Last month I bought a belly binding corset.
It is also called “A Girdle”. As if this thing isn’t unsexy enough, they’ve given it a name that actually sounds fat when you say it. Girdle. Sometimes when I say it, I think of the word “Griddle” and then that makes me think of pancakes. Back to the corset, er girdle. This torture device costs a pretty $100 and you’re instructed to wear it for 12-24 hours/day. There’s even a little flap at the bottom for when you have to pee. I had to lie on the bed and roll back and forth just to get it buttoned. And once I had it buttoned, I immediately had a headache and felt sweaty. Sweatier than usual which frankly is saying a lot.
But see the thing is I am desperate. I am so horrified by my own body that and so obsessed with its inevitable demise, that I feel like I’m losing my mind.
Thinking back, I can’t remember a time when I felt actually good about my body. I remember in high school someone I cared very much for told me I was pretty and since I had terrible self-esteem, that comment took me somewhere. It made me feel valuable like a prize or a treasure to covet. And that same person ultimately chose someone else instead of me. And I told myself, as many 17 year old girls do, that it was because of how I looked. What my body looked like.
Throughout college and in the years following, I gained and lost the same five pounds. When I wanted to drop the weight, I drank 76 beers on the weekend instead of 100. I walked on the treadmill at the school gym for 11 minutes and I only ate Burger King FOUR times a week instead of five. It was easy.
My 20’s were spent making more bad decisions. Some of which made me lose weight, some of which made me gain weight, all of which kept me focused on what I looked like. What I was valued at. Who wanted me and who didn’t want me.
I had my twins when I was 29. Via c-section. I gained a lot of weight while pregnant with those two. Partly because I’m a type one diabetic and I suddently had two people growing inside of me and partly because I didn’t have a fucking clue what I was supposed to do about that fact. But then they were born via emergency c-section and 13 months later, I had lost all the weight. I worked out, I dieted and then I got a bacterial infection in my jaw which required not one, not two, but three surgeries to fix. Two weeks of not eating knocked those last stubborn pounds right off. I also made the brilliant decision during that time-in the midst of crushing post-partum depression-to quit taking zoloft. So I got skinny. Like narrow, pointy jaw “what’s going on with Anna?” skinny. Who cared that I was going insane at the time, my pants looked really, and I mean really great. I even thought about wearing a two piece once. Sure, my stomach skin still looked like the guy from “Ghost” who yells “Get OFF MY TRAIN!!!!!!” but the rest of me was skinny. All I had to do was shove my ghost stomach into a pair of high-waisted jeans and nobody would know. People talked to me about it. They congratulated me on losing all that weight. My dad said I had never looked better. My mom told me she was impressed. And I felt it. I felt like a better version of myself. Even though inside my body, I was rotting.
The days and months and years went by. I kept the weight off. But I also started to rot even more. I started to go crazy. I mean really crazy. I screamed and yelled at people I very much loved, I stayed awake for weeks at a time. I cried and then screamed and then cried some more. I can remember feeling these bouts of utter despair and sadness-feelings that brought me to my knees (my super skinny knees but still). But I have to be honest, I still valued myself because of what I looked like on the outside. Who cares that you’re losing yourself, that you are exploding from the inside when you can comfortably wear a size 28 jeans?
And then it all came crashing down. In September of 2016 (man, if only I had known what was coming in November that year). And crash it did. In a way that I still can’t totally revisit in my own mind, much less with anyone else. But once it did all come crashing down, I put myself, er…I was put back on Zoloft. And quite a lot of it.
And the weight began to creep back.
And while my inside began to shine just a little bit and my heart began to feel soft and kind and patient, my pants began to get tighter.
And the weight crept back.
And when my brain started to feel calm and peaceful again, and when I could squint and begin to see myself again, my zipper started to not budge.
And then, as cliché as it sounds, one day I woke up, and I (Anna) was completely and totally BACK. I no longer mentally felt like I was floating and that I couldn’t anchor myself or my thoughts to any one thing. I no longer felt like I was suffocating and grasping for air. I no longer felt like my brain was spinning and thumping and throbbing. I felt like myself again. The myself that I had known for 30 years.
And on the outside? I had gained almost 20 pounds in six months.
I gave birth to my third baby via somewhat emergency c-section on March 12th of this year. I took Zoloft the entire pregnancy. And I’m not lying when I say that I loved my body. Not just in a “oh look at that cute little pregnant belly” way. I felt sexy and proud of what I saw in the mirror. I even let my friend photograph me naked at 35 weeks. Once I was cleared for exercise, after my sweet, precious, delicious third baby was born, I started to work out. My first workout back, my trainer simply told me to roll on the floor from one side to another. I couldn’t do it. My stomach muscles were so destroyed that I couldn’t even get off the ground without help. But as it is with most things, time passed and it got easier. I kept at it. I worked out between 5-6 times a week; I’ve eaten healthy, I’ve exclusively breastfed my baby for almost eight months. I’ve lost 13 pounds and have at least 15 to go.
Every person around me is thinner. Every pregnant woman I see is already smaller. Every friend who is also post-partum is “actually thinner than they were before they got pregnant”. Someone honked at me this morning while I missed a green light because I was too busy watching a thin, blonde woman running by my car. I was wondering what her life was like, how it would feel to slide on a pair of shorts and a tank top without hating every inch of your body in the process. What it would feel like to strip naked after that run, casually climbing into the shower in front of her spouse or partner, utterly comfortable in their own skin. I looked down at my own lumpy, fat, fleshy stomach and felt sick. More than sick, I felt like again I had failed. The second honk pulled me from my daydream and I hit the gas and kept going.
As I approach my 40’s (I am turning 36 in March), I am sad that I still feel this way about my body. I thought by now I would have made peace with what God gave me to walk around in. There’s a mantra that I’ve tried to focus on. Instead of focusing on what your body looks like, focus on what incredible things the body, your body, can do. Here’s what I know: I have grown three people inside of me; I have nursed three babies; I have lived successfully with a brutal, chronic disease for almost 30 years; I have attracted an extremely handsome, wonderful man who I love to pieces and who I know loves me; I can run several miles and lift very heavy weights and do toe push-ups. I know that I am a product of my culture. A world where a woman is punished for gaining weight or getting older. A place where the greatest living female tennis player alive is not celebrated for her gift, rather she is laughed at for her thighs. For her ass. And so the raging feminist inside of this flabby body is trying to rage against the machine. What my body is doing these days is nothing short of remarkable. And that doesn’t just need to be enough, it is enough.
And so I will be returning the corset.
And when I do, I may just treat this body to a plate of griddle cakes.