The Painful Paradox of Being a 250-Pound Fangirl in a $250 Photo Op

The Painful Paradox of Being a 250-Pound Fangirl in a $250 Photo Op

This weekend (March 8-10) is the Creation Supernatural convention in Nashville, also known as #SPNNash or #NashCon 1Not to be confused with #DashCon. Creation’s next con, in Las Vegas, is only a couple weeks later, and that means I’ve begun to see tweets on my Twitter timeline discussing one’s intention to crash diet to look better in (very expensive) photo ops and one’s failure to follow through. It’s a cycle I know very, very well.

There are few experiences that are so exhilarating and joyful in the moment but so humiliating and painful afterwards. In fact, in my own life I can’t think of any other experience that comes close. I suppose losing a game show on national television that you bragged to all your family and friends about winning would come close 2depending on how mean and petty your family and friends are. You can’t know until you’ve done it just how amazing it feels to be greeted and hugged by your idol. For one thing, most of them are even more attractive in person, and sometimes they smell amazing too, and it’s just not even fair. How are we mere mortals supposed to stand a chance? And I’m lucky in that all the celebrities I’ve met and done photo ops with were incredibly sweet and considerate (to me, at least…but we’ll get to that) and made me feel so special, like I wasn’t just another face in a crowd of 200-300 fangirls/boys/enbys, even though I was.

And then, reality crashes in.

At least at Creation cons, all photo ops are laid out publicly for claiming. Each session’s photos are laid out on long tables, and it’s your job to search through them and find your own. Which means that you get to see anywhere from 1-200 other photos of people who are way more attractive than you, who were given way more affection than you, and those people are also looking at your photo and, presumably, judging it the way you’re judging theirs. Oooh, she’s even shorter than me! Look at that, she got such an amazing hug, I wish I’d gotten a hug like that. Wow, she’s so skinny and hot, no wonder J2 are smiling so big. She’s almost as pretty as they are. She’s so lucky. Oh, man, she has to weigh more than I do but she’s way taller so she probably looks thinner than me. God, I hope I’m not the fattest one on the table. That cosplay must’ve taken forever to put together but it looks perfect. OMG, I wish I’d thought of that hilarious pose! Bet I’ll see that one on Twitter later. And so on.

The actual photo ops come out looking something like this:

Jared Padalecki leaning his elbow on my head to show just how goddamn short I am
There’s definitely a story behind this, but it’ll have to wait for another time.

That photo was taken in 2009, before I had surgery in 2012 that resulted in a 75-pound weight loss.

Me, Misha Collins, and Castiel, Bear of the Lord
Misha and I with Castiel, Bear of the Lord, one of my SPN cosplay plushies.

This photo was taken in 2018, after putting all the pre-surgery weight back on, losing 50 pounds of it in 2015, and putting that back on as well.

Both of those photos cost over 100 dollars each. I have photos in my collection that cost more than 300 dollars. Just the photo ops alone in my Creation Con journal probably cost me somewhere between 3 and 4 grand. 3Even at the much lower prices from ten years ago

And I fucking hate looking at myself in every. Single. One.

Now, I don’t know how Chris Schmelke, Creation photographer extraordinaire, handles touch-ups to photos to, say, camouflage my noticeable acne and facial hair, as seen below:

Jensen Ackles hugging me from behind at LA Con 2011
This is my favorite photo of all time, and the fact that you can’t see how fat my body is fairly far down on the list of reasons why.

…I assume it’s some kind of batch processing command, because I don’t see how he could do it all by hand, but maybe it’s some sort of wizardry I’m not familiar with. The point is, the photo above shows the literal best moment of my entire life so far, but when I look at it, the first thing I see is the fucking double chin.

This photo made my teenage coworker so jealous she actually cried (while on the clock, no less!), and you can bet she wasn’t looking at my double chin or my fat arms or my appalling (to me) lack of lipstick. 4Or bronzer. Sigh. She was looking at Jensen Ackles, her idol, hugging me and smiling, and at that moment, she wanted desperately to be me–double chin and all.

This photo was my Facebook user photo for several years–so long, in fact, that my Apple devices adopted it as my user photo for my Mac Mini and my iCloud account out of my Facebook account, and since I love it, I’ve never changed it. I haven’t posted a photo without a professional actor in it to my Facebook account in 8 years. After this one, it was one of me with Dean Cain, and last year I changed it to the one above with Misha and the Castiel bear. The Misha/bear photo is also my userpic on my personal Twitter account. 5The bears have their own account. And I honestly think I’d feel less ashamed and disappointed in myself if the reason for that was simply showing off the photos/experiences themselves. But it isn’t.

At least, it’s not the primary reason.

The primary reason I use photo ops as my userpics is two-fold:

    Userpics are very reduced in size, so in a pic with two people, I’m half as prominent and draw half as much (if not less) attention.
    Most people who see them comment on how happy I look and how pretty my smile is, and not on how fat or short I am.

Now, about that second reason. Do people comment on my smile/joy because it’s the only thing they see–and if that’s the case, are they deliberately overlooking my giant Weeble body? Or is it the only thing they feel comfortable commenting on because it’s the only genuinely attractive thing about me? Or am I just being way too hard on myself and overthinking the whole thing?

As of right now, I’m scheduled to go to the Creation Supernatural con in Washington, DC 6 Technically, it’s in Arlington, VA from November 1-3, 2019. Which gives me 236 days–just under 8 months–to lose an entire other person’s worth of excess weight.

I’m not going to say that it’s impossible, because I’ve been reading some material lately that suggests that nothing is impossible, including that. But it’s really hard for me to believe that it will happen with the “unwavering faith” that’s apparently necessary to predicate it. It’s really hard for me to pretend that I already have the “perfect 125-pound body” of my dreams. Because I’ve been there, and it didn’t last. Granted, I haven’t been in that particular place since college, when I developed a raging eating disorder to try to stay in that place, but I’ve been fairly far down that road and I always ended up coming back to this place of self-loathing and utter disgust.

Because I’m an American girl raised on a steady diet of ’90s TV, and therefore, when I was growing up, I never saw anybody like me on TV or in movies who wasn’t a mousy sidekick, a gluttonous comic relief buffoon, or a teenage loser who magically became skinny and popular by the end 7I’m looking at you, fatsuit Amy Adams in Smallville. . The advertising industry worked its magic on me and convinced me that I’m worthless and ugly and ought to literally disappear. I mean, I’ve read some fat-acceptance books, I’ve read Health at Every Size and Intuitive Eating and Shrill by Lindy West, but overcoming 33 straight years of cultural programming simply doesn’t happen after just four or five hours on Kindle.

And let me throw my #MeToo-cents in as well and admit that yes, I’m a sexual assault survivor and yes, my beyond-morbid obesity is simply a shield to deflect unwanted male (and even female) attention. I wear skinny jeans not out of preference, but out of necessity–they’re the only petite jeans Lane Bryant sells with a short enough inseam that they don’t drag on the ground when I walk. And 10 years of taking a medication proven to grow breasts on men has left me with a cup size so big that I can only buy bras at a plus-size specialty store 15 miles away 8The only one of its kind in this area code, and even they have to special-order mine most of the time from a brand that doesn’t sell their bras online. One or two more cup size increases and I’ll go beyond commercially available sizes entirely.

So how could I possibly look at this body in the mirror and not hate what I see?

I know I’m supposed to be giving the advice here, but I just plain don’t have it. I don’t know how to defeat the programming that tells me that I’m too fat to be even a sexless frump–I’m so fat that I’m invisible. And I apologize for that fact by putting normal weight, super attractive people in my social media userpics for you to look at instead of my ugly Weeble ass. If I tried to focus simply on the things I like about my appearance, I’d never look any lower than my cheekbones.

Thankfully, not many people know the painful paradox of paying $3,000 or more for a collection of photos of yourself that you can’t even stand to look at once they’re printed. And if you have been there, I’m sorry to say that all I can really offer is a warm hug and an empathetic ear. And my snacks–a big bag of Skinny Pop popcorn and Cherry Coke Zero.

I hope it’s enough.

To end this on a more cheerful note, here’s Jensen Ackles strangling my teddy bear.

Misha Collins, Dean Winchestbear, Me, Jensen Ackles, and Castiel, Bear of the Lord in a chokehold
Sorry for the quality, it’s a photo of a photo rather than a JPG or scan.

18 thoughts on “The Painful Paradox of Being a 250-Pound Fangirl in a $250 Photo Op

  1. What a great read. I relate quite a bit — I have photo ops that I like, and several that I don’t. (But to be fair, I don’t like most photos of me, it’s a thing.) For some reason I came out great in…my driver’s license pic? WTF, I paid $15 for that and a lot more for my fandom ops!

    So this was amazingly written, and I don’t want to say something trite like, “love yourself!” (duh, we’ve all heard that one), but to me you look cute and happy in these pics, and I’m super envious (in a “you’re so lucky to get that many ops and hugs!” way, not a bitter way, lol). I do think you’re being way harder on yourself than you would be on a good friend or another fan. I’ve never looked at the ops table or people’s ops online and judged people on their appearance. Your favorite op is also my favorite here. A HUG OMG.

    Honestly, Jared, Jensen, and Misha are so freakishly handsome that most people don’t “match” their beauty next to them, and I think it’s an unrealistic expectation, no matter how much we all wish it was so. I have exactly three ops out of all of my (ALL FANDOMS) ops that I like enough to share online, and in one of those I look terrible anyway but the actors are so awesome that it stopped mattering.

    Good luck at the next con! Have a great time whether you meet that goal or not, but I hope you do if that’s what you want to do. Much love.

  2. I’m currently sobbing my face off because I relate to this so much. I had my first op with Misha last year and one with Briana and I can’t look at either. I’ll get really brave and make it my profile pic on Twitter and then it’s back down again in less than an hour. Currently, it’s a pic of my favorite pair of Chuck’s. Who does that? Like you, though, I’m still going to do the op again this year in Chicago. I’m going to stress like mad in the weeks leading up to it and then cry when I see it but that three to five seconds of hugging my hero is so worth it. Thank you for commiserating. I feel so much more heard. ♥️ Please, know that you’re not alone in these feelings there are so many of us, unfortunately.

  3. This so accurately describes how I felt last year both during my photo ops and after. I was 275 lbs when I was at SPNLV. I actually gained weight after due to an undiagnosed medical condition, but have since dropped a little below my “starting” weight. As much as I disliked my own appearance in the photos because of my flaws, I still love my photos because of who else is in them with me and how good I felt in the moment.
    At first I was going to forgo photo ops this year, but nearly dying from undiagnosed diabetes made me realize that the experience, the actual emotion of the moment, was what was most important to me, not my appearance. So, I will be getting a couple photo ops this year in Vegas.
    Besides, this year the woman in the photos will be a survivor.
    My journey is not the same as everyone else’s, but the way I see it all of us plus sized individuals have struggles that we deal with, daily battles that we must survive to continue onward. We are all survivors in our own right, and that’s something of which to be proud. The same goes for those with disabilities, emotional triggers, and/or mental heath concerns. And so many of the actors seem to get that and they try to encourage us.
    I have the trifecta of obesity, a chronic medical condition, and depression. I’m always struggling with something, but I focus on those moments where I can forget about my problems, even if they are far and few. For me, it’s photo ops, acting (community theater), and time with my nephews (and my cats). These are special to me and I refuse to let my waistline get in my way of enjoying these moments.
    The only real advice I might offer is to focus on why you want the photo op to begin with, and hold on to that thought when you look at your photos.
    (Sorry, that was way longer than intended. I’m a rambler.)

  4. Thank you for this post!

    I stopped buying photo ops altogether (unless actors offer them at their tables).

    It just doesn’t feel worth it to me for a photo in which I inevitably look shitty (the cons I go to, the photos are never touched up…omg you have no idea how lucky you are that Creation’s photog does that) and for less than ten seconds with the actors.

  5. Are you familiar with Latoya Shauntay Snell? (@iamlshauntay on Instagram) Following her has helped me recently get over my fear of running (putting on leggings! in public!) and exercising in general and it’s been pretty helpful and inspiring. She’s a larger person but she does it anyway (she runs marathons! albeit slowly). She’s a foodie too. Pretty awesome. Just watching her is encouraging/inspiring and has done wonders for my self esteem lately. You should check her out. The SPN guys (Jared in particular) know a thing or two about running, so if you got into it (instead of crash dieting and/or feeling bad about yourself) you’d even have something positive to talk to them about next time! Anyway. Just a thought. (Oh! There’s also a book, ‘The Body Is Not An Apology’ by Sonya Renee Taylor, that I recommend. I think you’d like it/get something out of it. Plus, speaking of photos, the cover shot is amazing.😉)
    I hope you have a great time at your next con regardless. Try not to be too down on yourself, honestly, we’re all just happy you’re here. ❤️

  6. Isn’t it great when someone addresses a topic you have been dealing with but haven’t really spoken about because you’re embarrassed? Or you don’t think most people can relate?
    Thank you for sharing your – very relevant and relatable – thoughts. I have the same issue. I’m Australian, and travelled to Vancouver for Vancon in 2018 (and turned it into a holiday). That was my second Vancon. As I bought a Gold ticket, I thought I’d go all out and buy a few photo ops as well; namely Jensen, Rob & the J2 ‘sandwich’.
    Just a side note: I’m always disorganized when I go to cons, partly because I go solo, but how – for the love of Chuck – could I possibly forget to get a solo photo with Jared?! That’s messed up. That’s my brain during a con. I need a minder.
    Anyhow. I did each photo op (which goes by quicker than you can say Greased Lightning) and then I did the scan the tables for my photo thing, chanting in my head ‘please be an okay photo, please be an okay photo’. Until I find it and the chanting turns to a groan. I then snatch it up, lest anyone else get a better look at it, and return to my seat…where I refuse to look at it again until I get back to my hotel room. And when I did look at it, I got a little teary and vowed not to buy a photo op again.
    I’d like to put some blame on the speed at which each photo is taken, which doesn’t allow time to ‘settle’ in front of the camera, but we all know just how many people are in that line, and how generous all the guests are with their time to start with, so that can’t happen.
    I’m going to the US next year, and the 2020 con schedule – obviously – isn’t available yet, but I do hope to go to another con while I’m there. I would like to lose some weight before that time, and that is do-able, but I don’t think it will be enough to want to buy another photo op. That’s a shame because how else can you get a hug from Jared and Jensen, and get to be in their personal orbit for a whole 8 seconds? It’s an expensive 8 seconds if you don’t like the outcome.
    Apparently, Briana has said something along the lines of ‘don’t think about how you look in the photo, think about how you felt in the photo’.

  7. Your honesty is brutal. And as I sit here noshing on fried fish and french fries I can’t help but relate. I had one photo op at a Trek convention that I liked. I had just lost 95 pounds after surgery and I was giddy to meet my favorite actors. But they spent no more time with me and didn’t smile any bigger than they did when I was heavy. Since then I’ve given up photo ops. I just hate seeing myself through their eyes. Thank goodness there is so much more to me than anyone can take in in only 10 seconds. And there is to you too. As big as we are, we are bigger than that.

  8. Girl I actually cried reading this and believe me my nickname is robot so that says enough.
    You are very articulate and very honest. You have partially mirrored my thoughts every time I go to sup cons. He’ll I even leave my wheelchair just to appear normal when standing next to my hero.
    You are AMAZING for being so honest. Keep strong and smile for the world to see… even tho you may not feel it on the inside.. I think you’re totally beautiful x

  9. Thanks for writing this. I relate to this quite a bit because since i started going to spn cons i really started to notice how much i feel like i could have done more to look prettier in photos. We pay a shit ton of money and even if they turn out cute, there is always something i criticize about myself in them.
    Recently ive been looking at my past photo ops more and more since i have them displayed in my room. Now all i can see is just how round i am and how i wish i had decided to lose some weight or wear something more flattering for the photo.
    My issues arent nearly as severe as yours when it comes to body image but i can relate on that feeling of being inadequate in photos with these gorgeous people.
    Thank you so much for writing this so i know that I’m not alone with this feeling. 🙂

  10. Thank you very much for the kindness. (And thanks for reminding me that I have about 7 weeks to get my new driver’s license pic taken, lol.) And you’re right, it’s unrealistic for any non-professional actor/model to expect to look good next to J2M. But it is soooo much fun to get the photos taken. I’ve heard stories on Twitter of people deliberately destroying or throwing out their ops and that just breaks my heart. I can’t imagine ever doing that! But you’re also right that the actors are so awesome that it almost doesn’t matter who else is in the photo. And I’ve been told about 200 times how cute/happy/pretty/joyful/gorgeous my ops are, and I swear, I’m trying really hard to internalize it. *hugs*

  11. I’m so happy that you and so many others are feeling heard and acknowledged. One thing I’ve learned from the almost 200 direct replies I’ve gotten on Twitter is that none of us are alone. There are sooooo many of us out there! And I wish I could come and hug each and every one of you, I really do. Thanks so much for commenting and just know that you are definitely not alone in this. *big hugs*

  12. I really appreciate you taking the time to write all of that. You’re right, it’s about the moment, the hug and the actor looking right into your eyes and smiling and *seeing* you, and the photo is really just a prompt to remember that beautiful moment. I’m glad you’re getting more ops this year and that you have kept fighting through all your struggles. We are truly not alone, any of us. *hugs*

  13. I will definitely have to check out that Instagram and book. Thank you for the recs! I’m attempting to get into running, but I am very unfit and top-heavy, so I’m only able to do about 60-90 seconds of very slow jogging at a time, but I *am* trying to stick with it. (God, I don’t know how Jared and Jensen still looked like supermodels when they crossed the finish line in Seattle. I would definitely look like Misha, lol.) Thanks for the kindness, it means a lot to me. *hugs*

  14. That is a shame, but I totally get it. I’ve even been hearing stories of people deliberately destroying or throwing away their photos and I can’t even imagine ever doing that myself but I understand the impulse. And Briana is totally right—it’s about the experience, not the actual photo. Because it is an amazing feeling. (Although I didn’t even get into how much short-shame I feel simply by virtue of them being so goddamned tall. But that’s a post for another day.) I hope you get to come back for another con soon. *hugs*

  15. I have gotten almost 200 direct responses on Twitter as well as some threads and comments here, and the main thing I took away from them is that it doesn’t really matter if you’re fat, thin, short, tall, white, brown, black—we ALL feel the same way about our photos: insecure and shitty. None of us are alone in this. And I think I’m lucky in that I’ve mostly gone to Creation SPN cons, where there is more of an attempt to keep the “cattle call” feelings to a minimum. And you’re totally right—there’s more to all us than can be gleaned in 10 seconds. Thank you for sharing. *hugs*

  16. Oh, none of us are alone. I have a couple hundred tweets and Twitter threads to prove that, including two from *Kim Rhodes* herself. (Believe me, I about died when I saw them!) Thanks for reading and sharing. *hugs*

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