photo: Dorkys Ramos

As a late bloomer sure that she had nothing to show off, I went through great lengths to hide my body once I entered my teens. The stereotypical Latina curves had bypassed me and I hated how short and skinny I was growing up to be. I wanted to blend in and hide. If I wasn’t donning the baggiest clothes throughout high school, I was rushing around with my books clutched to my flat chest hoping no one noticed how plain I looked. I’d chill at the beach wearing jeans and a T-shirt the entire time. Looking back it must have seemed so ridiculous, but I never thought anything strange about it during those years and my family never pushed me to do anything that made me uncomfortable. No, to me strange was strutting around in a crop top and teeny weeny short shorts with your butt hanging out for the world to see.

It wasn’t until the end of high school that I started wearing tank tops and skirts without feeling mortified. Still, I’d think to myself that if my arms weren’t so skinny or my knees too dark then I’d look as pretty as the other girls in my school. I wanted to fill out my tops without the need for annoying padded bras. I wanted to have long legs and more muscular arms that I didn’t have to hide inside a sweater. Even though I was too shy to truly believe a guy could ever ask me out, I stubbornly refused to dress in more flattering or sexy clothes just for the sake of getting a guy’s attention. If a guy was going to like me then he was going to like me just as I am, tomboy looks and all.

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In college I finally started coming into my own, but just slightly. Once I was out of my parents’ bubble, including mami’s overbearing rules, I was able to get to know myself and find a bit of independence. It started with letting my hair stay curly instead of straightening it every two weeks at the salon. I chopped it short for the first time in my life right before starting my freshman year and soon after learned how to love my natural hair. The more comfortable I felt being on my own, driving around my college’s town, fending for myself, and expanding my circle of friends, the better I started to feel in my own skin. Physically, I still saw myself as a child compared to my peers, but I was starting to see that there were some upsides to being Dorkys. Beginning to date and learning how to accept the affection of others contributed to the ego boost. Once I realized that someone else could genuinely find me attractive, I was able to let go of the notion that I was undesirable and I even started to see myself as pretty, too.

Learning how to love my body wasn’t a solitary journey. It’s taken years of positive words from best friends, boyfriends, therapists, and me to feel like I am enough, that I am a beautiful person, and that my attitude plays a huge role in feeling this way. I could wake up well-rested and motivated one day and note that I’m having the best hair day ever and my ass looks amazing in those jeans. Or I could wake up on the wrong side of the bed the next morning and suddenly decide that everything in my closet looks awful on me. The confidence comes and goes, but the days I put myself in the corner are becoming less the older I get. I’ve wasted too many years shaming myself instead of relishing my assets.

When I saw a call for nude models to pose for a group of illustrators about a month ago, I jumped at the chance to participate. It would be my first time posing for such a thing, but I was excited about this new experience. The nerves started to kick in while I waited for my turn at the studio and tried to focus on the art on the walls and the books on the coffee table. “I wonder if it’ll be cold in there,” I thought to myself before I was ushered into a back room to undress. I quickly removed my shirt, my shoes, my jeans, and underwear, slipped into my white bathrobe, and then walked out to greet the artists and figure out my first pose before completely disrobing in front of them.

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The half hour passed by so quickly. There were fun props to play with during my five poses and while my mind did wander during the quiet moments when the artists were sketching - “Is my body interesting enough?” “Will my boobs be drawn as two small dots?” “Are they wondering if I’m actually 34 years old?” - I was proud of myself for this victory. I put myself in what could have been an awkward situation, danced right through it, and walked away with a handful of drawings to show for my bravery.

Today, I still wish that my arms were thicker and more toned, that my breasts were larger, and that all those years spent putting cocoa butter on these knees and elbows would have magically resulted in a more even skin tone. But this is who I am and I have spent the last few years really pushing myself to focus on the things I do love about myself: my black curly hair, my lean and smooth legs, and my cute butt. Sometimes I’ll even hop out of the shower and do a naked twirl in front of my full-length mirror before getting dressed. Yes, sometimes I'm feeling myself, but after nearly three decades of beating myself up, I’ve got a bit of catching up to do.