How a body painting model helped me love myself again

July 2 2014 | Guest post by Bad Wolf PDX
How body painting helped me love myself again
By: ZoeCC BY 2.0. (This isn't the author)
I've got quite a butt. And my hips are, shall we say, very conducive to child-bearing. I play roller derby, so my thighs are nice and thick. I'd like to think they're all muscle, but I'd be kidding myself. I've also been pregnant once, so I've got a bit of a pooch, and my boobs are huge.

But hey, I'm actually okay with all of that. In fact, I let the entire city of Portland see my naked body during the World Naked Bike Ride, and I was damn proud of how I looked. I wasn't ashamed, self-conscious (well, maybe a tiny bit at first), or embarrassed.

For the first time in my life, I was proud of my body and I was ready to show it.

How did I get there? How did I, someone who has always either been on some kind of diet or wracked with guilt and shame for not sticking to one, finally feel good about myself and proud of myself enough to stop hiding my body?

It's been a very long time coming, and all it took was one afternoon watching a model get body painted to turn my whole view around…

I spent the last seven years of my life being in a relationship that was not good for my self-esteem. Years of constantly falling short of someone I loved started to chip away at what little self-esteem I started with. I hated looking in the mirror; I hated taking showers and having to wash what I thought of as my disgusting body. Attempting to dress up and feel better usually ended up in me dissolving into tears and changing back into my pajamas. I was a mess. This spring, I left that relationship, and shortly after, entered into a new one.

I assisted my new fella, the creator and editor of a Portland-based magazine, in securing an interview with a body painter I had met during one of my derby league's fundraisers. Being the self-conscious person I was, the thought of volunteering myself for this project was brief and fleeting. I figured there was no way my body could look good being painted like that, as it requires the model to be naked (ie. no Spanx to hold everything together).

However, over the six hours it took to paint her from start to finish, I started thinking very heavily about what I was seeing and feeling, and my epiphany started taking shape.

The model being painted was gorgeous; she had an amazing, athletic body, and talked with pride about how much weight she could squat in one set. She was tight and toned all over, and clearly had the perfect body for being painted up. To my surprise, as the afternoon progressed, it became clear that she still had her own hang ups about what she looked like. I got to thinking, how could this beautiful woman have the body most people would envy, and yet still not feel "perfect"?

So many of us are critical of ourselves, and we manage to find flaws where there are none. Why is that? What are we afraid of? Why are we hiding? I decided that day that I would not hide anymore. I broke up with the diet I was on. I stopped obsessing about my weight. I decided for myself that I am good enough for me, and I was done trying to impress people I would never meet. I was done killing myself to make others feel more comfortable with my appearance.

I emailed the body painter and said I would love to be a body painting model, and in return he said he would love to paint me. He said everyone has a perfect body for painting, because in the end, it's all art and bodies are beautiful.

And with that, I've grown from someone who would cover parts of herself with her arms to hide her flab, to someone who proudly struts around the streets of Portland naked, with nothing to hide. That confidence and pride is incredibly sexy.

Don't get me wrong, I still have hang-ups from time to time, but I can laugh at how ridiculous they are now. I take care of my body. I eat what I want, in moderation. I stay active by playing roller derby, belly dancing, riding my bike, and going on walks with my kiddo instead of busting my ass at the gym. I am worth more than my looks or my housewife abilities.

This life is a wonderful life, and I am done wasting it worrying about my body fat percentage and counting calories.

  1. First, you are freaking amazing!

    Second, I'd like to say how proud I am to hear that you left such a damaging relationship. I had been in one years ago and know how horrible they can be. Emotional abuse can even more damaging than physical abuse. It takes guts and a whole lot of courage to take yourself to the next level. You are very strong! And, the fact that you had a child is a badge of honor that you should be incredibly proud of 🙂

    Body image is something that a ton of us ladies struggle with on a day-to-day basis. I am one of them. What we don't realize is that we are ALL beautiful inside and out! The media has screwed with our beautiful heads since day one. Not only that, but women (not all, but a good majority) tend to beat each other up over body image, what we are wearing, what we do, etc. We have to STOP this!

    Your post was super refreshing to hear. You are one more woman in this world that we NEED! Thank you so much for posting, I definitely needed to hear this.

    BTW, I used to be a Roller Girl. Damn sprained ankle and school getting in the way!

    • Oh geez, thank you so much for that wonderful reply! This year is the year for taking risks, and as shown by the above AND the fact that I gutted up to do a guest post when I was scared to was huge for me. Thank you for being encouraging!

  2. "I got to thinking, how could this beautiful woman have the body most people would envy, and yet still not feel "perfect"?"

    We live in a culture where media will tear down "beautiful" people, so how could any of us ever feel like we are good enough. I think we all just have to decide that we are good enough, and that there is no perfect.

    I am a plus size woman and I constantly struggle with how I feel about my body, I tend to swing between "Fuck it" I am who I am or "Fuck it" I just won't think about it, having a husband that loves my body definitely helps me live more on the side of " I am who I am."

    Thank you for writing an inspiring piece about loving who you are on all levels and congratulations on being in healthy relationship with yourself and a new partner.

    • Thank you. If I can touch just one person with this post I will be a happy lady. I definitely still have my bad, self-hate days for sure. To think that the negative things I say to myself during those days are also things other women say to themselves just breaks my heart. You totally nailed it. We don't have to see ourselves as perfect, but we don't have to be perfect just to impress anyone but ourselves.

  3. I was body painted three hours before performing naked on stage with no choreography or preparation in a charity burlesque show.

    best night ever!

  4. "This life is a wonderful life, and I am done wasting it worrying about my body fat percentage and counting calories."

    FUCK YEAH!

  5. "I am worth more than my looks or my housewife abilities."
    this is going to become a sign in my kitchen!

    so glad that you are out and proud! nothing is more sexy than confidence.
    there are all kinds of people and they are drawn to all kinds of people and the more we feel less-than and hide ourselves away, the fewer the opportunities we have to meet those people.

    • I agree! It's so much more than just loving yourself or seeing yourself as beautiful, it's about not hiding anymore!

  6. I constantly battle with my self image and have actually given up on a lot of dreams because of it (belly dancing and roller derby being two of the major ones) this whole article has given me hope. I hope you don't mind if I add you on fb, sometimes I need a reminder that I'm more than just a housewife and a mommy (although I do love my kiddos more than anything 😉

    • I absolutely don't mind! That link is to my derby fan page. Feel free to look up my personal page and friend me there. Facebook.com/rocknmotomama

  7. Funny how this crazy internet works – I'm the girl from the photoshoot and today I stumbled on this article through Matt's facebook 🙂
    I'm so glad we could have such a positive impact! We have such crazy ideas about our own bodies, about art, about beauty, about what's "good" and what's "bad," and our own worth. Being an athlete and a bodypaint model allows me to use my body functionally and beautifully and helps me to believe from the inside out that I am capable, strong, and worthy. I'm so glad I could share that message with you. If you have permission from the magazine, I'm sure Matt and I would be fine with you using photos from the shoot on this post if you would like. It was such a lovely painting and that picture above doesn't quite do it justice!
    Preach that self-love girl!

    • Gretchen! Thank you for being such a big part of this. That photo shoot was literally life changing.

  8. I really enjoyed this article! I've been chubby my whole life and I find that usually I do better having a healthier lifestyle when I'm NOT obsessing about it than when I'm really focused on it (or especially if someone else around me is giving "helpful" input – then I kind of rebel against that person or their input and tend to be especially unhealthy, "I can eat this if I want to, damn it!").

    And as mentioned somewhere above: confidence is everything! Even a gorgeous woman who is walking with shoulders slumped and eyes to the floor won't look gorgeous that way. And I guess that's the thing – she obviously doesn't realize she's gorgeous and that's basically all of us.
    (Says the girl who has albums full of photos featuring hands and arms trying to hide her stomach… I'm not saying it's easy!)

  9. What a wonderful article! Thank you for posting.

    When I was going through recovery for an eating disorder, I found that curbing harmful self-talk was one of the hardest hurdles to overcome. My therapist helped frame it in a different way. When I'd say something negative about my body, she'd ask me "Would you say that to your daughter? To a child you love?" I was horrified at the thought of saying something so cruel to someone I love so dearly. And then she'd counter – then why would you say it to yourself?

    I learned two things from that. First, I am just as beautiful and worthy as my daughter. I don't deserve to be beaten down and belittled by the critical voice in my head. And second, if I say these things around my daughter, I'm inadvertently teaching her that this is how women view themselves and how she should view herself.

    It took me a long time to believe that I was beautiful and valuable and worthy. Until I got to a healthy emotional place, it helped to use the question "Would you say that to your daughter?" as a filter for how to talk about my body.

    Thanks again!

  10. Thank you! I needed this today. I was always fit looking – when I joined the Army, I realized how out of shape I was. I stayed in shape after getting out and was back down to my pre-baby weight 17 days after giving birth to my first… a fact that I was always really proud of until my second. She turned two in April and I could not manage the pre-baby weight, even with eating right and exercising obsessively. Fast forward to last January when I quit working and went back to school. The obsession changed from exercise to getting those sweet, sweet grades and I've packed on about ten pounds – all in my thighs and this weird fat pocket on my stomach that was left over from a surgery on my lower intestine in 2009. I was doing amateur weight-lifting when I got pregnant with my second… I look at pictures of myself in those times and remember my thought process – I was almost entirely lean muscle and was focused on every ounce of fat left, where I felt I needed to tone myself up more. I caught myself thinking about how much I'd like to look like that again and realized that I'd still be focusing on the perceived flaws.

    Loving yourself can be harder than anything. It doesn't matter if you weigh 100 or 1000 pounds, if you're not in that loving state, you will find flaws until you just start to love yourself. So sure, I don't have that definition I once worked so hard and was not entirely happy with, I have a number of surgical scars (and one is flanked by a weird fat pocket), and I need to go shopping for pants and panties that will fit me comfortably. But I'm the best I've ever been and I am striving to do the best for me and my family. Which means that the 45 minute workout once a day is alright, it's okay to eat crappy foods a couple times a week, and I need to accept that I am not Super Woman and I never was.

    So thank you for reminding me that I can love myself, despite my lack of superhuman powers.

  11. Yes, this part "I take care of my body. I eat what I want, in moderation." is what I am constantly explaining to people. I have absolutely nothing against those who take their diets and exercise regiments very seriously, it takes a lot of will power/self control and all that good stuff. But I know that it is not for me, I do not enjoy being on a strict diet, so I will not stay on one.
    I'm a health and physical education teacher, I participate in crossfit and pole dancing… I too talk about my one rep maxes, I usually buy the healthier food options, and I feel the healthiest and am heaviest (lbs) I have EVER been and people still comment on my "fit" physic. It is all about what YOU and out of YOUR life. I might not ever be as "cut" or "ripped" as some of the other people I work out with but I personally am willing to forego that in order to eat what I want when I want within reason.

    Continue to do what makes you happy and healthy!! Kudos!

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