Gender Identity and Body Image: Do They Interact?

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Photo by Pei Hua Yeap

I am a male to female transgender person. I have male ‘parts’ and I spend more time in the world as a man than I do as a woman. If you need more labels, I am probably non-binary, gender non-conforming. I do not live full time as a woman nor do I want to. But I do enjoy expressing my feminine side through clothing, behaviours etc. The need for this disclosure will become clear shortly bear with me.

I live in the southern hemisphere and we are coming to the end of our summer holiday season. We have therefore been spending a great deal of time doing summery things. Al fresco dining, walks in the parks and indeed sitting at (and in) the swimming pool.

In my male form I have always been very comfortable with my body. It is certainly not perfect, it could be firmer, it could be younger and it could have fewer scars, but I have never let these issues worry me. I have been comfortable wearing pretty much anything at any time. I have worn ‘Speedo’ swimming costumes at school galas and to the gym. I have worn ordinary ‘baggy’ swimming trunks to the beach to resorts and the like as well as smaller, tighter swimming trunks. I have worn these with t shirts and I have been topless. I have dressed like this in front of friends, family and strangers. I have never had an issue.

A few days ago I got the opportunity to dress. My wife was with me but I was just not in the mood to go out. I felt like staying at home. I was also in a lazy mood and the thought of putting on makeup, choosing an outfit and generally getting all dolled up was just too much. I suggested we spend some time at the pool. She was game. I asked if it would be ok if I borrowed one of her bikinis and she was happy for me to do so. We looked in her cupboard and found a very cool (if rather old) pink string bikini top and black bottoms that I thought went rather well together.

To be clear we were alone and our pool is private and secluded. We have high walls and lots of greenery giving privacy. My wife has seen me dressed, naked, in suits and ties, in mini skirts and in lingerie. We are comfortable with ourselves and our bodies. I donned the bikini and all of a sudden I felt more self conscious than I have ever felt before.

There was suddenly nowhere to hide. No fabric to accentuate or obfuscate. The string bikini was also too skimpy to support my fake breasts so I had to go without. This and the lack of makeup almost certainly contributed to my lack of confidence but I was still surprised at my own reaction.

Not only have I always been comfortable with my own body, I have always said that women should feel free to wear whatever they like. Bikinis look good (they really do). Women in bikinis look phenomenal almost all the time. A women in a bikini usually looks better than in a one piece. I have always been confused by the fact that so many women are nervous of being seen in a bikini. A one piece does not actually hide much more than your average bikini. My reaction was therefore very surprising to me.

Why was I feeling so exposed? Why was I suddenly unsure of myself? Certainly it was a new experience and that always makes you nervous and concerned, but this seemed a bit more. After some time I started to warm up to the point where I was happy for my wife to take some pictures. I still felt very unsure of myself and even ugly.

I posted a summary of my feelings on Facebook and was immediately asked to post the pictures. I was not ready to do so. In fact I was thinking of deleting them all. I did not. Instead I decided to do nothing until the next day.

My wife looks fabulous. She looks fabulous all the time but I think she looks really good in her bikini. She has never agreed. She has always felt uncomfortable swimming in front of anyone but the closest of family. In 2015 she decided that she did not want to transfer her body image concerns to our daughters and she has made an effort to be brave and confident. To this end she wore her bikini to the beach and some resorts when we were on holiday in Europe in June. I never fully appreciated how brave she was doing this. I took my own subjective view of her and expected her to see herself in the same way that I saw her.

Having posed for a few photographs and having been asked to see them by a supportive group if friends and having had serious reservations, I suddenly appreciated just how brave my wife was. She had put herself out there amongst strangers. She had risked a lot. Not for herself, but to show our daughters that they need not be ashamed of their bodies.

Having reflected on this and thinking of all the people who bravely go to the beach, the pool etc I decided to post the pictures on my Facebook profile. The response was not nearly as bad as I feared. It was in fact overwhelmingly positive and I was very relieved. This helped me to resolve some of my concerns and I have gained some confidence. But I still have concerns. I was prepared to share the pictures on Facebook, with a largely supportive and sympathetic viewership. Yet, I am too nervous to do so here, where anybody could see them. Clearly I have some issues here.

The lingering questions still remain. Why does the male me feel so little concern for the way I look in a swimming costume, but female me is racked with self doubt? Where does this come from? I have been socialised as a male. Have I internalised a whole bunch of messages that were never meant for me about body image? How does this reconcile with my view that women are beautiful no matter what they are wearing (and they almost always really are beautiful)? Am I projecting or denying any beliefs here? And perhaps most tellingly, why does any of this matter?

Anyway I have a new found respect for women who brave society’s gaze. Who look fabulous and confidently wear what they want and look amazing doing so. They have inspired me and I thank each and everyone of them for doing what they want to do when they want to do it. More power to you all. I would urge us all to do what we can to give young girls and women more confidence, to have fewer issues with the way they look and to be happy to be themselves and dress whatever way they wish. Clearly our society does not do enough in this regard and probably works against rather than for women in this regard. Sadly I still do not feel brave enough to share these pictures here, or to be seen in public in a bikini. I have work to do it seems.

Daniella Argento
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Daniella Argento

Advertising Manager at Frock Magazine
Daniella is surprisingly quiet and discreet, some may even say she is shy, but when you get to know her she can be witty and quite funny, even irreverent.
Her interests include international affairs,current affairs, history, economics, investments, physics, and literature. She enjoys reading fantasy and science fiction and Lee Child is one of her favourite authors.
Daniella is a fan of art house cinema, but has been known to frequent main stream movie houses from time to time as well.
Her musical tastes include punk, new age, heavy metal, classic rock, hard rock, reggae, ska, world music (particularly African contemporary), baroque, medieval, classical, romantic and some country. These interests may best be described as eclectic, but 'random' may also work. She can play air guitar to beginner level and the fool. It is rumoured that she sings in tune at least once an octave, but we have been unable to verify this fact.
You can get to know her better by visiting her blog www.daniellaargento.com
Daniella Argento
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