Sexting isn't about the male gaze. It's about
admiring yourself and helping the people you love do the same.
I don't know when I learned to hate my body, just that—unlike any foreign language class I ever took—it's been really difficult to forget. Ask me to speak Spanish after six years of education, and I will say, " Como estas? Corbata, biblioteca, gracias, pantalones cortos?" Which Google Translate will tell you means, "How are you? Neck tie, library, thank you, shorts." But if you asked me about my body, I could always rattle of 10 or 20 ways it was not quite okay.
Nose: too big.
Boobs: barely even existent.
Skin: too pale, too much acne. Sometimes bacne! Turns bright red and splotchy when I'm sad, angry, embarrassed or not feeling anything. Basically the worst.
Knees: once described by a boyfriend as "Fat Beyoncé knees" (we broke up, I can't remember why?).
Generally: Too tall! Like, a foot taller than my peers. Perhaps slouching until I resemble a giraffe with scoliosis could help me blend in?
In college, I learned that thin was good, and thinner was better. Food was something I could smell instead of eat, and if I did accidentally ingest a cheeseburger? Three hours on the
elliptical could cure that. Before I met my husband, I was just a regular 27-year-old trainwreck whose dinner was sometimes
two happy hour beers (okay, three!) and a cigarette (okay, two!) on the walk home.
Aaron was not the first man to say "wow" when I took my clothes off, or the first to call me beautiful. But he was the first person to show me what our bodies are capable of, and if you're thinking I'm going to tell you a sexy story, SORRY, INSTEAD I'M ABOUT TO BUM YOU OUT HARDCORE. We'd been dating for a year when Aaron was diagnosed with a
brain tumor. All that time we'd been out drinking and dancing and traveling and calling in sick to work to roll around in bed (sorry, jobs!) some little piece of cancer was stowing away in his brain, waiting to murder him. Beyond rude. That night, we lay in a hospital bed and promised to get married. I listened to
his heart beat away in his skinny chest. Three days later, I saw him wheeled out of brain surgery with staples holding his beautiful head together. For three years, I watched his body try
to live, and I started to notice my own body. Not what was wrong with it, for once, but what it could do. As Aaron's sickness took away his ability to run, to use his arms, to walk, I
found the beauty in my own body.
The girl who used to have cigarettes for dinner? She ran a half marathon. Three of them! Slow as hell, but I did it. And every time my feet hit the pavement, I felt grateful for everything my body could do. I replaced my enthusiasm for weighing and Gudging myself with just straight up feeling myself. Now I can deadlift 160 pounds. I can take my child for what I intend to be a fun family bike ride, but what is more like him whining for 15 miles while I scream, "We are having FUN, dude!" These are things, by the way, I could have always been doing, if I hadn't
been so dedicated to trying to trick my body into being a different one. All of those years, when I was definitely not as terribly ugly and deformed as I was sure that I was, I could
have instead just been strong and happy to be alive, but, like my father always told me and I always rolled my eyes at, youth is wasted on the young.
My nose hasn't changed, and neither have my boobs. I am still 6 feet tall and have adult acne and turn bright red without any
provocation. I also now have a pretty sensual hernia from giving birth to a human a few years ago, and what doctors call "a bit of a mom butt." But there's something about having your
husband die that really does a number on your confidence. Maybe it's just like getting an extra shot of YOLO, but after three years of watching the man I loved more than nachos and Buffy the Vampire Slayer combined die of a cancer that was hell-bent on destroying him, the many, many fucks I used to give about my body disappeared, poof! The summer after Aaron's death, when my girlfriends and I were all a little bit tan and a little bit drunk and a little bit
single, we started sexting each other. Every day, my phone dings and it's a photo of a woman I adore. MY REAL FRIENDS.
They are in their panties. They are in a new dress. They are in bed or in front of a full-length mirror. They are feeling
themselves, admiring themselves, learning how to love their bodies, too. We respond with emoji praise hands and things Like, "I AM ACTUALLY GONNA DIE LOOKING AT UR
BODY," and we mean it, because watching someone you love love themselves? It is how your mom probably felt when you
got a medal at soccer! Except in this analogy I'm your mom and I'm glad you're sending me a tasteful partial nude? It's a
This is not something I ever did with Aaron (unless sending
photos of Taco Bell counts as sexting, which I think it might),
or something I need to do with any guy, ever. It's not about the
male gaze and it's not even about the validation of my little
coven of ladies whose bodies I adore. It's about finding the
time to love and admire yourself, and helping the people you
love do the same, so they can look at themselves, at the very
miracle of their existence, and think, Hell yeah.
My friend Nicole is a really talented photographer, and when
she recently posted on Facebook that she was doing boudoir
sessions, I found myself clicking through, throwing down my
credit card and eventually, standing naked in front of her in a
loft in Lowertown Saint Paul.
"You know," she told me while I cupped my little boobs,
"you're the only woman who signed up to take these for
herself." What she meant was, they weren't a gift for a
boyfriend or a girlfriend or a spouse. They were just for
me. "Have you done this before?" she asked, which, yeah, is me
bragging about what a good model I was. I said no, but I should
have said yes. I do this all the time. Not with a makeup artist
and a light-soaked loft, but in my living room and bedroom and bathroom, with my phone and my mirrors.
Now, I know that folks love to rip on selfies. How vain we must be to document our human existence! How vapid! But you know what selfies can show you? Yourself. And you are worth looking at. You are worth marveling at. Every day, your body performs a series of complete and tota miracles to keep you alive, and then your body does amazing things like creating another human or running a mile or getting to work on time, and to pretend like that isn't noteworthy is absurd. You are worth staring at in the mirror and capturing with whatever medium you have at your fingertips.
Summary: I'm not your mom. (Unless you're my toddler son in which case, HOW DID YOU FIND THIS SITE, YOU GENIUS?) But I do want to tell you that your body is an amazing little skin house your soul lives in, and you only get one, and you sure as hell better admire it every day. So grab your phone. Get to a mirror, put on this playlist, and sext your best friends. You're worth it.
Nora McInerny Purmort is a writer, a mother, and Amazon who lives in Minneapolis. Her first book, It's Okay to Laugh (Crying is Cool, Too) is a collection of funny/sad stories about life, love, and losing her husband Aaron. It's available
on preorder now.
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