Possible Woman 11/12 Alayna – Too Muscular
My beautiful, strong ass babe. Alayna and I came into one another’s lives around the summer of 2018, and since then I have been most blessed and grateful to have her in my life. She runs her own videography business, is a fellow Gemini, one of the most talented people I know, and is someone I will be calling a dear friend for the rest of my existence. Words cannot evoke how much I love this woman. Knowing her and her story with her body, I knew I needed to have her be a part of this project. This project stands for a lot and initially when I set out, I thought it was all going to be about outer appearances and us trying to love them more. What I found out pretty quickly into this project is that this is all about the unseen. The years of emotions, harsh words, abuse, damage and pain we and others have put ourselves through in our bodies. You might look at Alayna here and think, yeah she’s buff, but also she has the ‘perfect’ body, (If we’re still saying perfect body out there, let’s stop.) It’s almost 2020 and the perfect body doesn’t exist because it’s each of our own.) Why would this girl have struggled at all with her body ever? Well guess what? Like the rest of us in this world, Alayna has dealt with her fair share of body shame throughout her life. Before we are quick to judge someone on how their body looks, don’t. Just don’t. Get to know that person and sit down and have a conversation with them. Never make any assumptions ever before getting to know their story because trust me, they have one.
“I was really paranoid about not being buff enough for the ‘too muscular body.’ ” – Alayna
Alayna talked to me about her process the morning of her session. She woke up, had two cups of espresso, no breakfast, no water, worked out and quite honestly and by no surprise at all, felt a little grumpy, a little hungry and very ready for the session, but just feeling a little worn down in her own body. But that’s okay, because as a former Cross Fit athlete, this is how she knew she wanted to prepare her body and at the end of the day, or beginning of the morning, she controls her body in the way she wants to because it’s her body. As she was sitting there getting her makeup done, (shout out to Lauren of Seattle Beauty Boss for killing her look yet again) she was contemplating how she perceives her own emotions towards her body during her hair and makeup process. She’s profound ya’ll. Can you see why I just love her?
“I come here this morning, still really hungry but then I got dolled up and the way that you and Lauren are reacting to me is making me feel so incredible. I’m contemplating the differences that those external forces can have on how you see yourself and how you interpret what’s happening in front of you.”-Alayna
She goes on to say that when arriving here she is still the exact same person, the person who drove here hungry and a little groggy with the same dome in the same cranium, but how she decided to look at herself and internally how she decided to feel, washed all those other emotions and hunger pains away. It’s so incredibly amazing to converse with someone who sees things happening as they are and is constantly learning and growing from their current environment. As someone who is just a little too emotional and likes to shut out and hide out, it’s inspiring to see someone perceive life and their surroundings like this. To be so aware is incredibly powerful.
Growing up Alayna was raised by two divorced parents states away, and at the time, one abusive father. She would go to visit him every month when she was younger, flying from Seattle to California. She didn’t feel close to him and actually feared going to visit him.
“I felt like a burden to him and felt like something on his checklist that he marked off as a life achievement.”-Alayna
She recalled her Dad being an avid athlete and always running, going to the gym or biking. Once when she was around ten years old, she and her dad went on a bike ride, something that she knew he loved to do, but was having a very hard time breathing on this ride. As a 10 year-old little girl, Alayna was confused as to why she was so winded on this ride. She remembered riding bikes as a kid to be fun, but now it wasn’t so fun. “You’re out of shape.” Alayna’s father said to her, said to ten year-old little Alayna.
“I thought oh no, that’s a failure on my part. I need to get in shape, this isn’t an acceptable way of living or existing to his standards, which also became mine.”-Alayna
After that Alayna said she didn’t jump on the ball immediately to get herself in shape because she had NO IDEA WHAT THAT MEANT. Go figure, she was ten. Like many of us who grow up with body shame already instilled in our very being, more than likely always being derived from our family, our loved ones, those who are meant to love, protect and support us. With a little comment like, “you’re out of shape” at ten years old, that can alter one’s entire life so drastically, especially when that comment comes from your own parent, and especially from the parent that hadn’t shown you unconditional love yet. If you are out there and are a mother or father yourself and have young children, just be very aware of what you say to them about their bodies. You are all they have in this life right now and what you say is what the universe says, it’s what God says. Remember that you are everything to them and saying something negatively about their body can alter their perception for the rest of their life. Choose your words to your little beings of creation wisely.
Once Alayna got into high school and the world of sports, all of them were now readily available at her fingertips, so she tried out track. She had a friend who was doing it and thought she might as well try it out too. She remembers one track meet where she placed 4th to last and vividly remembers how she felt knowing her Dad was there in the crowd watching her and how proud he was of her.
“I remember the feeling of making him proud. In fact, my brother found a letter several months ago from my mother to my father in the family safe and in that letter she expressed, “Alayna couldn’t stop talking about how great it felt to have you present at her track meet and how much fun she had making you proud” and it was completely true.” -Alayna
After her freshman year of high school up in good old Bellingham Wa, Alayna decided to move to California to be with her father and stepmother who just had a child of their own, Alayna’s brother. She didn’t mesh with the Bellingham culture, but that may have also been because she was a teenager and do teens really jive with anything? She also saw it as a great opportunity to be closer to her Dad who was a really motivating force in her life. So she moved to Silicon Valley in hopes of being in that type of environment, an environment where everyone has to be perfect, get above a 4.0, go to the Ivy League College, win the trophies and accolades and not only achieve perfection, but look like perfection as well, would be beneficial to her. She thought that’s what it had to take to be successful and that’s what success looked like. Her dad took that route, therefore she was going to as well.
One day while perusing the snacks in her pantry, a sixteen year old Alayna grabbed a handful of cheerios to snack on and while reading the nutritional facts on the side panel. She read at the bottom “based on a 2000 calorie diet.” Something clicked in her head and she never realized, or thought, that she had to limit herself to 2000 calories a day. Being a now track athlete, Alayna was an avid snacker as was her Dad, because with all that running, you obviously need to fuel up so your body can keep up with you.
“I thought, might as well try this 2000 calorie daily limit. It was an innocent pursuit and all I thought was, I wonder what would happen if I dropped down to 2000 calories.”- Alayna
“It was an innocent attempt to modify my diet, but I think subconsciously it was fueled by a lot of instability in my life.”- Alayna
She had just moved states as a junior in high school, left the norms of home and of living with her mother for so many years, had a newborn baby brother in her life and was simultaneously dealing with her new step mother who was an alcoholic. At the time, Alayna didn’t really know what alcoholism was. She just knew that at the end of the day her step mothers voice pattern would change significantly and that it scared her. She didn’t know what was going on, no one was addressing it and in turn her father would become hostile with her because he didn’t like it when she drank, or like the person she became.
“It was really hurtful for me and really hurtful for him in the long run, but she was hurting because she kept engaging in that.”-Alayna
When Alayna’s brother was born her father was always taking pictures of him and never of her. Alayna says that while she was a teen she never felt attractive at all. She got acne at the age of 12 that lasted into her 20’s and her father never taking her photo made Alayna feel worse about herself.
“I interpreted from that I wasn’t worth photographing, I was just problematic, my skin was bad, I had an ugly expression on my face, I wasn’t a lovable human, and I lost a lot of weight.”- Alayna
Alayna dropped down to 124 pounds and with how muscular she was by default, the weight loss made her look like she was sick. She stuck to her 2000 calories diet per day, then started the course of having an eating disorder. She said overnight all her friends stopped hanging out with her because they detected that she had an eating disorder. To this day it still affects Alayna that her friends did that and there was no explanation of why they stopped talking to her. She was convinced it was because she wasn’t taking care of herself. She recalls one day her chemistry teacher pulling her aside and asking if she was okay because of how sick she appeared to be. She didn’t take to comments like that well because she was used to criticism in her own house instead of compassion. Although her teacher was worried for her and showed that, she didn’t know how to take that remark.
“I might have subtly started to gain some weight back, but that awareness of calorie counting or calorie conversion into energy and fat, it’s never left me. I still have that.”- Alayna
Alayna thought she looked better as a thinner person. She got her first boyfriend thinking it was because she was more attractive from the weight loss and instantly got on birth control and started to gain more weight from the medication. She felt out of control with her weight at the time and she didn’t like it.
“Once you become aware of how your body needs to change by someone else’s standard, that’s a really hard thing to let go of. It really shapes how you see yourself.”-Alayna
When Alayna was living by herself in college after she was out of the dorm rooms, she got really isolated living on her own and she began binging and purging.
“I would order this awesome chop salad from my favorite pizza place, maybe some wings, crush it while watching Intervention on cable TV and then I would go throw it up.”- Alayna
Every time Alayna would go out with her friends eating and drinking, she would throw everything up afterwards. She said she only ever did it in the evenings and she would keep down her breakfast and lunch. She noticed also that when she would take Adderall, like many college students do sadly, she lost a ton of weight. She would work out on it, which is not good for your heart, study off of it and use it to curb her appetite.
“It’s always been the struggle of figuring out how do I stay present in indulging in food because it’s something I love, while also having a really fit body because that is something I like to feel.”- Alayna
Sadly, Alayna’s dad passed away from cancer. After that happened she used food to cope. At the time of her fathers death, the two of them had a very different relationship than they had when Alayna was younger. She was heartbroken after losing him and also seeing her little brother lose him. She reached a breaking point with it after having moved back to Seattle. She was alone again, per her choice, struggling to find fitness and the motivation to work out in winter in Seattle. But one day on her way home from work she stumbled upon a CrossFit gym and was initially intrigued by their logo. She loved the graphic design of it and thought it was very impressive. She then remembered what CrossFit was, this insane gym to help strengthen the ultimate hell out of your body. So she joined the gym which was the gateway of some pretty dedicated, obsessive, exercise tendencies.
“I was really good at CrossFit. I worked really hard at it. I loved being strong. I loved being capable. I loved seeing my name move up on the leaderboard, I loved helping my friends move furniture, it all felt really good. But if I was being honest with myself, again, my commitment to that, as much as I loved being strong and capable, was to manage this disordered eating I had around food.”- Alayna
Alayna found that if she trained hard enough at Crossfit she could make it to the competitions called regionals and the games. She got scary good and placed 100th in region for her abilities in the gym. She was so close to qualifying for regionals, but thought in order to get there, she would have to train a little bit harder and longer to qualify. Much harder… Thinking of whether or not she was going to make the jump and train her ass off, she found that it started to cause a lot of distance inside of her. She started to not enjoy her time in the gym and hated how consuming the gym had become. She was reaching a breaking point in her career as well, working at a startup that she wasn’t super happy with.
“There has to be something more than just working out and making money.”- Alayna
After these realizations, she decided that now was the time to jump ship and pursue her dream and career dreams of being a videographer. After a lot of therapy, she came to the conclusion that she would no longer be participating in the open’s for Crossfit.
“I’m tired of beating myself up over this. It doesn’t contribute to high self-worth. It contributes to high self-worth contingent on achieving. I cannot have a self-worth defined by contingency on something else.” – Alayna
After giving up the gym, Alayna still moves her body daily. She works out three to four times a week at her home gym in her and her husband’s garage. She moves because she wants to feel better, more alert, more creative and more herself. She still has maintained this strong body even after her days at Crossfit!
When I asked Alayna how others made her feel about her body, she said it was mostly positive when she was in the gym. She would hear words like, “you’re jacked!”, and was proud because of all the hard work she had put into her body. What she didn’t like was seeing her muscles grow and her chest flatten. Alayna says she always had a smaller chest, but when her muscles started to get bigger, her insecurities started to get bigger as well.
“Being insecure of the increasing size of my muscles made me feel like I was becoming more masculine.” -Alayna
“Inside of the gym was great. Outside of the gym, I would get crazy looks from people. I felt like a spectacle, I felt like they were marveling at how a woman could look like that.”-Alayna
Alayna always assumed that other people staring at her more than likely thought she was on steroids. She said that she was never insanely massive at her peak, but her peak was pretty big in comparison to her body. None of her clothes were fitting right at the time. She had the struggle of finding clothes that complimented her small chest but also complimented her wide arms and shoulders. At this point in her life, she said that her stature became more of a man on the frame of what is a very petite woman. She wasn’t able to feel sexy about herself and felt insecure on how she was presenting herself to the world.
“My definition of femininity itself was to feel sexually powerful. Femininity therefore was presented in a way that aligned with how I saw sexual power as being. So like, an hourglass figure, small arms, long hair, small waist, big butt, big tits.”-Alayna
“I see women with these smaller chests now, femme identifying people with no boobs and I am so attracted to their confidence. It’s fucking nuts, but I’ve never been able to have that within myself and I kind of morn that because in a perfect world, I would be able to get to that point.”-Alayna
Strangers would come up to Alayna on the street and remark on her body, all the time. When women would compliment her, she was okay with that and sometimes even enjoyed the praise. But when a man would come up..“Hell fucking no. I get that I am in front of your face right now, but you have to respect the boundary here.”- Alayna
“This is one experience of many that I have encountered like this, where a man, a heterosexual man, out the gate asks me, if I’m a personal trainer or what I do to work out or says that I have a really nice body. And all of those things make me feel really targeted and immediately sexualized in ways that I don’t want to be. I AM NOT WORKING OUT LIKE THIS FOR YOUR SEXUAL ENTERTAINMENT.”-Alayna
One of the most jarring experiences Alayna has had being in her muscular body was when she went wedding dress shopping in 2015. When it comes to women’s clothing in general, especially dresses and especially wedding dresses, it is geared for that certain type of frame. The slender arms, maybe the bigger waist, but not the bigger shoulders, thighs or calves. Clothes shopping and simply just wearing clothes for Alayna has always been a struggle. So when it came to finding a wedding dress, one that would fit AND make her feel comfortable, was really important to her. Like anyone who is just about to go wedding dress shopping, this is an exciting time and a fun opportunity to try on all these amazing gowns and live like a princess for a day. This however, was not the case for Alayna when it came to finding her wedding dress.
“I was struggling to see myself in any type of wedding gown because they weren’t flattering to my build.”- Alayna
Alayna went shopping with her Mom and Step Mom at the time, both of which she has no communication with at this point in her life, probably indefinitely. I say indefinitely, but you make the call here people, or don’t because none of us can make that call, this is Alayna’s own life, but you can get what I’m saying here in just a few more sentences. Alayna, being so open with her body, proud of her body, and ready to get naked in front of two people she used to care a lot about, did not care about changing right in front of them to try on her dresses.
“My Step Mom remarked that she was traumatized at the sight of my body.”-Alayna
After hearing a comment like that, she was obviously hurt. She never got clarification on why her Step Mom felt that way and said that. She let it just sit in her subconscious for a while until bringing it to the surface.
“In addition to that, she kept insisting with every gown that I tried on that we needed way more pads that were included in the dress because of my breasts. I looked so disproportionate, I was distracting to her, she couldn’t get past how flat my chest was in these dresses and we had to put pause on reviewing the gowns until we got the right amount of padding in the dress so that she wasn’t so distracted and so we could actually see it’s potential.”-Alayna
At the time, it didn’t really make her mad. Alayna knew she had a flat chest, knew that she never really felt feminine by traditional standpoint and felt that she looked weird in conjunction with her muscular body too. She thought to herself, well this is just what she has to look forward to, not looking or feeling feminine on her wedding day. She left that day feeling confused, hurt and sad that the day went in the complete opposite direction that she hoped for. She thought wedding dress shopping was supposed to be fun and it wasn’t.
She realized that her Step Mother voicing her needless thoughts on her body was just surfacing, again, all these insecurities Alayna has dealt with her entire life. Leading up to her wedding, she started to become groggy and irritable around the house and towards her partner. She did a lot of discovery work at that time with her future husband and therapist and realized that deep down, she didn’t like her body. Yes, she loved being strong. She was proud of being strong and loved the value that that brought to her life. But overall, she was disgusted at how she looked and those negative thoughts on her body were highly, if not solely in relation to the words her Step Mother said when they went dress shopping. But can you imagine, a life where you are constantly trying to love your own body, like everyone out there, and then all the sudden when you are VULNERABLE and NAKED in front of two people you thought loved you unconditionally, these things were said about your body and in an fucking instant, years of shame, memories and pain just arise to the surface like a sailor pulling out their anchor from sea. Just like that- all the years of hard work and being at a comfortable place in your body just ripped out from you once again.
“From all the emotions that day, all of the insecurities that came up from that and all of the dread over wearing a wedding gown on our wedding day, I decided to get a breast augmentation 4 months before my wedding.”-Alayna
“I just felt like I can’t be an attractive or beautiful bride if I can’t fill out these wedding dresses.” -Alayna
“I want to be sure to note in this interview that I recognize these traditions of, or these hetero normative notions of femininity and masculinity, are antiquated. Those are things that are on a spectrum. But at this time in my life, they weren’t on a spectrum for me individually. They were very rigid, they were very informed by what I was surrounded by growing up. For me, femininity for Alayna Lim, formally Lim now Erhart, meant bigger boobs.”-Alayna
As you can imagine, the process of Alayna’s last minute breast augmentation wasn’t an easy ride. She was in a lot of pain post surgery and was given NO pain medications to help her with the pain and discomfort. The doctor apparently, was really apprehensive to prescribe them because at the time, still, there was a huge opioid addiction issue in our country. So little Alayna, becoming a much bigger Alayna, had zero help in easing the pain. She was on medical prescription grade Advil, which didn’t do shit for her.
On her wedding day though, she filled out her dress. Her wedding was beautiful, but it was also a rough day. Leading up, going through all this emotion pain and trauma from her family and then electively altering her body, for years of wanting to do so, to be more femme, but also for the fear of not feeling worthy enough on her own wedding day. It was a very emotional day for her. In fact, she has this photo framed in her home of she and her husband, Matt (shoutout to one of the best guys I have gotten to know and a damn good partner) dancing their first dance. Alayna’s head is buried in his chest, her face not seen at all in that moment. It’s her favorite photo from her wedding day because it highlights the experience from her perspective very well. She was going through a lot and felt very betrayed and not supported by her own family. In this moment all she felt she could do was just to fold into him and close her eyes and seek refuge in her partner from all the pain and judgment she had felt from people who claimed to be her own family leading up to this day.
Today, Alayna feels really proud of her body and the journey she has had with her body. She is proud of the strength she possesses from being strong. “I love being able to move heavy shit and get shit done without the help of a man.”-Alayna
“I love having the boobs I have now. They’re really fun and I finally get to enjoy filling out all types of clothing now. But I would be lying to you if I didn’t say that I also felt insecurity around them because in certain outfits, I feel like they draw too much unwanted attention.”-Alayna
Alayna reflects on how important body positivity has been to her, to those all around her and to all women. She advocates so much for body positivity and is always constantly boosting those around her, even me at times (I know, the body pos photog sometimes has a clouded vision of her own self-worth) and keeps inspiring everyone she comes in contact with to not only love their body, but to love themselves and who they are down to the core. She’s an amazing friend, one of the best.
“Sometimes I feel like a hypocrite for having gotten this cosmetic procedure done, when in a perfect world everyone would just exist as they do without the need to do that. But then again, I kind of think that’s a moralistic judgment on the opportunity that you do have to change some part of your body and I don’t think it’s anybody’s business to tell you whether or not that’s okay or not.”-Alayna
Alayna feels most insecure around her body from her breasts but still does not regret getting them. She loves her thighs, she loves seeing how muscular her legs look and what muscles show when she walks. Even though it still is difficult for her to find clothing that can fit around her thighs, she still is super proud of them. They are one of the strongest muscles in her body. “I was a really good squatter. I think it’s badass, I can crush a watermelon between my legs if I wanted to.”-Alayna
My final question- the one I started to ask most of my ladies from this project. If you could let the world know what it’s like to be in your body, what would you say?
Without missing a beat…
“Cis-Men. Stop inviting yourself into the conversation around what a woman or any other person does with their body, without asking permission. You’re automatically sexualizing that person, you’re automatically positioning yourself in a really intimate arena that belongs to that other person, that’s non of your fucking concern. You’re using athleticism, or musculature or someones physical appearance as a proxy for your sexual desire for them, I see right through that shit. It’s manipulative, it’s rude and it’s very uncomfortable and totally triggering for me.” -Alayna
“Cis-Womxn. I have had a lot of experiences with women loving my body and thinking it’s really attractive. I recall one of my friends in the gym at the time that I was at my lowest body fat percentage, wasn’t having my period, I was cranky and miserable training my ass off and she looks at me and says, ‘Girl, you are body goals.’ I remember feeling so sad by that remark because you should not want to be inspired to be that. You’re just seeing something superficial without understanding everything that’s informed, where that body is at, severe body dysmorphia, multiple eating disorders and exercise disorder. Just be mindful of the ways that you are constructing your compliments towards other women about their bodies. Is there a way that you can express curiosity vs automatically proclaiming that their body is the body that you want. It’s just a body. A body is so much more than a body, there is a whole person inside that body.”-Alayna
We wrapped this up having a conversation on how to address non-binary humans. After thinking more and more about It, Alayna stated that she wanted those comments to be directed toward cis gender men and women.
“I think that cis people are just a little more blind to the implications of what they say around peoples physical forms. Gender non-conforming/non binary people who have been discriminated against for their bodies and sexuality have a deeper understanding.”-Alayna
DAMN. How to wrap this up. We can start with the obvious. Be aware of the things you say to your children about their bodies at ANY AGE. Most of our repressed feelings towards ourselves and our bodies stem from our own home and family. This needs to change, we are in control of our body and the way we feel has to be placed there by our own thoughts and actions, not someone else’s, especially your parents. The moral of Alayna’s story is this; we have the full right and freedom to choose to do whatever we want with our bodies. Judging others on a choice that they made for themselves is not right. Cat calling, seemingly positive comments from others, friends, family and strangers alike need to stop. Show curiosity for someone’s body and ask how they got so strong, as opposed to remarking on their body. Ask what they did to get them to the place they are in now. Ask them their story of their body because proclaiming them as you like and see for yourself, is not okay and is not welcomed. It’s not your body, be aware of what you are saying, even if you think you are complimenting someone. Ask, don’t remark. ASK.
More Powerful Words From Alayna…
“My incredible warrior of photography and empowerment,