photograph by Zach Lucero

The Beauty of Being Seen

Savala Nolan
Human Parts
Published in
5 min readAug 4, 2023

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I was walking in Pt. Reyes on a strikingly hot day, the sun intense and shade scarce, and everyone was talking about it, hands shielding their eyes or fanning their faces. This part of the world is on tidal waters. There tends to be evening fog and all-day breezes, salty and cool. But not lately. The heatwave gripping the world was edging its way into this coastal pastoral, too.

I was sweating. I sweat a lot, and always have no matter my body size, but when I’m fat, as I am now, I tend to be more self-conscious about it. We see sweaty thin people and don’t even notice it, or think some slightly absurd thing like, she must have just jogged here! or she must have been baking bread on a wood-fired stove! We see fat people sweating, and tend to think, god, fat people are so sweaty. Instead of pointing to, say, an intense workout or weather conditions, sweat on the body of a fat person tends to conjure, if they lost 50 pounds they wouldn’t sweat so much. Utter bullshit, but here we are.

Anyway, there I was, kicking myself for buying a hot coffee instead of an iced one, moseying along in my black dress, sweat running down my thighs and underarms and forehead and neck, and feeling doubly self-conscious about it because of the size of my body.

Then a funny thing happened. A little girl passed me. She was walking with, I think, her mom and sister. I’d guess she was about seven. Slightly messy hair, summer-tan skin, eating an ice cream cone. She looked at me as we approached each other in the informal town square, lavender bushes here and there and a dusty dirt path made from use.

She looked up at me. Partly because I’m a lot taller than her, but also in the other way. There was something like admiration, or possibility, or awe on her face. I’m not saying I warrant any of those expressions, I’m just describing what I saw. I’m extremely aware of how kids look at me. Kids tend to look at other people without much awareness of social norms, and their expressions are often frank and unvarnished, whether they are smiling or nervous. The writer in me likes to observe this. So does the mother, and so does the person in a marginalized body, namely a large and Black one.

I’m used to thinking of myself as a person with a body most people don’t want. This is a complicated conclusion to draw. Social…

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Savala Nolan
Human Parts

uc berkeley law professor and essayist @ vogue, time, harper’s, NYT, NPR, and more | Simon & Schuster and HarperCollins | she/her | IG @notquitebeyonce