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“…and I said to my body, softly, ‘I want to be your friend.’ It took a long breath and replied, ‘I have been waiting my whole life for this.'”                ~ Nayyirah Waheed

I’m not sure when the unhealthy relationship with my body began. I remember being young and my mother’s best friend had a beautiful daughter named Leslie* that was about four years older than me. Our parents were always together; and so were we. I was ecstatic, but Leslie was less impressed at having a younger girl fawning over everything she did and always wanting to be around. The Botswanian beauty was tall, thin but curvaceous, and was absolutely beautiful. I was nine, tall, hefty and going through a very awkward growing phase that would last until college. I remember she would wear these short shorts and I’ll never forget when I tried to put on a pair, my mom told me, “I couldn’t wear the same things that Leslie wore, due to my size.”  I know my mom wasn’t intentionally trying to hurt me, but rather protecting me from the judgment of society. However, those words along with the patriarchy of our society helped frame my concept of beauty. And while I remained confident through most of my life, my notion of beauty always loomed over me.

Two years ago, I asked my friend Sarah, a well known plus size blogger, “Do you really believe in the body positivity movement?” She looked at me and said, “Yes! It’s definitely real.” I pushed further, “So you love your body all the time?” I was trying to figure out if this idea of body positivity and self-love was really a hoax or a sham. Could you truly love yourself at a size 22? Do those Instagram influencers that photograph in skimpy outfits showing all of their rolls and folds go any farther than their backyard in those ensembles? I was skeptical and open with Sarah about my thoughts. I’ll never forget what she said next: “In order to change your perception of your body, you have to change your thoughts and your surroundings…and especially, change your Instagram feed.”

What Sarah didn’t realize was that she planted a seed for an eighteen-month journey regarding my own self-love and self-acceptance regarding my body that would culminate with me basking in the Grecian sun on the beach…a nude beach. Women have been trapped into believing negative self-thoughts about our body, even before we were even old enough to understand what was truly happening. The reality is we live in a male-dominated society who isn’t really obsessed with our beauty, but rather our obedience.

The fitness industry, according to the IHRSA report, stated that it made $83.1B in revenue for 2016. Marketdata LLC, a 38-year-old research firm that has tracked weight loss and diet trends since the 1980’s, revealed that the U.S. weight loss market was worth $66B. Commercials about pills that will help curb your appetite, diets you need to try to “lose weight fast,” and the latest exercise craze all feed images and unconscious cues to women that we are not enough as is. Society isn’t really concerned about controlling or shrinking our bodies, but rather controlling our minds. This was the first step towards my body liberation. I had to realize that these negative thoughts were concepts that have been ingrained in my brain, some thoughts not even to my own doing, but simply because of the way our society is structured.

Immediately after my conversation with Sarah, I cleaned up my social media feed. I unfollowed all the Instagram models with fake asses, missing ribs, and extreme plastic surgery. I even muted plus size bloggers who over photoshopped their photos. In order to reprogram my thoughts, I became more protective of the images I scrolled past daily. It was important for me to see natural bodies on my feed and I started following women that looked like me. Relieved that once my feed started to look more representative of the types of women I see regularly, I started to work on the inside.

We can be our own worst enemies. Truly. To continue reprogramming my thoughts to get to a place of self-love, I began self-correcting myself when I wanted to complain about my thighs, my lack of a six-pack, etc. I spent the Winter and Spring working on self-love and body positivity. As it got warmer, I became a bit more fearful. Summer can be dreadful for a fat person. There’s no hiding under coats, long sleeve shirts, and jeans. I’ve met women who have worn 3/4ths shirts in 100+ degree weather and were burning up but preferred that over people seeing their heavy arms. I understood this position because I didn’t wear shorts for over 10 years. I remember traveling with a man that I was dating and I wouldn’t take off my cover-up while we were on the beach because I didn’t want him to see how big my thighs were. Thinking back on that now, I have to laugh. Here I was on a beautiful island, with a beautiful man, that I could have been making out with, but I was too shy and too insecure about my body. I wonder how many wonderful opportunities and moments we have talked ourselves out of due to insecurities.

This past summer, I refused to be enslaved to my body. I started small. I wore things that made me slightly uncomfortable. What I began to realize is that people were not noticing the things that I was concerned about. Happy about this revelation, I wasn’t at the body positivity point with myself that everyone raves about. Nevertheless, I pressed on.

Mirtiotissa Beach, Corfu, Ionian Islands, Greece, Europe

Unexpectedly, on a trip to Corfu, Greece, me and my body positivity, soul searching self, ended up on a nude beach. However, the moment I arrived, I wish I hadn’t come. I looked down on Mirtiotissa Beach and surveyed it for a good ten minutes before even taking the trek down the hill. Yes, it was beautiful. However, I felt the dread and fear rising in my throat even though I was almost 5,000 miles, one ocean, and two seas away from anyone I knew other than my friend whom I traveled with. We walked down to the beach and families, children playing, as well as men and women of all ages lounging around in the nude.

We walked past other sunbathers to the more secluded part of the nude beach in order to adjust and get comfortable. Hesitantly, I laid out my towel, my books and my water. I sat on my towel and first slid off my bottoms then unhooked my red bikini top. The 12PM sun shined directly down on me and it felt soo good to feel the sun on all of my body. After a few hours and finally getting comfortable, some pervs were masturbating to my friend and I. We reluctantly decided it was time to go to the crowded part of the beach.

When we arrived, the woman took one look at me and exclaimed, “You are so beautiful! Your body is so beautiful!” I had to immediately push out the negative thoughts I was so accustomed to owning. I said thank you. While I was trying to mask the embarrassment flushing my face, she suggested we sit on the most coveted part of the beach. I got settled, put on my sunglasses, and surveyed my surroundings. I thought to myself, “Oh shit, we’re on the focal point of the beach.” I ended up swimming in the clear ocean surrounded by rock foundations older than our grandparents, grandparents. I read my book while the sun basked down on me and tanned my melanin skin. I had a deep conversation with a man and held his hand as he explained had moved to Corfu as his wife and him had honeymooned there years before and had just lost both her and his parents last year. I did all this naked and I didn’t feel nervous or uncomfortable. I just felt natural.

As the sun began to set, my friend and I packed up our things. We were both still naked. I remember thinking, “I want to remember this day forever.” I had my camera with me, but wanted to be respectful to other sunbathers. We walked to the end of the beach and found a rock. I put on my bathing suit and snapped this pic. It was the day I officially became liberated in my body. I admit, in the moment, I was worried that the feeling would wear off. That I’d come back to the States, not want to wear shorts and hide my body. I spent the summer doing the exact opposite.

It’s not to say that I don’t ever feel insecure anymore or that I always love my body. It’s a relationship and like any relationship, it has its ebbs and flows. What I can say though, is that my body and I are friends’. The true relationship, I have always wanted, a positive one, with myself.

*Name changed.


Danielle James is Head of Fashion and Beauty Partnerships for HelloBeautiful and MadameNoire. She’s the Founder of Model Citizen, a peer-to-peer shopping platform that allows women to shop each others’ closets. You can find her on Instagram and Twitter: @TheIslanDiva. 


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