I have never thought much of myself physically, and so for this reason I never spent the day in search of mirrored surfaces in which to check the way I look. I already know what I look like and have somewhat made my peace with the fact that this cannot be changed. I will never look like Angela Jolie and that is that. Brains, smarts, I never questioned. I had enough empirical evidence of all that. But that beauty that could accompany it? Never. I would even have settled for any euphemism, cute, pretty, and so on. None would ever be forthcoming from my family – not until recently. Only in the past five years did my mother regard me and say, You’re a beautiful woman. Nice, but a bit late. I give her credit, but still … I wish it had come earlier, that’s all.
This past holiday, we were with relatives and some friends who were looking over my wallet photos in which there is one of me in Paris. My God, exclaimed on of the guests, you look just like what’s-her-name. I dreaded the next part; would she says Selma from Scooby Doo, who I always identified with my glasses and knees socks. All I ever wanted to be was the svelte blonde one who got all the attention. I was certain she would say Selma or someone equally disturbing to me.
But she didn’t. She said, in fact, You look like a young Ingrid Bergman or Isabella Rossellini. Now this was new to me. I had been told I look like Juliette Binoche before, and could see that in the shape of the face, the mouth, and was many times honored, but that didn’t mean that for a second I bought it. Much as I would have liked, and no matter how sincere her comment, I just couldn’t see it.
I am also convinced that I am a size or two bigger than I actually am – an eight or so (which is still small or good for my height). It does not hold true to reality where I’m a size four or a six, not through dieting but because this is simply my natural weight and equilibrium. They call this inability to see yourself as you are Dysmorphia and lots of young girls with eating disorders have it and thus cannot see themselves as they really are. Hence begins the cycle of binging and purging, dieting all the time and in some case, anorexia,
Admittedly, I am none of those things. I am just a sloth of a dysmorphic, one who would lie about thinking what difference did it matter were I dressed or did not dress, whether I did make up or no make up, shaved my legs every other day or not. Who would notice or care. I could become a human vegetable, sorry for herself, box of tissues within reach (in case of self-pity and endless bouts of crying), I could try on new clothes that would swim on me because they were too big and then convince myself that I must have lost a few (like 20) pounds, That I should keep said clothes for when I return to “my real size.”
Oddly, while I overestimated my body size, I underestimated my breast size pinning myself at 34B and certain this was correct even if I had lines that cut into me at the end of the day. You see, if you are dysmorphic, the world need not make sense. It is all about perception and if you perceive that your breasts are too small, then you will make them such in your head, whether they are or are not. Likewise if large, you may do the exact opposite. Dysmorphia is a contrary state of being. It was my husband who sussed out the bra thing and returned home one day with a box of lingerie all in a size 36C and lo! each bra fit. He also buys me dresses, skirts etc, for presents and they always seem to fit. Though I may be dysmorphic, my husband clearly sees better than I do.
A few years ago, some graduate students approached me as I was reading a book in the park. They asked if I would ever consider modeling and gave me the phone number for the museum school. This was legit. I thought about this a great deal and decided that I would sit in on a class first and then decide,
The model arrived and put on a kimono-like gown. Then she waked up to a platform and let the robe drop, so simply it fluttered to the wood floor. She struck various poses, holding each for about a half hour, and the students, all very serious and studious, drew what they saw. And they saw what I saw: a beautiful young woman, nude and unabashedly so,
Despite a few hesitations, I spoke with my husband and we decided it was a go. I still remember that first class. How nervous I was. How afraid I would get that giveaway nervous red mottling I sometimes got on my chest. But I didn’t. I simply undressed, put on my robe, and stepped up to the platform. The room was silent save for the scratch of pencils and conte crayon on paper. The class was three hours long and holding each pose was incredibly hard work and coming up with a pose even harder. Yet still there was a confidence born of being the only nude person in the room. These students had to look at me, had to draw me, and I reassured myself with this fact over and over again. I alone held the cards: if I was tired, we would break, and so on. Anyone who tells you modeling is “easy”, don’t you believe it. It remains some of the hardest physical work I have ever done in my life.
When we took a break, I asked a few students if I could view their work so far. I was truly amazed at what I saw. I didn’t see a fat girl or Selma. I saw a young woman with her long hair in a bun and a long, sensuous curve in her spine. She was fine-boned, petite, but all in proportion. She was an illustration in a magazine, yet she was me. It was hard to see me but not me. Intellectually I knew this was me, but really believing it was another thing entirely. One student was so kind as to give me one of his drawings.
I still have that drawing; it rests in a frame in my study. These days, the model self and the dysmorphic self have made their peace. I modeled off and on for fine art schools for two years and over the course of those two years, I learned more about who I was and what I looked like than I ever would have in any psychiatrists’ office. I realized, for the first time perhaps, my own real physical worth and I saw myself through the eyes of others and I was not disappointed. I was, to be honest, flattered, knowing that the students had to draw what they saw, not some fantasy but that which is actual. This is not arrogance, it is a simple matter of being honest with yourself, of taking stock and seeing yourself as you are.
I have modeled here and there occasionally for fine art professors and painters, the occasional photographer who is gifted (read: no pornography) and I like the results now. . . for the most part. I’m still making peace with some other bits here and there – stupid things really like the fact that I wear glasses, and so on, but that is just vanity.
If this would work for someone else I’d say try it. Find a reputable school near you and volunteer (you will also be paid for your efforts and can make quite a bit of money; I was and remain very picky about who I model for and would advise you do the same. There are too many creeps which is why I suggest either a same sex artist or a fine arts school which is where I began.
I now buy my clothes in the correct size (okay, well mostly I do), I even buy bras that fit (hallelujah no more lines and painful digging) and when I look in the mirror, still not often but more than before, I am able to see, at times, what those others saw in those classes and while no doubt not everyone will see me that way, when do more than twelve people agree on anything and besides, self confidence must come from within, not from some other’s projection of impression of you. Sure, that all helps, but ultimately, you have to make your peace with yourself so that you can be comfortable in the moment, never wasting a minute questioning what to everyone else seems blatantly obvious.
Thanks for listening,