The first time I fell in love with a woman, I was 16, and everything about her seemed perfect: her curly red hair, her freckles, the way she moved from one yoga position to the next so effortlessly she seemed bored. Her name was Ruby.
In hindsight, I’m pretty sure I over-romanticized that first encounter, as one does as a teenager in search of self. We were at an outdoor yoga class at my local park, and everything seemed to shine brilliantly with magic: the pink lemonade that I sipped at the entrance; the soft, dewy grass between my toes; and the smile of the girl who set up her mat beside me.
While I couldn’t see it at the time, of course Ruby had imperfections. But there was one thing I remember that would have been called a “flaw” by most beauty standards, though I didn’t see it that way: She had cellulite—small, sweet dimples appeared on the tops of her thin legs. And even in a public space, she didn’t bother to cover them up or seem embarrassed.
That sort of carefree spirit was so foreign to me, and I envied it. I had such a distorted body image, partially formed by an all-girls’ school obsessed with making us look like “little ladies,” that I couldn’t even recognize myself in photographs. I wished I had Ruby’s confidence, her grace, her aura of self-acceptance. I remember going home that day and stripping down to my underwear. I twisted my spine to look at my cellulite in the mirror and thought, “I have something in common with a goddess.”
In my social circles, I’ve often encountered the assumption that queer people inherently have fewer issues with body image than our straight peers, but I can assure you, dating women is hardly a cure-all for body image issues. In my case, dating women has sometimes felt like an obstacle to self-love. The women I date always seem to be thinner than I am; they’re also traditionally prettier, softer, more feminine. And while I’m trying to unlearn the idea that being fat is “bad,” it’s always hard for me not to compare myself to my partners and feel like I’m inferior. When you’re held to the same standards as the person you’re dating, it can be especially easy to see your so-called shortcomings.
Self-love isn’t a linear journey.
When my girlfriend grabs her stomach fat and talk about going on salt-water cleanses, it’s difficult to look at my own body and think that I look fine. I sometimes find myself worried that strangers see us holding hands in public and think I don’t deserve to be with the woman I love because of the way I look.
But on the other hand, there’s transference. The beauty I saw in Ruby’s “flaws” made it easy for me to see beauty in my own. I met Ruby back when I still believed in the concept of “leagues” — she would be out of my league by any mainstream teen movie’s standards. I thought she wouldn’t like me the way I liked her because I wasn’t as conventionally attractive, but she proved me wrong. She didn’t just love me; she actively pursued me. She didn’t just think I was beautiful; she worshipped me the way I worshipped her.
This surprising turn of events led me to think two revolutionary thoughts:
1. Maybe I’m attractive. Maybe, just as I loved Ruby’s thighs and untamed eyebrows, she loved something that would be considered “imperfect” about me—my soft arms, or my strange chin.
2. Maybe Ruby loved me for reasons other than my appearance.
Ruby and I didn’t last, but loving her was a learning experience. In loving her, I ultimately opened the floodgates to loving myself. When I saw beauty in her imperfections, I learned to apply the same eye to my own body. I found myself thinking of the things we call flaws, and wondering why we’re trained to think this way.
I wanted Ruby not because she was “perfect”—she wasn’t—but because there was a light inside her that shined for me. So why should I hold my body to a beauty standard that I don’t hold my romantic partner to? When I try to be full of love, I can shine as brightly as Ruby did, and my so-called imperfections can’t stand in the way of that.
Self-love isn’t a linear journey; I still fluctuate between treating myself with the gentle kindness I deserve and wanting to cut my stomach off with a knife. But slowly, I’ve managed to transition out of thinking, “I hate my body” on a daily basis. For a while, I replaced it with the thought, “Actually, I look great!” But now I try to remember the most important part: “It doesn’t matter how I look. I love myself anyway.”