I've spent most of my life being told in great detail everything that's wrong with the way I look, and a lot of the time, I was the person telling myself those things. I can remember spending afternoons with my childhood friend, Siria, discussing ways to improve our bodies. We would eat carrots, list the body parts we felt needed improving, then pop in her VHS copy of MTV's The Grind Workout and shake our 10-year-old rumps until they burned. To this day, the very thought of host Eric Nies' shit-eating grin as he crunched his oiled-up abs makes me want to eat a hot dog and punch a hole in a wall.

This obsession with weight followed me into my teens. At 5-foot-4 and 105 pounds, I saw myself as a total heifer. I ate exactly half of what was on my plate at dinner, then retired to my room to tightly wrap my stomach in saran wrap and do sit ups, sweating out all those horribly fattening nutrients my body needed to survive. Admitting that is not only embarrassing; it's also kind of heartbreaking.

Funny thing is, I was a subversive teenager, especially with regard to beauty standards, yet I focused so much energy on making myself look a way I thought was good. It makes no sense.

I can't remember what provoked it, but one day in my senior year, I gave up and ate my first bag of chips in years. I savored each and every crispy, cheddar-and-sour-cream-flavored flake. I lit candles, threw on H-Town's "Knockin' da Boots" and mouth-fucked the shit out of those potato chips.

When I woke up from my chip-banging coma, I realized that it didn't matter how little I ate or how much I worked out—I'd never be skinny enough. I was Sisyphus pushing a rock of cellulite up a mountain of insecurity.

Most of all, I was ashamed to have wasted so much time worrying about my double chin when I could've been learning piano or tap dance or any other productive thing. Since that glorious, chip-dust-filled day, I vowed to never go back, but it hasn't been easy.

Fourteen years later, it's still a daily fight to maintain a sense of empowerment and self-possession over those body issues. Hell, I own multiple girdles and use them regularly. It doesn't help that I come from a culture that seems to value being thin, beautiful, light-skinned and chesty over being educated and independent. We can't all look like Sofia Vergara, assholes!

My mom, as supportive as she is, regularly offers to pay for liposculpture surgery. My sisters and eldest nieces are brutal on themselves and others: Every beautiful actor in a magazine has something ugly about her; compliments come wrapped in harsh criticisms; my dinner plate gets a judgmental look if it has more than a toddler's food intake on it; they discuss plastic surgery incessantly. It's infuriating and exhausting.

So, I decided that it's time to finally K.O. these issues. I'm not a teenage girl anymore; I'm a grown-ass woman. I'd rather be called "smart" or "funny" than "hot." I have meat on me, and I like it. I love nachos. Pizza is awesome. Anyone telling me I should feel otherwise on any of these matters can eat a diet, caffeine-free dick.

I called San Diego Art Department and asked if I could serve as a nude model for its figure-drawing class as a way to confront these issues head on. I was welcomed to come in that very evening.

As soon as I hung up, I immediately got sweaty and anxious. My eyes welled up with tears. People are going to see my boobs—not just the cute, perky one but the other, slightly more saggy one, too. I would be completely exposed. And, oh holy Jesus, what if I had to fart?!

Luckily, I have amazing and supportive friends who know how to rouse a girl from a pit of insecurity in the funniest way possible. Best people ever.

Standing in the bathroom of the San Diego Art Department, I took off all my clothes, looked in the mirror and said, "You got this, bitch. Oh, and, seriously. Don't fart." I put on my robe and walked out to meet the class.

The instructor put me at ease, letting me know that nudity is no big deal and then gave me some suggestions on a few poses. I walked over to the makeshift chaise lounge, put myself in a kneeling position, took a deep breath and dropped the robe.

No one gasped. No one projectile-vomited onto their canvas. No one ran out screaming, "Dear God! Her abs look like cookie dough! Why, God, whyyyyy??!!!" They just sketched quietly.

Women are so used to being scrutinized. We do everything we can to shield ourselves from those harsh dissections of our flaws. We cover our face in makeup, dye our graying hair, wrap our bodies in Spanx and lift our breasts with gel-filled push-up bras. I don't think wearing makeup makes me any less a feminist, but, at some point, I stop myself and ask who I'm doing these things for. I don't always like the answer, but it's important to keep asking.

Sitting there naked without the aid of a girdle to cinch my waist, I had to give in. It's impossible to suck in my stomach for longer than two minutes, and there's no reason why I should. I let it hang, and it was freeing. 

The artists picked apart my body in a way I wasn't used to. They were there to learn its shape and contours and, in a way, honor it through their art. In that moment, I felt it was time to start truly honoring it myself. Soon I was falling confidently into my poses and resting into my body. It felt good to stop caring. I made a mental note to stop caring with my clothes on.

Write to alexz@sdcitybeat.com. You can also bug her on Twitter.


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