There is a picture of me from when I was maybe eleven years old. I am wearing small red shorts and a very tight aqua polo shirt. It’s a picture of me from the side—I’m staring up and laughing at something my little brother is doing. My body is slouched in an S-shape, with my belly sticking out one way and my butt sticking out the other way and I am the very picture of the incredibly awkward, pudgy dorky kid.
I’m not fat yet—that happened around adolescence, when hormones kicked in and genetics woke up and remembered that I should have a weight problem because it runs in the family. But in the photo I’ve got some pre-adolescent awkward chub going on.
It’s a picture that makes me cringe. Not because I look so dorky and awkward—I mostly find that hilarious. I cringe because I remember my reaction the first time I saw it. I was a weird little eleven-year-old girl who genuinely had no idea what she looked like because she never thought about those things, not yet. But when that eleven year old girl looked at that photo, everything changed.
It struck me that I didn’t like how I looked. I didn’t look like any of the girls in my school. I had these drumstick thighs and a chubby face and that belly. No one had a belly like I did, round and soft and poking out like a mound of vanilla ice cream on a plate.
That’s the first time I remember ever thinking something bad about my body, my size, my shape. That’s the first time I remember realizing I didn’t look like other people. That was the first time I started to dislike—even hate—myself for not looking right. That was when I started to become self-conscious of my belly.
Adolescence struck, and so did the weight—I was a kid who ate a lot of junk food, and while my brother and father could get away with that without obvious physical consequences, the sugar and fat stuck to me in lumps. I got fat, and then fatter. And I knew I wasn’t supposed to look like that because no one else did, and because people told me it was gross, because that is their job.
But it was my belly I was most conscious of. The pooch that I couldn’t seem to hide. That looked horrible in my gym uniform. That made me hate getting undressed in the locker room. That made me hate going shopping for school clothes. “It looks good except for how it shows your gut,” my father said outside the girl’s dressing room at K-mart, and I started wearing only giant t-shirts instead.
I was ashamed of being fat, but I was most ashamed of my stomach—its size, its shape, how it made clothes fit me funny, how I hated wearing pants because you could see it. Through my teen years, all the way through my twenties, I obsessively searched out those giant t-shirts, tunic-length tops to pull down over my gut, to drag down over my butt, because I thought camouflage was my only, best option. I thought it was totally successful, too—no one would have ever guessed I had a fat stomach.
All those years I gained and lost, gained and lost. Sometimes, sometimes I was able to accept my body, to think I was reasonably attractive, to believe that I was worth love and attention. But I never stopped hating my stomach. For twenty years I hated my stomach—the way it mounded out, the way it hung down. Do you know I actually stood naked in front of mirrors and cried because I thought it was repulsive? That is drama. That is genuine loathing. I wouldn’t let any one see me naked and standing up. I wouldn’t let anyone touch me there, especially in bed.
I got weight loss surgery when I was thirty-three, and I lost a massive amount of weight. That was thrilling to me—the whole idea of being the size that the world is designed for. Of dumping this loathing and exhausting obsessiveness about my weight and my body and my size off my plate. Getting to walk away from all the angst and anxiety being fat caused me. I couldn’t wait to flee Torrid and Lane Bryant and failed diets and body shame.
My body looked normal, almost. Not perfect. I was never going to model bikinis. But I thought, hesitantly, that I looked pretty good. Except, of course, for my stomach. I knew losing all that weight wasn’t going to change my gut—if anything, it would be left behind like a deflated balloon. Even when I was skinny—too skinny—by anyone’s definition, I had this soft, loose curtain of skin spilling down, and to me it looked worse than ever.
I’ll tell you right now—control-top panty hose only get you so far. And only when it’s not a hundred degrees out.
Many weight loss surgery patients assume they’re going to have full-body plastic surgery reconstruction after they’ve lost all their weight. I read testimonial after testimonial about how the weight loss surgery was just the beginning—it was the plastic surgery that changed their lives. I couldn’t understand why anyone would volunteer for more surgery, would want to be a patchwork of scars, would think they could just cut out every part of their body that offended them.
But I ran into some before and after photos of an abdominoplasty—really remarkably similar to how I ran into before and after photos of weight loss surgery for the first time—and I was astonished. She didn’t look like the same person. She had had a belly that looked like mine—maybe worse than mine, more skin, more flesh, more rumpled and strange. And then she had—a flat belly. A charming belly button and a flat, muscled stomach and some faint lines circling her hips and I was struck by a longing, an overwhelming, desperate jealous longing. I could do that. I could. I could be fixed.
Again, shades of what made me rush headlong into weight-loss surgery.
I don’t regret getting wls, I don’t. I can’t. But I do wish I had been a stronger person. A braver person. Someone who could learn to love her body and say fuck the haters and work fiercely and tirelessly and bravely to change a hateful, prejudiced world and promote self-love and positive body image and health at every size. But I ducked out the back door instead. And I was afraid of doing that again. I was afraid of chickening out again. Couldn’t I just learn to be proud of my body?
I hated my stomach for six more years. I daydreamed for six years about a tummy tuck. I set money aside. I quietly saved—just in case I decided to do it. Just in case.
Two weeks ago I had a consultation and the doctor was elated to see me. “You’ll have amazing results!” he said, grabbing wads of skin and tugging them up and in. Vertigo, how much shame I was filled with. Panic. Nausea. “Look,” he said, and I looked in the mirror and I could see what he was talking about. “Look at what this will do.” I looked at what it would do, and I could see how it would change my whole body—but not really change it. Reveal it. Dig it out from under this stuff. Dig me out from under this embarrassment I could never entirely shake.
In the hospital’s parking lot I sat in the car and looked down at my stomach and wondered what it would be like to not feel like I had to hide my gut all the time. To not have this. I prodded at it. I picked up my cell phone and called the front desk and said, I want to schedule my surgery.
I paid a breathtaking amount of money. I signed an epic amount of paperwork. I’m scheduled for this Friday.