Ayla-Monic McKay
April 11, 2016 8:51 am
Shutterstock / nito

Like most women — and some men — in our society, I struggle with a lot of body image feelings: some positive, some neutral, and some negative. The self-hate and shame that many advertising campaigns engender within us is nothing new. Even campaigns purportedly designed to empower us about our bodies end up creating a mountain of shame amongst those of us who feel like we’re failing at the task of loving ourselves.

When I do have days where I look in the mirror and think, “I look fantastic!” I revel in it. When I have days where I look in the mirror and think, “Yep, that’s a body doing what bodies do,” I lean into the feeling. Any time I can look at my belly and my waist and my thighs without cringing, I am totally on board. While I don’t generally feel the need to document my neutral feelings about my body, I love to document the times when I feel great about it — those moments when I think I look great in a new lingerie set, or think my hair is so perfectly tousled and my lipstick is so on point that my current look deserves, in my opinion, to be immortalized. I spend so many of my days and weeks feeling ambivalent about my body that I think it’s important to capture the moments when I am utterly in love with myself.

So, I take selfies — so many selfies. I love selfies. If I were to categorize them, they would probably fall in a 45/45/10 split of face and makeup pics, sexy selfies, and “outfit of the day” shots. Most of the face and outfit pics end up on Instagram, where friends and strangers reinforce my fleeting feelings of self-love with likes and comments. But what about the other sexy selfies? The shots I take when I love the curve of my hip, and how my arm rests on it as I stretch out on the bed? The top-down MySpace angles I capture when I notice that my recent weight gain has done wonders for my breasts and they look fantastic in that bra?

They’re works of art to me, and when I look at them, I see my body the way a lover might see it — sculptural, playful, sexy, hot, and engaging. So of course I want someone else to see these perfectly lit, carefully composed pictures — the rare moments where I actually do love my whole self, body included. The problem with sharing those pictures is that they’re also incredibly vulnerable and intimate. While you could argue they’re “artistic nudes,” photos like these are often removed from Instagram, and users are banned or harassed. What I used to do was send them to whomever my current sex partner was (usually a dude). Sometimes I would get no response. Sometimes I would get a positive response. However, there was always the knowledge in the back of my mind that every time I sent one out, there was a chance the person receiving the photos might share them, or even put them online.

I was more concerned about not being able to trust the men I was with (because in all honestly, I never worried about it with my woman partners) than the thought of my pictures being on the Internet. But then, something wonderful happened: I discovered “frexting.” Frexting is the practice of sending sexy photos to your friends instead of to your current or potential sex partners. On the one hand, that might seem really weird if you tend to have friendships with strict boundaries, for me and my friends, it has been transformative.

I have this amazing group of friends who are all incredibly emotionally intimate. We are the kind of people who are constantly in TMI mode, and there’s very little we don’t know about each other. So, it didn’t come as a surprise when frexting started to become a habit. What was surprising was how much of an impact it had on me.

In North America, we don’t see a diverse or realistic portrayal of women or non-binary people naked or nearly-naked, unless they’ve been photoshopped in magazines and movies, or carefully cast for a very curated body type in pornography. Even as a queer woman, I really don’t see a whole lot of naked ladies who actually look like me in my normal day-to-day. There is such a narrow window of bodies we see that largely do not reflect our actual reflections, that we don’t really know what real bodies look like.

When I started frexting, I obviously started seeing more naked and nearly-naked bodies. Fat bodies and thin bodies. Ample breasts and barely-there boobs. Wide hips and narrow hips. Flat bottoms and bubble butts. Toned tummies and curvy rolls. And they are all beautiful. And we all love it.

“Babe!”

“Goddess.”

“Marry me!”

These are the types of responses we send to each other — positive reinforcement, given in a safe space.

I see these women, these friends who are dear to me because they are all incredible people, and I see their bodies the way they want their lovers to see them: sculptural, playful, sexy, and engaging. All those things I want my lovers to see in me, I see in them. I see these qualities in all their different bodies.

And these days, I find myself looking at my own body very differently. I’m kinder to myself. When I stretch and catch the length of my body in the mirror above my dresser, I am reminded of one friend’s long and lean powerful body. When I strip down at the end of the day and slide my hand across my round belly, I’m reminded of another friend’s beautiful soft curves and her love for her own belly. I see myself in them and I see them in myself, and because I love them and their bodies, I find myself loving my own body in a way that I never thought was possible.

And that is an incredible feeling.

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