Words by Jana Schmieding.
Photos by Laura Delarato.
My last sexual relationship with a man, two years ago, felt like the final straw. When he ghosted after a month of enjoying my body, it felt like heterosexuality was playing the same cruel joke on me over and over again, and I would never wise up.
I give too freely. It’s part of who I am.
Throughout early adulthood, it had been an impossible task finding a man who might treat my thigh meat like a delicacy; who might worship at the altar of cellulite and back fat. And online dating as a fat woman in Los Angeles became nothing short of a nightmare for me. So I abandoned the task of dating, and with it I mindlessly tossed away my desire for affection, intimacy, or love. I simply erased it from my story—like writing on a chalkboard. After cleaning the erasers, I walked away, turned off the lights, and locked the door. “No one will dare enter,” I said to myself when closing up, because I am keenly aware of the complications I pose as a fat, Native woman with an unceded body.
I am a provider and have decided not to take any for myself.
Although a deep lineage of sour distrust of men thickens my blood memory, I always make sure that there is room in my belly fat, and my breast meat, to feed the other hungry people in my circle. I am a provider and have decided not to take any for myself. This body has become a mother’s body, although I have no children. This body has provided an education to people who move on to another teacher the following year. Men have somehow instinctually walked away from me, and willfully forgotten my body and how it fed them. Two years ago I had decided to turn off the lights and walk away from my body’s classroom—the place where this body can safely explore itself. My skin turned to marble, and for two years I have stood solid like a statue in the face of potential longing and isolation.
A sex worker changed my mind. They told me when I interviewed them for my podcast that sex work is healing work and that we ought to pay sex workers for other things, like advice and therapy. I asked Courtney Trouble how to support sex workers, and they told me that I ought to try it out myself. “Take sexy pictures or nudes of yourself,” they instructed. That’s how Courtney started. So when my friend Laura Delarato, a sexy selfie virtuoso, came to visit me from New York, I asked her with a bowed head if she might be willing to point my own camera at my body. She agreed with enthusiasm. The day she arrived, I put red lipstick on and unearthed a teddy, from the bottom of my bottom drawer, that I bought and wore once two years prior.
I posed on my bed as Laura captured me from different angles. It was difficult. I didn’t know what to do with my face. I laughed because it felt silly, juvenile. I remembered taking a picture of myself in my bra for a boyfriend in middle school, and how he foolishly let his older brother take it and display it in his car. My stomach in knots, I begged them both to give it back.
Laura complimented me. She said things that my adolescent heart needed to hear. She said, “You should sell these on Patreon.” She said, “You could charge a man $1,000 just to look at him.” It felt too generous, but she knows so much better than me. She actively takes photos of herself in sexual positions and she looks at them every day. She sees herself as sexy and she honors the power of the sensual body.
These are my first sexy photos with this body. I’m coming out with this fat body and I want to believe that this body deserves to be touched and cherished.
Rolling around on my bed and straddling chairs in my own bedroom didn’t seem like it would produce anything of quality, but I had to remind myself that I’m just starting out again with this body. I giggled because I felt like a child, and I was doing childish acts. These are my first sexy photos with this body. I’m coming out with this fat body and I want to believe that this body deserves to be touched and cherished. At best I only have decades more with this body, and one decade has now passed without it being beloved by another. I think about a man who enjoyed my body 10 years ago and how when he was angry with me he posted on his social media, “No fatties, please.” I think about all of the young men who knew I was Lakota, but didn’t know how to treat a body as sacred. All of these things pass through my mind as I’m being captured, letting my hair fall around my face and my tits settle whichever way they will.
I’m going to look at my sexualized body in these pictures at times to remember the power I have to heal, to reach back into my more frivolous and assured self and garner strength from her.
I was afraid to look at the images and when I looked at them I was indeed displeased. I didn’t like how unsure my face appeared. I prefer to be good at things and to execute them with confidence, but these pictures proved to be my Achilles’ heel. It wasn’t the fatness I was averse to, it was the blank expression I was giving the camera. I have forgotten what a sexy expression feels like on my face. The muscle memory of looking sly or coy has been erased. The face I make a lot now is a furled brow and a fist in the air. My Indigeneity brings me strength and connectedness to others and this earth, and my fatness brings me contempt and hostility from systems and structures. I’m finding it hard to heal myself these days, and I heard what a sex worker taught me. I’m going to look at my sexualized body in these pictures at times to remember the power I have to heal, to reach back into my more frivolous and assured self and garner strength from her.
Jana Schmieding is a Lakota Native writer, educator and comedian working to move the needle on Indigenous representation in mainstream popular culture. She hosts and produces the podcast Woman of Size where she amplifies the experiences and stories of people living in marginalized bodies. Follow Jana @womanofsizepod on IG/Twitter/Fb.