I Woke Up Like This

For Anyone Who Doesn't Love Who They Are

I Woke Up Like This #042

I've always felt pretty confident that I'd meet someone and at least live together if not get married. That I'd be meeting them for the first time right now at a friends party or online or somewhere, but I'm not. I'm sitting at home writing a blog about how having a chronic pain disorder can, sometimes, make you feel close to unloveable. I'm living in a one bedroom apartment with my Mother to get by because learning how to manage my mental and physical health hasn't been something I've been able to accomplish for the last few years of my life. I could sit here and tell you all of the ways in which I have personally felt just as unloveable as this woman had. I would list off the ways I hate my appearance, followed up by how my conditions and past trauma limit me physically and sexually. I'd also add that I'm an artist. A struggling one. All together I am a disabled, fat, poor, sexually dysfunctional, woman.

You're probably thinking, "Don't say that about yourself!" at a first reaction but it you break it down word for word it is the truth. It's society ringing in the back of your brain. Telling you that all of which I listed are bad things. And don't worry, sometimes I believe that myself. And feel unloveable. But I always remember that as long as there is empathy, your appearance and special needs aren't a barrier preventing someone from loving you. It may not be so easy anymore, but it's possible. 

I spent a lot of last year putting emphasis on mental health and body image, but I'm in a new part of my life where I'm struggling again with my body but for different reasons. Reasons that are very common yet we cannot see that. 

I create this work to make you think, empathize, and relate.
I want to you empathize with the women and men in these sessions. 
I want you to question, have I contributed to the attitudes that severely harmed this person?
Am I doing enough to help people like this?
I want you to relate to someone so you don't feel alone.
I advocate for the issues that nobody wants to talk about. 
Because society is uncomfortable with changing the conversation.
Here is one.

What made you want to participate in this project?
We're just really open people. We really admire the human body. Not even in a sexual way, just as a form of art. We've always taken nice nudes of ourselves as well, just around the house. The project hit home. I just thought, “Oh my god. We have to be a part of this! This is so us."

What issues do you want to discuss?
Physical things, and you taking pictures of me. I do have low-self esteem, I've had a couple of children. I'll be self-conscious about my stomach. As far as mental, the same. 

What parts of your body are you least comfortable with?
My stomach, that's about it. Haha. Everything else is comfortable. You know, having babies. It stretches you out. I really shouldn't complain, I'm blessed. Haha.

How would you rate your self-esteem 1-10?
I put on an awesome front but it's really probably like a 2. I feel fat all the time.

What types of things do you find yourself thinking about your body to yourself?
I feel a lot of pressure to be a lot skinnier. Which sucks. I feel like I have a muffin top. No matter what pants I wear. I feel like I look sick without makeup. But I adore my freckles all over my body, I like having a big butt, I like having red hair and my big lips. Definitely too much pressure to be skinnier though, which is annoying, because I like food. A lot. Too much.

How would you rate your self-esteem now?
Better! I feel like an eight.

And what goes into that number rating?
Some of the compliments you gave me, but doing some of this stuff makes you feel free. You worry about it less. Once you get out of your shell and get naked and comfortable...it just boosts your self-esteem. Once you are just naked, posing certain ways, it does make you feel better. It's really hard to explain.

Where did you get your stretch marks and scars from?
I have had two c sections. 

Stretch marks are my personal reminder of how much my body has been through in these last few years with my chronic pain condition and weight gain.
I love my stretch marks because they show I've carried babies and I'm strong because of that. My c sections show that babies can be born in different ways. I love my scars because they are memories. Reminders. Permanent.

What is your favorite body part of your body?
Maybe my butt? Haha. I guess. Because Brad compliments it a lot. I like that it's plump. I like my pubes too, because they're red.

Do people ask you about being a natural red head, down there?
A lot of times. But I like being a redhead so.

Are you a sexual person?
Definitely extremely sexual. I feel like it's an important part of life. Sexuality makes me feel good about myself. I know that I could never be with someone who wasn't on the same sex wave length as me. If you're not compatible in that aspect, it won't work. It's such an important aspect of a relationship that you have to make sure you're compatible.

And that goes for being a non-sexual person too. Date whoever matches up with your comfort levels.
Yeah, sex has always been huge for him and I. We've had some bad partners in the past, and it wore in the relationship a little bit.

Tell me about an unhealthy relationship that you've had?
There wasn't any trust. Everyday I would have to answer, “Oh, who did you sleep with today?” He'd come home from work and think I had people over because I was a stay at home Mom. But he was the one who had stuff on his computer. There was no sex. He'd satisfy himself, my needs weren't met, and he didn't trust me. He'd also lie to me about using drugs. I'd try to rescue him, but you can't do that for everyone...

How did being with a less than supportive partner affect your self-esteem?
IT was already really bad because growing up my family would compliment my friends or the waitress or the peers but never compliment me. Then when I got with him, he wouldn't either. I'd try to fish for them, but they wouldn't come at all. There was more negative comments than positive. His type wasn't even me, so I'd always wonder why he was with me.

How did your feel entering a new relationship with a child from another relationship?
I had focused on my child and I for a little bit. I wasn't even looking. It was an old friend that came back in my life, he was just so good with my child and understanding about everything. We would have time with my daughter, and time without. To make sure our relationship would work. It just kind of came about and everything fell into place.

I felt different than women who didn't have a child. Who went out more. Who didn't have stretchmarks. Not only looks but I was also worried he wouldn't want to take on that responsibility of taking care of a small child. I didn't let him see my stomach for a while, because I was super insecure about that. The first time we had sex, we kept our shirts on.

And now you have a beautiful little boy together?

What kind of struggles do you face with raising your children today?
Treating them equally. Disciplining, where to draw that line. As a kid, my parents would hit me. So in that respect, do we spank? Do we not? We want them to be well behaved, we're a little on the strict side. Finding the happy medium is a challenges. Making sure that we spoil them enough, but more so with doing things rather than toys. Memories are more important than things.

What do you worry about with your daughter growing up?
Getting pregnant at a young age. I got pregnant at seventeen. Feeling like her self-worth is based on her looks. When I compliment her, I compliment her on her intelligence. Her drive to thrive, ask questions, learn more. Non-physical attributes. I grew up with everyone complimenting people on looks, and I was left out. I'm trying to make her feel good about herself.

Growing up, my family told me art wasn't important. That art would get me nowhere. They wanted me to grow up and be something important, to make a lot of money, like a lawyer. Turning sixteen, having an eye for art, they didn't encourage it. Art was completely ignored. But now that I have a business, I'm doing well. My daughter wants to be a farmer. And we're supportive. I'm having her do a camp all summer for it, I support anything she wants to do because I didn't have that when I was kid. 

Art is important to kids development.
Oh yeah, expressing themselves. Court took me away from my parents, because they were unfit. My grandparents took me in. They were great, but they didn't want me to grow up like my Mom. Depression didn't exist. Feelings didn't exist. Art isn't a career. And I love them, so much. But they had a different vision.

Being raised by your grandparents, how did that impact your self-esteem growing up?
I lived with my parents until I was eleven. I'm really close to them, they're my best friend. They would leave me alone with I was six though. My Mom had severe depression and BPD. She would hit me. But my grandparents took custody of me when I was eleven. They took care of me and loved me but they were very strict.

It probably has a lot to do with feelings of guilt, feeling like it's their fault for not raising your Mother “right” so she'd raise you the same.
It was so out of control that they were trying to control the situation. I do very much aprpeciatve everything they've done. We're very close.

Are you a feminist, why or why?
Yes. I am to a degree.

What degree?
I don't think it's okay to censor female nipples if you don't sensor male nipples. I think stay at home Dad's should be recognized. They're just as important to children as Mother's. I believe women should be paid the same as men. Not really sure what other topics feminists talk about. We don't circumcise women, we shouldn't circumcise men.

How has that affected your relationship?
Well, Brad's family is very functional. So when my Mom is very depressed and we haven't seen her in ages he doesn't quite get it. He's confused.

How was your childhood?
I was taken away from my parents. My grandparents raised me. But the fact they never wanted to talk or communicate, I'd find myself hiding things a lot. I think that kind of led to me getting pregnant at a young age. Them not talking to me about it, not purposefully, led to me not being educated about sex. The switching schools was hard. It was a better upbringing, but I lacked support and communication about what was happening.

What advice can you give to parents?
Always support what your child wants to do. Never make them feel like it's not good enough. Compliment them physically and mentally. Always keep an OPEN line of communication. Lying is not okay, telling the truth leaves room to work on mistakes.

Any last message for the readers?
Be comfortable with yourself. Parent, not a parent, naked, clothed. This is a healing process, to help myself be more comfortable naked. I want others to feel inspired and feel more comfortable with themselves physically and mentally. 

I Woke Up Like This #038

I've never photographed a nude man. I've never noticed how beautifully unique their bodies are. In fact, I've always been too concerned with how I typically look naked in front of a guy that I've never spent time just...looking at their body. Admiring it for all that it is and isn't. I encourage women to do that more often, because my choice to include men in this project is partially due to the lack of self-esteem many men suffer from. I've decided to take it upon myself to figure out just how much a man's self-esteem is dictated by his body. I think that's important too, don't you? I apologize that there aren't many photographs with this set. We had limited time to work with.

How would you rate your self-esteem from 1-10?
Maybe like a 7, I guess. Good days and bad days.

What impacts that number?
It depends on what is going on in my life. If things are going well, I feel better about myself.

Does your significant other make a difference?
Yeah! I’d say so. When she says something nice that certainly helps how I’m feeling.

Do you feel that you are pressured to look a certain way by society? How so?
I’m obviously a skinnier guy. So, I mean, right there certainly. This last year we’ve been going to the gym more, I don’t want crazy muscles or anything but it’d be nice to have more of that though.

What negative impacts do you face for not achieving these standards?
I think it tends to come across more often as jokes. Friends would make jokes, it’s never really seemed particularly malicious. It’s certainly something people are aware of.

Do those comments ever bother you?
Occasionally they have, for the most part it hasn’t.  More recently I’ve become more comfortable with it. A few years ago, I’d be more uncomfortable taking my shirt off at the beach. In recent years, it’s been better. Autumn likes me body so she definitely helps.

Are you a feminist? Why or why not?
I’ve heard you explain, “If you believe in equality, you’re a feminist” and in that respect I believe in it. But I personally don’t label myself as one. I don’t know how someone else views feminism, I see you share things on intersectional feminism. It’s kind of how I feel about taking political sides, I don’t subscribe to labels. It’s unfortunately a much more loaded word than it should be.

Why do you think some people don’t consider themselves feminists?
There’s definitely going to be a percentage of people who don’t because they’ve all been online and see things that classify as feminism but they don’t fully understand and don’t want to subscribe without knowing more. There is a lot of misinformation. There could be something you see that you don’t agree with labeled as feminism too.

Do you think people are afraid to show support for feminism in fear of being ridiculed by peers?
I’m sure there’s time that it happens. If you’re going to tell someone you’re a feminist, that automatically means something to them. And it might mean something different to you. You have to defend that point of view. A lot of people aren’t prepared to educate themselves enough to define what it means to them.

What is your opinion of chivalry? How does this expectation affect men?
I was always raised with certain things that my Mom taught me that have always stuck with me. I don’t always think a lot of them are strictly for men. I think the door holding thing, it’s just a thing to do in general for anyone.  I don’t unmanly if someone opens the door for me. I just feel polite doing it for anyone. In my current relationship, I took care of a lot of the finance for many years. Now, Autumn is taking care of those and that’s fine.

Are there any gender expectations you feel uncomfortable with?
I have. Personally; no. I’ve always felt okay doing nice things for anyone but especially on a date. Doing all those things is a nice thing. I would be fine not being that way also though.

Do you think that men are hyper-sexualized in the media?
There’s certainly a specific body type being pushed that’s not easily attained. Men have some of the same thing women have, in terms of models and having a fit body type. I feel like men have it a little easier, as far as the media goes, when it comes to having the non-ideal body type. For men, it’s played upon with comedy. When a male body that’s not similar is shown in media, it’s like, “Hey, it doesn’t matter if you’re not attractive in this way. You’re funny. You can still be the lead”.

Men are too often negatively portrayed in the media. Agree or disagree?
I think it’s certainly true that’s more common that they portray men that way. I feel like it’s almost like the medias portraying it that way it’s okay. It’s not always in a negative light. You see that all the time like, especially in sitcoms. The guys are usually the loveable oaf character.

What are some of the most insulting comments you’ve ever heard about your body?
It’s harder to find and think of stuff like that from a lot of guys. Because I think those things exist. I’m aware of my bodily flaws of being a little skinnier and stuff like that but I’m trying to think of a specific situation outside of close friends making jokes. I can’t really think of people making comments in a malicious way. That will probably be a little different from what women experience.

What are your favorite compliments?
I’ve always liked my eyes. So anything regarding that is nice to hear.
What’s your least favorite body part?
The upper body, I would love if that was a little bit more toned or something. Haha.  

Growing up, what was your high school experience?
I hung out with a lot of different groups of people, so that probably helped. I didn’t feel like an outcast. I was one of those people who missed high school after. I had a lot of younger friends, and hung out with them a lot in high school.

How do you encourage good self-esteem, if you do, in you daughter?
We do that a lot. One thing that’s we’ve always made sure we didn’t do was make sure she doesn’t see us talking negatively about our bodies. We always try and make sure that she knows about her positive traits. You try to walk a sort of fine line. You always want them to know that they feel good about themselves. But you don’t want to make it seem super important to them. You can go too far, like, “My parents tell me I’m so pretty all the time so I have to stay pretty all the time”. We let her see the positive things about her without putting pressure on her to be certain things.  

You raise her equal?
We don’t raise her like, “These toys are for boys.” No. We say, “These are all toys, play with them, if you want to play with them.”

What piece of advice can you give to other parents in terms of non-gender biased parenting?
The best advice would be, “Allow your child options. Let them choose what they’re going to do” And that means some girls will choose the pink stuff, but if you walk them around the store at least they have a chance to pick.

What do you think about the entire “man up” thing?
Guys like to play up their masculinity against each other. I don’t think a lot of people mean it in a de-masculinzing me. When I heard that phrase, I haven’t thought about it that way. A lot of gender skewed insults, you get used to the intention versus what it actually means.

How do people treat the make nude body versus the women?
It seems like a lot of the reason, when you ask someone “Why can’t you see nudity in public?” and there’s this answer, “Oh, well there’s people I don’t want to see naked”. That shouldn’t come into play when you’re thinking moral versus ethical. It seems weird to have a moral stance against being the way that literally every person in the world was born.

I think that anyone might feel uncomfortable with being nude because of that judgment.

Do you think that increased body positivity might positively impact the way people view nudity?
Yeah, it could. I’m kind of cynical. I’m not always sure you can change the way people view things. It’d probably help if everyone did feel better about themselves.

Is there a message you want to leave for anyone reading this?
I feel like society puts too much of a taboo on nudity to the point that people are more willing to let their child watch violent material over someone who is naked. It’s odd to me that people think about something natural, your body, and make it something negative. And hide it at all costs. That’s why I wanted to do this project.

I Woke Up Like This #040

I look at my body sometimes and imagine myself thinner. I imagine my stretch marks disappearing, my stomach flattening out, and my tiny perky boobs coming back. Essentially, I envision myself as someone I'm not, nor will I be anytime soon. I change myself, to fit a mold that society has created for women. A mold of thin, but not too thin, perky breasted woman with a flat stomach. A mold of a body that exists but hardly ever does on the average everyday woman. A body that is worked hard for, dieted for, exercised for...religiously. 

Other times, I look at my body and remember these few things.

#001: I cannot exercise most days, as I have no energy due to my fibromyalgia. My energy is limited, and I chose to use mine to run my business and take care of myself daily. 

#002: I am on medication that causes weight gain. Medication that keeps me alive. Medicine that keeps me from being crippled, laid out in bed all day, energy-less. 

#003: My stretch marks and my stomach and thighs and face weight are all battle scars from my war with depression and fibromyalgia. 

And all of these things make me the person who I am; a person I am proud to be.


What's your level of self esteem? 

I think I high self esteem now. I like to, you know, think I'm an eight. I feel like I have good self-esteem because self-esteem doesn't come down to physicality anymore. It depends on your definition of self-esteem. I think if it doesn't come down to physicality or body image anymore then your self-esteem goes up. 

Are you nervous? 
I'm a little nervous, I don't know why? Not nervous to show my body, I could care less. It's just a different element. 

Why did you want to participate? 
I don't think that self-esteem comes down to body image, I think you should appreciate your qualities and your things within yourself without looking in the mirror. I think a majority of people have bad self esteem because we are accustomed to looking in the mirror when we wake up. It's social norm to have a mirror and worship vanity. 

So you live life as if you don't have a mirror?

I like to, I try to. 


How is your self-esteem now?
The same. That's the first time I was naked in front of people outside, I guess I feel better because I haven't done that. I feel like I can go conquer the streets naked now!


What goes into your self-esteem?
The day I took my makeup off, was the day I felt better. I stopped focusing on that, or if my clothes matched, and focused on what I'm good at. People benefit from who I am, I believe my purpose is to make other people feel worthy of life and feel beautiful. So I have to practice that and believe in myself. Just like you taking your clothes off at the end and shooting with me and the other girls. I hope I can show people you can be beautiful without all that, my hair is in knots. You don't need all that to be beautiful. 

What is your religion?

I would consider myself a theist. I go between polytheism and polentheism. 

Describe what those are.
Polytheism is the belief that there is more than one God, but the belief that God is everything. Polentheism is the belief in one higher power, but that God is in everything. It makes science and religion coexist instead of putting them on the opposite side of the spectrum. 

Are you a feminist? Why or why not?
No. I think that if all people are equal, we don't need to talk about it. I think it should just be, I think we should just treat each other this way. You have one extreme on one end, I think feminism is a bit extreme. It almost becomes narcissistic for a gender to feel owed something. We should be fighting the fight to be good people, not fighting a fight for everyone to come together as one for specific groups. 

Tell me about the issues you struggle with your self-esteem?
I don't think my self esteem came from phsyical things. It dropped based off of things that I went through in life. Not feeling worthy of life at one point in time, makes you feel not pretty. 

What's your story?
It wasn't like I had self-esteem problems from looking at myself. It started with a death. They took their life, it made me feel like I didn't do enough. I think grief and guilt are what make you feel ugliest. That's when I started not liking myself internally, I felt like I failed. Like I didn't save them. When I didn't feel adequate of being here, I started picking myself apart mentally, physically, emotionally. It's a domino effect where everything falls down until you're looking at every little hair in your eyebrow. 

What else makes you feel insecure about your body?
I wanna reach out to tall people. I feel like people who are tall, guy or girl. You're always going to be a bigger size than your 5'4 friend when you're 6'2. 

I feel the same way as a tall person. Like, you'll always be a size up and criticize yourself on that. 
Exactly. Even when you're super thin! I feel like only tall people will understand. 

No, totally. When you wear a size up than your friends, but you're just as thin, your bone structure has to be taken into account and most times we just think we're fat. 
Yeah, definitely. 

How was middle school for you?

I tried to find myself, I got really weird and really expressive. I had to make a point to everyone. I think that was a little insecurity. 

A way to cover it up?
I was masking myself, I feel like. A little bit. 

Where you ever bullied?
No. I was never a bully either. I kind of was friends with everyone, floated. 

You mentioned dealing with mental health issues?
It started with my boyfriend's death, my first love. After that, I got into another long term relationship that was completely toxic. When you feel that low, you feel like you deserve that toxicity. I was with someone who put me down for how I looked, made fun of how skinny I was, and I feel like that's where my physical insecurities came out. I never saw myself that way until he told me these things. I would even think I was chubby and he'd make fun or me for being thin.

What type of toxic interactions did you have with him?
He was a controlling person. I'm sure a lot of girls will relate to that. He was very good at convincing you that you're never going to be good enough for anyone else. 

How did he do that?
He would say it. To my face. 

How long did it take for you to step up to that?
It took three years and by that point I was isolated from friends and family and I had nobody but him and myself. 

Would you consider that mentally abusive?
It was emotionally, mentally abusive. Which is the worst kind of abuse because you feel like you're crazy.

And it's hard for family members to understand?

Those people are good manipulators so you can't see it. So I denied it for a long time. I think it's important to say too, that, when someone tells you they love you and put them down...you're going to believe that more than a stranger. You'll believe its the truth because you don't think they're lying to you. I don't think it's natural to not like yourself. 

I just lost my best friend to a mentally abusive relationship. 
Yeah, I think a lot of girls go through it. And you won't see it until you have nothing. It took me losing my best friend and family to see it. You become accustomed, you become comfortable with the abuse. Because you don't know anything else. It goes for guys too, not just girls. A lot of people don't speak up, don't tell their family. 

Why didn't you tell your family how bad it really was?
I was ashamed. I felt ashamed because I picked a person that did that to me. 

You're like, "I have to stick to my guns, hold my name up."
Right. I felt like I failed again, after my first relationship. That I was the failure. 

And how do you feel about that now?
I completely think I was naive. I realize that you can't save someone else, you have to save yourself. And that's kind of what this project is about for me. You have to love yourself, so you can be around people who love you too. 

I tried to give my little sister advice one day, she was in her first abusive relationship. She looked at me and said, well who are you to talk? Look at your relationship. That's what woke me up about it. No, she's not my daughter but I wouldn't want her to grow up that way. If I had a daughter, I wouldn't want her to be in that relationship. She felt it was okay to be in that relationship because I was, and I had no room to help her because she thought it was normal. I just thought, I have to get out of this because she needs to see it isn't supposed to be this way. 

I wouldn't be happy for anyone that was me a year ago. 

Any last words for the readers?
I wanna tell everyone to go a week without looking in the mirror. If I could get that to happen that would be awesome. Don't put makeup on. You'll be surprised, after seven days, what you feel like. I won't describe it, because you need to do it. And feel it.