WE CAME FROM THE SEA
I still haven’t been able to shake off one of my favourite recent dreams. A trip to the beach ended with me holding the sea above my head on a sunny day. There was no sound, birds, fish or other organisms, just the dry sand on my feet and more dry sand where the sea had been. A silent, thin, crispy sea that did not hurt my arms and rather covered me from the bright sun. The sky looked as real as ever.
When I had my very first surf lesson and boasted about it to a friend, his only remark was “Wait, you can’t swim and yet you went surfing?” I laughed and said, I know, right? Hadn’t even really thought about it until then. And no one knew. The board, the wet suit, not being alone – all this helped. Having fun helped for sure. Dating a surfer for half a year before and hearing about it constantly, too.
It’s been more than a year and I have not pursued surfing despite being offered free lessons and although I seem to surround myself more and more with people who do this challenging sport. I can get by for a day but to continue I would eventually need to know how to swim properly. Well, I do get in the water and love it but would never consider myself a swimmer. Some people can swim but cannot float and some people float and pretend to swim. For a year I lived nearby a swimming pool yet I did not enroll, just kept telling myself that one day I would. We often tend to do so when it comes to self love.
A few months ago, my dear friend Lilit asked me if I would like to model for a bikini brand. She would shoot the photos and the brand, she confirmed, was the one I was thinking about. Sometimes I get reminded by people browsing the website that I had already been part of another of Lilit’s endeavours: her AirBnB experience where she takes people on photographic tours around Lisbon and to which she invited me to model for as well.
As for Wonda Swim, I had seen some posts on social media, visited their website, and appreciated the beachy happiness of the models. I had been pleasantly surprised about the sustainability, timelessness and made-to-last vision of Wonda Swim. But I had not, for sure, seen myself as more than a sure customer someday. So my reply was not an immediate yes. I instead let my self-consciousness and lack of self-love take the best of me up until the very day of the shoot, thinking of giving up one too many times. Not that I am not aware of the body positivity movement around the world in the past few years, with Instagram being the catalyst for the plethora of plus-size models, singers and actors who took over and are giving other models a run for their money.
From Missy Elliott (now at her thinnest but a long time “thick girl” who needs tempo) to Nadia Aboulhosn to Gabi Fresh to Ashley Graham to Lizzo to Barbie Ferreira, we are faced with more types of bodies than ever, with several instagram accounts dedicated to the not so mentioned kinds of the spectrum, as middle sizes sometimes don’t get enough love, only the extremes, either the skinny of the plus size. And don’t forget even other types of bodies, the ones with missing limbs or other limiting physical conditions, recently consecrated by Sephora or Miley Cyrus in her Mother’s Daughter video. I get chills thinking that we just recently lost the intrepid Mama Cax.
Makes us wonder what is healthy, and what is not, and why we go about celebrating famous people we don’t know or friends who are influencers and well known in a certain niche. Do we celebrate ourselves enough or at all, though? Are we celebrating our friends’ bodies and beauty? Do they celebrate ours, too? When we vouch for natural and beauty in the same sentence, do we think of ourselves or are we still slaves to the culture? How about the gym? If both thin and thick girls hit the gym, where does the difference lie? On the plate?
But I digress. I found myself obsessed with Ashley Graham’s semi-naked profile photo of her already pregnant self, flaws and all, and as I do with classical paintings and photos of friends and celebrities, I felt this urge to recreate it. We look so similar. Love handles, stretch marks, scars, I have it all. Minus the pregnancy and the self-love. So there I was, looking like a model who had been on the cover of Sports Illustrated and would soon be on the cover of Vogue. And still, I was hesitating to be shot for a bikini catalogue.
Before I published my first book, my mother would ask me what I would do with so many photos and I would joke around saying they would be very useful when my career started because I had a model book before I had a career as a writer. I wasn’t wrong. I like taking photographs much more than being photographed, however, in the last few years, I was blessed enough to have been approached by photographers who took an interest in working with me, just for the sake of beauty. Just because we could. I am dressed in all of them, of course.
An overthinker but mostly a thinker, in the past year I had quit acting in a play that required full nudity, mostly out of fear, and proposals to do nude or close to photoshoots, even with friends, out of just not being ready.
It is hard enough to be brave in the intimate sphere of the image era. But what is readiness other than being presented with opportunities or jumping right in front of them? Glennon Doyle Melton says that all successful women she knows show up before they are ready, even if they have no idea of what they are doing. This “I will do this… when I am…” philosophy, according to Melton, is a little too safe and an excuse to not get started on the work of your life, since we will never surpass our imperfect condition as human beings. It makes you postpone your life and your potential and hide under the self-improvement armour.
WE SHALL OVERCOME
I’ve been through it all: having an athletic, fit body which led people to ask what sports I did and the answer being none (I take after my tall, former Judo teacher father), being a teenager who people would say to “you should be a model”, attracting undesired attention from the opposite sex to the point of wishing to be invisible, dealing with depression, becoming an emotional eater, gaining the extra weight of 60 kgs and dealing with the fact I had eaten the weight of a slim person with that person actually being my pain I could no longer hide.
The list goes on: going through a gastric sleeve and in the meantime dealing with myself, the scale, exercise on my own, the gym, the fashion industry (at the time I gained weight only H&M had big sizes, Mango hadn’t created Victoria yet and Zara wasn’t even an option as their sizes only went up to L), several mirrors and photos in which I did not recognize myself, my family and friends who had known the elegant me all my life, other people who only new the obese me, and then people who came along after the stomach surgery and the meanness, the support and the opinions, thoughts, reflections and sitting with my feelings and reviewing my relationship with myself and food from day one.
Of the many stories I hope to tell about this entire and ongoing process, I’ll leave you with just one. After losing a family member on Christmas, I went to her daughter’s house where many other relatives already were. A couple of minutes in, I realized an uncle was having lunch at the table near me and said hi. He did not recognize me at all. Then, my cousin explained that yes, it was really me. My uncle was stunned.
We had not seen each other for a very long time, however I remember very well the last two times. One, I was still obese. The other one, I had already gone through surgery and lost a great amount of weight. When he saw the obese me, we had not seen each other since I was a teen. He was shocked and could not hide it nor tried to, making hurtful remarks with his eyes and his words.
Now, he could also not hide how surprised he was that there was nothing, or at least that there was less to criticize. Ironically, these two encounters occurred on the backstage of a fashion show, for my aunt’s brand (she is a former model turned designer).
On a sunny October Sunday, us girls got together for a Wonda Swim shoot. It was one of the best days of an already inexplicably amazing year. I was still self-conscious, sleep-deprived from months of working the night shift. This led to not eating properly and feeling bloated. I was feeling too tall, too big, too fat, too much in my own head. Comparison will kill you if you let it.
At some point, I just decided to turn down the volume on all the negative voices, internal and external, past and present. I turned up as loud as I could all the compliments, supportive words, directions and laughs I shared with the new friends I made that day. It has lasted so far, so much that I took on a job as an extra for a music video… Shot in a swimming pool.
Here’s to celebrating each other. Celebrating self-love, and women being there for one another. Creating safe physical and emotional places and mindsets together. Ah, and don’t forget that cold beer at sunset. Well earned.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Gisela Casimiro is a Portuguese writer, photographer and part-time model for WONDA. Her creative, inspiring and beautiful soul is keeping us believe that spreading confidence and empowering each other can make an impact and improve everyone our fellows’ life.