How Wearing Lingerie Helped Me Fall In Love With My Body
One of my first memories of body shaming is my mami telling me that my thighs were fat and that I shouldn’t wear shorts. She said it very matter-of-fact in a way that, I think, wasn’t meant to hurt my feelings but still left an emotional scar on my pre-pubescent body. I was in the 5th grade and, after that day, never again wore shorts to school. However, now that I am an adult, I’ve slowly learned to embrace and love my body with all of its perfect imperfections — and I do that largely thanks to sexy lingerie.
My mother’s declaration that I was a “gordita” and my family’s ability to put on weight easily (and never exercise or eat well), I spent much of my teen years and early adulthood feeling ashamed of myself.
Looking back at my early childhood, I knew I was different early on. Although my family had originally moved to Miami when we first came to the United States when I was eight years old, we eventually made it to the southwest coast of Florida where I was the only Latina I knew growing up.
Because of this, I was quickly confronted with classmates who were, well, nothing like me. They had quiet, calm parents who never had screaming matches like mine. They had tiny, skinny bodies whereas I have had large thighs for as long as I could remember.
Long before Jennifer Lopez made curves and big booties cool, I was struggling with body image issues and only seeing way-too-skinny 90s models in the media.
At the time, I didn’t know what body positivity meant or how I could get some until I was well into my 20s. In high school, I was overweight and eventually obese. In college, I lost 90 pounds but regained 80 of them after I started my first stressful job at the beginning of the Great Recession. All the while, I kept hearing my mami’s voice constantly telling me that I was too fat. She continued to say that to me throughout my entire life — up until the point that I got “too skinny” for her, that is. But deep down, I knew something was up. Life couldn’t be solely about gaining and losing the same weight over and over again.
Unable to maintain a healthy body weight on my own and afraid of what lifelong morbid obesity would mean for my overall health, I received a gastric bypass shortly before my 23rd birthday. But during my preparation for the life-altering surgery, I met with my doctor who taught me a very valuable lesson: He told me that he was simply giving me a tool to help me manage my weight. I would need to do the work myself in order to learn to eat better and, most importantly, grow comfortable in my body.
It turns out that I had been in a perpetual cycle of stress eating, feeling bad about it, and then eating some more.
I needed to heal my mind as well as my body before I could truly learn to love myself.
The journey to love my body seemed impossible at first. I didn’t know where to start, so I started by reading magazine articles about accepting my body and embracing my curves. This was the days before runways began to feature curvy beauties like Denise Bidot (and other plus-size Latina models) or you could simply search the #bodypositive hashtag on Instagram. But I had to start somewhere, so I started there. Then an ex-boyfriend recommended I try lingerie and I was HOOKED.
I began to scour the internet for scantily clad women in sexy lingerie. The caveat is that they had to be women that looked like me: Women with curves, big thighs, loads of cellulite. They had to look comfortable and exude sexiness; and not just because they were models. I wanted to connect with the women I saw in those images as much as I wanted to feel good imagining myself in their clothes. I discovered pin-up style in my searches and, soon after, the plus-size friendly clothing site, Unique Vintage.
I bought my first bikini on that site. It was white and made me look and feel just like Marilyn Monroe in those famous images of her on the beach (though she actually wore a one-piece). Eventually, I started to sneak into Victoria’s Secret and try on their lingerie. I was still too scared to buy it for myself in front of others, fearing their judgment, so instead, I would go home after each trip and browse through the lingerie on the Frederick’s of Hollywood site.
I fell in love with everything lacy, especially anything that was red or black or a combination.
Although I owned several of these sexy things, I was still too scared to show it off to anyone.
I wanted to, but I was scared. Loving your body is a journey and, although I was at a weight I was finally happy with and generally comfortable in my body, I could still hear my mami in the back of my head telling me that my thighs were huge. It was an uncomfortable feeling and, to be honest, why none of the items in my growing lingerie collection included thigh-highs despite me finding them to be a very alluring look on other women. Just before my 25th birthday, I decided to do something daring and bought a Groupon for a boudoir photo shoot. The expiration date was six months away, so my promise to myself was that I would spend that time going to the gym and getting in shape, then schedule my photoshoot.
But I didn’t go to the gym. Instead, I let the coupon expire and tried not to think of it for years.
During that time, I continued my journey to loving my body. I learned how to nourish it by eating well. I learned to cook healthy meals because I enjoyed time in the kitchen. I learned to put post-it notes on my mirror that read “I love me for who I am RIGHT NOW” and repeat that mantra every time I got out of the shower, while I was still naked. I learned to not feel shy by walking around my apartment naked on Saturday mornings, making breakfast and reading my favorite magazines.
Little by little, I bought more and more lingerie — modeling it for myself in front of the mirror at least once a week — and learned to love my body more and more.
And then, just before my 30th birthday, I finally booked that boudoir photoshoot.
To be honest, I was terrified when I walked into the Boudoir by Nomi studio on a snowy Sunday afternoon just two days before my 30th birthday a couple of March’s ago. I still wasn’t completely in love with my thighs (though working on it) and I didn’t know what to expect. But photographer Nomi Ellenson was incredibly encouraging and shared with me her own lingerie and body positivity stories (her great-grandmother was a bra-fitter!). She specializes in photography that focuses on helping women feel more comfortable in their bodies and wasn’t just taking photos for someone’s boyfriend’s Valentine’s Day present. Instead, she made me feel comfortable instantly and even gave me helpful advice about which of the several lingerie outfits I brought to our session I should wear.
Ultimately, I chose my favorite sheer black curve-hugging dress and focused on red accents, like my lips and shoes. Did I mention how much I love that black-and-red combo?
Beyond that, the experience of actually doing something for myself was thrilling. It took over five years and, really, a lifetime of getting comfortable with my body but now I proudly have evidence of my lingerie photoshoot hanging in my bathroom. It’s a daily reminder of how far I’ve come on my body positivity journey. And even though there are still some morning when I wake up and just, ahem, don’t love myself very much, all I have to do is look at that picture and remember: Damn, I really do look good.