“Why don’t I look like that?”
I was in the second grade when I began looking at other girls’ bodies, comparing them to my own. Something just didn’t feel right about the way I looked. In gym class, I watched Kerry’s limbs stretch out lithely, carelessly touching the air while my own felt stumpy, short, squat. At the amazing above-ground pools our families had, I stared at Caitlin’s spine protruding from her back and wondered why mine wouldn’t do the same.
“What is wrong with me?”
I pulled out a photo of myself the other day and showed it to Erik. “Can you believe I thought I was fat?” I asked, shaking my head. Ignore the awkward pose, but this is me at 9:
Already freaking out about weight and size at 9-years-old.
Not fat. Not even close. It doesn’t matter though, because ever since those first comparative thoughts entered my brain in elementary school, they’ve become barnacles in my psyche. It seems as if they’re here to stay, forever and ever.
I was in high school in the early 2000s, and if you’ve watched Mean Girls, you know that means those weird ugly pleated miniskirts, tight tee shirts, spaghetti straps, low-rise jeans. Suddenly everyone started shedding their baby fat and becoming tall, skinny, supermodel teenagers. Even my best friend Deanna betrayed me with her taut, stretched stomach. Gone were the days where our soft bellies were evenly matched and evenly sized. My marshmallow fluff stayed and hers melted away, taking even more of my self-esteem with it.
Oh, and don’t even get me started on my arms. I used to call them whale flippers. To this day, I enjoy pulling the skin tight around my biceps and thinking, If my arm just looked like this, I’d be happy.
Anyway, nothing changed except in senior year, my breasts became enormous and made me even more self-conscious. Somehow they made me look fatter. Somehow, even though large breasts are depicted in movies and photos all across America, they don’t actually make clothing for women with large breasts and small-ish waists. Now clothes weren’t fitting me correctly and I had to make choices: tight shirts that would show everyone everything I had, or loose shirts that would make me look frumpy?
Between the stress of college and weird birth control hormones and emotional chaos, I developed disordered eating patterns around the age of 19. Food was Life. I learned how to chew my food and then discreetly spit it into a napkin when no one was looking, use laxatives to purge until my guts were an aching fire, spread food around my plate so it looked as if I had eaten. Nothing passed my lips without intense scrutiny.
And still, even with all that work and obsession, my soft belly stayed. Even at my lowest weight, it was there: rumpled, squishy, unwelcome. I dreamed of slashing it off, grabbing handfuls of fat and cutting until it was gone, never to be seen again.
I became an adult and started working, and learned more about fitness and proper eating, and slowly began to accept that however my stomach looked at that current moment in time was probably the best it was ever going to get. Surprisingly – and don’t ask me how, because I don’t know – I developed a healthy relationship with my body and its strength. Working out probably helped, seeing just what my body was capable of, no matter how big it was. I remember wearing a bikini to the beach in 2013 and for once, I didn’t panic the whole time and wonder what horrible things people were thinking about my body. I was finally comfortable in my own skin. It took 28 years, but it happened.
Then, a couple years later, I got pregnant.
At first, after I had given birth, I embraced my new body. I didn’t care what size it was, or what shape. It had performed an amazing miracle. I felt like this beautiful fertility goddess: substantial. Strong. Supple.
Then the hormones died down a bit, and the acceptance began to die with them, and I started working on getting rid of the weight. That was fine, too. When I had some extra pounds, my stomach looked a little odd but not too crazy. I thought I could live with it and that I had plenty of time and so surely it would look fine again by the time Adalynn turned nine months!
Ha. Ha. Ha.
I kept reading articles that said things like, “Nine months on, nine months off.” Sure, that’s true. I’m back at my pre-pregnancy weight. But my body doesn’t look like it used to. My stomach is a crumpled paper bag. The skin of an ugli fruit. The jowls of a sad old man. Skin and fat hangs over my belly button. An upside-down heart hangs beneath that. It looks unnatural, like something that shouldn’t be there. The skin is wrinkled, like crepe paper.
Disfigured. Deformed. Disgusting.
I soothe myself sometimes by saying, “Well really, who cares? No one needs to know what you look like naked. You look fine with clothes on.” Some women never get to wear their pre-pregnancy jeans again, so maybe I shouldn’t be so hard on myself.
Then I catch a glimpse in the mirror, and I crumble. Something inside hurts so bad, like a thousand pieces of fractured glass. Glass so small, you can’t find it with tweezers and you have to wait for it to get infected or work its way out.
Sometimes, there’s a shelf of fat and skin hanging over my pants. Even stretchy pants, even leggings. It’s unacceptable to me. I think it’s easy for other people to say you should accept your body – especially when they still look amazing. Like Caitlin, who birthed a baby six days after I did, and has not one single stretch mark or extra pound on her frame. I almost died when I saw a picture of her in a bikini.
Something inside indeed expired: hope.
Remember I said that it took 28 years to accept my stomach? Well, it looks like I have another 28-year prison sentence ahead of me as I grab handfuls of my belly flab and pull it this way and that.
Better start saving for my tummy tuck.