I've been fat since I was a preschooler. I've also suffered low self-esteem since early childhood. I beat myself up enough, but classmates didn't help. The boy who sat next to me in elementary school rumbled, "Boom, boom, boom" when I ran during PE and the popular girls yelled out "Moo" as I walked by them in middle school.
I was so afraid people would laugh at me that I sat on the sidelines for everything. I wouldn't even bowl. This extreme self-consciousness and body shame went on well past the awkward teenage years -- I wouldn't even dance at my own wedding!
If someone had told that version of me I'd one day strip down to lacy underwear and let someone take photos of me, I would have thought they were crazy. And if they told me I'd then post those images for the world to see? I would have slowly backed away and then cried in terror at just the thought.
My talented professional photographer friend posted a few images from a boudoir shoot on Facebook. The model was plus sized and nearly naked. I couldn't stop staring at her face -- she looked happy and confident. I wanted to feel like that.
And her body looked beautiful, too. I wanted to be brave enough to post. It absolutely terrified me, so I knew it would be life changing.
I suggested my friend do boudoir shots at our annual retreat. She liked the idea and created a private Facebook group for those who were interested. As ladies started sharing, I was surprised to learn some of the women I thought would have the most confidence -- the ones everyone else sees as tiny and beautiful -- struggled just as much with body image as those of us who were overweight. And they were also bullied for their size throughout childhood.
We're a group of women parenting children with mental health, developmental and behavioral issues related to early childhood trauma. We don't focus on ourselves often. This was way out of our comfort zones for almost all of us.
We encouraged each other, scoured Pinterest for sexy poses together and posted lingerie suggestions. I got brave and posted a selfie in a new bra. That little act was so freeing, I shopped for more lingerie and posted more pics. Others did the same.
We all brought lingerie to share. There were many jokes about husbands worrying if their wives were really sneaking away for an affair when glancing at the contents of their suitcases and TSA agents getting some thrills.
This project was a massive undertaking for my friend, who gave up her own weekend of relaxing at the retreat to help the rest of us find beauty in ourselves. Another friend stepped up to assist her. Both of these ladies are plus sized, but filled with amazing confidence. They know they are sexy no matter what size they are and the world has no choice but to see it, too. Their energy was contagious. They were the perfect pair to guide us through the process.
I was the first one to get dressed the morning of the shoot. I wanted to do two outfits. One was a slutty Freddy Krueger Halloween costume because my husband is a huge horror fan. I let my pals orchestrating the shoot pick the other outfit. Then I stripped down so my friend could yank me off the ground into a waist cincher and then fasten it up.
A local beauty school came in to do our hair and makeup. I spent an hour getting made up while wearing a short, tight red and green striped Freddy sweater and fishnets. And I was okay.
I went in for my shoot and felt gorgeous as my friends told me how to pose, where to look, what to do with my arms or legs. I got a lot of "Yes, Bitch!" "Fuck, yeah!" and "So hot!" How can you not feel good with that kind of praise coming from cool chicks you admire?
When my turn was over, I walked out of the bedroom in even less clothes than when I went in. I stepped out into the living room where dozens of ladies were gathered for their turn at hair, makeup and photos. All eyes were on me and I didn't care.
They whistled and cheered.
I felt completely at peace.
I hung around most of the day. I saw women go into the photo shoot room crying because they felt ugly and ashamed of themselves and emerge proud and happy just like I did. It felt almost as good watching others have the experience as it did living it myself.
There were 98 moms at the retreat and 50 posed for boudoir photos. That's 50 women who for the first time in a long while -- maybe in their whole lives -- saw themselves as special and beautiful. Fifty women who were reminded they are worthy and deserving of so much.
I got the confident, happy feeling I was hoping for and I haven't lost it. I love my photos -- and yes, my husband does, too.
But I didn't do it for him. He's always told me I'm hot and beautiful. I needed to see it for myself.
And now I do.
Seeing myself in a positive light has inspired me to make self-care a priority -- because I'm worth it. I've started working out and eating healthier. I'm catching up on doctor visits I've put off and have started reading for fun again. I'm taking time for myself and asking my husband out on dates.
I did a boudoir photo shoot at nearly 300 pounds and all those little voices in my head telling me I'm not good enough got so much quieter. I'm proud of myself and happy to show off those photos to anyone who wants to see them.
And someday my now teenage daughter will write an essay about the time her mom wouldn't stop showing the Internet photos of her cleavage and fishnet clad legs. I hope seeing me love myself will keep her from becoming one of the whopping 91 percent of women unhappy with their bodies.
I highly suggest you book a boudoir photo shoot for yourself. Scared? Reach out to me at email@example.com or @rachaelmoshman on Twitter and I'll support you through it. It's so worth it. You're worth it.