouetted nude.
Oh, and by the way, I had the kind of physique — curvy but not fat, with the kind of bikini tan lines that give the reader the illusion of clothing, making the viewing experience that much more scandalous — that Playboy Magazine just “loved.” They “would pay at least $20K” for my barely-not-too-fat curves and triangle-top tan. And wouldn’t that be “great for college”?
In high school, modeling, especially in swimwear, was bragworthy. The only person who ever questioned the morality of this arrangement was my boyfriend, who I assumed did so out of jealousy (how dare another man see me topless).
This article was meant to be about beach bodies, but some kind of weird pseudo-therapy word-vomit happened.
I’m going to leave it there — if, for no other reason, to remind me that a middle-aged balding man who never used deodorant and slept on a sofa should not have been taking photos of me half-nude.
This lengthy, and probably unnecessary story, was a precursor to the following thought: Even at a month shy of 15, even as a model, even as a young girl who adorned the floor to ceiling window of a studio in the center of town, I hated my body.
Even at 14.
And at 15, 16, 17, 20, 24, 35, etc., etc., I hated my body.
The swimsuit I'm wearing in the photo above, poor 80s styling choices be damned, was chosen for me by someone else — my mother, between alcohol benders, I presume — bought in a store that catered to the hip teen (probably Macy’s; I can’t recall).
My swimsuit portfolio consisted of a one-piece that was really a two-piece with ties on the sides, a red-and-white-polka-dot number, a two-piece white crochet, the strapless peach-and-mint-green thing (pictured above), and a purple cutout abomination.
And I felt fat in all of them.
I wanted to feel as amazing as the adults told me I looked, but I never could muster it.
I know now, on the other side of the hill, that the women around me were probably pining for their youth.
It’s not going to get easier; you’re just going to get older.
I haven’t looked at these photos in years. Pulling them out of the dusty plastic storage box before I wrote this felt equal parts therapeutic and sad.
They were nestled among photos of me at my 14th and 15th birthdays; a trip I took to Florida with my dad, who lived across the country; the winter formal I went to with a goofy-looking guy named Kris; the prom I went to the same year with the guy who would eventually be my first husband; and the father of my three oldest children.
As I shuffled them through my fingers, a deck of scantily-clad cards, the thoughts of a self-loathing, not-quite-15-year-old resting just below the surface echoed in my (almost) 42-year-old brain:
Your thighs are fat.
Your boobs are too small.
Your stomach isn’t flat enough. You need to do more sit-ups.
(I probably should have been thinking, Please rethink this perm.)
It doesn’t get any more difficult to insult ourselves, regardless of how old we are.
It would be ideal if it got easier to respect ourselves, but it generally doesn’t do that either. Every year you age, and every year the aging you looks at the you of the years before and thinks, I can’t believe I thought I was fat/ugly/etc.
Forty-two year old me would like to wrap 14-year-old me in the motherly embrace she yearned for but was never given, and tell her gently in her ear, “You are so much more than your body. You are so much more than this 10-foot window. You are so much more.”
Also, “Harv is a pedophile. Your mother is an alcoholic. You should probably call the authorities. And maybe CPS.”
I’d like to wrap every woman who every loathed her body in that same embrace and tell her, "It’s not going to get easier." There will never be a time that your body will feel “perfect” to you. There will never be a time you are more beautiful than you are right now. You will always be the same beautiful, because beautiful — the real kind — exists outside the confines of a peach-and-mint high-waisted bikini.
Put on the swimsuit now. Stop loathing your precious body. Start loving yourself enough to recognize your inherent worth. Embrace the parts of you that seem impossible to embrace.
It’s not going to get easier; you’re just going to get older. And someday, hopefully before you’re too old to get to the beach at all, this will be so insignificant. So small.
So put it on.
We’re talking this week about beach bodies.
All bodies. We all deserve a place in the sand.
We all deserve to extend to ourselves the kind of love and tenderness a mother would.