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Written By Laura Delarato.

Photo by Jessica Pettway.

They’re horrible.

A younger me stared at the mirror as I removed my cardigan; peeling back the shame and ready to expose it to all who crossed my path for the next week. Determined to dive fin-first into my own personal social experiment, I pushed myself outside of my comfort zone in order to live a life where one day I could possibly be comfortable baring my arms. The New York City summer was blaring down on all of us — me and all the other fat girls were melting away as we hid our large upper-limbs under Old Navy cardigans and dress-clashing shawls. I simply could not do it anymore, and so, I pulled all my charming spaghetti-strap dresses to the front of my closet and allowed the world (and myself) to witness a pair of very pale branches. I was going to break through this anxiety by normalizing it.

This, friends, is the tenets of exposure therapy — a practice often used to relieve anxiety symptoms by prolonged exposure to trauma, insecurities, and spaces. By constantly placing your physical and/or mental state in this uncomfortable position, it allows you to take the power away from the experience.

So, why bring this up? There is a major connection between what we are exposed to and what we actually do. Sometimes it’s from our own inner initiative to change others’ minds, and sometimes it’s seeking out quality representation so you can see it within yourself.

Present-day me is standing naked in front of a velvet black sheet blinded by projection light fully unencumbered by what the world has said to me, about me, and how it represents me. I stand on the wooden floors of a Bushwick apartment inching, kneeling, stretching my nude body while images of water and shapes cascade over every roll and ripple; allowing me to be one with the image. Every time I do it, I think about how I got there and to this point. Younger me would have never believed this would be an available personal option for myself.

Changing my world view about my arms was nothing compared to what had to alter in order for me to have a happy, healthy life. A younger me honestly couldn’t understand a future where I would be completely naked in front of another person without it being turned into how we often (read: always) represent fat women: as the joke, as the hopeless, as the pity fuck, as the last option.

My self-acceptance journey can literally be traced back to Tumblr — a magical blog-space that feels more like a hub for .gif porn than anything else. An early 20s Laura plugged a silly name into her new Tumblr blog and proceeded to follow any and all plus, fat, thick, curvy women that I could find. I simply needed to see people who looked like me and, more importantly, people who were happy looking the way they looked.

My brain took notice: there are TONS of women who look like me but rarely did I see my body type represented in the media — and that lack of representation distorted the way I perceived my own beauty. I’ll never forget that first time scrolling past hundreds of posts of plus-size women being cute, playful, sultry, sad, so hot, so normal, so unbothered by the rest of the world and thinking, I need this for myself.

Again: while arms are not at all on the same level as getting full-blown naked, the basic principles of exposure therapy/representation will change the way you see yourself and other plus-size bodies. Like, really.

The rapid waves of content within our social zeitgeist paints an incredibly one-sided picture of worth: white, thin, feminine, cisgendered. Over and over and over again. And while those bodies and experiences have a place in the world and in our media, it’s important to recognize the experiences and looks of the people who actually consume content. As much as it might sound elementary and childish: seeing is believing. If you can’t see yourself in the overarching content, you can’t fully grasp your worth and value.

Tumblr led me to find more looks, more women, more bodies that I could find an emotional home in. As apps and avenues gave me better access to what I wanted, I felt like I needed to pair down what I was looking for. My Instagram became a place where I hyper-curate who I follow and why I continue to let them take up space on my feed.

While most of my options are super babely fatshion bloggers that have made space for others to see that it’s perfectly acceptable to be plus-size and well-dressed, I also find a lot of good in following the lingerie-posting, plus-women that seem to live in thongs. Those women make it okay for me to feel sexy. They share their confidence with others; changing the way we see value in bodies. Plus, I’m always on the hunt for quality plus-size lingerie.

I often think about billboards when discussing representation. If you notice, there is very few kinds of bodies allowed to grace the skyline stages of a billboard; making them what we accept as good-to-be-seen. But I deserve to be seen and so does my body, and if we keep exposing ourselves to only the few “acceptable” kinds of bodies than we’re simply missing out on so much beauty. For me, I needed to see my body and other plus-size bodies so that I could finally feel free from hating it.

Again. Standing naked in front of a light bath moving my body in a way that is normally not seen or recommended for fat girls; knowing my friends, coworkers, and family might be able to see them — I feel a wave of calm. I spent so much time hating myself to then desperately search for anyone who looked like me. There is something about letting it all go and letting your body move, and be photographed, the way that it looks — fully accepting of the outcome no matter what your insecurities may say about flattery. And in this light, I get to be the person I needed all along.

Laura Delarato is a writer, video producer, artist, nude art model, body image activist, and sex educator based in Brooklyn, NY . . . she also very aware of how intense that sounds. Her art and essays have been featured on BeautyCon, Ravishly, People, Allure, NBC, LunaLuna Magazine, Travel + Leisure, and Revelist — and she can be seen modeling for Blink Fitness, Dia & Co, ASOS, Target, PlusBKYN and Gwynnie Bee. Laura also teaches original workshops for Fusion Academy, The Pleasure Chest, Babeland, and Brooklyn’s yearly Sex Expo. Her work is deeply planted within body politics, fitness, sex education and plus size representation. During the day, she is a branded video producer and writer at Refinery29; specializing in body positivity, confidence, fitness, and representation. She is also the face of R29’s 67% Project where she creates content and speaks to the importance of plus-size community and body image — as well as a face of R29’s 29Room’s Creative Spirit campaign and merchandise.

Follow Laura on Instagram where she posts about body acceptance, erotic art, and wellness.