Tag Archives: Self Discovery

I Woke Up Like This

Last Spring, a friend brought to my attention the existence of a photography project called I Woke Up Like This and suggested that I consider participating in it. Conducting some research, I learned that the mission of the project is to remove criticism from the perception of our bodies by witnessing the vulnerability, beauty and imperfections of other bodies. As a social experiment, the project strives to weave individual stories with the narratives of these photographs, connecting viewers and participants on a mutual journey to find empathy, self-awareness and self-love.

I was happy to discover that Jillian Powers, the project’s creator, was traveling to Denver to meet participants who were willing to strip naked and expose their most vulnerable selves, sans makeup or fancy hairdos, for the camera. Of course, I immediately expressed my interest. A chance to further the fat-positive cause AND be a part of a social project pioneered by an award-winning portrait photographer? Yes, please! Where do I sign up?

I knew that by participating, it would mean removing all of my clothing in front of strangers. I also knew that there would be conversations surrounding body image and self-esteem. What I didn’t anticipate from the experience was having to face my own vulnerability; I am imperfect, I am fat, I am covered in stretch marks and cellulite and dimpled body parts. Being stark naked in a photo shoot with doors and windows wide open and strangers nearby managed to push a few unexpected insecurities to the surface.

Yet, despite those fleeting thoughts of self-doubt, I remained positive and uplifted. I gleaned something extremely valuable from that afternoon spent in front of Jillian’s professional camera lens: the realization that I am, without apology, a perfectly imperfect human being. Every single one of us is. And it’s crucial, absolutely crucial, that we remember that.

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Interview with Jillian Powers

/// BEFORE SHOOT ///

What level is your self-esteem at from 1-10?
Nine.

That’s awesome!
I worked to get here.  It didn’t come easily.

Are you nervous?
Not as nervous as I thought I’d be. I was more nervous thinking about coming here, then I got here and it feels more exciting. More exciting than nervous.

Why did you want to participate in this project?
It’s an important project. I believe in positive body image, spreading the word of respecting yourself and loving yourself. That includes me. I’m still a work in progress myself. This project is an opportunity to be a part of a bigger picture. To be able to spread this message to the world.

With all the blogs, social media interaction, and so on…body positivity is important to me.

/// AFTER THE SHOOT ///

What is your self-esteem level now?
Nine point five.

How did the shoot affect your self-esteem?
It definitely lifted it, because I don’t look at pictures of myself naked. I don’t even own a full-length mirror. I’m not afraid to be naked, or see myself naked. It’s just fascinating to see myself through your lens.

How has your body affected your self-esteem throughout your life?
By third grade, I was wearing a bra – not because I wanted to, but because I needed to. No one else in my grade was wearing a bra at that point.

How did that make you feel?
Very self-conscious. I felt like a bit of a freak. I definitely felt fat. I was already getting the curvy hips, the belly. And most of my friends were thin. Limber. Athletic. All my friends could do cartwheels. Everything I tried to do in respect to that with my body just wasn’t on the same page. My body was holding me back from doing physical things.

What did that teach you about being fat when you were little?
I started finding other parts of satisfaction in my life. I turned to creative paths, things that didn’t require my physical body to be limber and fit and accomplishing physical tasks. This doesn’t mean that I wasn’t active; I participated in physical games and sports and ran around with friends. I was a very active kid. I just always felt like I couldn’t get to that level of athleticism that others could reach.

How old where you when you first began negative self-talk?
I would say sixth grade, eleven or twelve year old. It was my first year attending public school, and I didn’t have to wear a uniform. I felt out of place. I didn’t know how to dress right. I wasn’t popular. Boys only liked me because of my boobs. Girls didn’t like me because of my boobs. It was the first year I experienced bullying.

You run a body positivity blog, tell me how that began?
I went through a divorce about five years ago now, and my marriage had been very emotionally damaging to me. When I finally made the decision to get out of the marriage, I found a renewed sense of self that I had not experienced for decades, and I wanted to express that.

What caused that new sense of self?
When I was married, my husband was a negative, dominating personality in the relationship. Emotionally, he was overbearing, belittled me, made me feel stupid. Verbally, he made little jabs that consistently put me down. He never outright complained about my weight, but we did not have a close, intimate relationship like a husband and wife should have. It wasn’t satisfying, and it wasn’t loving. He didn’t treat me like he desired me, there was no romance between us. Eventually, the verbal and emotional abuse wore me down.

How did that make you feel about your body?
Prior to the divorce, I did not like my body. I liked myself as a person but I was ashamed of my body. I sort of retreated into myself, wore baggy clothing to hide all the rolls and the curves. I just didn’t want to acknowledge my own body. When I left the marriage, I realized that I wasn’t actually the person he’d manipulated me into believing I was. I was better than that. And I knew that I could love my whole self, body and all.

Do you have children?
Yes, I have a son, he’s sixteen. Before this project, I sat down and told him what it entails – that it’s going to be online, in a book, etc. The first thing he said to me was, “GOOD! We need more of that.”

What is the biggest struggle you’ve faced in your life thus far?
Being comfortable in my own skin. I think I’m almost there. My biggest hope is to inspire people to be comfortable in their own skin. It opens up a whole other pathway to happiness. Discovering your own inner and outer beauty is the key. I’ve had many friends through the years tell me they look up to me because I don’t come off as someone with low self-esteem. I don’t worry about what other people think about me, for the most part. I don’t make decisions based on what other people might think of me.

Are you a feminist, and why?
Yes. I know that there are a lot of women who claim not to be feminists because there can be negative attitude surrounding it – that feminists are aggressive, man-hating, don’t want to be mothers, etc., and I don’t think that’s it at all. It’s making sure that all women are seen as vital people in this world. Women have just as big a part in this world as men do. I’m not a man hater, and I’m not afraid of being sexual. Femininity to me is being strong with who you are, embracing who you are. It’s being a mother, it’s being a businessperson, it’s being whatever you wanna be. Whoever you wanna be. Not letting anyone tell you you’re not good enough or don’t have the right skills or that you’re not smart enough because of your gender.

Any last words for the readers?
My mantra is that I try to live an extraordinary life, even through ordinary circumstances.

 

For more information on I Woke Up Like This or to participate in the project, visit http://www.iwultproject.com/join-the-movement/

 

 

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Recognition and Reaffirmation

Yesterday, for the first time (that I am aware of) I ran into someone who recognized me as Enchanted Zaftig. Although I have many friends who know and support my EZ mission, I’ve never before been approached by someone whom I have never met, who only knows me as Enchanted Zaftig.

cartIt was in the frozen foods section of a grocery store that I never shop at. While navigating down the slightly cramped aisle, I approached a woman coming the opposite direction and tried my best to steer clear of her shopping cart with my own. As we passed, we made eye contact, and I smiled and said hello, because I like to smile and acknowledge people who take the time and have the confidence to meet my gaze. To my surprise, she stopped her cart and said my name. I turned to her, searching my memory for recognition, but her face was unfamiliar to me.

“I follow you on Facebook,” she said with a smile. “Your Enchanted Zaftig page.”

This news both took me by surprise and made me immensely happy. If a stranger in the frozen foods section of an obscure little grocery store recognizes me, then perhaps it’s safe to say that I’ve made some sort of impact with my Enchanted Zaftig project. No matter that I was in my weekend blue jeans and flip-flops at the time, with disheveled hair and no makeup and a cart full of random food items; I’ve always thought that if I could positively influence at least one person in this world, in this lifetime, then I’d feel accomplished in my ongoing efforts to inspire, spread knowledge and give encouragement to the women (and men) out there who feel oppressed and frustrated with societal body stigmas.

Thank-YouSo to Miss Dora in the Sav-A-Lot aisle… I say “Thank You” … for stopping your grocery cart, for taking a moment to say hello to me, and for reaffirming my Enchanted Zaftig mission. I strongly believe that one positive connection begets another, and that those connections will eventually make a measurable impact on this world, creating social change and fostering an environment of love and acceptance.

Viva la Zaftig!

 

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On Becoming A Pin-up Girl (Part II)

“The reason you don’t see a good representation of full-figured women on our website or in our studio is because, more often than not, those women won’t give us permission to do so […] and they are the very subjects who look the best in boudoir photographs.”

~ Melissa Lazar, deBoudoir, LLC 

How unfortunate to experience a moment of liberation and beauty and yet be too embarrassed to share the results! Zaftig ladies, why not allow your captured moment to be shared with other women who might, as a result, feel uplifted by your show of courage? Or, better yet, be inspired themselves to shed their hesitations, slip into something cute and sexy and embrace their femininity for an afternoon ~ or for an eternity, even? 

This is why, when asked by Melissa while perusing my portfolio if I would give deBoudoir permission to use some of my photos on their website, I replied with an exuberant, “YES!” Because if there is even a slight chance that I might inspire women of size while simultaneously breaking down societal walls of prejudice and shame, then by all means… let me contribute!

 

 

(On a side note: As of yet, I do not have the bulk of photos from this shoot, but as soon as they are available to me, I will post more. So stay tuned!)

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Filed under A Touch of Inspiration, Musings and Thoughts, Visual Delights

On Becoming A Pin-Up Girl

This past weekend, I peeled off the last vestiges of my timidity and revealed myself in a whole new light: I took part in an intimate boudoir photography session.

BOUDOIR
: a woman’s dressing room, bedroom, or private sitting room
 

After seeing zaftig women on the internet photographed in beautiful and sensuous ways, and after a local coupon for a boudoir photo shoot was brought to my attention by a girlfriend, I felt inspired to overcome my trepidations and join the zaftig community of pin-up dolls. Afterall, I love to tell you ladies to go out there and get ’em, release your fears, embrace your curves and live life to the fullest, so what better way to set an example than to bare some serious skin and become a contortionist in front of the camera?

The coupon I purchased was good for a one-hour session and included four outfit changes. For an extra fee, someone could do my hair and makeup. A male friend of mine graciously contributed to the “Make Her Beautiful” fund, which was a relief, as a big fancy hairdo and the fine art of makeup application has never been my forte. 

Prior to the appointment, I spent a great deal of time trying to decide what on earth my four outfits were going to be. Corsets? Bra and panties? Sexy clothing? How does one determine such important factors? I tried on many items within the course of a few days… with jewelry, with hair accessories, with gloves, with stockings. I figured if I was going to do this, I was going to do it RIGHT (including indulging in a pedicure and manicure the night before, because one can’t very well walk into a photography studio without pretty nails!)  

Admittedly, the morning of the shoot, my nerves were a bit frazzled ~ I’ve never been in a photography session, and the thought was, well, a bit daunting. Afterall, I would soon be strutting my scantily clad self in front of perfect strangers, allowing them to take snapshots of me while I struggled to “act natural” in front of the camera. Kind of like sending a bull into a china shop.  I ended up shoving an assortment of corsets, bras and panties, along with a plethora of accessories, into a big shopping bag and figured I would just wing the costume changes once I got there.

When I arrived at the private residence which housed deBoudoir, I was greeted at the door by a very charming young woman named Carmela, who welcomed me in with a smile and immediately took care of me, giving me paperwork to fill out before ushering me downstairs to start in on my hair and makeup. Following behind her, I glanced at the many photographs adorning the walls which showcased a multitude of women in lingerie and decadent poses. They were all very lovely. And all perfectly thin.

Had this company never photographed a plump woman before? Or had they simply chosen not to showcase her? What a shame not to include this body type in their display! Surely, this would make a zaftig woman feel a little more at ease when visiting the studio. I shall make mention of this when I return to review the photos… 

Standing in the makeup room, Carmela asked what look I was interested in achieving, and I heartily replied, “Pin-up girl!” to which she clapped in delight. Typically, she said, clients request smoky, bedroom eyes with very neutral tones and nude lipstick. Carmela preferred dolling the ladies up more, and was excited to give me the “Marilyn Monroe” look.

We spent the next hour chatting incessantly while she proceeded to mold me into a pin-up girl ~ cat eyes, bright red lipstick and deliciously curly hair. We discussed my inspiration to be there, and I explained my blog to her and also the fact that after my divorce, I’ve been continuing to venture outside of my comfort zone and find ways to blossom further as a zaftig woman. Being a tad plump herself (but hardly!) Carmela said that she could relate to my thoughts and was quite interested and excited about the blog. We shared the philosophy that beauty comes in all shapes and sizes.

After meticulous preparation, I was finally given the opportunity to glance at my reflection in the mirror. I was stunned at the woman looking back at me.  Who in the world was that?! I appeared nothing like myself. And yet, I did ~ an accentuated, vibrant version of myself. The inner sex kitten had surfaced! Pleased at the transformation, I gave Carmela a hug and thanked her for her expertise.

When it came time for my outfit changes to commence, I stepped into a very pretty little restroom complete with scented candles burning and pulled out Outfit #1: a classy, sexy, satin bustier with black lace trim and a satin ribbon. I added black ruffled panties, a few pieces of jewelry, elbow-length velvet gloves and a pair of very high-heeled black shoes that somehow, miraculously, I could stand in. I took a deep breath, opened the door, and entered into the studio on wobbly, but stable, feet. 

Carmela took one look at me and  shrieked her approval. The photographer, Julie, added her own exuberant response and helped me tie the satin ribbon around my bustier. As I stood there, heavy cleavage and thick, cellulite-laden curves exposed to the world, I knew that there was no going back. I was fully committed and ready to grab the opportunity with both hands  to make it the best experience I could possibly make it. 

And under the warmth of the studio lights and the tutelage of a well-seasoned photographer, my fears began to slowly melt away. I found myself pleasantly immersed in the challenge of becoming a pin-up girl…

 

(Stay tuned for further thoughts on this subject, as well as… PHOTOS!)
 

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Covering The Curves

For the majority of my formative years, and for quite a long time beyond that, I went through life a shy, self-conscious girl – frequently frowning upon my appearance, glancing at my reflection with contempt, tugging at my clothing to keep it from revealing too much. I couldn’t bear to see the slightest inclination of excess body fat on my figure. A ripple here, a roll there, made me feel awkward and unattractive.  

According to my mother, when I was quite young my pediatrician informed her that she should probably avoid feeding me “too many potatoes.” It was as though I had been born with some unknown propensity to become overweight, despite the fact that no one in my family was obese. Someone, somewhere, must have carried the gene and passed it on to me. To this day, I’m still not sure who that culprit is… 

Needless to say, as I entered into puberty (at an absurdly early age – which requires an entirely separate blog posting to properly describe) I became self-conscious about my physical development: my weight, my bosom, my child-bearing hips. I attempted to hide the female body that had been bestowed upon me by dressing in loose-fitting shirts that not only hid any signs of cleavage but also covered up any evidence of having hips. My entire mid-section became an embarrassment to me; covering it up helped to maintain some semblance of  self-esteem, although not completely, and certainly not for prolonged periods of time.

What was I thinking… ?

There I was, a vibrant, beautiful young woman with a winning smile and really great assets. And yet, when I looked at myself in the mirror, I simply couldn’t see beyond that extra, unwanted flesh. 

The sad part, the tragedy of it all, is that it took me 30 years to overcome such inclinations to hide myself.  Looking back on these photos from younger days, I’m amazed and saddened at my insistence to cover the curves. I was thinner back then than I am now! And yet, for decades, I couldn’t find the capacity to appreciate my ultra-feminine body.  

Now, I shall forever proclaim, “Peel away the layers of cloaking fabric and be liberated!”

Having come to that pivotal midway-point in life that everyone eventually reaches, I find myself  at a crossroads where I can either A.) embrace myself where I’m at or B.) invest in belly tucks and face-lifts. Personally, I choose to embrace myself where I’m at ~ curves, bosom, hips et al.

After all… rhinoplasty is really quite out of my budget…

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What makes a woman beautiful…?

… her femininity? her prowess? the color of her eyes? the style of her clothing?

What makes a woman beautiful?

… her accomplishments? the way she walks? the sound of her laughter? the content of her mind?

What makes a woman beautiful?

… her nurturing spirit? her inner strength? the way she smiles? the scent of her skin?

What makes a woman beautiful?

… her confidence? her sensuality? the size of her figure? the texture of her hair?

What makes a woman beautiful?

It is a question that resides, just behind the eyes, when we look out at our surroundings and see a profusion of corporations attempting to establish and dictate a code of acceptable beauty. 

It is a question that pokes and prods and insists upon attention until we find ourselves peeking at our reflections and fretting over what is presented there: “…am I beautiful…?”

The uncertainty emerges in waves – arriving and departing at will, rising buoyantly to the surface at times we least expect it. It is then that we feel paralyzed –  imprisoned and incapable – quick to dismiss our attributes as things which are ugly and worthless.

But they are not ugly. Nor worthless.

They are extraordinary.

So what really makes a woman beautiful…? 

E* V* E* R* Y* T* H* I* N* G*

All that she has to offer.  

Her heart, her soul, her desires, her fears, her accomplishments, her failures.

Everything, inside and out.

Not what is falsely dictated or insinuated or anticipated, but rather what is true: the beauty which lies in the unique spirit she possesses, exuding from within her like sweet, sun-touched gold.  

Color Me Mardi Gras ~ Valerie Aune

©2011 Enchanted Zaftig

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