Cheyenne Gil and Damien Hutchinson have been friends since they met in sixth grade. Even back then, Gil was in love with Hutchinson, but she felt like because she was a “big girl” and he was a “skinny boy,” there was no way they should be together. Now that they’re adults, she realizes that was never true. After more than two years together as a couple, Gil is celebrating their body differences.
“Reminder: you don’t need to be skinnier, smaller, shorter than your partner,” Gil wrote on Instagram, captioning a photo shoot they did with a friend on the beach in Belmar, N.J., earlier this week. “I am bigger, heavier, rolly-er, and taller than my man. I’m still loved, honored, respected (and so is he) by him — and by me. My body has changed a lot over the past 2 years. It’s grown bigger, wider, heavier. And all the while it has still been loved by both of us.”
With more than 7,600 likes, and she says zero negative comments, Gil’s post seems to affirm her body-positive statement: “We are just gorgeous (we as in all of us). Humans are gorgeous.”
Gil, a boudoir photographer in Philadelphia, says that this revelation didn’t come to her overnight.
“I was a very sick teenager,” she tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “My whole world was revolving around the fact that I didn’t think men found me beautiful or hot, and so anyone that did find me beautiful or hot, I would just make out with them because they wanted to, not because I found them the least bit attractive.”
When she went to college to study art, she began to realize she needed help, and was lucky enough to get free therapy through school.
“I was journaling a lot, and I was speaking really badly about myself: ‘Of course so-and-so treats you this way, you’re disgusting. You ate this and that’s gross,'” she recalls. “My therapist really helped me change the narrative. We started off really simple, just ways that I can speak to myself. Instead of all the hate, it started, ‘I’m an artist; I love that I’m an artist.’ And then it moved on eventually to my body: ‘I love my legs, and they’re strong, and I’m strong.'”
Gil was always very good at complimenting others and building them up, and finally through therapy, she was able to do that for herself.
“There was one photo that I took that changed my life, because I looked at it and I actually felt feminine and strong and happy,” she says. “I remember looking at the camera, and it was so beautiful, and I finally for the first time saw in myself what I see in everybody else.”
Now Gil uses her self-knowledge and photography to help others love their bodies too.
“I do everything in my power to make my client feel as comfortable as possible,” she says, acknowledging that most people have never posed for boudoir photos before. Before the shoot, they hang out and talk to warm up, but there’s one kind of talk she won’t allow. “I have a no bulls*** policy in my studio. There’s no negative self-talk. We don’t talk about diet culture. I ask them if there is anything they want to work on loving, or if there’s anything they are struggling with, and we talk about it that way. But there’s no, ‘Oh my God I’m so gross.’ I shut that kind of talk down, and honestly it doesn’t even happen anymore.”
The sessions work a kind of magic on her clients, and she says they leave her studio “walking 10 feet taller.” “We just have to be provided a space to step into that power,” she says. “That’s what I hope I do for my clients.”
After receiving so much positive feedback about her shoot on Instagram this week, Gil returned to add another post thanking everyone but also urging them to spread this positivity to those who are much more marginalized than she is.
“Show your support for people in partnerships where one or both people have fat bodies, brown, trans, disabled,” she wrote. “While my body is bigger than my babe’s, my body is not marginalized the way other bigger, darker bodies are — the way trans or disabled bodies are. So make sure your support goes out to ALL BODIES. Not just bodies you feel are acceptable enough for your viewing pleasure.”
Gil continues to work every day to maintain her own confidence, journaling and practicing gratitude. She also uses social media to help herself.
“I’m filling my social media feed with different kind of body types, different kinds of people: trans people, people who live totally different lives than I do,” she says. “That changes your brain. That’s something I really encourage my followers and clients to do.”
Read more from Yahoo Lifestyle:
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• Women love Lane Bryant’s ads so much they’re sharing their own #ImNoAngel pics