The Ugly Side of Sitting Pretty

Holly Randall
As a fairly vain and slightly lazy woman, I am at a disadvantage. I am worried about how I look, yet not motivated enough to spend hours at the gym or to stick to a strict diet.

As a photographer, I am at an advantage since I am able to hide behind the camera. This means I am able to hide from the ego-damaging criticisms and scathing remarks that those in front of the camera must face. And few are as exposed, and thus as much of a target, to these kinds of reviews than a nude model. So when I decided to step in front of the camera for some nude modeling, I knew that I was taking that chance, and opening myself up to criticism. But even I didn’t realize how acerbic those words could be.

Preparing myself for the actual shoot was a complete nightmare. I do not have a model type body, but it’s got shape and pretty good curves if I can keep it down at a decent weight. I’ve got short legs with big thighs — “football legs” as my mom calls them — and fleshy upper arms. But I’ve got a long torso, a small waist, and a decent butt. Yet still, as the date to my photo shoot drew nearer, I began to wonder what the hell I was thinking.

So I tried to diet — something I’m not very good at. And now the shoot was drawing near and I was only five pounds less than before I’d started. I’d wanted to lose at least 10 pounds!

I’d just had a big Indian dinner with my brother, and I gazed down unhappily at my bloated belly. My eyes darted to the bathroom. What if I just purged this all up? I mean, I was briefly bulimic in high school, but I didn’t really stick with it. I’m too lazy to be a real bulimic — it’s gross and it actually takes some training to get your body to throw up everything in your stomach. I don’t really remember it working very well back then, but maybe it would now. Just for a few more days, before my shoot. Nobody would know, and what could it hurt? The devil was back, and he was perched on my shoulder. “Do it, do it,” he whispered in my ear. “Just for this one shoot. You don’t want to be fat, do you?”

This is the same voice that I’d been fighting against for the last decade of my life. This is the same voice that told me to drink until I was sick — that I would stop it all tomorrow. This is the same voice that sent me to rehab twice. This is the same voice that almost killed me.

But because I fear criticism and desire admiration, I let the voice wash over me. I listened. And I went to the toilet, lifted up the seat, and crouched before it. I stared down into the water, and I felt it. I felt that thing — that thing they call my “disease,” in the back of my neck. I imagined it like an inky blot, bubbling and seeping down my spine. A black, thick liquid that was slowly moving down my back, leaking into my veins and spreading through my body. The voice was gone, but I could feel this something — this sickness — in my body. It was physical manifestation of this malady that had haunted me for so long. I shut the lid, stood up, and leaned heavily on the wall. No way. I was not going back to that self-destructive abyss. I had spent too long, and worked too hard to crawl out of that black hole. I’ll be damned if I’m going back for that extra five pounds that probably wouldn’t have come off anyhow. Fuck it. Let people call me fat. Of course, I didn’t really believe that they actually would.

The shoot went well, and I felt beautiful. The pictures came back looking great. Who knew that after 10 years of teaching girls how to model, I would actually learn how to do it myself?

When the pictures first went up on my site, the response was overwhelmingly positive. My members, who were the ones who had been asking me to pose and who really were the reason I decided to do it, were thrilled. Comments left on my MySpace page were glowing, and friends couldn’t believe that was me in the pictures. Already, I was considering doing it again, and already I was forgetting the hellish obsession with my body that preceded the shoot.

But I was very quickly reminded of how easily one’s ego could be inflated and then deflated. As an obviously well intentioned and very sweet gesture, Cindi Loftus nominated me as “The Most Beautiful Non-Porn Girl in Porn” on her website LukeIsBack.com.

I was totally flattered and caught completely caught off guard since I don’t consider myself to be particularly newsworthy. But there I was. And there were the comments. And these ones weren’t very nice.

The comments ranged from “she looks beautiful” to “she needs to lose 40+ pounds and looks like a chipmunk.” But most of them called me fat. Now I’ve been on sites like PerezHilton and DListed, and I see how the anonymity of the Internet allows for unrestrained cruelty and judgment from the masses. These “keyboard warriors” are held totally unaccountable for their comments, and are thus free and sharp with their tongue (or their fingers, if you want to get technical).

But really, this is part of what makes the Internet so great. Information is accessible to everyone, and the exchange of ideas and opinions is unfettered. It was just that this time, I was the target, instead of being merely the observer. It’s a little different when it’s you they’re talking about.

Believe it or not, the unpleasant commentary was actually my greatest gift. It was better than all the flattery that had preceded it, because it was really a test as to how much my self-esteem had grown. Some of the negative remarks I could agree with: the chubby cheeks, the weak chin, and the need to tone up more.

But what shocked me the most is how unhurt I was by the mean things people said about me. It didn’t send me into a spiral of depression, nor did I return to the toilet to continue the dangerous dance with bulimia that I had almost started a few months ago. It made me appreciate the ego bashing most models must endure, and it strengthened my commitment to make them look so beautiful that they wouldn’t have to endure this kind of criticism.

In the end, all that matters is what we think of ourselves, and I am proud to say that I have come a long way in this last year. Today, I can look in the mirror and see someone who is pretty on the outside, but truly beautiful on the inside. I’m far from perfect, and I will always have my moments of self-doubt, and feeling fat and ugly. But at the end of the day, there is nobody I’d rather be than myself. I just think that I’d rather be myself behind the camera next time.

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