This body is not a sexy body.
This body is not one built upon rippling muscles and bulging, sinewy veins. Not for this body, a cute little bikini, nor a dress with cut-out panels.
This body will not win any awards. It will not grace the glossy pages of fashion magazines.
But this body is fucking awesome.
In college, I was diagnosed with Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified. What that means in layman's terms is I had symptoms of both Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa. I starved myself, but I also purged. My weight was low, but not low enough to make my periods stop. I couldn't bring myself to vomit, but I would hit up the gym for hours at a time. In short, I was in bad shape physically and mentally, consumed with thinness, desperate to change this fat body of mine into something desirable.
By the time I sought help, I was skipping class frequently, either to exercise or simply to sit in my room feeling fat (the logic there being that I was "too fat to be seen"). I sought help not because I recognized that perhaps my perception of my body was misaligned, but because I wanted a quick fix to the other psychological issues I had going on. Eating disorders have a high comorbidity with other mental illnesses, and boy, did I sound like I'd walked right out of the DSM-IV. Eating disordered behaviors with depression, anxiety and self-harm thrown into the works. A little cocktail of illnesses, and all I cared about was ridding myself of most of them so I could focus on weight loss. I wanted, essentially, to cure the rest so just the eating disorder would remain.
I wish I could say that I went to a few sessions and walked away cured. Far from it. I fought against wellness, because of one idea that terrified me: the concept of being fat and happy. To be fat and to be trying to lose weight was one thing. To be fat, and not care? That was more frightening than anything I could imagine. So I was relieved when my counsellor did not simply tell me "you don't need to lose any weight", and did not ban weight loss discussions. I saw a nutrition counsellor at the same time, and together we worked on a realistic goal weight for me. It was 10lbs above the weight I'd set myself. I wasn't fully willing. I planned to co-operate, while secretly doing anything it took to get to my own goal weight, their advice be damned.
Then I got lucky and sprained my ankle.
Ironically enough, it wasn't an exercise-related injury, but a drinking-related injury. I was out of the gym for several weeks, and my counsellor pounced on this opportunity. I suppose you could say he went into overdrive. What surprised me the most was that even while one of my biggest fears was coming to fruition – even while the number on the scale was going up, not down – my life wasn't changing. My friends stuck by me; they did not disown their suddenly fatter friend. Guys still flirted with me just as they had done before. Teachers weren't changing my grades, giving me a quiet talk about how they would have given me an A but I had got just so fat now. If anything, my grades were improving. Men and friends both seemed to like me more, now that I spent my time with them instead of at the gym.
After nine months of weekly counselling, I did not walk away 'fixed'. Once I was back home (I was only at that college for a year) and working, my illness was easily triggered. After skipping breakfast one day simply because I was running late, I remembered the feeling of an empty stomach. Working in a hotel with impossibly beautiful Romanian girls half my size, suddenly I felt like the fat one. Recovery, I learned, was an ongoing process. It is not like getting a shot for flu. You have to work at it. You have to want to be well. You have to realize, as I eventually did, that there is so much more to you than the number on the scale or the space that you occupy. Since my college days, I have been married, had a child, been divorced, and somewhere along the way I have learned to love my (now much larger) body like I never thought I could.
Last year, over the Memorial Day weekend, I was in the swimwear section of Target. I'd taken up swimming, and although I had a functional bathing suit that looked like something my grandmother could have worn to aqua aerobics, I wanted a cute bikini for an upcoming lake day with friends. I pictured this body, this unsexy body, with all its wobbles and rolls and scars and stretch marks, in a bikini. I was going to look awesome.
Instead, I found that the largest of sizes would not fit this body. The cute little bikini tops - well. Let's just say even I was blushing at what they didn't cover, and I'm anything but prude. The briefs managed to both sag around my butt and cut in to my hips. Unfazed, I headed to the plus-size section. If Target thought that this body didn't belong in its regular sizes, so be it. I was going to find a bikini, and I was going to rock that thing. But the plus size section had no bikinis; just sad, droopy one-piece sacks, relegated to an inconspicuous corner of the store. I looked in the maternity section in desperation, and found the same thing: no bikinis.
I left Target furious. Consumed with that fury, it wasn't until I was halfway home that I realized I wasn't angry at myself or my body, for not fitting into those swimsuits. I was angry at Target. I was angry at Target because I had never thought of myself as 'plus sized', and I didn't feel that was their decision to make. I did not spend years punishing my body only for a company to brand it as 'too big' for their regular sizes by the time I came to love it. I was angry at Target for not having any bikinis in the plus-sized section at all, for denying women the right to be awesome in a two-piece once they reach a certain size. I was angry at the message it sends. No one wants to see you uncovered.
I was angry because I believed it. For all my new-found love of self, I couldn't bring myself to buy a bikini. Standing under the harsh lighting and seeing the way the briefs cut into my post-baby hips and stomach, as if mere fabric could not contain them, and the way my back was sectioned into rolls of flab by the bikini top, I was appalled. I was not curvy and awesome. I was fat. Worse still, I was fat and happy. My 'baby' was nearly two years old, and I still looked like I did when she was a newborn. I stood there hating myself, all because of a bathing suit.
Once I realized that my body was Target's problem, and not mine, I felt lighter. I did not need to make weight loss my priority. Now, almost a year later, I'll run when I feel like it and eat pizza when I feel like it. Usually the pizza wins, and that is okay. I remain the same size. In that Target fitting room last year, I promised myself that by next summer, I was going to have a bikini body.
Oh, I'll have a bikini body this summer, alright. When I put a bikini on my body. My large, wobbly, scarred, fat body. And I'm going to look awesome.