This project reveals the relationship between body and self.

Leda / New York City / 09.30.16

Leda / New York City / 09.30.16

photo by mark stablein

Don’t I look amazing?

When I first saw this photo I immediately knew it was THE ONE. I deliberated over the other potentials, meanwhile knowing full well which one I would end up going for.

I pretended to entertain the possibility of picking one that did not highlight my curves or have me in an attractive-from-any-angle pose, but rather one that resembled a Botticelli-esque, real feminine physique, with dimples and flab and weight distributed asymmetrically. But I did not opt for that; that’s not how I role. That’s not how I choose to be seen publicly.

And there’s no problem with that, per se.
I mean, it was a photo shoot, for god’s sake. Isn’t the point of the whole thing to showcase how hot I look?

It took me a while to actually sit down and write this essay. I kept comparing myself to the other brave women (and men) who took part in this project who actually had real shit to deal with, hard shit, and here I was, healthy, with a quote-unquote normal physiology. What could I possibly complain about? What could I share that would be unique, or interesting, or relevant?

As I tried to conjure some sort of scintillating problem about my body, it dawned on me that all of my issues were totally generic, and utterly petty in nature. And that was okay. Because millions of women probably share these problems with me, and likely know all too well the conundrum of how to be a feminist, while battling the narcissistic, self-obsessed egomaniac whose main goal in life is to appeal to men through physical means. But why do I do this? I feel validated and there is a presumed status I feel I am given resulting from this attention; so I lead with sex appeal.

But I figured there wasn’t any point in stating the obvious. If millions of women do indeed feel this way, what’s the point of talking about it?

If the goal is to live as a feminist (a dirty word still to this day), then what is keeping me from doing so?
Yes, I said feminist.

The word sounds somewhat poetic coming from me, but it isn’t; it’s actually apropos. To me, a Feminist is somebody who refuses to engage in activity that degrades women’s status or quality of life, through action or defamation, whether intentionally or otherwise (ignorance isn’t a plausible justification of innocence), lower than that of men’s, and who advocates for women’s rights.

As a woman, it can be argued that I’m automatically a feminist, or, at least, that it’s in my own best interest to become one. For years I actually said things like, “I’m not a feminist”, “I don’t want to be perceived as a feminist.” And, “What does that word even mean?!”

Apparently, I still don’t seem to have my own best interest at heart. My surface interests are concerned with feeling good about myself without doing any self work, which is to say, getting adrenaline rushes via men’s attention. The unintended consequence of which, however, is that, in the pursuit of this attention, I have thrown women right under the bus. This, of course isn’t

something I set out to do, but when I place the priority upon men to give me something I want, I am placing an importance on men above women, because I am telling the world that I need a man to feel good, and that in order to feel good, I have to attain a superior physique, which maligns a woman’s natural physiology, and makes it potentially -and falsely- unappealing to men AND women.

Upon starting this project, my hope was to embark upon a journey of metamorphosis so incredible it would shake everyone through to their core, meanwhile relating to millions of women around the world, and THEN regale everyone with the engaging story.

But actually, this is so much more than sharing a story about my body, and seeing if anyone is moved.
It’s about asking myself, what is my relationship to my body? Is it a healthy one? Is my life’s purpose to interact with men in this way forever, and using my body as a means of determining self-worth?

Hell no.

Is there, then, anything I could be doing to honour this machine that works 24/7 in service to me and doesn’t ask for anything in return?

Well, sure. I could probably stop pouring alcohol, sugar, nicotine, diet soda, self loathing, impossible expectations into it, and just be grateful for the gifts it never stops giving me.

I’ve realized, too, over the past few weeks working on this, that instead of pursuing a sweet aesthetic for the sake of catching men’s glances, I could actually be giving back to my body in the form of exercise. Not to look gorgeous so my ex-boyfriend falls in love with me again (let’s be real) but because, as my mentor once told me, I’m an athlete who doesn’t train. I’ve oft repeated this in an effort to motivate myself in to starting an exercise regime, but it’s impossible to commit to a course of action that requires a change in mindset until my mind changes; and looking at pictures of myself and questioning the relationship I have with my body, I have to admit the truth. This body craves exercise, was designed to pump the lymphatic system. I’m an animal, and I have muscles that atrophy without continued use. I’m way more than a pretty picture. I’m a body with a purpose, and I need to take care of this body.

When I first looked at this picture, I just did a quick hotness-assessment and approved it as worthy. But looking now, I see that I feel ecstatic in my body, and I’m not thinking about what I look like. I’m thinking, how awesome it is to be healthy and alive! And there’s no desire to hide the REAL femininity.

I’m working on it. 

Tess / Toronto / 06.27.16

Tess / Toronto / 06.27.16