I have a pussy. I also have uneven saggy boobs, a substantial belly and a pretty face. And while I can’t say anyone ever directly took those things from me, I’ve only recently begun to feel like they are MINE. I grew up with a feminist mother, but I also grew up in Los Angeles where everyone seemed beautiful and thin and highly valued for it — including me (ok, maybe not thin but close enough). I was smart and funny and magnetic, but pretty was by far the most praised — by loved ones, by strangers, by boyfriends and by the girls at school who hated me because, “I thought I was the shit.” I remember being interested in my appearance at a young age, and in looking back during all the painful unpacking work I’ve done, I can’t help but wonder how much of that was actually innate and how much was social expectation — a desire to be “good,” to be validated.
But I was more than just pretty; I was sexy — and sexual — from a very young age. Again, it’s so hard to tell the chicken from the egg but I honestly feel like I was born sexual, sensual and in touch with my. And I acted as such until I was taught that that’s not what good girls do. (But not by my; she was all about self-pleasure and sexual liberation — thanks, Mom!) But the sexual, combined with pretty and magnetic, got me a lot of attention that I remember not knowing what to do with.
Everywhere I went, someone was drawn to me. I’d fall in love with the clerk at Ross while my mom shopped and the bagger at Ralph’s while my dad grabbed bread. My mother was terrified — she’d leave articles on my bed about young girls going off with older men and being abducted. I remember wanting to have sex very young and trying so hard to just wait until 13, which is when my older sister had lost her virginity. And honestly, at least at that age, it was not sex for validation (possibly for connection, for intimacy) — I was also just a horny gal. I wanted sex. And I had it — as soon as I turned 13.
[pullquote]He told me, with a knife to my face, “You think you’re so pretty? I will cut your face up and see who likes you then.”[/pullquote]
And I kept having (mainly) healthy sex and relationships most of my life. I remember lying about sex a lot in high school — to my parents, to my peers — because good girls didn’t have sex. But they sure were pretty! Dress well, put on just the right amount of makeup, make sure you don’t gain too much weight but don’t be sexual with all that pretty. Keep them separate. Be good, be pretty, but don’t you dare be a freak.
Then in my 20s, I met a man whose first words to me were “You are the finest bitch I’ve ever seen in my life!” (I’m MORTIFIED to say that out loud and admit I liked it at the time — but it only proves to validate how far I’ve come). He was over-the-top obsessed with me, just the way I’d learned to like them. Tell me I’m pretty — every single day — because, after all, what else is really that valuable about me? My teaching credential? My BA from UCLA or my Masters from NYU? My magic? My wit? None of those things were valued or even known about me,on the “scene” once I became this loud (and misogynistic) rapper’s wife. He also heavily scrutinized my sexual past — wanted names, numbers, details and made me feel like what I had seen as sexual liberation was something to be really ashamed of. “Stop being so sexy, so sexual. You’re someone’s wife.” But I had done “it” — I was cool, pretty, popular and married.
I had also been on Weight Watchers on and off since I was 13 because you can’t be pretty and chubby, right? But once I got married, I put on a little weight and decided to try to do plus size modeling. I thought it might be an “out” from dieting — I’ll just accept the fact that I’m naturally bigger and make some money off of it instead of starving myself because of it. But plus size modeling is no less obsessed with pretty and perfect than straight size modeling — I became more insecure and more obsessed with my appearance than ever.
Then I got pregnant, and A LOT changed. I had a rash on my face my whole pregnancy that halted my vanity in its tracks. Makeup made it worse, so I went barefaced for nine months and it made me look at myself — and my life — very differently. I had gone from the modeling selfie queen to having only a handful of pictures at all during my pregnancy. My husband, who told everyone “I just married her because she was fine” and had BEGGED me for years for this baby, was no longer attracted to me and hardly ever came home. And when he was, his behavior toward me and the baby was one of contempt and concern. Soon after my son was born, I chose not to go back to modeling or my marriage. His disturbing and violent behaviors escalated, and he hurt me gravely with my child in my arms. He told me, with a knife to my face, “You think you’re so pretty? I will cut your face up and see who likes you then.”
The road since then has been very hard and yet more beautiful than my face or body or any modeling pic I ever took. Through a ton of therapy and healing work and pain and self reflection, I got to rediscover feminism for myself and I got to explore my body, my sexuality and my “beauty” through a more developed, mature self-love lens. I was able to examine how I ended up where I was, which was undoubtedly in the wrong place. I stopped dieting and stopped feeling obligated to wear makeup or even shave. I stopped dating people who were obsessed with my beauty or me. I stopped believing that any person or entity outside of myself could validate or complete my life. I started getting attention for being that funny, smart, witty and now really fucking experienced girl — no one seemed to care that much that I was pretty. I shared my life and story and journey on Instagram and organically started leading other women on their own “get free” journeys — ones where we listen to and please our own bodies, explore our vaginas and are sexually liberated and spiritually in-tune. I do workshops — online and in person — where women see how much of our pain and suffering is in fact a very shared experience. I’ve created places for women to heal collectively. And though it took me 36 years and a lot of unpacking and pain, my body and life finally feel like they’re mine. And I’ve never felt prettier.