I've never liked my body.
I was too tall. I stood out. And I felt like I should apologize for my height. "Are you that tall -- even without heels?" was the question that has come every second of my entire life.
I always felt so ashamed to say yes.
In terms of my body, I never thought all that much about my weight. For most of my life, I grew so quickly that I never had to do much of anything to stay the same size of 6. But when I was in college, I ate poorly, I got no exercise and I found out that not only did I feel too tall, size 6 didn't come so easy anymore. I realize that all of the negativity and poor self-image was in my head, but at the time the voices that I heard criticizing myself seemed very, very real.
When I got married, I gained more weight, and eventually tried to take control of my diet. Unfortunately, after a certain point, I increasingly spiraled out of control, getting skinnier and more unhealthy.
When things were bad, I became pre-anorexic, I weighed 139 pounds at 6'2" and weighed myself on the scale religiously every day. My period stopped. Everyone told me that I looked skinny and skinnier and "Are you too skinny?"
When I finally let myself eat carbs and sugar again, I found myself going the complete opposite direction. I couldn't stop. I kept eating and eating, and I kept gaining more and more.
In the time since, I've registered somewhere between having a healthy weight to during darker times, very easily going off on binges when I'm not satisfied with a particular aspect of my life.
So when a friend of mine bought me a Shameless Photography pinup shoot, I was hesitant at first. I even sought out ways that I could quickly lose weight.
Of course, I did nothing of the sort, but instead ate pizza and sweated that the photo shoot was going to be a disaster.
Instead, the exact opposite happened. I showed up in the New York studio to meet Sophie Spinelle, founder of Shameless (which is a trio of three photographers: Spinelle, Carey Lynne and Maxine Nienow) and confessed to all of this and apologized if I was not in the right frame of mind to be an awesome pinup model. "You'll be great," Sophie said. "Do not worry. This day is all about you."
One of the first things to set me at ease immediately was seeing framed photos of Emily during her pinup short gorgeous-ing up the place. (My friend actually got the idea to buy the two of us the package after asking me to find out where Emily had her beautiful shots done.)
Sophie had already asked me to send her ideas beforehand. I told her ahead of time that the only concept I had was that I might use the photos for my podcast "News Whore."
She proceeded to show me all of the outfits she had picked out that she thought would fit perfectly with the theme along with props of a microphone, newspaper and the shoes and jewelry that would fit nicely with the purple and red backdrops she selected.
I've picked my favorite shots from the shoot below, and I've tried to encapsulate what I appreciate about each one and how I learned to love myself more with each scenario we played around with to get these pictures.
#1: I like playing the sexpot.
There's sometimes shame in outright posing like the seductress, but in the environment of the pinup studio, it felt safe to pucker and pout and kick my legs up to the ceiling.
#2: I embraced my curves.
Pictures of myself when I was at my skinniest I never liked that much. In these photos, I see the curve of my arms and my hips, and I love every one.
#3: When I try too hard at something, I choke. When I just fool around, I do great.
At the very beginning of the photo shoot, the pictures I took looked just like I felt: Stilted and stressed. When I started fooling around and just not caring about anything, everything suddenly started to work seamlessly.
#4: An arched back is gorgeous.
I always feel as if I'm putting on airs when I act like a model in a photo shoot. I feel pretentious and silly, like I'm play-acting a supermodel. But when I looked at the photographic evidence, I saw just what play-acting can do. Posing and strutting and arching the back looks simply beautiful.
#5: When you smile, imagine the most wonderful secret you can.
I did exactly that when I was taking the photos. At first when I smiled, I looked pained, like I was imagining everything that had ever made me self-conscious about my body ever. But when I looked at the first shots Sophie had taken, the stress came through in every one. Then, I started to think about the most romantic night I've ever spent with a past boyfriend, and suddenly, I couldn't stop smiling. The pictures showed it, too.
#6: Own your strength.
When I grabbed the mic Sophie had procured as a prop, I took it hesitantly at first. "Own it," Sophie said. And so I did just that. I never regretted it for a moment either. When these pictures arrived, seeing what Shameless Photography captured, all I could say was one thing: "I love my body."
Find Mandy long-form at http://tinyurl.com/stadtmiller.