Sunday, June 10, 2012

The Red Dress Playlist: "Itsy-Bitsy, Teeny-Weeny, Yellow Polka-Dot Bikini"

A while back, I started a self-improvement project, inspired by Jenny Lawson, the Great Bloggess. To read about the origin of my project, look here. For the short version, each week I will set out to conquer something that is holding me back from being the person I want to be. A relationship, a memory, a fear. . .anything that makes me less than I am. I will attack each challenge wearing my red dress as a cape for inspiration and as a symbol of the superheroes we all are inside. My goal is to undertake the daunting task of taking one crazy, neurotic, and mentally unstable woman and molding her into a productive member of our crazy, neurotic, and mentally unstable society.  

I had a bit of a scare at the mall last week.  I was paying homage at one of the triumverate of my Holy Trinity, H&M,*

*The other two being Target and Starbucks

when I discovered some darling denim shorts on the sale rack.  Snatching them up with unbridled glee I scurried off to the dressing room and was just zipping them up when I turned to discover that a strange woman with cellulite and cankles had followed me in there.  I shrieked like Fran Drescher with her hand caught in a blender and hurled my purse at the woman, only to have it ricochet off the mirror and leave a rather unfortunate mark on my left arm.  Yeah. . .that strange woman was me.

Due to multiple extenuating circumstances over these last couple of years. . .*

*Not the least of which is my propensity for lying on the couch eating Wheat Thins and  watching "What Not To Wear"

. . .I have gained some weight.  Not enough to qualify me for gastric bypass or a "Chub Chasers" ad on Craigslist, but enough so that clothing over a year old is as useless as Paris Hilton at a spelling bee.  Despite exercising regularly and attempting to eat right, my 41 year old body has dug in its heels and proceeded to beat my metabolism like a Gitmo detainee.  On a rational level, I know that my body weight is healthy and normal.  But for someone with my history of disordered eating and my whickety-whack body image, anything other than underweight will always be distressing to me; that simply is what it is.

Eating disorders are a lot like alcoholism,*

*Both of which I have. . .yay me!

but in my experience, the food demon is harder to tame.  With alcohol, it's all black-and-white: you lock up the tiger and never let it out.  But with an eating disorder, you have to lock up the tiger, then take him out for a walk three to five times a day; it isn't nearly as cut and dried.  My eating disorder will always be in my head, but whereas before its voice would drive me to exercise for five hours on 300 calories, now I can tell it to fuck off and and go eat a sandwich. . .but it's always there.

Unfortunately, while I no longer allow my eating disorder to compromise my health, it does still affect my self-esteem and my daily activities.  I won't go to the 7:00am Pilates class because the skinny girls all go to that one, I won't visit the Starbucks near my old house because I'm so much heavier than when I used to go there and I worry they'll judge me, I won't eat fattening foods in public because I think people are saying "she doesn't need that", and I haven't worn a swimsuit in three years.  You heard me.  Three.  Years.  With summer approaching, my short people have been begging to go to the water park, and while I did say yes, my son M said "Why don't you ever swim with us, Mommy?  I really want you to swim with me."  Ouch.  I always thought that if I was eating and exercising in a healthy manner around my children, and not saying disparaging things about my body, my eating disorder wouldn't affect them.  Apparently I was wrong.  The thought that this monster in my head that spent so many years trying to kill me was now hurting my kids sent me into an unholy rage as I will be DAMNED if any part of me compromises my childrens' happiness.  So, this week's Red Dress Challenge was born -- buy my first swimsuit in three years.  God help us all.

As I'm never one to venture off without backup, I decided to rope in one of my homegirls.  Since Misty, Bex, and Jess all live over a thousand miles away and Kelly looks WAY too much like a "Friends" era Courteney Cox,*

*That level of jealousy could lead to manslaughter in a fitting room, people 

I enlisted the aid of my friend Gina who is four months pregnant and therefore apt to be the only person at the store more nauseous and bloated than I.  We entered Old Navy with a goal in mind and credit card in hand.

If you hook a sister up I may even forgive you for putting Robin Thicke in your goddamned commercials.

GINA: I need to pee again; this kid has been doing the 'Riverdance' on my bladder since 5am. (pause)  Dude, is there a reason you look like you're about to get a pap smear from Josef Mengele?

ME: If there is anything in this world that I hate more than creamy peanut butter, Kristen Stewart, and ESPN, it's swimsuit shopping.

GINA: When was the last time you bought one?

ME: About four years ago, right after I had mono.  God, I was so skinny then.  I need to get mono again!  Maybe I should start tongue-kissing the undergrads on campus!

GINA ((snort)): What do you mean "start"?

ME:  Oh, you should talk.  If you'd kept that nickel between your knees like a good girl you wouldn't be in this predicament right now, you whore.*

*For the record, Gina is happily married. . .to my friend Alex. . .that boy deserves a medal.

While Gina scuttled off to the restroom for the four billionth time, I started shuffling through the racks like a Vegas pit boss.  By the time she returned, I'd amassed a few likely candidates from the spandex jungle.

GINA (plunking dramatically into an armchair): Jesus!  Do I really have five more months of this to look forward to?  I'm already huge.  Is it normal to be this big at four months?

ME (shrugging):  Isn't having a big baby a GOOD thing?

GINA: Yeah, but not THIS big!  I'm thinking of taking up smoking; I hear it stunts their growth.  Or crack!  Crack would be good.  Then I'd have the benefit of not being so damned tired all the time.

ME: Ha!  Don't you wish you'd embraced my lifestyle of hedonism and lethargy in stead of being all healthy and responsible and shit?  Who's laughing now, hmm?

GINA: I stand corrected.  OK, Dara Torres, are you actually going to try any of those on or just stand here babbling while you delay the inevitable?

ME:  OK, OK, I'm going. . .

But as I started toward the fitting room, I was suddenly caught in a maelstrom of Clearasil and Bonne Bell as a horde of waifish young Jennifer Lawrence clones emerged giggling from the stalls to pose for one another in their swimwear.  Looking at them, I couldn't help but sigh nostalgically.

ME: You know, I used to look like that in a bikini.

GINA (absently texting on her phone): Seriously?  When?

ME: Oh, back in the year 2000-and-fuck you!

GINA:  Jeez!  Sorry!  Defensive much?

I mumbled a ham-handed apology at her and began my Bataan Death March-like walk back to the fitting room stalls.  The first one I tried on was a one-piece which is never a good choice for me as despite my short stature I have a ridiculously long waist.  This one pulled down so far in front and gave me such a brutal wedgina that I could practically hear my ovaries crying out for mercy, but I thought I'd let someone more objective cast a vote.  I wasn't out of the room for three seconds before Gina erupted into paroxysms of laughter, sputtering so hysterically that the only coherent words I could glean were "camel toe" and "Borat".  Aaaaaannnnd, no.  Back to the drawing board.

The next one I tried was a patriotic stars and stripes number, and one I thought actually had some potential.  I pranced out of the fitting room feeling pretty saucy and smug.  Gina, however, simply stared at me in stunned silence.

God bless America.

GINA:  It's the American flag.

ME: Yeah!  Cute, right?

GINA:  But. . .it's the AMERICAN FLAG.

ME:  Yeah, I know.  So what?

GINA:  I don't know.  I guess. . .well. . .if you have about six billion rules on how to fly it, fold it and dispose of it, I'm pretty sure that rubbing it up against your va-jay-jay is not OK.  But, hey!  What says "American Pride" more than slutty swimwear, cheap beer, and "Girls Gone Wild"?  U-S-A! U-S-A!

I sweetly flipped Gina the bird and returned to the fitting room for round three, but the sight of my nether regions in bootie shorts had the shock value of a Tijuana donkey show so I quickly changed back into my clothes before emerging dejectedly.  A concerned saleswoman must have seen that I was dangerously close to bursting into tears like a fat chick at a Clay Aiken concert because she raced immediately to my side.

SALESGIRL:  Can I help you?

ME:  Yes.  Apparently someone has photoshopped a narwhal on my ass and I am in desperate need of either an emergency liposuction or an ungodly amount of illegal phen fen.  Do you have either of those in the back?

SALESGIRL: You aren't fat!  You're just very muscular.  You're obviously quite athletic.

GINA: Yeah!  If throwing her opinion around and running her mouth count as athletic she's a goddamned Olympian!

ME (to the salesgirl after shooting Gina a withering glare):  Look, I'm realistic.  I'm not asking to be a Koutrney; maybe just something a little less Khloe and a little more Kim.

The salesgirl obviously spoke fluent Kardashian because she simply nodded sagely and headed off in quest of the perfect suit.  As she did, I couldn't help but note how odd it was that someone who laid eyes on my just thirty seconds ago was a better judge of my body than the person who'd been living in it for almost 42 years.  I guess when I see myself, I still don't see 41 year old Jen, I see 25 year old Jen, because that's the person I feel like inside.  It is still unfathomable for me to wrap my twisted brain around the fact that the metabolically-charged, size-two body I used to know has crept away in the night like a dime-store hooker and left this body in its wake.  But then I thought of all this body has done since I was 25.  It has run 13 marathons, it has learned to rock-climb, fire a gun, and shoot a bow and arrow.  It has completed a Master's degree, started a doctoral program, hugged countless people, written countless letters, papers, and blogs, and most importantly; it has given birth to the most extraordinary short people on the planet.  To be fair, I had to give the old girl some credit.

As I tried on the suits the salesgirl brought to me, I was again impressed with her keen eye.  She chose colors and patterns that flattered my skin tone, and the sizes were spot on.  I was still hesitant to look at myself dead-on, however, and was praying for one of those gauzy filters over the mirror like they used when filming 'Dynasty' after Joan Collins and Lynda Evans aged out.  Instead, I improvised by squinting one eye and looking lazily out of the other for the perfect blurred effect.  

GINA:  What's with your face?  Oh my God, are you having a stroke!?!?

ME (squinting and turning in front of the mirror):  Shut up, I'm visualizing.

GINA:  You look like Oprah Winfrey in "The Color Purple".  Ooh!  Quick!  Say, "All my life I's had to fight!  A girl child ain't safe in a house fulla mens".

ME:  Bitch, please.  If I had a "house fulla mens" do you really think I'd be standing here checking out my own ass in the mirror?

I squinted and scowled a few more times but finally my unquenchable curiosity and raging case of vertigo forced me to open my eyes and. . .huh.  Not bad.  Maybe I didn't look like Elle MacPherson, but then again I didn't look like a Telletubby either so, that's something. . .right?  The cut of the suit was flattering and age-appropriate, the colors were just vibrant enough to give my pasty Northwestern skin the illusion of a tan, and I'll be damned if it wasn't on sale too.  I thanked the salesgirl. . .*

*I may have hugged her too.  And possibly cried.  I will neither confirm nor deny this statement

. . .paid for the suit, and took Gina out for a well-deserved smoothie.  Will I ever be truly comfortable with my body?  Probably not, but that will never again stop me from being the mother I want to be.  As little girls, we are goddesses; we stand atop the jungle gyms and treetops with arms held high believing we are industructible and glorious and powerful.  Then, inexplicably, that goddess slowly dies.  She is replaced by shame, and degradation, and self-loathing, and we suddenly no longer see our bodies as instruments of greatness, but as something that must be punished and whittled away.  I spent years trying to make myself "less" and all it did was make me tired and sad.  I want to be "more".  Not just for me, but for my children, and for the legion of little girls out there who are slowly sinking into the same abyss.  Be more.  Buy a crazy swimsuit and jump into the chilly ocean.  Call in sick to work and drive somewhere you've never been.  Go back to school.  Go back to work.  Spend the day making your children laugh.  Learn Italian.  Build a tree fort.  Learn to play the drums.  Eat ice cream for breakfast.  Let yourself love someone again.  Let that someone be you.

Be kind to yourself.



Wily Guy said...

Hey booboo, that looks like a pic-a-nic basket!

Seriously, women and swimsuits is like the deadliest combo. Good luck!

Tiffany said...

You, dear, are a rock star.
I'm going to edit this so my girls' AHG scout troop can read it when we cover the badge on style, body image, and modesty.

Jillian said...

When I was thirteen, I had a pair of jeans onto which I painted the American flag-- down the front of the right leg and the butt pockets. The butt was perky and still "flying high," so does that count as respectful?

(PS I have way more to say because of all my own struggles with food, but that's a post on its own. Which I'm now going to go write, finally. Blast you.)

Jen said...

SCOTT- it is our personal Vietnam, my friend.

Jen said...

TIFFANY- Edit it HARD! I don't want to scar these poor girls for life! :)

JILLIAN- The more you write about it, talk about it, and expose it, the less power it has -- like a vampire being thrust into the light. I'm proud of you. :)

Nat said...

Lovely swimsuit. Very cute!
I'll admit to being a teeny tiny bit jealous. I wish my boobs could fit into anything smaller than a body bag.

Cheers from the girl who will never be able to wear a bikini.

Jen said...

NAT- Taking it out for its "maiden voyage" at the pool today. Wish us luck!

Soonie said...


Been reading your blog for a while now, and damn girl, you have a way with words that would make Shakespeare blush! Anyway, just wanted to send you my love from Ireland - this post made me laugh and cry simultaneously. Just beautiful. And now I have snot and tears running down my hiccuping face. Thank you.

Jen said...

SOONIE- Thank you so much. Wow! Ireland? I have always dreamed of going there! It is still so weird to me that anyone but my mom reads my blog, let alone people in other countries.

lazysubculturalgirl said...

I have never been able to fit into Old Navy swimsuits (although that one is adorable). I'm VERY, very long waisted -- more than you, I'm sure -- and need one of those full-coverage old lady bikini bottoms so I don't look like my top and bottom were grafted together from two different people.

I hate swimsuit shopping so hard. I still remember being a size 2 in the depths of my eating disorder and would give anything to go back. But I still wouldn't be able to wear most of the cute bikinis due to being unable to chop my body in half and take a couple of inches out of my torso. I'd like to say I'm learning acceptance, but I think I'm mostly learning distraction -- I just pretend I'm 5 again and the most important thing is to be able to swim!

Jen said...

ANDI- that's what my therapist always says: "Feed yourself like you would feed a child". We Ned to be kind to our inner 5 year old.

Anonymous said...

I'm all for the eating ice cream for breakfast bit.
Annndddd I think we've just discovered the reason I will never again fit into a bikini.

And believe me, I get it. I OWN a pool. Ask me how many times I've been in it. Go ahead, ask.

I don't even own a bathing suit that fits. The last time I bought one, I think my oldest was a toddler. Those kids wrecked my body. And I have done my utmost to continue their quest for ruination.

And talk about body images. Jeesh. Yeah, unfortunately this is one challenge my F'ed up psyche will never let me join in on.

Proud of you, though! I'd love to see you in that adorable suit.

Jen said...

MISTY- When I make it out to casa de Misty we will BOTH get our Esther Williams on, girl. COUNT on it! xoxo

Tainted Fibers said...

I am quickly closing in on 58 and STILL going WTF? WTF happened to time, HTF did my children get to be almost middle age, WHERE TF did my old body go... Always something. BUT... I have lived a lot, I have survived a LOT. I still feel like the hot 30 year old I once was. Sadly, she has left the building, but THIS former hoochie mama is gonna get her grove back. YOU, Missy have also lived and survived a LOT. You have a very inspiring story. Cut yourself some slack, take the short fellas to the pool and ROCK that cute little suit!

Chillin'Villain said...

So very proud of you :-D

And, yeah, swim suit shopping sucks...maybe even worse than jeans shopping (for me at least)...

Jen said...

FIBERS- Isn't it bizarre? It's like you blink for a moment and 20 years slip away. I'm still feeling awkward, but by God, I wore it to the pool today! Yippee!

CV- Oh crap, jeans shopping is an entirely different nightmare altogether! ((shudder))

Von said...

If there is a Hell, it will be a changing room with all mirrors, bright lights and a stack of swim suits that just don't quite fit.

Since I've realised that most people are more concerned with their own looks than mine, I do venture to the beach in bathers again.The first time is the hardest and kudos to you for getting out there. Use sunscreen.

Ally Gregory-Moore said...

I avoid reasons to wear a bathing suit. Mostly because that usually means I will be out in the sun. Sun destroys tattoos and since I have spent 1000s of dollars on my tattoos, I don't want to ruin them.(Also, I hate sand) Luckily enough, I'm married to a red head who burns just thinking about the sun. However, You have motivated me to go and get a new one just in case.

Jen said...

VON- I still worry that I'm being judged; in no small part due to being in a relationship where I was judged and berated on a daily basis for 11 years. Old attitudes die hard.

ALLY- Pools and grassy parks I'm OK with. Dirt and sand? Oh HELLZ no! Fortunately, the Oregon Coast isn't very "beachy"; but rather rocky and "wind-swepty".

Jennifer Clark said...

The kids haven't wrecked your body, ladies. They have changed it. This is what I try to convince myself, anyway. I struggle with this issue quite a bit. I still think of myself as pre-babies Jen, and then I look in the mirror. Sigh....

Good on ya, Jen! I haven't had a swim suit on in 4 years. The one I have doesn't fit any longer, but I'm working on the weight loss thing and have hopes. Go swim with your boys and give inspiration to the rest of us!

Maggi Shelbourn said...

I have come to realize that menopause is a selfish bitch who takes all your self-esteem (and flat stomach among other things)and leaves you wondering WTF just happened to the body you FINALLY accepted. I am in fear of bathing suit shopping since I have not had a bathing suit on in two years...pre-menopause days. It's good to know that I am not alone. Thank you for your post. I'm going to take it with me into the dressing room along with the bathing suits.

Anonymous said...

Ugh, I hate swimsuit shopping. I have a long torso, too, and have the wedgie problem.

I wish I was truly comfortable with my body.

Maybe the first step is getting that saleslady to help me pick a swimsuit.

Jen said...

JEN C - I have been waiting for 3 1/2 years to "lose the weight" and finally reached a point of "fuck it" why keep waiting? Still feel like a beluga, but won't miss out on this time with my short people while they still want to hang out with their mom.

MAGGI - Menopause sucks the mighty scrot. I'm dealing with the early stages of that right now and it's like aliens have taken over my body.

THOUGHTSY - That salesgirl was like freakin' Kreskin. She has gifts far beyond our comprehension.

Sheila said...

I don't even want to discuss my body. I still feel like I am that 30 year old bombshell too. I had a flat, non fat stomach pre-children. I'm not bad for my age but I'm sad for the body that once was. I used to be size 6 and I'm in a size 8/9, have a nice ghetto bootie, full breasts, long slender legs but everything just seems, well looser and fuller and not very tight somehow. I still wear a 2 piece but the top is a tankini. Its not bad but I cover the bottom with a draped shawl. Enough, Now I'm depressed. *sigh* I'm sure you're still very gorgeous though and commend you for putting yourself out there. Oh and yea menopause is the shits.

Rachael said...

I can't blame my body shape on kids I don't have any. I am however very apple shaped. I carry all my weight in my belly. So a bikini is out. I compromise and wear a tankini. I wear a swimsuit 3 times a week to swim at the public pool. And I wear the tankini top with shorts when I go kayaking. My body is far from perfect, I'm still working on the healthy living thing, but my body will never again be in its 20 year old shape. There is so much I'd like to go back and tell my 20 year old self. Everyone at the pool is too busy strutting their stuff and trying to impress the cute guy or girl to notice me.

Johi Kokjohn-Wagner said...

I think we should all just go naked. Elastic is a rat bastard.

I love the suit, and I love your words. You're so right. We need to love ourselves. And if we do while singing and dancing around the room like an idiot, so be it. It's all about acceptance, people. Now if you will excuse me, I have a naked song and dance routine to prepare.

Jen said...

SHEILA- We are even more gorgeous in our prime, right? RIGHT!?!?

RACHAEL- Oh man, what I wouldn't give for five minutes with my 20 year old self. I'd tell that crazy bitch to put down the wine cooler and the cigarette and quit worrying about the size of her stupid ass.

JOHI- Cideo! I want video! And yes, elastic, along with Spanx and underwire bras are a tool of the devil

chemgirljaime said...

if you're gonna wear it.. own it. Might as well.

Anonymous said...

I have never worn a two-piece swimsuit in my life. I'll do it, but not in public. Perhaps it will be one of the things I try this summer. That will come after camping on my own, whale watching, volunteering over a dozen time for Habitat, etc. The final piece. Complete least for five minutes. I'll build over time.

Bloggertobenamedlater said...

If you can see your toes AND your clothing size is less than the legal drinking age, life is good. Quit worrying. You look fabulous. Just stay away from South Beach. Nothing will make you feel more inadequate than a bunch of cut European gay men running around you wearing a thong.

Jennifer Clark said...

Wait just a damn minute! Menopause is going to make it even worse?!!? Bloody hell....

I lost the weight, then put it back on when the pinched nerve/bone spur in a nerve cluster thang really started kicking my ass. Lots of pain meds, lying around on a heating pad, and drinking when the meds weren't enough. But I'm all fixed (well, 'cept for the ulcer from all the aforementioned meds and booze and stress) and no longer have the excuse to lie around on my ass. My hunny plans to march me down to sign up at the gym on Wednesday. Wish me luck!

Jen said...

JAIME- True 'dat, Sister!

NELLIE- I was a complete head case the whole time I had it on, not honna lie. But I did it! Baby steps, right?

BLOGGER- South Beach would make Heidi Klum look like Guy Fieri. The people there are pbviously genetically engineered in a lab somewhere for the sole purpose of making the rest of us feel like shit.

JEN C- Menopause is like a metabolic roundhouse kick to the gut...literally. I have a "gut" for the first time in my life. It sucks. Glad to hear you're on the mend. Take it eady getting back into your workout; don't want to reinjure yourself.

Candice said...

I haven't ever had much of a metabolism but when I hit 30, what little bit I did have went buh-bye. *sigh*

I am now sad that you and I could never be friends...I love creamy peanut butter!! :D I may have to stop reading your blog now! lol

Congratulations on facing this particular demon head on!

Pish Posh said...

You gotta remind yourself that all that negative stuff you internalized from that past relationship which shall not be spoken of... IS NOT TRUE. Who cares if you gained some chub chub. You are a beautiful woman to start off with. I think women with a little chub are better looking than women with no chub. Maybe I'm just saying this because I put on about 15lbs too. I only wear swimsuits in front of the man of the house and a few friends. Wear a sarong or baggy shirt to the pool with your kids and a hat. You'll be fine :)

At some point really, we don't judge people who eat what they want when they are slightly chubberific. We envy them for just relaxing and being who they are. And you have so many great places to eat out there. EAT UP. Do it for me!! The food out here sucks!

Kelly said...

I adore you. And that suit. But really, I just want to hug you for saying out loud what a lot of us think about ourselves. Swimsuits and negative body image be damned - go have fun with your boys! <3

Anonymous said...

I think I quit wearing swim suits right around when I got married...five years ago. I would wear my tired old brown clearance rack one piece once a year at the theme park and that was it. Then I got pregnant and had a baby, so I didn't have to wear a suit last year, but this year it was apparently required. My first swim suit in five years! It's a tank top and a skirt...gotta cover as many stretch marks (and as much me) as possible, you know. Congrats to both of us for being so brave!

I bought myself a hula hoop, though. That's helping the mid-section, as well as making me happier. You can't hula hoop when you're cranky, you know!

Jen said...

CANDICE - As long as you aren't Kristin Stewart fan, I can forgive the whole peanut butter thing. ;)

PISH POSH - Living in foodie paradise it would be a true travesty if I didn't dine for you all vicariously. I'm happy to "take one for the team".

KELLY - Big hugs, Sister. <3<3<3 Now, if it would just stop frickin' raining for 5 minutes maybe I could enjoy the swimsuit. Le sigh...

VENTING - My gym has a hula hoop class and I think you've just convinced me to try it. Thanks!

Brett Minor said...

My grandmother always said that if "The signs of a life lived do not show on your body, then you must not have lived it."

It sounds like despite your self image, you are probably in better shape than most people in this country.

Mandy said...

I love what you said about having to take the tiger out for a walk 3-4 times a day. Ugh. The Abilify they put me on is working great at giving me an appetite, but I live every day in fear that when I wake up the next morning I'll look like a white Madea. :( It's so terrifying. You know I know how you feel. Power to the sistah. And power to you, twin. You rock.