Here’s how it used to be, all the time.
It’s 2002, and I’m 22, and it’s carnival season in my home city of New Orleans. I’m sitting in the Circle Bar, fresh from attending a renegade Mardi Gras ball. Black feathers cover my head.
A sexy, cool bass player buys me a drink. I’m smitten. We sit and talk until the wee hours.
He eventually places his hand on my thigh. I don’t mind this—hell, I want this—but my mind, now panicked, instantly flashes to my fishnet hose. That was a good decision, I realize. They do a good job of hiding my cellulite.
It gets interesting, and then it gets hot, and now we’re making plans, plans to go to his place, and I make my disclaimer.
“I don’t really look like this under my costume,” I say.
He smiles. “Yes you do,” he replies. “I’m looking at you.”
I don’t believe him.
I can’t believe him. I can’t process the compliment he’s giving me. It’s impossible that he’ll find my body desirable, much less beautiful, once he sees the flab I’m hiding under my carnival costume. There’s just no way.
This is how it used to be. All the time.
I don’t hide the fact that I spent a few of decades hating myself, and my body. The cycle was insidious and destructive. The more weight I gained, the more I hated myself. I had no clue that I could love myself, and also be fat. It was equally inconceivable that anyone else could love me.
From that self-loathing came a slew of sick men who exploited a young co-dependent girl who desperately wanted someone—anyone—to love her. My mindset enslaved me, and left me trapped in a series of really emotional abusive relationships that lasted for far, far too long.
I believed every harmful thing anyone ever said to me about myself, and my body.
Until one day, I stopped. I couldn’t do it anymore.
I hit a kind of emotional rock-bottom in 2011.
It’d been a couple of years since I’d underwent weight-loss surgery, which was supposed to “fix me.” It hadn’t fixed anything. I was still fat, still miserable, still hating myself, and obsessed with yet another man who’d never love me back.
But I’d hit my limit. I was finally exhausted from trying to bend myself into whatever box I thought a guy—or society, for that matter—wanted me to fit in.
I sought help, real help, for the first time in my life. After a few hard years of self-reflection, good therapy, a move to the West Coast and back, I was different. I was free.
I was still fat, but I didn’t really care. I knew who I was … and more importantly, I was madly in love with myself.
* * *
It’s New Year’s 2016, and I’m 36, and I’m on a beach in Brazil.
I’m single. I haven’t dated anyone in years.
The universe has other plans for me.
As the waves hit the sand, a tall good-looking guy chats me up. I can’t reply. I’m too shocked. This doesn’t happen anymore. I don’t permit it to. I don’t know how to react.
He’s hot, but I’m frozen!
I need practice.
Not long after my Brazilian fumble, I open a Tinder account. I have no idea this will send me on the ultimate self-discovery journey. I spend about a year-and-a-half “practice dating” and learning things.
Oh, the things I learn! Little things, like how to start a conversation. Seemingly simple things, like how to eat in front of a man.
Bigger things, like how to accept a compliment.
And the best of all things: How to show up for myself.
Like all growth opportunities, it is painful at times, but ultimately rewarding.
I chant “I am the prize” in my head as I stride into every first date. I get ghosted. A lot.
But with each ghosting, a trusted friend reminds me that “This just means there’s someone better for you out there. That was just practice for when you meet him. You’ll be ready.”
And because of the radical self-love work I’d done during my hiatus, I wholeheartedly believe her.
* * *
And yet, there was still a 22-year-old girl inside my heart that still needed to make a disclaimer about her size to potential suitors.
On Tinder, I’d post full-body and poolside photos of myself, alongside a By the way, I’m 6’2” at the end of the About Me paragraph. And if the photos weren’t enough, I’d emphasize the plus-size part of my boutique when describing my job during pre-date text chats.
Along all the disclaimers, I was limiting my selection of men to those who where my size or bigger. I’d scour profiles for any indication of height and body shape.
I went out with a lot of brawny-bear types.
I was stuck in the cultural normative of gender roles, within my mind. I couldn’t fathom how I could feel beautiful or sexy if I was towering over someone, much less if I was bending down to kiss them. And God help me if I found myself next to a man who weighed less than me.
Deep down, I still struggled to believe that someone could find me beautiful or sexy because of my body.
I didn’t let any of my “practice dates” see me naked.
* * *
I took pause, and went deeper into self-reflection and therapy. I read other plus-size women’s thoughts on dating. I chatted up my girlfriends, fat and thin. I quizzed guy friends, straight and gay. I somehow stopped caring what other people thought of me.
I learned to jiggle.
It’s a few months later, and I’m re-activating my Tinder profile. I stop looking for brawny body shapes, and start scouring profiles for something else: kind eyes. I’m swiping right on a wider variety of men—a far different experience than I had, when my dating journey began.
I go on another vacation, this time to the far-less-tropical state of Vermont. While there, I go on a date with a man who has kind eyes. Very kind eyes. He’s a wicked smart nerd and we talk until the wee hours of the morning.
I’m standing before him, naked now, and he’s gazing back at me, and my body. There I am, all of me.
He adores what he sees.
In this moment, I’ve never felt sexier, or more beautiful. This moment feels true—true down to my marrow, down to my cells—and it feels that way for him, too.
I’d done the work. It was an inside job. I was shining through.
No disclaimer needed.
* * *
When I returned to New Orleans, I had a new jiggle in my swipe, if you will.
Suddenly, I wasn’t the girl being ghosted. I was showing up on first dates with a fierce confidence and a discerning eye. I no longer needed my pre-date chant. I knew it in my soul.
I’d chat up every first date with a checklist of exactly what I was looking for in a man. Even better, I had the absolute belief that I deserved every single thing on that list. “They should be privileged to be in the presence of my cellulite,” I’d think, “because I’m far more than just a pretty face.”
A few months ago, I matched with a very fine man with the kindest eyes I’ve ever gazed into. About a week into casual texting, and before we met in real life, he told me he was five inches shorter than me. I was a little disappointed, but kept the conversation going. There was something about this guy.
He was all the good things: smart, funny, attractive and easy to flirt with. I’d learned too much on my dating journey to turn all that away, just over size.
The conversation we had that day—about his height—somehow made future conversations with him more interesting. It was the first moment where we showed up with our truths.
Ever since that slightly vulnerable conversation, we’ve simply continued to show up with more truths. So far, none of our truths have scared the other away. The irony isn’t lost on me that it was our different bodies that shifted the conversation into the goodness that we currently find ourselves in.
Our bodies don’t look like two bodies Western Culture says should go together. Yet somehow I’ve never felt more comfortable naked with someone in my entire life. His eyes look at me with passion and adoration.
I’m both sexy and beautiful. The fat is an afterthought.
* * *
I wouldn’t be the woman I am today without the experiences of the girl I was.
But still. If I could walk into the Circle Bar back in 2002, I would tell that feather-draped girl to hang on. Her life gets weird, and she gets really happy. She can be fat, sexy and beautiful.
But more than anything, I’d tell her she doesn’t need to bend herself into any more boxes.
And she definitely doesn’t need a disclaimer.
 I’m still friends with the cool, sexy bass player. I messaged him the other day to refresh my memory about this event. I was so averse to compliments back then, I’d blocked out his half of the conversation. He furthered the compliment by saying, “I remember being a little surprised that such a gorgeous, confident, smiling woman would feel the need to say that in the first place!” Wow! If only I could have seen myself through his eyes back then.
 While it did take me a minute to get use to bending over to kiss this relatively short guy, I keep finding myself wanting to kiss him. He picked me up the other day as we ran across the street in the rain. Talk about feeling sexy and beautiful! None of those brawny guys of my past ever once picked me up.