After a particularly sweaty trip to a mall in the smog-filled city of Manila, seven-year-old Beatriz decided to uncross her legs in the middle seat of a taxi while sitting next to her grandmother. My lola (grandmother) gave me a seemingly wholesome lecture on why little girls needed to keep their legs crossed while wearing skirts. I felt the cab driver’s eyes on my knees as I defiantly asked my grandmother for an explanation behind such an arbitrary rule.
I couldn’t help but wonder: How did my desire to cool my sweaty thighs invite a grandmotherly lecture about decency and a creepy glance from a cab driver? Before I was even old enough to understand the meaning of sexual attraction, I was taught that it was my responsibility to hide my body from creepy men, like this cab driver, who is honestly risking all of our lives by taking his eyes off of high-stress Manila traffic to look at a young girl’s legs.
The policing of my young body continued as I gained a handful of unwanted pounds. Puberty hit me early and fast, like a slew of aggressive Fyre Festival ads, and soon, I was busting out of my Catholic schoolgirl uniform and into… a larger, unflattering size of below-the-knee, buttoned-all-the-way-up tan and green Catholic schoolgirl uniform.
As my family emigrated to the States, we relied heavily on Catholic communities to hold us during the very challenging transition of acclimating to a new country. At community functions and family parties, I was told to pull up my shirt lest I offend anyone with a millimeter of cleavage visibility. My mother constantly told me that when my cleavage shows, the world can see my kaluluwa, the Tagalog word for soul.
I wish I could tell you that I’ve been defiant about loving my body since day one, but the truth is, I drank that heteropatriarchal Fyre Festival Kool-Aid. I proverbially bought an overpriced VIP cabana at said Fyre Festival, and spread the word that a woman’s ability to cover up will bode well in the eyes of God. In spreading this message, I harmed myself and others.
All of the cover-up directives tainted my dating approach as a teen, which can only be accurately described as an apologetic Avril Lavigne album. Imagine the upbeat, angsty tone of Sk8r Boi, but replace the lyrics with a slew of apologies about my cellulite, my large belly, my flabby arms. I was, all at once, incredibly sorry that my partners had to endure my appearance, and angry that I didn’t have the same access to pleasure as the skinny women I watched on TV. Plus, all the skinny girl cleavage I saw in magazines and television were driving me to an insurmountable, raccoon-eyeliner level of rage.
Why couldn’t I just show my damn tits!?
The first time I actually liked a boy enough to sleep with him, I sent him a series of nudes to simply warn him that this is what he signed up for. Even though I had already spent numerous hours with said-boy, I took photos of my body from different angles to make sure he knew and understood that this is what I looked like naked.
All the covering up I had done to appease the fear that a holier-than-thou Tito might glance at my cleavage transformed into potent self-hatred. Beads of sweat formed on my forehead after many compromising poses. I sighed heavily, scrolling through the photos on my laptop to select the best angles.
I swallowed my fear of rejection and pressed “send.”
A pre-read-receipts and pre-eggplant-emoji wave of anxiety poured in: What if he didn’t want to get this? Is Jesus shaking his head at me from up above? What if my mom sees these? I’d seen so many Vanessa Hudgens-type leaked nude photo apologies, that I began to practice one of my own.
“I didn’t know what I was thinking when I sent these. I’m fat and shouldn’t be seen by the world, anyway. I’m a terrible role model for my sisters and cousins. Let the Spongebob stuffed toy that I still sleep with prove my innocence.” I continued to spiral in self-hatred during the wait for a response.
“New message received.”
I opened the message from sk8er boi dujour and it read, “sljdfsajfjadlkfjhadhfajdhlkajdhlfkjhadklgjhldkfjhgakldjg,” which is the Tumblr-era equivalent of sending a heart-eyes emoji or a suggestive gif, for the Gen Z eyes who might be reading this without proper context. He continued to praise my curves, specific poses, even my lighting choices, and I’m forever grateful to this Irish-Spring-wearing, horny little dude for boosting my ego.
Drunk on applause and much-needed space for sexual expression, I sent more and more.
To this day, I still send nudes because the ability to reframe the gaze on my fat body is intoxicating.
Seeing curvy girl selfies on Instagram only fueled my need to express myself. Embracing every step of my self-love journey — for the past year, it’s a constant rollercoaster of abundance and scarcity with very little room for anything in between — in a public way might answer questions for anyone who follows me, who might be going through the same thing.
While the skinny girls I was in youth group with are boasting their happy marriages, recently adopted dogs, and brand new houses on Instagram, I stay providing the thirst traps that the world needs. I used to feel like I was lucky to be able to post nudes while yielding minimal bullying, but grown Beatriz now knows that sexual expression without censorship or societal damage is a universal right. Let this story be a testament to every thick girl’s celebration of her own body.
Whether you’re loving yourself in front of camera lenses or behind closed doors, I stan your expression.