body image

The Body Series :: Hair: On Growth + Removal

Oh hair. It's beautiful and magnificent and should be grown long. Or, it's gross and should be shaved, waxed, tweezed, lasered, threaded or at the very least trimmed. Which is it? Depends on where your hair grows and how many fucks you give.

Let's start with head hair. Until about 2 years ago, mine was always long (except for a brief bob period in 2nd grade). When I started ballet, I put it in buns and french braids. throughout middle school, I contorted it in a range of hair styles that I copied from episodes of Charmed (shout out to the LATINA REBOOT), Sabrina the Teenage Witch and any other intricate butterfly clip and pinned up combinations I found. 

Bangs... never again

Bangs... never again

By high school, I wore it down a lot using mousse to turn Miami humidity induced frizz into waves and threw it up in a messy bun for sports, workouts, and exceptionally hot days. (I had a couple of bangs phases which were always more trouble than they were worth tbh. I don't think I'll ever go back to that life again.) And through college and my early twenties it stayed at various stages of "boob length" always long enough to touch some part of my chest area.

Before (photo taken in my old office bathroom)

Before (photo taken in my old office bathroom)

My hair is pretty low maintenance. I have what they call "fine hair," which is a fancy of saying very very thin. At it's longest, my hair wrapped in a bun would create a tiny knot that you would easily encircle with a single finger. Whenever I decided to actually style or blow dry it, the process never took longer than 20 minutes. Sure, I didn't have a gorgeous thick mane, the kind that creates epic and beautiful braids, but it was so easy to manage.

After (also taken in my old office bathroom with a more intense version of the same weird face)

After (also taken in my old office bathroom with a more intense version of the same weird face)

But then something happened. Break throughs in therapy, a desire to experience "non-attachment", a reclaiming of all parts of my body. Whatever it was, I needed my hair cut. Very short. We started with baby steps going just above shoulder length in the spring of 2016, but by the summer I was rocking an undershave and loving it. Where there times I wondered "what the fuck have you done"? Of course. But overall, it was a welcome change. 

This photo really freaked my mom out.

This photo really freaked my mom out.

There's something cathartic about cutting off hair. A reason why the scene where Mulan slices into her mane with a sword (which would never actually work but the magic of cartoons, baby) illicits such strong emotions. But there are two sides to this coin. Was I slicing off the male gaze? Past experiences? Regret? Societal expectations? Or was I chopping off my femininity? Was I trying to look more bad ass and masculine to shake off any perceived weakness? This is all unconscious, of course. I wasn't at the hair salon like, "excuse me I want a cut that says I reject the male gaze of patriarchy, but I also have so much instilled misogyny in me that I want to simultaneously reject my femininity." Not that the length of your hair is congruent with femininity. I obviously cannot shave my femininity if I tried. You can be bald and still hella feminine. Hello every single member of the Dora Milaje, And to that point, femininity can be strong and fierce and powerful. This is just the unconscious bias of a patriarchal culture that views "feminine" traits, leadership styles and emotions as inferior. That's a lot of shit to project onto a fucking hair style.

This was very very short. But I don't haaate it <3

This was very very short. But I don't haaate it <3

The funny thing is, I found myself looking for different ways to express my femininity with short hair. Whether by accentuating my curves or applying thick eyeliner. Somewhere in all the confusion, I found my own gaze. I figured out the ways I feel good. Where and when I wanted to look a certain way. I decided that I really like my hair at every length, which is pretty cool.

But what about all the OTHER hair? WTF do we do about that. It's tricky business either conforming to societal standards and maintaining body autonomy, but the closest conclusion I've come to is... WHATEVER THE FUCK YOU WANT.

Here'e me:

Legs: I've shaved them since I was in 5th grade. I am Latina and have very dark hair. It came in thick when I was young and I wasn't really into it. I like shaving my legs. It feels extra clean to me. It's a nice once a week ritual. 

Bikini / Pubic area: The details are personal and vary depending on mood, but I did laser the bikini line area. I grew up in Miami and was in bathing suits a lot and had massive ingrown hairs. Laser is expensive, but it has saved me a lot of pain and annoyance. I still have to shave if I want it to be perfectly clean, but it's nothing compared to what once was.

"Happy Trail": Lasered and don't really have hair anymore. I was so self conscious about it as a kid. I'm glad it's something I literally never think about anymore.

Armpits: Lasered. Same as Bikini line. I still grow a little hair, but the relief from ingrowns is really incredible.

Arms: I used to wax them (I used to wax a lot of things, but that phase didn't last long. Waxing is the worst), but my ex told me my arm hair made me look like Wolverine, and I haven't really had the urge to wax them since Logan came out. 

Mustache: It's tiny, but it's there. Not enough to cause worry. I just tweeze the stray dark hairs when I'm inspired to, but most of the time I don't notice enough to care.

Eyebrows: I am blessed with the most low maintenance eyebrows. I have a few stray hair I pluck once a month. If you envy me anything, this is the thing.'

Nipple hair: This is the most emotionally charged one of all. I remember reading in a Cosmo when I was around 12 or 13 some dude saying that if a woman had hair on her nipples it was a deal breaker or some shit. Fuck that dude and fuck Cosmo for printing that. I still tweeze it sometimes, but I'm no longer terrified that men (and women) that I am attracted to will be horrified by tiny little hairs when I take of my shirt or bra.

Pretty sure this was the longest my hair ever was... right before I chopped it off.

Pretty sure this was the longest my hair ever was... right before I chopped it off.

What do you do? Why do you do it? Does it even matter? My routines have simplified significantly over the years because I have better ways to spend my time than wondering about my hair all the time. It's dark and it's beautiful and I love it. And I love the parts that I remove. I love the simplicity of it. The cleanliness of it. Whatever your grooming routine, male, female, trans or non-binary, I hope it elevates you and I hope you don't let Cosmo circa 2002 freak you out.

And as for head hair? Cut it short. Let is grow. I'll probably bounce back to boob length some day soon... and then cut it all over again :)

The Body Series :: On Weight and Body Image

I lay in a twin bed surrounded by pastel pink, now darkened by the night. A dim glow seeps in through my curtains. In my head, I say a little prayer, still Catholic in convictions. I pray for my family and friends and for peace in the world. I wish for slim thighs and a flat stomach. I wish for a narrow rib cage and longer legs and for the pudge beside my armpit to disappear. I am seven.

My precious upper arm pudge &lt;3

My precious upper arm pudge <3

Growing up in Miami, I have realized is not the healthiest place for a young girl. Many places make it difficult to fall in love with yourself. There really is no haven from the parade of images of Photoshopped “perfection,” but, in Miami, you even see it IRL. On the beach, at restaurants, fake tans, hair, breasts, noses, asses. Bodies molded by starvation and an exercise regimen that would make earning a living impossible. This is what you saw and what you knew, so you believed this is what you’re supposed to look like. Having a gorgeous mother who easily slides into a size 0 or 2 and DID wake up like this #flawless didn’t help either. By the time I hit puberty I could fit into her clothes, but once my breasts and ass and thighs really grew in, I could only squeeze into a few pieces.

In 2nd grade, I started ballet lessons because I was apparently too fat for gymnastics. Yes, an 8 year old me was told she needed to be thinner in order to roll around and bounce on a trampoline. And so, I got my leotard and tights and learned how to wrap my hair in a perfect slicked back bun. I learned how to pirouette and apply makeup for recitals and competitions. And the the promise always lingered, doing ballet will make you thinner, which is what we were all striving to be.

The strategically slimming lean.. ugh I wish I could tell 14 year old me that she is allowed to take up space!!!!

The strategically slimming lean.. ugh I wish I could tell 14 year old me that she is allowed to take up space!!!!

I look back at photos of myself and can’t believe how much bigger I felt back then. How much I felt I wasn't allowed to be bigger. It isn’t until you learn to love yourself that the effects body dysmorphia become clear. I knew what it was, of course. By the time I was in middle school, I co-wrote a “Stations of the Cross” play (hey Catholic school) where I played someone with body dysmorphia, having the “devil” character come in and show what my character saw in the mirror. You see, I thought because I liked myself a little, that it was just a little more weight I constantly wanted to lose, a little bit of myself that I wanted to disappear, that it wasn’t a problem. The character would pass out from working out too hard. I didn't. I was healthy. I didn’t starve myself. Not yet.

I had a tendency to show a lot of mid riff, despite how self conscious I felt about my stomach. Once, at my uncle’s house, he pinched the space between my belly button and the band of my jeans and said “if you can pinch an inch…” I’m not sure if he finished the sentence. Those are the only words I can still hear in my head, but the meaning is implied. “If you can pinch an inch of belly fat, there is too much of you.” And this message came from everywhere. From my stick thin friends who pinched themselves in despair, wishing for more bone and less meat. That scene from Mean Girls where everyone is hating on bits of their own body, that is hilarious because it's so true. Because it's so sad. 

Once the message was clear, I learned how to monitor my eating. This was especially difficult for a young Latina child growing up with a grandmother who wouldn't let you leave the table until you've cleared your plate and down your glass of milk and your dessert. Leaving any food behind was a crime, a travesty, a sin. But I had to rise above that Catholic guilt to be "skinny" right? I tried less carbs. I remember for a while in high school, I would just crush chick peas, drizzle olive oil on them and scoop it up with some vegetables. I thought that was healthy. When I rowed crew and had to stay under 130 lbs to compete in the Lightweight 8, an excusable cycle of starving and binging began because I “had to.”

"Tankinis" and shorts were my favorite way to hide.

"Tankinis" and shorts were my favorite way to hide.

And then there were the insane diets. The Master Cleanse, where you drink only lemon, maple syrup and cayenne pepper in water. That lasted 2 days. My mother made me eat a baguette when I started going delirious on second night. This insane thing where you inject yourself with pregnancy hormones and eat only 500 calories per day. I don’t remember the name, but dear god, how did I think that was a good idea. After about a week of that, I caved into a box of Krispy Kreme donuts.

I thought because they were few and far between, it was ok. And to be honest, I'm one of the best case scenarios. I never questioned my self- esteem because at least I stopped openly stating "I'm so fat," like it was the worst thing you could be. At least, I didn't have a "real" eating disorder. By comparison, I was the model of health. But of course, it's never really about the weight or the food. When you have low self-esteem, that becomes the easy focal point. At least that's something people have "tips and tricks" to work with. And what came first? The issues with body image and eating or low self-esteem? Or did they swirl inside your psyche, manifesting almost simultaneously enabled by an environment of other contributing factors? 

Like many young people, I couldn't function without external validation, and measuring my worth through numbers on a scale and pant sizes became an easy game. Always trying to drive them down. This story isn’t new. This story is so unbelievably common, the sheer magnitude is the depressing part. This struggle doesn’t make me special. It makes me just like everyone else.

This is the story of how girls learn how to diminish themselves, and in turn, are told they are not worth taking up space. I look back at photos and I see the girl compressing herself, forcing wide hips to conform to the restrictions of a size 4, when she sits on a spectrum of 6-8. (Size 6 was the largest she felt allowed to be because Julia Roberts said she was a size 6 in a movie and she’s taller than me so how dare I be wider.)

But I am not your 00. These hips cannot be contained by designer jeans bought at stores where they scoff at your size. These breasts weren't meant to feel constrained by your too small button ups, or be pushed up by your bras. My thighs will not be shamed by pants that are too tight and too long. I don’t wear knee high boots anymore, because my calves are tired of your narrow bullshit. The rolls on my stomach are not forbidden folds I hold my breath to avoid. Sitting straight up or laying back to prevent the flesh from touching. 

Blurry because I'm having to much fun dancing and jiggling!

Blurry because I'm having to much fun dancing and jiggling!

Last week, as I prepped for an audition, dancing about in my backless sports bra top and Lumpy Space Princess boy shorts, I filmed myself in the mirror. As I looked at my body, I thought so sincerely, “god damn you are perfect.” This feeling is new and it is incredible. I remember the girl who hated her thighs because at the top they become extra wide and soft. I look at them now and can’t imagine what it would be like to want so deeply to slice into. My belly, too, has a certain softness to it. I no longer cringe at the inch I can pinch. I play with it. My lovers have always liked my softness and, now, so do I.

I wanted to be hard for so long. Ripped and resilient. With lean muscles and an iron will. I wanted to stop crying all the damn time, but now I like the soft parts. The parts of me that receive and feel. I’m a Pisces Moon, baby, and these waters run deep.

Because of course, it was never really about my body and what I put into it. It was the impossible hope, that a certain shape or size would fill an empty space inside of me. “When I get back down to 120 lbs, I’ll be happy.” I wish I could tell teenage Alessandra it is unlikely she will ever dip below 130 lbs again, and that it’s beautiful up here.

I don't know when exactly it happened. When I started to really love my body and not only my body, but the shapes of all the people around me. When "fat" stopped being a bad word. I'm still figuring it out, because on one level, I never saw other people's bodies the way I saw mine, but on the other, there was always that thin layer of judgement. The "you know who got fat" and all the other whispers of judgement. I am not proud of this part of myself. The part of me that saw the world through the lens of the overculture. But in admitting to you this was once a part of me and that every day I choose to let those glasses go, I hope you can let yours go, too.

I don't know exactly when it happened, but I know that the irony of all this, is that the first shift came when I tried yet another diet. I started The Paleo Diet as part of an online New Years fitness challenge and leaned up pretty quickly. It didn't last. I missed the flexibility of eating out and, it's expensive to eat that well all the time. However, it was my first taste of eating food as fuel. Of noticing what felt really good in my body. What gave me more energy.

I don't know exactly when it happened, but I know that therapy helped. I know that meditation and yoga helped. I relearned how to live inside my body. How to listen. I have no doubt that learning to feel my anxiety instead of shutting it down, has allowed me to better listen to my body's signals for hunger and satisfaction. I say no to dessert, when I genuinely don't want or need it, not because of some overlying guilt. And even that we put pressure on. "Come on, don't you want to try it?" Why do we bully each other into eating and not eating? 

I don't know exactly when it happened, but I know that when I focused on becoming a better person, something shifted. When tarot and yoga became daily practices, when I realized there are things bigger than me, it all became a little easier. The weight and the inches seemed to find a natural resting place without me even noticing. And I don't know if I'm actually a different size or if finding way to feel good inside your body just make you feel like the right size. I breath and I move and I listen to the vessel I live inside. I see the magic of this flesh that tells me quite clearly when it wants meat or vegetables or starch. When it needs food or feels perfectly satisfied thank you very much. And non of it is an emergency anymore. Food has finally become fuel instead of a coping mechanism. (Except sometimes your soul craves ice cream and that calling is sacred <3)

I look at this body. In the mirror. Photographed. Recorded. I feel it beneath my fingers. Curl up into it. Twist and stretch it out. And I wonder how could I have hated you so much. Could have resented the fat cells adorning my thighs and glazing my stomach. And I know it is a privilege to work through that sense of projection looking the way I do. Because the only stigmas I’ve had to face are the ones I’ve created. I am not model or Hollywood skinny, but I am thin enough. And that in itself is a separate problem. That we have come so far, but still have such a ways to go in seeing the beauty of all bodies.

And as I've spilled so much, I feel like I've only scratched the surface. I hope to continue this conversation with you over the coming months exploring so much more of our bodies and our depth.

:: The Body Series :: An Introduction

After a long hiatus, I am back on this page with new words and a little more purpose. I find I often lack the space to explore things as deeply as I would like to. Or when I attempt to create it, I get scared of the places my writing takes me, and become resistant or hesitant to share it. How much is too much? What parts are just for me? I am still figuring that out, but in the mean time, there are things to share.

Over the next nine weeks, on this blog, I will be sharing what I will call, The Body Series. Every week I’ll talk about my process of discovery and acceptance with one aspect of my body or another. They are outlined below. I share this to connect with you. Because I ask you to trust me with your process. I want to be worthy of that trust. I want to show you where I’ve been and where I’m at. To let you know where you are is perfect because the spiral never ends. Life is a video game with endless code. There are more levels to unlock and side quests to master than we can even imagine. I have learned so much, but there is so much left to uncover. Sometimes that feels exciting. Sometimes it makes me want to crawl into a cardboard box and cry. All I can try to do is be here. Feel it. I hope you will, too.

Part of me wonders if these tales have been over played. If there are too many voices with the same stories. But if my stories add one more layer of nuance, that resonates with you in a new way, this will be worth it. And besides, I think it's kind of beautiful that so many of us are opening up and sharing the weird shit we've realized is really toxic behavior that we once thought was normal. Keep sharing. Write on. 

This is a woman who used to be terrified of being caught with the folds of her skin touching. We'll go into it with a little more context next week, my loves.

This is a woman who used to be terrified of being caught with the folds of her skin touching. We'll go into it with a little more context next week, my loves.

On Weight + Body Image

Skin: On Blemishes + Color

Hair: On Growth + Removal

On Faces + Symmetry

A Treatise on Self-Love, Self-Touch and the Alchemy of Sex Magic

I wrote this for myself, but after reading it over, I realized it was for you, too. Consider this a love letter to your body as well as my own. May you find comfort and love and sensuality here.

Feel the intimate grooves of your skin. Linger over your succulent, smooth, bumpy, hairy, soft, tender, muscular thighs. Feel the bones beneath the softer edges of you. Trace the dimples, the stripes, the battle scars, the growing pains. 

Play with the floppy parts of yourself. Tease and play and pinch. Remind yourself that these parts serve as stores of energy. Remember they keep you vibrant and active. Remember the flesh encased inside skin is your vessel, your capsule, your spaceship. There are knobs and switches to turn you on and rev the engine. 

Stroke the nape of your neck, the lobes of your ear, the inner creases of your elbow and knees. Find the spots that make you tingle, that light up your nervous system like a Christmas tree. That reflect your sparkles like a chandelier. 

Stroke, touch and play with the intimate space between your legs, whatever parts you may hold there. Lose yourself in the rolling waves your own touch activates like the pool in Typhoon Lagoon. Invite the assistance of toys and liquids and lovers, but remember to get to know yourself first. Find the hidden corners of the cavern that ignite fireworks. Find the rhythm that rewires your circuitry. 

Cultivate so much intimacy with yourself, so much pleasure that you become weak enough to feel the first flickers of acceptance. Make yourself come so hard you forget to suck in your belly. You forget about the skin beneath your chin and how it must look to someone else in this moment. Set an intention in your climax. Let it be your own. Let it be selfish. Hoard your sexuality until it feels good to share it. Until you find someone worthy of the gift of you.

Find new names when the old ones make you feel constrained by dirty connotations, and the judgement of men in robes that commit dirty deeds and wear masks of stern injustice to hide their shame. The words of women who were taught to hate themselves and the most natural parts of their bodies. Rename those parts. Reclaim them. 

In my right thigh lives an indent that emerges larger than the rest, peaking out from the folds when I sit. Cellulite they call it. Such a clinical and cold term. The word does not radiate the strength and power mixed with pillow like softness and carnal warmth and fire. My thighs contain entropy and warrior-like ferocity. They are tree trunks that keep me tethered. They are the thighs of strong women from Caribbean Islands and Iberian coastlines and Mediterranean beaches. The thighs of priestesses and mothers and crones and witches. The thighs of chiefs and leaders and above all of lovers wrapped tight in ribbons of limbs seamlessly spiraling though silk. 

My breasts don’t sag, they droop with the weight of the galaxies I hold in my heart. They wax and wane with the moon. They are striped like tigers and zebras, branded by burden of growing too quickly, but stronger for it. Womanly, not because of their size, but for what they feel and endure. 

Refuse to stand for the judgement and name calling that initiated the self hate in the first place. That made these words ring like the shrieks of banshees or stab like rusty knives. Instead, become the siren that lures and drowns that vitriol in the depths of your waters.

Surround yourself with people that make you feel beautiful. Who look for you like sunflowers searching for brilliant rays and shine their own beauty right back. Construct bridges and hammocks and cocoons and pillow forts out of each other so there is always a place to cross and hang and nestle and play. 

Feel the overwhelming disappointment and sadness that accompanies living so that you can build yourself up again, like your favorite Lego set. Find pleasure in the rebuilding. Find the places you can fortify. Forgive the weak points. Build turrets for sentries, but leave the draw bridge open.

Love. Hate. Laugh. Cry. Embrace every extreme like the ocean that your are. Let the waves keep you in motion, but always return to your Self.