Relationships

Seeing My Body With Fresh Eyes

Seeing My Body With Fresh Eyes

Cup of Jo has been running for 13 years (!) so we’ve decided that every week, we’ll be highlighting one of the most popular posts from the past. Here’s one of our favorites, originally published on March 23, 2017.

For our first date, Kelly took me four-wheeling in a huge mud-filled obstacle course. Hours later, we were covered in mud and giggling. Then he kissed me. I hadn’t known how I felt about him, until his lips were on mine — but then, I knew. He felt familiar and safe. But he also weighed less than I did, and that was nerve-wracking…

When we got back to my house, we walked into my bedroom, laughing about something or other. He asked, “What’s that number on the wall?” I hesitated, then decided to tell the truth. “That’s how much I weigh.” I’d been keeping a record ever since the last guy I dated told me I’d gotten too fat for him to reasonably be attracted to. Kelly just nodded, and continued telling me a story about four-wheeling with his best friend. Then he kissed me again, and said, “How soon until I can take you on a second date?”

Kel never brought up the number written on the wall, even when the numbers changed. I thought he was being polite, but when I asked he shrugged.

“I don’t notice it. Even if the numbers have changed, you feel the same. I like the way you feel.”

That night, I stood in front of my mirror and attempted to just feel my body, without judgement. I liked how I felt, too. Still, I was convinced the sensation of liking my body would leave when he did. We’d both insisted our relationship shouldn’t be too serious. I was fresh off an obviously bad break up, and he would soon be leaving for an out-of-state internship. College was coming to an end for both of us. We had time to have fun, but not to build something long-term. Or so we thought.

We remained friends, even when he returned from his internship and immediately moved to Seattle. We spoke on the phone often. I’d moved to Indianapolis, gained more weight, and decided to take a break from romantic love. I was happy. But one year after he moved away, Kelly showed up on my doorstop, a thousand miles from his own, and kissed me.

“Are you seeing anybody?”

I shook my head no. I’d like to say in that moment I was thinking how sweet or wild or romantic this all was. I wasn’t. I was wondering if he’d noticed how much weight I’d gained. I was back up to my highest weight, 190 lbs. I wondered if he’d gotten a good look at me before he kissed me. But there he was, still standing in the middle of my living room, eyes fixed on mine, waiting for me to say something. I asked him to come to my bedroom and talk.

He convinced me to give a relationship a shot. He’d still be living in Seattle, and I’d still be living in Indianapolis. We decided we’d visit each other, and if at the end of the year we were still happy, we would find a way to be in the same place.

We fell in love a thousand miles, and one time zone, apart. We read each other’s favorite books, sent each other care packages, and he texted me every morning to say he hoped I was having a great day. We talked about our fears and insecurities. For the first time ever, I told someone — whom I wanted to be attracted to my body — just how unattractive I actually felt. He said, “It’s not a body’s job to be perfect. It’s to keep you alive. I love your body for keeping my favorite person alive. Please, don’t hide it from me.”

Almost as soon as we’d agreed that I’d move to Seattle and freelance, I got offered a full-time writing position in New York. I took the job, moved to Brooklyn, and six months later, Kelly followed. Again, I worried what he’d think about my weight once he had to look at me every day. What if the long-distance part of our relationship was what allowed me to remain attractive to him? My worst insecurities about my body scurried to the front of my mind.

Then, he moved in.

Almost immediately, I realized how wrong I’d been. When I’d complain about having to shave, he’d ask, “Who are you shaving for? If it’s for you, just do it. If it’s for me, don’t. I want you to be comfortable in your body.” When I’d wear makeup, he’d tell me how beautiful those colors looked on me. When I didn’t, he’d hold my cheeks in his hands and kiss my “fresh face.” He loved me in clothes I’d been told weren’t flattering for someone with a belly like mine. When I wore something tailored, he praised me for my style. When I got out of the shower, he’d stop to watch me cover myself in moisturizers from head to toe. He looked at me with adoration, encouraged me to present my body the way that felt right to me, and in doing so, helped me manage my twisted view of my body.

Of course, it’s not all roses. He can be aloof, and I can be messy. I’m an efficiency freak, and he couldn’t care less if something takes five minutes longer. We even got into a huge fight at the Happiest Place on Earth. But we find our way back to each other, and I never worry he’ll tell me how hard it is be with me because I’m fat and difficult.

Maya Angelou says, “Love liberates. It does not bind.” Before Kelly, “love” always looked like fixing myself the right way, so someone could bring themselves to love me. Being perfectly shaved, perfectly thin, and perfectly presentable. Now, I know real love makes room for you to love yourself the way you are, and the way you want to be. I feel more beautiful than I ever have, and I allow myself things I assumed were only allowed for women doing a better job at being pretty than I was. I allow myself to live fully. I present myself to the world in a way that feels right to me. Love got me here. Whether Kelly and I stay together forever (fingers crossed ’cause I really like him), is irrelevant. This is who I am now. Love liberated me. I’m never going back.

I like the way I feel.

Ashley C. Ford

Ashley Ford is a writer, editor and public speaker. She is currently writing a memoir. She lives in Brooklyn by way of Indiana.

P.S. A seven-step guide to heartbreak, and who initiates sex in your relationship?

(Illustration by Alessandra Olanow for Cup of Jo. Portrait of Ashley Ford by Eric Ryan Anderson for The Great Discontent.)

  1. Elissa says...

    This is one of my favourite Cup of Jo posts. It’s so compelling, intimate, and real.

  2. Dee says...

    This really resonated with me. I think back to all of those relationships I worked so hard to be perfect for, that ultimately weren’t worth it. It feels so good, and I feel so seen, by my husband who loves me equally no matter what I wear or how much I weigh.

  3. Sarah says...

    I can’t believe I missed this the first time around! So happy you’re reposting. I loved this. Thank you, Ashley!

  4. Liz says...

    This is so great! What a nice lift on a dreary Monday in COVID-19 times. Thanks for keeping us all going with refreshing content.

  5. anne says...

    I love this piece so much. I come back and read it regularly.

    For the first time in my life (I’m 32, and got a bit of a late start on the whole dating thing), I’m seeing a guy who hasn’t ever criticized my body. I keep bouncing back and forth between really trying to believe that he isn’t lying, that he actually does love my body the way it is, that he actually finds me sexy. I’m trying to trust, but it often doesn’t feel possible. I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop. Like, when is going to wake up and realize that I’m not that great and that he can do better? And I know that that isn’t a healthy way to be thinking, and probably makes it more likely that he will end up leaving me. But I’ve never felt able to tell any partners that I feel this way.

    I’m so much more comfortable with my own body than I used to be, so I’m hoping the next step will be learning to trust that someone else could really find me sexy.

  6. Alisyn says...

    This piece is worth re-reading over and over again. Ashley has a grounded directness and intellectual humor that draws me into her writing immediately. Lovecraft Country watchers: don’t miss Ashley’s podcast Lovecraft Country Radio, it is exhilarating!

  7. LOVE THIS SO MUCH!

  8. Amy says...

    I absolutely adored this essay when it first came out. I adore it even more now.

  9. Reanna says...

    I love this post so much! Thank you.

  10. Lala says...

    Thanks for sharing ❤️
    I was on a trip with the last guy I dated and mentioned how I was super full from eating so much on the trip & I was probably going to pile on the pounds but OMG the food is amazing it’s so worth it. He replied “no you’ve always had weight. Right here.” And put his hand on my stomach. I should have realised there and then how shitty that was.
    Instead the moment stayed with me, and while work got more stressful I had an excuse that I was too busy to eat… I ended up dropping from a size 6 to a size 0. The worst part was everyone would tell me how great I looked. One colleague said I needed to get new clothes because all of my clothes were too big for me. But I still felt fat. Until I got Home and my mom pointed out that I was almost ill.

    Recently I’ve gone on a couple of dates with a guy I met on Tinder. He looks at me like I’m a goddess & he loves touching what I consider to be my “problem areas”. If I ever mention my dislike for these areas he says “are you kidding, you’re perfect? I love your body. Your body is insane.” And the thing is he means it. I walk by him naked and his eyes follow me, transfixed.
    It made me realise that I didn’t need a guy to appreciate me or not. But to see what this guy sees. To realise that I deserve someone who is kind and I need to be even kinder to myself.

    This is the first time I’ve said this or even considered it. Thanks for sharing and inspiring me to share. Big love to all and I hope everyone is well xxx

  11. X says...

    I love this, I love Ashley as well but my heart sank a bit at seeing her actual weight—190. I wish the story could have been told without the actual number. You see, as someone with an eating disorder who is striving for order every day in this difficult time, seeing someone else’s “high number” the “I’m unattractive now” number is so very triggering. Seeing that number which is so very close to my own at this time is very triggering. In the E.D. community it’s common to not mention actual numbers because of how triggering they can be. Feelings—yes!!!! Numbers though— nah. They can be the catalyst for so many women to spiral. Still, I appreciate the heart behind this post.

    • S says...

      Thank you for this perspective and context. I was bothered by the number too—it felt jarring and too specific. But I agree that the rest of the essay was so good, it helped me move on to more uplifting thoughts. I appreciate your clarity, honesty, and open-mindedness, and wish you happiness and health in these turbulent times!

  12. florence says...

    This is beautiful! Love this and Ashley so much.

  13. Liz says...

    I know that as a slim, petite, white woman my experience is not the same as Ashley’s, but I feel so deeply the sentiment about love being freeing vs binding. What a beautiful essay. Thank you for posting it again!

  14. Lydia Williams says...

    One of my favorite CoJ posts! It changed my outlook, and in a small way – changed my whole life. I follow Ashley on Insta and read all her articles. I have been challenged to grow in how I see myself and how I assume other see me. She gives me hope for a love story of my own…one of acceptance, joy, and sharing – just like hers.

  15. Sarah K says...

    This is still one of my most favorite posts I’ve ever read on this site. Even knowing basically every single word, I read it like it was the first time again today! Also the perfect reminder for me to just remember to appreciate my body for what it is and not always what it looks like. I have a strong, healthy body and that’s more important than any number that shows up on a scale.

  16. Tym says...

    I read this first thing this morning and almost cried. I, a 60ish black woman with body issues, married a slim, white, supportive Kelly-like guy 30 + years ago. Best decision ever. Thanks for the reminder to appreciate ourselves and those who love us for who we are.

    • Allie says...

      Awwwww! Love this perspective. Thanks for sharing.

  17. Carol says...

    I just love Ashley’s story. I am always so worried about my looks and my weight and it is tiresome. I will revisit this piece often and hopefully fully accept myself as I am.

  18. Justine says...

    I loved this article when it first ran, and I love it more today. Also, Kelly’s attitude about bodies is AWESOME. May we all be like Kelly, for our own bodies, and others’

    • Alison says...

      Really, really love this piece. Thanks for posting again.

      A suggestion for a related topic that I would love to see addressed by CoJ: The challenge of enjoying sex when you don’t find your own body sexy. My partner apparently finds my body sexy but these days, after two babies and nearing 40, I don’t agree, and it’s really impacting our sex life.

    • DM says...

      I can’t reply-to-the-reply but HOLY HELL YES please let’s discuss sex when we don’t find our own bodies sexy. And with advice other than “learn to find yourself sexy.” That’s a project. I would also like to enjoy sex *this week*.

    • Liz says...

      yes please to a follow up article!!!

    • Angela says...

      Yes! This would be more productive than my google searching for “strains of pot that are similar to ecstasy.”

    • Susan says...

      This is in reply to Alison. I hear you! I think our culture teaches us that women and girls are meant to be looked at, so we focus so much how we present ourselves. And feel shame if we don’t look like the images presented to us as beautiful. And the positivity moment, while good in some respects, still plays into that. We’re now supposed to “love our curves”, “feel beautiful at every size”, etc. That’s all fine and good, if it works for you. But I’d like to suggest another way to look at it – instead of focusing on what you look like, focus on how you experience your partner and your pleasure.

      What do you find sexy, attractive, lovely about him? What are the sensations that you find the most pleasurable? How do you achieve those sensations? In other words, think of your body, if at all, not as an object meant to arouse but as this incredibly designed instrument that helps you get what you want. Nothing more, nothing less.

  19. Eva says...

    What an uplifting read. Just what I need right now, thank you! I wish I could see my body through my partner’s eyes. It’s a long process for sure.

  20. Leah says...

    I will gobble up anything Ashely Ford writes. This essay is beautiful.

  21. Jackie says...

    Loved this piece back when and again now. So important and powerful. Love to you Kelly.

    • Jackie says...

      To you and Kelly :)

  22. monica says...

    This is beautiful. I love Kelly for just loving you exactly how you are and for you being clear that the relationship is not always peaches and roses. What a wonderful story about loving who you are and for attracting that same kind of love into your life. Made my day!

  23. Ellie says...

    God you’re lucky.
    And you deserve it. Good for you!

  24. Jess. says...

    Is this the post in which we met Ashley and her life-altering, gorgeous, radiant writing? Made me cry again. Made me love her (and myself!) even more. Made me so, so happy that we know her even better now. And that this beautiful love continues to grow. superXOX

  25. mollcoll says...

    I am really hoping to raise our son like Kelly. The world would be such a kinder place.

    • Sage says...

      Same here. “I love your body for keeping my favorite person alive.” Lovely outlook. <3

      I was so happy to see that she and Kelly are still together too!

  26. Sofia says...

    I remember reading this back when it came out, and I read it again from start to finish, and it was just as beautiful as I remembered.

    • emily b says...

      exactly this. I remember the breathtaking beauty of this essay the first go-around. just as beautiful reading again this year. Or perhaps even more.

  27. This is a hugely prescient post for me and made me slightly weepy: I have a terrible relationship with food and my body, and have recently regained quite a bit of weight. I’m undergoing therapy to undo the damage years of low self-esteem (bordering on hatred) and dieting (since I was 11!) has created but its a slow process. My boyfriend is wonderful but we don’t talk about this – I don’t want to.
    Congratulations Ashley on your liberation – it’s a wonderful thing and I’m so pleased for you.

    • Jen says...

      Tonia, sending you love.

  28. Anna says...

    This is one of my favorite posts (and also how I think I got introduced to Ashley?) and I’m happy to see it back. Thank you, Ashley!

  29. Stella says...

    Thank you for bringing this post up again! Also, I would LOVE for Ashley Ford to write another piece here!!

  30. Lauren says...

    I love this story so much!

  31. Kay says...

    Such a beautiful post. I wish I had read this when I was younger, I wasn’t overweight but I had the body issues and it would have been so helpful. I feel like this should be printed out and given to every woman alive. Everyone deserves a Kelly. I hope they are still together.

  32. Jessica says...

    This is incredibly inspiring and amazing. I hope one day I can find someone who treats me as Kelly treats you. I think we all deal with body image issues at some point in our lives, some more than others, and finding the people who look past what we see as imperfections and see us for who we truly are is what we need.

  33. Heather says...

    Gosh this is so well written and full of such important lessons for all of us! Especially as a mom of two girls – love how he complimented the colors of makeup instead of saying how pretty you looked. I definitely teared up reading this (again)!

  34. Abby says...

    So curious who raised this man!! They should teach classes.

    • Stella says...

      Oh my goodness I actually read that story a while ago but didn’t notice there was a video! Thank you! Absolutely LOVE HER even more now! “Piles of cute” :)

    • Julie says...

      I’m so happy they’re married!!!!!!!!

    • Agnès says...

      lovely video, thank you for posting it!

  35. Mariella Towey says...

    All men should be like Kelly!!!! I’m happy for you to be with a person that you deserve! You are gorgeous inside and OUT!

  36. I love this piece and have ever since I first read it. Thank you for re-posting it – it’s always worth a read.

  37. Mia says...

    This was by far my most favorite article. Beautifully written and completely needed in this time of self-reflection and isolation.

  38. Brooke says...

    What a beautiful love – the love you have for your body and your love with Kelly. You are right, that is the kind of love that liberates! I have been with my significant other for 14 years and whenever I ask him for his opinion about my outfit he replies, without hesitation, “it looks better on the floor.” While it makes me laugh, and sometimes groan that I can’t get an honest opinion (I can’t go out naked!!), in the end I’m always so in awe of the way he sees me. I feel very lucky. Thanks for sharing, Ashley. You always write such beautiful essays.

  39. Savannah says...

    My 4 year old is always smooshing into my body and saying things like “I like how soft you are mama” and “your boobs are like pillows” and “You jiggle when we dance!” (meant as a compliment)!

    My instinct is to recoil from the statements but I try to remember that it holds 57 pounds of kids in it’s arms every day and it works with cancer patients and it writes letters to it’s friends. It’s easier to love my body when I think about the safety and love and fun my daughters feel when they are wrapped in it.

    • Agnès says...

      aaww, that’s so beautiful! you should frame your daughter’s words…

  40. Betsy says...

    This was so lovely to read. We could all be so lucky, as to have a Kelly as a partner in crime. Made me a little teary. I too, weigh more than my significant other. He doesn’t seem to mind, either. Looks like we both one the lottery. I must admit, I am a little sad that my guy doesn’t say such lovely things to me. Sounds like he is a keeper for sure.

    • Sarz says...

      Well, Kelly is a writer, yes? He’s likely just had more practice at articulating his thoughts than a lot of other men. I’m sure your guy is much the same – it just tends to get stuck in the thought-track. :)

  41. Lesley says...

    Such a great essay, and just the reminder I needed today. Thank you for this!

  42. b says...

    Thank you for re-sharing this. So glad to have Ashley’s voice on the blog again.

  43. Dana says...

    Beautiful story.

  44. Agnès says...

    I remember when I read that text, it is powerful and the last paragraph is so beautiful and true. I have experienced that with my husband but also, when my mother was dying. I could see her in all her vulnerability and it was okay for her and for me; it made me understand that at the end (death), there is only love. (that was a little intense for a comment!)

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      what a beautiful comment, agnès xoxo

    • Caitlin says...

      Oh Agnes! I read this comment as the theme song to Call the Midwife came on and here I am, blubbering over the beauty of humanity. Thank you! I have been so sad all the time lately, given the state of the country, and it feels so good to remember there is goodness in dark times.

  45. I’ve never cried after reading a blog before. There isn’t a day that I needed to read this more than today. Thank you.

  46. I’m having my own version of body shaming lately. I can’t look at myself in the mirror without being disgusted at how much I weigh. I’ve tried to find the beauty in it, but I can’t. This essay gives me hope. I want desperately to see myself as beautiful. Thank you for this. Thank you for this topic. Thank you for choosing Ashley to tell her story.

  47. Margaret says...

    This is truly one of the most moving essays I have ever read. Thank you, thank you, thank you,

  48. Sophie McCartney says...

    Wow, I feel so moved.

  49. Maryann Moore says...

    I really loved this essay last time, and I love it so damn much this time too.

  50. Mims says...

    Ashley, you are a national treasure.

  51. Erin A. says...

    Oh my goodness what a wonderful story! This was linked from another story just when I thought I had read all the Cup of Jo posts. I click the link to your website and saw a reference to your husband Kelly and it made me ecstatic. Everyone deserves to be happy and supported.

  52. Tess says...

    I still can’t get over this line: “I allow myself things I assumed were only allowed for women doing a better job at being pretty than I was.” Thank you, Ashley Ford.

  53. Lauren Palmer says...

    Wow wow wow. I love Ashley Ford. Her Dear Sugars episode was one of my favorites. This is fantastic. And it so reminds me how much I love my thinner-than-I-am husband, who has never once insinuated he is anything but brimming with gratitude that he gets to be with me. Everyone should feel this loved.

  54. Adina says...

    This is truly beautiful and spoke directly to my soul. Thank you so much for sharing and for affirming others.

  55. Jessica says...

    I wish I’m lucky enough to find this kind of love. I’ve been working for years now on accepting myself and I still struggle so bad. I want to feel liberated.

    I’m sobbing. Thank you for sharing.

  56. curlycharisma says...

    Aahh just stumbled across this article and it made me cry with how beautiful it is… and then I found you on insta and see you two got married! Wishing you a lifetime of acceptance and happiness.

    • CandiceZ says...

      Yay!

  57. This is fantastic. May we all embrace the simplicity of loving and appreciating our bodies, without fear or hesitation.

  58. Mar says...

    Liberating, amazing, and life-changing. Thank you for your words.

  59. Nancy says...

    I just finished listening to your Dear Sugars interview, and paused the podcast to locate and read this article. Through tears, I want to thank you so much for writing piece. In the midst of some very low moments, your voice gave me hope in a way that nothing else was able to. Again, thank you.

  60. K L Rosenberger says...

    This!!! My husband moved on with a girlfriend in part because of my weight.
    I am who I am. Part of my weight gain was due to anti-depressants. I became complacent about exercise when I started these meds.
    If I had a choice to be depressed and thin or heavier and not depressed, I would choose the me I am today . . . I am happy.

  61. WHY am I just now reading this! This was so needed, so refreshing… and everything. THANK YOU, from a fellow Hoosier.

  62. Lala says...

    Brought tears to my eyes. May our daughters always know this self love and appreciation of our healthy robust bodies.

  63. claire says...

    Your words made me swoon. Beautiful piece Ashley Ford.

  64. This is really the most beautiful thing I’ve read in a while. Love really should not be hard, this made me smile out loud.

  65. Katherine says...

    I actually got a little misty reading this! This blog has been one of my favorites for years because of its honesty, transparency, and lack of drama. I’m really looking forward to reading more of your posts. Congratulations on your engagement, you are both so lucky!

  66. heather says...

    love love love all of this

  67. cheri says...

    Everything about this piece is lovely: the sentence-making, the feelings, the sense of discovery and vulnerability, the incredible openness, its strength. I’ll read anything you write, Ashley!

  68. Alex says...

    Oy I’m crying! So beautiful!

  69. This essay is just the most beautiful tonic. Kelly does sound remarkable, but you allowed him (and I think that’s the most critical part) to truly SEE you – you didn’t let fear or self judgement cloud it.
    It’s so beautiful!
    I think i’m going to print this and put it somewhere I can see often. It lights a path towards self acceptance – cutting through shame to the good stuff- LOVE.

  70. just listened to Ashley in the podcast Dear Sugar and I had to come read this post. So beautiful.

    • Kat says...

      Me too :)

  71. Patricia says...

    Loved reading this essay so much. I avoid relationships because of the fear of someone seeing my body. My weight has fluctuated tremendously up and down and I am not happy with myself at all so how could someone else possible be happy with me? This gives me a little bit of hope.

  72. Kate says...

    This is so beautiful and moving! I struggle so much with bad body image and my day is dictated by if I’m having a fat day or skinny day. This really helped put things in perspective and remember that a body is for living, not for torturing it into what the world’s image of a “perfect” body should be. Thank you for writing this, it moved me!

  73. Kate says...

    I love re-reading this. Especially now I am dating a man who is from a different country, in a country that neither of us is from, and trying to figure out how we can make it all work and realising that the fact he’s skinny and I’m not is the least of our concerns.

  74. This was a beautiful piece. :)

  75. Kriti says...

    Wow… Completely beautiful without any exaggeration..

  76. charlie says...

    So happy that you found each other!

  77. Darby says...

    What a beautiful essay. Thank you. It is easy to dismiss compliments and kind words when you do not feel confident. I love how you have been able to accept and internalize those words of kindness and acceptance.

  78. Heather says...

    How did I miss this when it was originally posted? It is EVERYTHING I need to hear and remind myself. Thank you Cup of Jo and Ashley!

  79. Wow, what a fabulous story. I loved this so much. What would our world be like if every woman focused on how she felt in her body, rather than how she looked? It would be nothing less than a revolution for our relationships, our sons and daughters, and ourselves.

  80. Grace says...

    Do NOT let this man go. This is rare. Makes me wonder what his parents are like. They did a fabulous job with him.

  81. Roseanne says...

    This is outstandingly wonderful, Ashley.

  82. cherie says...

    You are very lucky to have each other. And I think EVERYONE has a fight at the happiest place on earth LOL. Great piece

  83. Connie says...

    Kelly freakin rocks. His parents should be so proud of raising such a good man. I think i want to paint his words on the wall over my mirror

  84. Samantha says...

    Kelly makes my bf look like an a*hole.

    • Ger says...

      Oh Samantha I laughed, and then I didn’t.