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Since I can remember, I have always been body conscious.
I have been overweight my entire life, and though I recently lost two stone, at age 24 I am a size 26. This lead to a stunning lack of self-esteem and an intense fear of sex and anyone seeing me naked. I couldn’t even have my upper arms on show without hyperventilating.
In my head, sex and boyfriends weren’t for fat girls and my body simply wasn’t desirable – and never would be unless I lost weight.
For the first 20 years of my life that turned out to be absolutely true. In school, my friends had boyfriend after boyfriend, while I became the official third wheel at the lunch table. I had never been asked out on a date – apart from as a joke of course – and no boy ever showed any interest in me whatsoever.
This continued when I went to university. I wasn’t a big drinker but when I did go out I was largely ignored by guys, and whenever any came over to try their luck with my friends they paid so little attention to me I may as well have been a bar stool.
“I wasn’t too sure why I enjoyed it so much – maybe it was because, for once, I was the one judging guys on their appearance.”
Half out of desperation and half out of curiosity, I made an account on Tinder. At first I felt really weird about it – there’s still a lot of stigma around using dating apps, and I worried like I was being judged by my friends. It turned out I actually took to dating apps with gusto, swiping away in my spare time and finding it so therapeutic to look through these guys’ profiles. I wasn’t too sure why I enjoyed it so much – maybe it was because, for once, I was the one judging guys on their appearance.
I have no idea how, but eventually swiping turned into sexting, and idle chit chat turned into dirty exchanges. I ended up sexting a guy late one night and sending him nudes. The next morning I was genuinely ashamed at what I’d done, yet wondering where this sexy version of me had come from.
I felt like I was being judged by everyone who saw me, and even had a panic attack after telling a friend what happened. But under all this shame, I knew I had really enjoyed the experience and couldn’t stop thinking about how great it made me feel. When the same guy messaged me that night, I found myself jumping at the chance to do it again.
I sexted this same guy regularly for over a year – then anyone else who asked. I can’t tell you how many guys I ended up talking to, but I found it intoxicating and I couldn’t stop. I hadn’t given a blowjob before, but soon I could describe one like a pro.
“Yes, these were just random boys from the internet wanking to photos of my boobs. But the experience was really helping to not hate my body.”
For the first time in my life I was seen as something desirable. These guys were begging to see my body, asking for pictures and liking what I sent. Yes, these were just random boys from the internet who were, let’s be honest, wanking to photos of my boobs. But the experience was really helping to not hate my body.
Despite feeling a little bit slutty, the self-confidence boost I enjoyed was phenomenal. I genuinely felt like a different person; I was still fat, but I really started to love myself and my body. I’d look in the mirror and wouldn’t hate what I saw. In fact, I liked it, and started dressing in clothes that showed off my figure, instead of just hiding it away. My self-esteem shone to the point friends and family noticed the change – though of course it was pretty much impossible for me to tell them why.
And without the confidence gained from my online trysts, I don’t think I’d ever have been able to get in the amazing relationship I have now, again meeting on tinder. Once I actually started to have confidence in myself, I got the boyfriend I was so desperate for and I was actually having real sex, rather than just writing it down. Sexting had been the only sex life I’d ever really had, and so to suddenly be catapulted into ‘real’ experiences was odd, but very welcome change. I knew in the long run constantly talking to different guys wasn’t healthy, and I wanted to have an actual relationship rather than just exchanging pictures.
It has taken me years to unlearn the horrible things I thought about my body. But without actually exploring my body and my sexuality through online dating I know I wouldn’t have the confidence I do today. Sure, I still have wobbly days when I look in the mirror and hate what I see. But if my boyfriend – and a bunch of other guys – can love my body, I can too.
Polly Jean Harrison is a writer and editor. Follow her on Twitter at @ohpollyjean
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