"you can be the elephant, obviously."
- at a friend's house while playing "the sims zoo", age 10.
"you should really stop eating before you come back."
- an aim message from a girl on another cheerleading team, when she found out i was re-joining the cheerleading team that year, age 12. (she wasn't even on my fuckin' TEAM!! get a LIFE, ALLISON.)
"if you want a nose job, we could get you one."
- random conversation starter from a family member, age 14.
"i just feel bad. all these guys like me and never you."
- a former best friend, age 14.
"if a guy has low enough standards, then MAYBE he'd date you. MAYBE."
- unwarranted advice from a close male family member at a wedding, age 20.
"oh, those chicken nuggets won't go with your boudoir shoot, ha!"
- comment from an old coworker as i ate a plateful of chik-fil-a nuggets after i mentioned to them in confidence that i had just booked a boudoir shoot for myself, 8 months ago.
and so i booked a boudoir photo session for myself. how could i not go through with this after seeing a facebook post like the one below coupled with my uncanny ability to blow $80 in 15 minutes?
"Valentines can be a weird time, so it's the perfect time to love and honor yourself! AND, whether it's a gift for yourself or for someone special in your life, you'll receive the images with enough time to give them for the holiday. All sessions include coffee, treats, super fun music, and rosé! Comment below or email me ASAP to snag your spot. I am so excited...it's going to be like an empowering staycation! :)"
since i'd been living in LA for over a year, i was very firmly into the dangerous "but this is self care!!!" budgeting mindset. i was also starting to feel nice about myself for the first time without waiting on someone else to prove my worth to me which, WOW. YUGE!
it was very important to capture some semblance of me right at this moment in time. it had been 10 years since i had "recovered" from my eating disorder, a term i'll always have to put in quotation marks because the fucker shape-shifts on me constantly and turns my brain into a dumpster fire. but at this moment, i felt really quietly in control, not clutching. i slowly felt less anxious about having my photo taken (there is a 5 year span of my childhood where the photos don't exist...because i threw them out.) i had also gotten into all the grad school programs i had applied to. i was knee-deep in yoga teacher training. i taught myself to drive, in los angeles, with the car i had just bought. i loved where i lived and also all the friends i had made.
i had also just had a bad first acid trip with the wrong people in san diego and the resulting evening was so traumatic to the point where i drove back to los angeles in an acid halo the next day and promptly told everyone who was crossing my gnarled and badly managed boundaries precisely where to actually shove it for a full week (just kidding i still do this).
with all this going on, i was very quietly content for probably the first time ever as an adult, despite living in a city where most bodies aren't the "ideal" and even my general practitioner asked if i'd be interested in a special deal they had on "fat freezing" after telling me my EKG came back abnormal. i still get targeted ads for nose jobs.
you can tell by all of these photos that i definitely ate lots of chicken nuggets four days before, because i don't completely loathe myself as much as i did when i was a starved, 89 lb 15 year-old (suck on that, old coworker! go fuck right off with your paleo bullshit! i'm sure your dumps are SUPER WEIRD).
so i wanted to see how this all looked on me. and i was shocked, especially as someone who once asked her friend, (who had just taken truly wonderful, heartfelt portraits of me), who the girl in the nice photos were (i literally didn't recognize myself): "it's you, you pretty fucktard," she replied. this memory makes me come to like a dose of smelling salts when i'm being a incapacitated by being a damn douche-canoe.
which means the boudoir experience was like being tasered square in the groin. i both love and hate these photos, much like i love and hate therapy, because it forces me to see all my carefully crafted bullshit and trauma and awful thoughts and stories i've made myself believe. and it's all careening towards me at once like a cartoon rabbit stuck to train tracks at precisely the wrong moment without any chalk to draw a tunnel into a mountainside.
i'm deep in the figurative shit every time i look at these photos because the ones i hate of myself are the ones i am terrified to admit are how i probably, actually look and i can't come to terms with it (thoughts generated: "obviously, all of my exes dated me out of charity", "this is why that one guy lost interest", "i'd be a fucking idiot to feel good about how i look and thus how i feel, really ever.")
as for the ones that i think look nice, i don't believe they are actually me, that it's a sneaky trick of lighting and reflections and film-grade dry ice mist. i might actually have looked graceful and comfortable for *just* a tiny moment, but it's never going to happen again. (thought generated: "because how?!")
thanks to my good frienemy, OCD, i often spend weeks counting how long it's been since i feel these comfortable moments, never reminding myself that it could happen again, but rather that it already passed me by and probably won't again. that i'm greedy to want the feeling again. it's precious. i have to look at myself, this frankenstinian body mocked up with trauma and bad jokes and my overly distinct cackle and lack of volume control and little proof from external sources that i could dare to expect much.
i'm not even going to say i look like "strong" or something trite like that, because i don't look strong in the photos. i look uncomfortable in so many of these photos. i am sorting through feelings in all of the photos. i am having fun in these photos, as the photographer was lovely and she basically took photos of me talking loudly and with lots of hand motions, which is me in my resting state, but i am very clearly trying my own skin on for size and wondering if it perhaps comes in another variety.
truth be told, my immediate thoughts after getting the dropbox album from the photographer was, "wow i paid $80 to confirm i look like shit? COOL!" then i have to remember i wanted to capture myself in a moment in time and not me at my most glossed over and caked up and irrelevant. it's sort of like the one bit of motherly shopping advice i always give people: "go shopping for clothes on the first day of your period. that's your real size." this is my real size.
it's a weird cocktail of emotions in the photos and she captured it all. i want to hug me in these photos. i'm stuck with her and i'm glad i'm mine (sometimes), of all the people i could have been.
the nasty awful parts of my brain are the drunk friend i have to trick into the uber home with the promise of a 3am falafel. she's considerate enough to hold in her vom until we get out of the car, but fuck, does she drip tahini EVERYWHERE.
the more i look at these photos, which i do secretly every few months from the comfort of my phone on constant 13% battery, i look at myself with a lot more kindness.
i realize i am like a snake eating its tail and i'd be better off choosing a different snack besides my own damn tail for once.
all photos by rachael lee.