How Learning to Love My Sexual Identity Helped Me Learn to Love My Cellulite

Updated 02/28/18
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As a queer, black woman, my relationship with my body and my identity has been a messy one.

While I know what a woman is “supposed” to be—thin, white, and feminine in a way that follows the many rules of the male gaze—I don’t know what a woman like me, a biracial bisexual, is supposed to look like, exactly.

It doesn’t help that my identity itself has been something else entirely to reckon with. I was in college when I realized I was probably queer. Despite my wholly supporting the LGBTQIA+ community, when I realized I was a part of that community, I found myself sinking into a depression. What if I wasn’t really queer? What if I did it wrong? What if I tried to date a girl and realized I didn’t actually like her that way and ended up playing into the trope of lesbians getting “tricked” by straight girls? I didn’t know who I was anymore.

My journey to loving my body and loving my identity became intertwined as, ultimately, it all came down to me learning to love myself regardless of who I felt like I was “supposed” to be.

I needed examples of who I could be, but at the time, I couldn’t find people like me. When I think of the word woman, a very specific image pops up in my head. When I think queer black woman, there’s sort of a vague shape I can’t define. But what I do know about that shape is that she probably doesn’t carry her weight the way I door have nearly as much cellulite.

On the off chance that queer women of color are represented in the media, they're astonishingly beautiful, as if their beauty … serves as a way to balance out their "bad"—their queerness, their blackness, or both.

Blue Is the Warmest Color
Wild Bunch

For as long as I can remember, I’ve always had cellulite. I’ve spent more hours than I care to admit standing in the bathroom mirror and holding my ass up higher to see if it would disappear. I’ve grabbed at my hips and wondered what I would look like without them. And when I realized I wasn’t straight in my 20s, I started to wonder if I’d look queerer if I could slough them right off.

A lot of this has to do with how queer women are portrayed in movies and on TV. Despite it being 2017, seeing queer women in mainstream media is still rare, and when you do, they’re often thin, the skin around their thighs and ass smooth—definitely not dimpled. Shows like The L Word and films like Blue Is the Warmest Color and Below Her Mouth present queerness as a thing embodied only by thin women, continually shaping queer culture as something owned by those bodies and just out of reach for people with bodies like mine, or for fat people, or for disabled people. Too, whiteness embeds itself within these women, adding to the deeply flawed idea that queerness belongs to white people.

When my girlfriend and I go out with friends, whether they’re queer or straight, I’m the one who’s labeled femme or girly while she is pushed into a butch/stud role, despite neither of us identifying with either—and I know it’s because of our bodies. I have wide hips and a big ass; she has narrow hips and lean muscle. There’s something extremely jarring about putting on an outfit I feel comfortable in, heading out with our closest friends, being the most authentic version of myself, and still not being read the way I feel I should be. It always feels deep and cutting, and I’m never sure how to fix it. I laugh it off, but still, the labels cycle through my head, and for the rest of the night, I just feel thrown.

My own body type has become something I often desire to escape, as if having a body that’s more readily read as androgynous—something unfairly and inaccurately twisted to mean thin—would make my body feel more like home.

My journey to loving my body and loving my identity became intertwined as, ultimately, it all came down to me learning to love myself regardless of who I felt like I was “supposed” to be.

Cellulite - Body Image
Stocksy/Marco Govel

While black culture is generally seen as more permissive in terms of body types, accepting larger thighs or bigger butts doesn’t necessarily mean accepting things like cellulite, something airbrushed out of pictures in seconds with the right app regardless of the identity of the woman in the photo. When I’m up at night scrolling through Instagram and the dozens of “butt goals” on my Instagram Explore feed, I don’t see people who look like me. Maybe their body type is similar, but the lack of dimples or dips in their skin reminds me once again that my body is seen as “wrong.” It hurts.

On the off chance that queer women of color are represented in the media, they’re astonishingly beautiful, as if their beauty, societally approved of as it is, serves as a way to balance out their “bad”—their queerness, their blackness, or both. Queer women of color in the mainstream don’t get to be average, and they definitely don’t get to have cellulite.

So how could I stand in the mirror with this body and this skin and call myself queer? The question is one I wrestle with now and probably always will because it’s not just a personal problem. It’s a cultural one. When it comes to identity, the overarching fatphobia in our culture does everything from making fat, androgynous women feel like they don’t count to making people feel like they aren’t allowed to enjoy summer or food because of their weight. Beyond identity, the damage only continues, with fat people not being given adequate healthcare because of their weight.

In the grand scheme of things, my relationship with my cellulite embarrasses me. It seems like something I should be able to get past. But the reality is that as long as our culture directly ties our value to our bodies, it’s not going to be easy to get past that agonizing frustration of feeling like I’m supposed to look like something else in order to be who I am.

Deep down, though, I know that my value isn’t dependent on my weight or where my body carries fat or where my skin puckers. I know that I’m just this biracial, bisexual being regardless of what my body looks like. My sexuality goes beyond my body, and there’s no wrong way for me to live it out. And I’m hopeful that as the representation of queer women and nonbinary people of color increases, I’ll find more people like myself, see myself in them, and not feel like I’m somehow missing a step and doing this whole queer thing wrong. My cellulite is proof that I’ve lived and grown and changed, and my body is just as fluid as my identity. And just as valid.

This story was originally published at an earlier date.

Original Illustration by Stephanie DeAngelis

Here at Byrdie, we know that beauty is way more than braid tutorials and mascara reviews. Beauty is identity. Our hair, our facial features, our bodies: They can reflect culture, sexuality, race, even politics. We needed somewhere on Byrdie to talk about this stuff, so… welcome to The Flipside (as in the flip side of beauty, of course!), a dedicated place for unique, personal, and unexpected stories that challenge our society’s definition of “beauty.” Here, you’ll find cool interviews with LGBTQ+ celebrities, vulnerable essays about beauty standards and cultural identity, feminist meditations on everything from thigh brows to eyebrows, and more. The ideas our writers are exploring here are new, so we’d love for you, our savvy readers, to participate in the conversation too. Be sure to comment your thoughts (and share them on social media with the hashtag #TheFlipsideOfBeauty). Because here on The Flipside, everybody gets to be heard.

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