Making the Ascent: A Spiritual Introspection
There’s something there, in the sky. Outstretched over the boulders rough and organic, boldly contrasting with the Joshua trees, and as I look out I think, there, there it is. In the quiet that settles over everything and drenches the rocks with its stillness. A feeling I’m reaching for but can’t quite make sense of just yet.
I am waiting, as Sven and Dejan photograph Maya and Roza curved up into the rocks. This space feels like both a haven and an otherworldly place. Eventually I’ll give it a try, but not yet.
Right now I’m just getting used to things.
Back in college I took a figure drawing class to get better at drawing people, so what we were doing didn’t exactly feel out of the ordinary. At times it felt like being part of a Renaissance painting, like we were celebrating the diversity of the human spirit and grace in its form.
Is it scary to lose all of your worries and be naked in front of people you don’t know? I’m the wrong person to ask.
I mean, I won’t try to get too flourishy with where I’m going. Climbing on those rocks is rough, and I have to credit Maya for handling it so gracefully. The rocks look smooth, but that’s granite, and each amorphous surface is riddled with small jabs and sharp edges. Your skin invariably digs into it while you climb and situate yourself, and I came home the following evening with cuts and scrapes on my legs. But with a happy kind of relief, because at the same time I took home something far greater and more valuable, and I’m still holding onto it.
So let’s get back to the body. We’ve got our own quirks and rough edges, like those rocks. Humor and introspection and a lot of heart. And no one is stranger to the world of advertisements constantly shaping us or trying to help us find the perfect look, the perfect style, and some of it we own for ourselves, and some of it we’re encouraged to do for others.
And I want people who see my body in this photo, specifically people who’ve felt uncomfortable with their image in any way, shape or form to feel like it’s okay for them to just fuck the standard and be comfortable and happy as they are.
I’m fine with style as an art form for self-expression. But I’m not exactly a small size in the fashion world, and I’m straddling the border between “normal” and “plus” sizes. I’m American of Lebanese heritage, and it seems like in both cultures, we have an issue with body image. And then on top of that, I have PCOS, which makes it next to impossible for me to lose any weight, but easy to gain weight. Then in all of this, for me to be considered beautiful, I’m expected to be next to hairless with flawless skin, hourglass curves if curves are present, and then a bunch of other things I don’t want to list out.
Is it scary to lose all of your worries and be naked in front of people you don’t know? I’m the wrong person to ask. I look at all of this as a form of art, of embracing how beautiful we all are. I am thankful that there are people who can capture and frame this beauty in a way that helps others see it and understand as well. I like being out in the open and feeling the breeze on my skin in this desert, but I would probably feel different if I had all these eyes on me, scrutinizing me, making their own assessments in real time. But that’s not something I have to worry about out here. We’re searching for spots where we can harmonize with nature, and Maya is helping Sven and Dejan pose us into ways that achieve a balanced aesthetic. We’re exploring and discovering and finding tons of ways to capture expression of the soul.
We’re exploring and discovering and finding tons of ways to capture expression of the soul.
Some companies are trying to get smarter about the whole approach to body image and want us to treat their product as an accessory for self-expression instead of a tool for status and social acceptance. But still, it’s not perfect. It just seems like socially, this world is kind of a harsh place to just be yourself.
And I see enough of it in my own life. I think I invariably struggle with accepting the idea that I could have any level of potential attractiveness because I hear it from not just one, but two different cultures. I have enough curve in the ‘wrong’ ways that I’m not considered attractive. So if people find me cute, it’s usually because of my personality or my humor.
And I see it when I visit my family overseas because Lebanon—still heavily influenced by the French presence and occupation at the turn of the century—values Western standards for beauty over what we physically attain. Women are expected to be narrow and fit to that ideal, when for some of us, that’s completely unrealistic just because we weren’t built like that. The women in my family mostly seem to grow wider as they grow older. I see women my age starve themselves and go through diets and it’s too painful. How are we supposed to be thin and skinny and then just fan out? Where’s the middle ground?
So for me, this is an act of rebellion to all of that. It’s a big //fuck you// to everyone.
So for me, this is an act of rebellion to all of that. It’s a big //fuck you// to everyone. This is what I’m choosing to do with my body. It’s mine and it’s existed in this weird in-between space for as long as I can remember. And it’s not even body positivity. Fuck the idea that I’d need to embrace it for its “weirdness” in spite of not fitting within a standard. Fuck the standard. Eliminate it, do away with it altogether. Everyone is beautiful. I want people to see this photo and think, wow, that’s all beautiful. Everything about this is evocative. There’s connection and community and each of these people are beautiful in their own way. They’re all connected and all harmonized with the beauty of nature. And I want people who see my body in this photo, specifically people who’ve felt uncomfortable with their image in any way, shape or form to feel like it’s okay for them to just fuck the standard and be comfortable and happy as they are.
It’s a lifetime of pain we’ve all accrued and to that I say, drop it.
It’s a lifetime of pain we’ve all accrued and to that I say, drop it.
Drop it on the heads of the companies who elect to play with our emotions in order to market their products.
Leave it in the room for family and friends to chew on when they politely drop hints about dieting for the purposes of attaining a specific figure, whether they’re hoping to themselves or hoping you will. (Health is a conversation independent of looks.)
Unpack it and let it sit in the air as the sun rises, let the light spilling over the landscape transmute it into kaleidoscopic jeweled refractions in ambers and amethyst and vermilion, let it be dissolved into the light and be blown about in the desert wind as it’s reduced to dustmotes scattered, release this burden from your shoulders, take this heaviness from your heart and fashion it into the foundations for a temple holding room for yourself and others in a place of empathy and understanding and hope.
Drop it and let it go, and breathe.
I like being out in the nature, away from everyone and spending a good afternoon/evening/morning with my friends. And I like being out here, but I also like the process of accepting my body as poetry. So here it is. This is my beautiful, poetic body and I’m happy as fuck with it. I like my curves and my stretch marks and my thunder thighs and my tiny ankles and I like just being here, watching the sun set as we pull a last set of poses together before it gets too dark. The three of us are on some boulders we spotted from a distance. Maya’s above, elevated on a boulder and reaching up for the stars, and Roza is below, also climbing upwards. And I’m in the middle, connecting us as we appear to be ascending to the celestial world above. There’s an element of collaboration, and a dash of sisterhood, and a hell of a lot of hope.