I’m sure that title sounds like an extreme statement. “Pinup saved my life.” But I honestly don’t know where I would be without the pinup community.
To understand how pinup saved my life, you have to understand why my life needed saving. It was 2010 and my confidence was at an all-time low. How I felt about myself was completely dependent on what others thought of me. I was a successful student working my way towards a Bachelor’s Degree in Liberal Studies while simultaneously earning my General Education teaching credentials for elementary school. I was in the middle of training for my second triathlon benefiting the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles. I had a great circle of supportive family and friends. And absolutely none of that mattered to me because I didn’t have a boyfriend. Because I wasn’t someone else definition of beautiful. Because I didn’t feel like I was good enough. So when a seemingly perfect guy expressed interest in me, I jumped at the opportunity to be with him. Little did I know that it wouldn’t take long for the veneer to fade.
Not even one week into what would become an 18-month relationship, things began to unravel. What was hiding below the surface was someone who battled many demons and fought them off with too much partying and all that goes with it. Given my self-esteem, or lack thereof, it wasn’t long before I was falling down the rabbit hole, too. Doing anything it took to keep him by my side.
Less than 6 months into our relationship, Mr. Not What He Seems was kicked out of his apartment by his ex-best friend. With nowhere else to go and the threat of being homeless hanging over his head, I convinced my very skeptical parents to let him move into our house – practically rent free. I knew it was a difficult decision for my parents to make, but I wanted to be the one to help him. To pull him out of the dark world he had created for himself. To help him fulfill the potential I saw inside him. But no matter how hard you try, how much of yourself you give up, how much you beg and plea, you can’t help someone who doesn’t want to be helped.
As time went on, more of his true colors began to show. We fought constantly. He would say and do things that he knew would keep my confidence low. He would make grand promises of change in order to give me false hope. He was disrespectful and dishonest to not only me, but to my parents as well. I think that’s what hurt the most. They went against their own beliefs in order to try to help him and he was completely ungrateful. They begged me to break up with him. To see the light that I deserved more. That I was slipping farther and farther away from the person I used to be. To see that I was headed down the same destructive path as him. Everything I worked so hard for was slipping away. I was alienating my friends, my grades were falling, and my relationship with my parents was breaking apart. I was clearly choosing this volatile relationship over my own family. Yet I stayed by his side because I didn’t want to be another person who gave up on him. Because, deep down, it gave me some kind of personal satisfaction that I was being “so selfless.” But mostly because I was afraid to be alone. Did my dedication to him inspire even the slightest change? None at all.
I wish I could say this relationship ended when I finally came to my senses and moved on to bigger and better things, but sadly that is not the case. Our relationship ended when Mr. Not What He Seems broke up with me. Truly the only selfless thing he ever did for me. I will always be thankful that he had the strength to do for me what I couldn’t do for myself.
Of course, this appreciation comes after two years of healing, so immediately after being dumped I was devastated. Heartbroken. Embarrassed. I was in an even worse place than I was before I met him. I had gained weight from the horrible lifestyle he had introduced me to. I hated who I saw in the mirror. A girl who gave up who she was in order to call herself someone’s girlfriend. I had to work hard to repair the relationship with my parents. The friends I had alienated weren’t too quick to jump to my rescue. I wasn’t happy and I didn’t know what it would take to happy again.
About a month into my pity party over a guy who clearly cared less about me than he did about himself (and that sure says a whole lot, huh?), my good friend Danielle Zavala entered and won the Mrs. Plus California Pageant 2011. In order to compete for the Mrs. Plus America crown, Danielle needed to fundraise for the trip. One of her fundraisers was a Pinup Photo Shoot Out. Fifty dollars got you full hair and makeup, about 30 minutes with a photographer, one edited print, and the opportunity to help Danielle fulfill her dreams. For $50, I got so much more than that. I met a group of women who were so positive, supportive, and encouraging. I hadn’t experienced something like that with a group of women very often. I found a style that suited me more than any I’d ever tried to fit into before. I felt comfortable being my true self. I learned how to love my body, even with a little extra padding. I learned how to feel beautiful and sexy and how to live up to no one’s expectations but my own. But by far, the most valuable thing I learned that day was how to smile again. For the first time in a long time, I was happy. I had found a place where I fit in. A place where I belonged. I was bit by the pinup bug – AND I LOVED IT!!
After the shoot, my self-esteem continued to grow. My attitude change was reflective in all aspects of my life. My relationships with family and friends steadily improved, I began to appreciate all the wonderful things about myself, and I was finally able to NOT GIVE A DAMN about what people thought of me. I even booked myself another pinup shoot on my own to continue with this new found passion and growth. And when I least expected it, an amazing man came into my life. Someone who brings out the best in me and loves me through all my imperfections. I couldn’t be happier with how life has turned around, and I know it couldn’t have happened without this amazing community.
I said before that you can’t help someone who doesn’t want to be helped. Well, that statement applied to me too, I just didn’t know it yet. I had to want to come out of that post-relationship depression. Pinup gave me the strength I needed to be able to look in the mirror and say out loud, “You are beautiful. You are strong. You are daring and unique and all the amazing things that make you – YOU. If at the end of the day you are standing alone, at least you’re standing in some awesome heels with amazing hair!” My life before pinup was about sacrificing myself in order to satisfy others. My life now is about satisfying myself and knowing that the people who truly care will always love me, even if tomorrow I decide to be a hippie and sell home-made maple syrup by the side of the road. It’s about embracing the confident girl inside me and having the courage to let her take the spotlight.