Once upon a time, I thought I was a boy. I dressed like a boy, my only friends were boys, I played with boys toys, and my favorite activities included fishing with my Grandpa and playing with my hot wheels in the dirt cracks of our front yard. Putting me into a dress meant accepting the inevitable fate that it would be destroyed when I was done with it and anything pink made me cringe. Needless to say, I was a tom boy. Aka a young female child who enjoyed stereotypically male gendered activities and clothing.
I never once felt bad for enjoying these things, as my Mother is the type of person who will hand a little boy a barbie over a truck any day, so I had the support. I soon grew into a sporty girl, and transitioned into a femme young tween. From there, I only really ever wear dresses and makeup is one of the few things I find therapeutic. Now, these changes happened because my parents supported the hell out of me being whoever I want to be. But there are children with parents who aren’t as accepting. Who will tear that barbie out of their little boys hands and even ridicule them for their choice at the time. And that stays with a child, that shame. The shame of being who they are, aspiring to be who they want to be rather than what society tells them to be. They are made to feel guilty for being who they are by the most important people in their lives; their parents.
“Growing up as a girl, I was really into math and science. I didn’t want to play with dolls. I wanted to play with trucks and army men. Growing up and feeling ashamed of that was really stupid.”
This is not to say that Amber’s parents were this way, but there was a societal pressure on Amber to feel shame for enjoying what we consider traditionally masculine interests. And it’s this shame that disproportions the amount of females in the math and science industry. It’s been made abundantly clear that there is a severe imbalance of females to males in this field and to me, it has a lot to do with what we encourage and allow our children to explore at a young age. Let your little girl play with trucks, because one day she might build their engines. Make math and science interesting to them no matter their gender.
In the United States, we put so much emphasis on who we allow our children to become as they grow up. Can you imagine the potential of children if we encouraged them to always chase their dreams, that there are no boundaries in life holding them back, no matter how out of the gender expectations box they are? We need that diversity. So parents, I beg you to be the parent who is proud of their son whether he loves putting makeup on or he aspires to go into finance. Proud of your daughter when she enjoys playing with hot wheels more than she does playing dress up.
Life is far too short to tell someone how to live it, let your children make these choice for themselves and try your damnedest to support them through their journey to adulthood.
And as always, be kind to yourself.
/// BEFORE SHOOT \
What is your level of self-esteem from one to ten?
Sixish. That’s pretty damn high for me.
What goes into that rating?
This morning my boyfriend gave me a pep talk; I was concerned about my half eyebrow. I have thyroid issues, where I lost my eyebrow. He gave me a little reminder, and then knowing that I’m doing this for good reasons to help other people think they’re amazing too.
What made you want to participate?
It’s weird because it’s changed. At first, it was more of a challenge to myself to force myself to get comfy with how I look. And then I was like, now I have to work out a bunch because the internet will see me. Then I was like, “Well, you know what. Nevermind. That’s the entire reason I’m doing this.” I was considering tatting my eyebrows on, and working out. I talked to my man and friends and they told me that’s the opposite of what the point of this is. Be awesome. Be you. Don’t change things you don’t like about yourself.
Now it’s turned into I love myself so much that I want to show other people how you can be in your mid-thirties and change your entire perspective and be super in love with yourself. Not give a shit about the little things you see as imperfections.
/// AFTER SHOOT \
What is your level of self-esteem now?
Like a nine, or more. Haha.
How did this shoot affect your self-esteem?
It made not think about what I look like, but just about how much fun we were having. It felt really fucking good to be outside naked too. That was awesome! And then just you not telling me to pose sexy. Just about being bare, enjoying being here.
What is your favorite part of your body?
As of right now, my legs. Oh wait, my arms. Hahaha. It depends on the time of day.
What is your least favorite?
Boobs. Because when I was in high school they were D’s and now they’ve deflated into A’s. There not as up there as they could be. They remind me of sad baboon boobs.
What do you do in your daily life to increase your body positivity?
I love working out to see how much stronger I can get. What my body is capable of. That’s really been the one thing that’s made me appreciate the parts of me that I’ve hated before.
Are you a feminist? And if so why?
Hell yes! Why not?! Why the hell should anyone feel like they are better or worse than anyone else for any reason. Gender, sex, any reason.
Would you say your definition of feminism is equality for all?
Yes. Growing up as a girl, I was really into math and science. I didn’t want to play with dolls. I wanted to play with trucks and army men. Growing up and feeling ashamed of that was really stupid. I felt like I couldn’t get a good job in accounting because I don’t have a penis. Even though I’m equally as capable of doing my job. I just don’t know why it’s beaten into us that men are better than us. Women are great too. They both are.
I don’t understand why people can’t just be appreciated and recognized for their brain and their talents rather than what genitals they have.
How have gender expectations affected you?
I have super short hair. It’s assumed I’m butch. It’s stupid that a fucking haircut can make people assume that.
I get a lot of comments from family memebers about being in my thirties and not having kids. And I’m like…no. Not really happening. In past relationships it’s been, ‘You cook. You clean. Look pretty all the time.’ And now with Shaun, it’s like…he did the dishes. He grew up with his Mom and sisters so both do the dishes and clean. It’s like…well wait you’re the man. I’m supposed to do this. It’s opened my mind to just how silly gender expectations are. Why can’t people just do whatever the fuck they want with their life not based on what society expects them to do because of their gender.
Tell me about a time you’ve experienced sexism.
Just working in accounting, having male co-workers who do exactly the same thing I do with the same experience or even less, and they make $20,000 more than me a year. And then me being expected to fill in as a receptionist because everyone wants a happy girl on the phone when that’s not my fucking job.
How will your boss react to this answer?
Next week is my last day.
That’s great! So you can be your own boss and make that additional $20,000 you should have been making.
It seems like that’s the only way women can get equal pay these days.
Do you struggle with mental illness in anyway?
Absolutely. For my entire life since before kindergarten. I’ve had major anxiety about pretty much everything. I’ve gone through pretty severe depression recently. I’ve tried to self medicate for the first thirty years of my life through exercise, drugs, alcohol, or food.
Which form of self-medication was the least healthiest for you?
Food. One of my major ways of coping with anxiety was procrastinating with eating. I used food as my only friend. If I was nervous about something the next day, I’d stay up and bake a batch of cookies and eat the entire batch of cookies. I wouldn’t think about my stress, just the food. I’d wake up the next morning feeling physically and mentally terrible because of that.
Nervous eating leads to a lot of body negativity. Living in your head after you know you’ve consumed something out of anxiety, that it will add to your weight and decrease your mental even, is very common and a very hard habit to break.
I would just sit there and say, “Oh sometimes you just need a treat. Oh, I just had one…I can eat more and be fine.” Twenty minutes later I’m eating the entire batch and then I’m thinking, ‘I’m going to get fat, I’m more stressed than I was before I ate, because my stomach is super pissed. I have sugar shakes. And ugh.’ Then I go to bed, wake up feeling super bloated with not appetite. Because I consumed an entire days worth of calories before bed. And then I work out super hard as punishment because I binged.
It’s just this never ending cycle.
It just happens over and over.
Would you consider that an eating disorder?
Hell yes. Binge eating disorder is probably the most under acknowledged eating disorder out there. Just because you’re not starving yourself doesn’t mean you have a major mental health issue.
Have any formal treatment for it?
Recently, I got onto Zoloft. After I freaked out and didn’t go to work for three weeks because of my anxiety. I decided that it was time to do something about it. I got on Zoloft and I’ve never felt this amazing. I’m like this magical version of myself that can actually talk to people and leave the house without being afraid of everything that can happen. I started eating like a normal person. It’s made me not put nearly as much pressure on my physical appearance. I feel like my body is just a vessel for my soul and personality.
What is your definition of beauty?
Authenticity. Just being who you are, not trying to change your appearance or actions or views or anything just to seem more acceptably beautiful to the general population.
You mentioned wanting to tattoo your eyebrows before this session. Do you still feel that need?
No, I think that’s silly. I had thyroid issues that made the outer edges of my left eye brow just disappear. I feel like I have to draw them on everyday.
What was high school like for you?
I was the chubby, redheaded goth kid. You can imagine how well that went. I was super quiet, super self-conscious. I hated my red hair and died it black for years and years. I wore a wig the entire sophomore year because I wanted short straight hair but I had long curly red hair. I would wrap my long braids up and put them under the wig. That was weird.
In retrospect, how you feel about that type of behavior in yourself and others?
Now that I look at it, I think it’s silly obviously. But now I look at it, and think…maybe I wasn’t as self-conscious as I thought. Because I was comfortable enough to wear a wig to high school. I’m glad I got it out of my system then.
Most people assume the need to change things like hair, skin color, and any other aesthetic is shallow or unessecary. I think your perspective has changed mine.
Yeah like now, I haven’t touched my hair for ten years until a month ago. And I’m finally confident enough to bleach my hair and dye it purple. It’s not like I don’t love my red hair, it’s just I thought it would be fun.
Did you hate your red hair before?
But now your hair is just an accessory, it’s not who you are inside. It’s just a decoration.
Yes, just like makeup or playing with clothes. It’s all just fun art. I see my body as a canvas. If I want to look like a punk rocker, Ill look like that. If I want to look like a 20’s librarian, I will. I am fucking art.
How has this project changed you?
It made me excited about being naked. It made me feel like maybe I could make people think and change they way they feel about themselves in a good way. Strangely, before it even happened…it gave me a shit ton of confidence. Because I knew I’d need it. It’s still pretty scary getting naked. But now I wanna do it again because I’ve never felt grass on my bare ass, my boobs have never seen the sun. Feeling the sun on every part of my body was so cool.
Any last words for those reading?
Jillian is fucking amazing. (I swear I didn’t prompt this answer) I never thought it was possible to love myself, just know it’s possible to love yourself. You’ll find something someday. It won’t come from another person. It won’t come from loosing weight and finding a significant other. It comes from yourself.