Name: Kait Scalisi, MPH
City: New York, NY
Occupation: Sex & relationship educator and the founder of PassionbyKait.com
Please describe how YOU see your body in general, when you look in the mirror.
What I see when I look in the mirror varies so much depending on the day. The one constant is there’s less overall vitriol and more “damn girl you look good! *takes a selfie* *shares on Instagram or SnapChat with #feelingmyself*”
I’ve always loved my breasts and my collarbone. Even at my heaviest, my collarbone was prominent and it feels so deliciously sexy in an understated way. I’ve always loved my booty and hips too - for the way they sway when I walk and how they so easily match Latin beats or the steps in a Zumba class.
My legs, back rolls, and skin on my face are the areas I’ve struggled with the most. On a bad day, these are the recipient of my self-hatred. My thighs are too thick and jiggly, my back rolls are gross (this was told to me when I was younger), and my skin on my face is sallow and not smooth and too ruddy.
One part I’ve had a big evolution with is my belly. It’s gotten softer and rounder and more jiggly in recent years and rather than despise it as I would have a few years ago, I love it. I love running my hands over it and the way my breasts rest on it when I’m sitting braless. I like the ripples when my partner blows a raspberry there and how it’s a comfortable pillow for his head. It feels so divinely feminine and beautiful...so even when I lament having a muffin top I’ll put my hands over my belly and send her some love!
What do you consider beauty to mean? What is beautiful to you?
Beauty has always been something outside of me. Other women have it. Nature has it. But not me. I’m cute and bubbly, not beautiful.
In recent years, I’ve started to have moments where I feel utterly beautiful. Usually I’m in clothes that fit me perfectly, often a swirly dress, and I can feel all my inner amazingness reflected on my outside. It’s not even that I’m dressed differently or have my hair and makeup done, it’s that my outsides reflect the beauty and power and strength inside of me. I’m working hard on capturing that with my aesthetic - 100% for me, not others!
Some of feeling beautiful recently also has to do with growing my hair long. I cut my hair short in middle school and kept it relatively short until recently. But something about having it long, the feel of it on my shoulders and back when I dance, the way it cascades over my side in very gentle waves...it feels feminine. I wonder if I kept my hair short for so long not because it felt good to me but because I was stepping into what I thought I was supposed to be -- cute and spunky -- rather than who I actually am: a deeply sensual woman.
I still don’t believe when people tell me I’m beautiful or even those who find beauty in every person. I judge myself and others far too harshly but I strive to get to that place of genuinely seeing beauty everywhere I look.
What does a healthy body image mean to you and what are your body image goals?
A healthy body image means being ok with my body more days than I’m not. I’m kind of there now! My body image goal would be to take pleasure in my body more days than I disdain it.* By that I mean with my thoughts, the foods I eat, the movement I do, and the sexy times I have.
Our bodies are all sensual machines and we get so fucking cut off from that - thanks to society and technology and a million other things I love-hate. I want to feel my body and honor her wishes and embody the intensely sensual being that I am.
*I don’t believe it’s possible or realistic or helpful to expect to love your body all the time. In fact, that just sets people up for failure - even the most body confident women I know still have days where they hate everything in their closet and their x is too big and why doesn’t y sit right on their body...
Can you talk about a time in your life where you felt body confident? When you didn’t? What shaped your feelings?
I feel most body confident when I’m dancing. My body has always been able to catch and hold a beat well, though in recent years various injuries have left me more limited in what I can do. Teaching Zumba classes was so therapeutic - I got to perform and lead with my body. I often have moments while dancing where thoughts cease. My brain obviously keeps working but I’m fully in my body - it’s just her and the music.
I can talk about tens of thousands of moments when I didn’t feel body confident. Whenever I’m around people with great style and who are conventionally beautiful, I question and doubt myself. Growing up, the adult women in my life constantly belittled themselves, and many still do to this day. It wasn’t until my adult years that I found people who didn’t constantly talk shit about their bodies. It still feels like a transgressive act - and yet now that I’ve surrounded myself with such people (both in eating disorder recovery and in my professional life, since being truly sex-positive and feminist includes body positivity), when I hear body shaming comments they take me by surprise. Like, “whoa! there’s so much pain there and I used to feel that constantly and holy shit no wonder I developed an eating disorder that I’m still recovering from…”.
I definitely struggle with body dysmorphia - maybe not clinically but what I see when I look in the mirror is very different from what others see. My preoccupation with looking a certain way and being a certain size has left a lot of sadness. I look back on old photos and think, “WOW I looked so good...and I thought I looked so bad!” I keep that in mind for bad body image days now - reminding myself that I look better than I think and that in a few years I’ll say the same thing to photos from now as I do to photos from a few years ago. It helps me stop lamenting whatever body part or state I’m in.
Have you had issues or challenges with clothing in regard to body image?
Oh god clothing is the bane of my existence! It is so damn hard to find clothes that fit and I don’t particularly enjoy shopping, so combined it means that the experience often leaves me feeling less-than. I’m “odd-shaped” in that I’m very short (under 5 feet) with larger breasts and hips, a very small waist, etc. Clothes aren’t really made to fit me...
I used to obsess about sizes. That’s still a bit of a problem but I know more now and worry less. At one point I had pants from size 6 to 12 in my closet. WHAT THE WHAT?!
One mantra that helps is “clothes are supposed to fit me, not the other way around.” I’m learning what styles do and don’t work and for cuts that won’t work, I may still lament that I can’t wear them but I won’t even try them on. I know they won’t lay properly so why add to my feeling abnormal with visual evidence.
From a fairly young age, I wore low-cut shirts, again because I love my breasts and because a lot of the messages I received was that they were the only “good” part of my body so I “needed” to show them off. It would distract from my less desirable bits. *eye roll emoji*
I’ve started to learn what works and doesn’t work, both how it looks and how it makes me feel. I used to think clothes and fashion were so superfluous. And while I’m a minimalist and still think there’s no reason to have lots of clothes - now I recognize that fashion is about reflecting your inside for others to see. I want that - I want my clothes to help me feel how I want to feel: regal and powerful and sensual.
When I’m rich, my “random rich person splurge” will be on custom-made clothes. One of my besties is a fashionista and I plan on having her help - we’ll sip yummy drinks and play with sustainably-produced materials and talk about sex and have clothes that are truly made to fit us.
In the meantime, LuLaRoe has been helpful! Whatever material they use makes me feel like a fucking goddess!
Does your body image affect how you eat?
During grad school, deep loneliness and being told I was “too much” and “not good enough” (yes people said those and more to me) manifested into binge eating disorder (BED) mixed with a lot of restricting. I thought about food constantly, would “black out” while eating a bag of chocolate chips or box of cereal or whatever, and thought all foods but vegetables were bad. My heart hurts when I think back to how much pain I was in then and how I thought food brought me joy but it didn’t - not compared to now.
Truth be told, I can trace my bingeing back to my childhood. Food was always an escape and I always had trouble controlling myself around it. Add into that being surrounded by female family members taking diet pills and trying out every diet in the book along with there not always being enough food to eat and boom - perfect fucking storm.
So even though it wasn’t problematic enough to interfere with my life until grad school, it started much earlier.
This story took a really big twist when I recently got diagnosed with Crohn’s. Between fasting for medical tests and avoiding foods during my flare, it felt so similar to my eating disorder. Yet this time it was the best and healthiest and most loving thing I could do for my body. What a mindfuck it was! I knew I needed to get back into therapy because I could feel my eating disorder waiting to pounce on me - I described it as this monster above the right side of my head licking it’s lips while it waited for me to give in. And it took all of my mental energy and focus, which there wasn’t much of given that my Crohn’s meant I was undernourished for months while we figured it out, to not give in. I got myself into therapy at an eating disorder center and started working with a dietician who specializes in EDs because I knew I couldn’t sustain fighting it off on my own. When you are afraid to eat because of how it will physically affect you (pain, bleeding, etc) - it fucks with your head.
When do you feel best?
I feel my best when I’m dancing and during and after orgasm. To me, these are the perfect definition of #freedominpleasure - the motto of my business and what I want for every woman out there to experience.
How has your body image changed over time?
My body image has definitely improved over time. Part of this is understanding that “perfect” doesn’t exist - no one totally loves their body all the time! That took a lot of self-imposed pressure off me. I can have a bad day and still have amazing body image, you know. It’s not all-or-nothing.
A lot of this is accepting my body. It’s not easy - I’ve had to give up a lot of the movement practices I love, specifically yoga and Zumba, due to various injuries. I want my body to heal faster so I can get back to doing those things. But I’ve also found different ways to do them. For example, my friend Nadia has this Embody Dance Class and it’s not choreographed but totally focused on listening to your body and what she wants. Some days I’m booty shaking and gyrating and jumping around. Others I sit on a bench and sway. Sometimes I do both in the same class! It’s so freeing and supportive.
To be honest, I more crave the feeling I get from those movement practices than the practices themselves. I haven’t figured out how to recreate those feelings on a regular basis without the practices and I think that’s holding me back on having even better body image - wanting my body to do stuff she can’t right now and maybe never. There’s a lot of grief mixed in there.
One thing I did last summer was stop working out. I was getting really obsessive about my workouts. If I missed one it’s because I was a stupid piece of shit. Amazing how mean our inner mean girls can be! So being a stubborn Aries-cusp-Taurus, I stopped working out for a summer. Nadia’s class was the first thing I did and even now I don’t work out. I move my body sure but not with the goal of punishing her or making her be something she’s not.
My biggest frustration right now is why I keep getting sick or injured when I work so hard at taking care of my body - nourishing her with healthy foods and moving her for movement’s sake (not to make her something she isn’t). That messes with my head - like what’s the point in trying?.
Who do you feel influences your body image most?
Growing up it was definitely the females in my family. Their voices are still the ones I hear when I mentally beat myself up on a bad body image day.
Now I’m blessed to be surrounded by amazing body-positive women who see beauty everywhere. I’m lucky to call these women friends. Some are eating disorder recovery buddies and others are bloggers and colleagues who’ve become soul friends - Kelsey from A Little Rosemary and Time , August McLaughlin, and Gena from The Full Helping.
I have also delved more into the fat activism world. It’s pushing me to dismantle why I view fat as evil and the worst. By confronting my underlying biases, I become more compassionate to myself and others.
Lastly, Sarah Jenks’ work was pivotal during my eating disorder recovery. I remember sobbing the first time I heard her talk about how many of us binge because it’s the only exciting thing in our lives. At that point, it was the truest and I keep that in mind when I find myself bingeing now. How can I bring more of the feelings I want in - what can I do right now, tomorrow, and regularly? Because the food isn’t the answer.
What pressure around body image do you feel?
I don’t really feel much pressure anymore. Sometimes I have days where I want to lose weight but mostly, again, I’m in a place mentally and with who I’m surrounded by, where I’m happy. I’m not trying to be perfect, I am saying #effyourbeautystandards, and I’m in a good place!
If anything, I feel pressure to move more - and that’s because I miss it so damn much. I’m a bit afraid to move because I’ve been so injured and if I do something incorrectly, I know it’ll lead to more injuries. So when I’m not with my trainer or in a highly-specialized class, it’s like the risk is too high. And there’s pressure to be more active because I look healthy and so why can’t I walk 10 blocks easily?! Some days I can and others I can’t. It means I have to advocate for myself a lot which can get exhausting.
What are your thoughts on the media/advertising/social media and how they affect body image?
If anything, these influenced my idea of what is beautiful and what beauty means. So more of an insidious, underlying impact on my body image. Versus family talking about how they need to lose weight or getting teased for being fat in grade school - those were overt.
There’s a lot of social media around body-positivity and I want that to continue spilling over into advertising and the media. We’ve come a really long way IMO and I believe in progress not perfection.
In an ideal world, we’d see all body sizes be represented in all media - TV, movies, advertising. And they’d be real people, not incomplete or stereotypical characters. The same goes for race, LGBTQ, etc. Fat activism intersects with every other activism and we’ve got to keep them all in mind when asking for change.
How do you feel about altering appearance through cosmetic surgery and applications like Photoshop?
I fucking hate Photoshop. It’s stupid and fucked up and literally creates unrealistic expectation. I wish it had never been created!
Cosmetic surgery I have more of a complicated relationships with. My initial reaction is negative. But I believe in autonomy, a woman’s right to choose. And if she feels that surgery is what she wants and needs then who am I to tell her she’s wrong?! I don’t think cosmetic surgery is the answer though - if you have deep body image issues, changing your outside doesn’t work miracles. You’ve got to do the work and examine your underlying thought patterns, etc. Even at my thinnest I thought I was still too fat. It’s not what we see but how we see it.
Do you have any advice/tips/suggestions for other women who would like to improve their body image?
Yes so many!
I mentioned a few above but I’ll add to that:
Growing up & Comparison:
I wish growing up I had been surrounded by women who spoke positively about their body and who weren’t constantly trying to change it. For me and for the women in my life. Now that I”m a bit more “on the other side,” I hear and see their pain. And I understand it because I’ve been there! Learning to love my body as she is was the best thing I’ve done. I didn’t realize how exhausting fighting it and hating it and trying to change it was until I stopped. And I wish that for every single person who struggles now.
Speaking of, one of the biggest struggles I still have is comparison. My mom is so beautiful and she can’t see it - but I compare and say "oh her legs are thinner than mine so she must be more beautiful than me". There’s obviously goodness in there but also it’s still problematic. Or I’ll judge even my closest friends doing this work and go, “Of course it’s easy for you to tell me to love myself when you’re so beautiful!” I keep those thoughts to myself a lot because I know that they’ve had their own struggles, some of which are super similar to my own! Being a sex educator doesn’t mean I’m exempt from the same pressures society places on us about sex. Similarly, regardless of what you look like, we still grew up in a world that values one type of beauty and often reduces women to only our looks. We’re all doing the best we can.