On June 20, 2009 an artist (who was dating my friend at the time) said that he wanted to draw me.
I had seen the beautiful drawings he had done of my friend and the graceful, careful way he had drawn every curve of her body.
And yet, something in me froze.
My mother was an amateur photographer. Growing up there were tons of pictures of family trips and special occasions, but from the moment she got her Pentax K1000, she was always taking pictures of flowers, trees, ducks, and not taking as many pictures of the family. After too many sessions of holding a flashlight to illuminate a spider web in the middle of the night, I began to resent the camera.
After she died, there was no one taking pictures. There is a huge gap in the photographic record of my life from 8th grade to 12th grade. Coincidentally that was also when I weighed my highest (240), so part of me is glad there is no record, but I also don't get to see how far I've come.
So I went off to college and among other things, I learned to love myself by being a bit of a webcam whore. I learned that in the right light, with the right makeup that even I could feel good about how I looked. And so I experimented with angles and lights and started to look at myself instead of trying to hide from myself.
It all started with one benign photo my freshman year of college (1999):
And morphed into a semi-regular obsession of taking my own picture:
For as much as I'd like to say that this process was all about self-exploration, it wasn't. I didn't have the confidence to date, so I'd show guys the best versions of myself with the hopes that they'd fall for me.
I had hoped that they would think of me only as this one particular side I had shown them, not as discarded photos where I was making a stupid face, or showed my fat stomach or fat arms.
We all know how well that works out. The minute they met me, they would see that I was a carefully constructed mirage.
The only person I every really fooled was myself.
I mean, in life you only have so much control over what people see. It's just like those magazine photos that look so perfect, and yet you don't see the big clips and pins precariously holding everything in to place. You don't see the airbrush strokes. We are viewed from every angle, in every light, with all of our flaws exposed.
Just as we want to be those perfect models, I wanted to be this version of myself all the time -- the self where I felt beautiful, sexy, and powerful.
The pictures became a reminder to me that at least at one fragile moment, I was all of those things.
So when my friend asked me to help her test out her new equipment, I thought that I would be able to harness some of the beautiful, sexy, powerful Robby and give her something to work with.
Like I said before, she's a very talented photographer. But there's no kind way to say this: I'm a shitty model.
In front of her camera, and without a monitor, I was absolutely lost. I didn't know what the hell I was doing. She directed me as best as possible, but there was a huge disconnect between the effort I thought I was putting out and what she captured on film. (I'm very aware that how I see myself is vastly different than how others see me... my very special body dysmorphic disorder where I think and feel I am Jessica Rabbit.) My "think sexy" came out more like "mildly constipated" and my "look natural" looks more like mannequin.
In so many of the pictures my body is there, but I can see the fear in my eyes. I can see the distraction in my face from trying to remember to suck it all in, to find the right light, to not expose myself too much.
Instead of trusting that my very talented friend wouldn't make me look bad, I tried to control the situation and myself too much. The result was that I look flat. I look petrified. And the truth is, I was absolutely 100% petrified. Of the hundreds of pictures she took, there are only a few I like (this being one of them), and it was completely my fault.
So....a few months go by and my very talented photographer friend's very talented artist (now-ex) boyfriend wants to draw me. And the same fears crept in. How would someone else portray me when I didn't have any control? Would he be kind to my curves/rolls? Would he edit them out? Would he see me as I see myself?
Instead of letting him answer these questions himself, I answered them for him: I declined his offer.
I regret it to this day, simply because rather than letting someone else show me what they see (and letting them be honest, truthful, realistic, or kind to me) I shut him down. I did to him what I do to most men in general: I beat them to the punchline.
My very talented photographer friend, Renee, has agreed to take my "after" picture for when I reach my goal (whatever that may be, as I now refuse to say "goal weight"). I hope I will remember the lessons I've learned during this whole process. My new definition of beautiful/sexy/powerful is the ability to allow one's imperfections to exist in the same place and time as the things he or she is most proud.