So I never really started this blog off after our book came out last year. I wasn’t in much of a blogging place, and things with TimeBangers and my day job were taking up much of my time, and then the fall was a mix of wonderful and terrible events, some planned and some unplanned and unwelcome. This blog was going to be for friends and our lovely little cadre of fans (who are mostly one and the same—thank you, wonderfuls!!) and for keeping in touch and connecting and not much else. I think when you’re not a professional blogger, like I’m not, it’s hard to do anything when you’re not in that zone.
What brings me into that zone now? It’s something I’ve been debating whether to share publicly because it involves my most deeply personal body shame and what I ultimately decided to do about it. It’s raw and long-winded and incredibly self-absorbed and it’s not all that funny, which is the internet realm where I’m most comfortable residing. But I decided after being encouraged by a couple of friends that it was a story worth sharing. In other words: Hi there, world, I’m a comedy sex writer but hey, let me drop some heavy duty personal shit on you in my first real blog post!
I spent most of my life, and all of my adult life, hating and being ashamed of my fleshy, flabby, hangy, fat belly. In this first post about this subject, I’m going to talk about this in a lot of detail, because I spent a lot of years feeling like I was uniquely ugly in this way and that other girls and women didn’t have this problem. And I wish I could have read something like this somewhere in that time. And I especially wish I’d known that a correctable medical issue was contributing to this thing I hated so much about my looks. I was in my mid-thirties before I learned that, this last fall.
As a child I had a little bit of a pooch in the middle, but never thought much of it because I was a kid and had other shit going on, such as interring Barbie mummies in the sandbox and imprisoning innocent crawfish behind rock dams in the creek. I lived my summers on a bike on gravel roads, so between near constant play exercise and occasional food insecurity I was skinny-ish normal weight.
Then: that rascal puberty! At 13 I had never given a thought to my weight. I remember vaguely that my biggest beauty concern was that I had some eczema and dry skin on my legs. I’d been religiously home-schooled until the fifth grade, so I was socially awkward in all the ways you can imagine might come along with that. And then around the time I turned 14, I had a belly. I can’t remember now if I noticed it gradually creeping up on me, or if it felt sudden. Either way, I had no idea what to do about it, and while there were girls in my class who simply didn’t eat when they were concerned about being “fat,” I couldn’t do that. I just got too hungry. And the school lunch was the best food I had access to, so I wasn’t going to not eat everything I could for that meal.
I went to a small school with about 40 kids, and I occupied a weird place socially because at the time I was tubby in the middle, but I wasn’t fat the way the one fat girl was. I knew I was borderline and it made my social position feel precarious. I remember feeling like I had to be careful all the time not to challenge the girls who let me hang out with them. Reading a room and moving with the tide was important, because in my mind, if I got dumped by those girls I would have no one to be friends with because the fat girl didn’t like to read so what the hell would we ever have to talk about?
I gained some weight. I know now that it wasn’t a lot, because for a lot of years I avoided photographs like the plague, but I remember being a freshman in high school and feeling too fat because I weighed 120 at 5’2″. I’m medium-boned and I’ve never exactly had an elfin frame, so in retrospect I was definitely not the cow I thought I was. In high school I grew almost two inches to my adult height of nearly 5’4″, learned to diet and managed to starve myself to around 115. And I still had that horrid slightly preggers looking belly. I would pinch my belly and wish I could wake up as someone thin. I hated how I looked, in the intense, all-engulfing way that only a teen girl can. When it came to looks, the only thing that felt like it mattered was weight. And since existing in a state of constant hunger is something I’ve always sucked at, my weight loss didn’t last.
I hate doing things I’m not good at, and I have a very all-or-nothing personality. I gave up on the looks thing as a complete lost cause. My niche had always been academics, so I decided pretty young that my only hope was to show everyone that I didn’t give even half a fuck about looks and that I knew I looked like shit and it didn’t matter because I was smarter than all those pretty bitches anyway. I requested a transfer to a bigger school in a different district and was accepted because of my grades and test scores. I focused on being the smart funny-bitch, because I hated my body and I hated my teenage home life and my wits and a fabulous boyfriend were what I had going for me. I was fat, but I was a National Merit Scholar and I had close to perfect standardized test scores, and I had seen on a gifted program report that wasn’t meant for my eyes that my IQ had tested at a number almost 20 points higher than my weight (I now believe IQ to be an incredibly questionable measure of human intelligence, but at the time it was a badge that made life in my “ugly” body bearable).
In fact, I pretty much felt sorry for all those skinny dumb chicks who were just having fun in high school. I wasn’t all that happy but boy, wasn’t I just so much better than the rest of them, really? I think the obsession I had with intellectual numbers had a lot to do with armoring myself against the self-hatred I felt when I looked at my physical numbers.
I stuck with that lonely and defensively shitty-elitist focus for a depressingly long time. My issues about food and weight and reasons for eating don’t really bear mentioning here and now, but I gained a good amount of weight, on and off. Occasionally I’d take some off, but my identity was fat, and smart, and funny. At my heaviest I was 218.
Close to 10 years ago I joined Weight Watchers and lost a fuck-ton (clinical terminology there) of weight. The meetings were therapeutic and I realized I had a lot of food and other issues. I liked talking to people there about our relationships with food and I liked being a source of comic relief in my meetings. My meeting leader talked to me about becoming a leader myself one day when I got to Lifetime (goal weight). And I got down to 139 pounds in a little over a year and achieved Lifetime membership. But I was constantly hungry and I was sick of getting up early every Saturday for meetings, and I dropped my attendance to the minimum once a month for Lifetime members. One month I came in and it was right before my period so I had some water weight, and I weighed in at a pound over my acceptable limit and I had to pay (in WW Lifetime members belong for free as long as they maintain goal weight). That was OK, but the person who weighed me clucked and said, “Maybe it’s time to start coming back regularly and get back on track, hmm?”
For some reason this annoyed me so much that I walked out and never went back. All or nothing, remember?
I immediately gained back about 8 pounds and was much happier in the sense that I wasn’t starving. But even at my thinnest, I’d still had that hanging belly and I knew by then that no amount of weight loss would ever fix it. I fantasized about liposuction, but I had so much in student loans and I guess I also felt in a way like I somehow didn’t deserve that.
WTF? I think now.
Fast forward. By my thirties I was a much happier person. And I think a better and kinder one, with a greater understanding of what mattered. I didn’t hate myself anymore, and I didn’t hate-fear other people anymore, and I’d reached a sort of peace with my soft, fleshy body. I was feeling basically OK with things. I dressed to hide my belly, and I tried to eat healthfully. I did good things and good things happened: therapy, the correct medication, professional development, personal growth, became a CPA, married my high school boyfriend (yep, all those years I stayed with the same fabulous guy I mentioned before), life experience, some lovely interpersonal relationships, and a very appropriate estrangement from my family of birth. My weight had settled around 155-160 and I didn’t really like the way I looked, but it seemed mostly hereditary, so I looked at it pretty much like, oh well. I worked with mostly women in their forties and fifties, so that made it a lot easier because I wasn’t constantly being invited to go out and do young hot people things or feeling pressure to compete in ways that made me uncomfortable. I really had the privilege of being valued for my actual contributions to the organization.
Looks-wise, I found a fabulous stylist who helped me get hair confidence, and I became an avid thrifter so it was a lot easier to be experimental with fashion when I wasn’t paying full price for anything.
I was heating my lunch up in the break room one day and a lady at work asked me, “Are you expecting?”
Was it Dave Barry who said don’t ask a woman if she’s pregnant unless you are currently witnessing a child being removed from her body? Whoever it was, yes, that’s good advice. Hitting thirty did amp up the belly pudge even though my weight wasn’t horrible. Her asking me that made me anxious about the belly weight in a way I hadn’t been for years. A year later, someone else asked a coworker if I was expecting because she wanted to plan a gift for my baby.
In my Weight Watchers time, I finally started to accept that my husband has truthfully loved me and found me sexy at every weight, but I didn’t feel that way, and hitting thirty made that even worse. Being asked once a year if I was housing another human being took its toll on my confidence, and on my wardrobe. There were clothes I loved that I didn’t want to throw away, but no longer wore because I feared they made me look pregnant. I was in my mid-thirties and I didn’t want to hit my forties never having felt truly sexy. My feelings about my body were inhibited and generally burdened.
Um, basically it sucked.
One day last year my husband and I were looking at a feminist porn website and we started watching something that should have been a huge turn-on. The actor was hot and well-endowed. The pretense wasn’t shit. It wasn’t corny. The actress was lovely. It felt authentic and they had great chemistry. They started to kiss passionately, and I burst into tears. She felt sexy and gorgeous and like she absolutely deserved to be plowed by this glorious male specimen. And I didn’t feel that way. And hadn’t. I couldn’t remember a time when I had. My husband stopped the video and held me while I cried and then we talked about why it had upset me so much.
“You are hot,” he said. “You are beautiful. You have never been anything else.”
We talked for hours. And…we broached the subject of plastic surgery. We sort of brought it up at the same time because he was afraid if he suggested it first, it would seem like he wanted me to do it for some reason other than for me and my feelings alone. But once the subject was out there we talked and talked. The money. The time off work. The recovery. The tinge of shame that I felt, that I was being superficial, that hating my appearance was something I should just have the strength of will to overcome. And also that, I wasn’t even sure I was a candidate for surgery because I thought only women who’d had their abs stretched out by pregnancies had that done. We did a lot of googling and research and I admitted tearfully to him that whether I was being selfish or not, I wanted to do something about it.
“Then we should do it,” he said immediately. “We’ll find a way. We’ll make it work.”
Then I cried again because I was overwhelmed by how loved he made me feel. Also because seriously, what a great sport when he was expecting to get some hot ass that night and instead he got chain-weeping and four hours of body image discussion and he didn’t even act put out in the slightest and then after all that we didn’t have sex and I got to be the little spoon. He has a couple flaws but I mean, damn, folks. I am married to a fine-ass gentleman.
A couple of months later I had a consultation with the surgeon we ended up going with, and after a brief physical examination my doctor informed me that I had diastasis recti. I had a four inch vertical gap in the center of my abs, where they were either injured and separated early in my life, or where they simply never grew together when I was a baby. I learned that while this mostly happens to women as a result of pregnancy—some people are just born that way or have it as a result of injury.
Let’s underscore that shit: even if you’ve never had a baby, you can be born with abs that don’t meet in the middle, and it’s fucking not your fault even a little bit. If you have congenital diastasis recti and it’s severe enough, your organs floop out. If you have it with an “apple” body type you gain abdominal fat there and it’s even worse. Further—if your stomach and intestines aren’t compressed by your abs and have too much room to move around, you can experience issues such as not getting fullness signals and feeling hungry all the time for food your body doesn’t physically require. If you have IBS or idiopathic abdominal pains, it can be made worse if your organs aren’t being supported by your abdominals. And apparently it can contribute to back pain because your trunk isn’t being supported like it is on most people with normally formed abs. Another kicker—doing ab workouts make the condition worse. So people trying to fix their crap abs with planks and crunches and all that stuff I tried are actually fucking themselves up even worse.
Imagine you win a powerball megamillions and a winged horse brings you the direct deposit advice and the news that no taxes are due and then Eliza Coupe and Liza Weil teach you everything they know about witchcraft and alongside them, you use it to create peace between the realms of elves, men and dwarves.
That’s how the fuck I felt after meeting my doctor and learning that twenty years of belly problems were largely not my fault like at all.
I had a tummy tuck done on December 21 and I’m almost three weeks out and I’m happy I did it, happy I spent the money, and happy my husband and my close friends were so supportive of me through this whole process. I’m planning to talk further about it here. But ladies (and hey, guys too!), if there are any of you out there like me, whether your background and experience are a lot like mine or almost nothing like mine—I just wanted to share that in 2015 I learned that:
- Being body positive, to me, should mean it’s OK to feel however the fuck you want to about your body, even if that means you don’t like parts of it, and that it’s OK to do something about it if there are things you can’t change on your own. You’re not required to love it wholly, or to listen to what society or other people say about it, you’re only accountable to you.
- Deserving or not deserving is really an irrelevant concept when it comes to elective cosmetic surgery.
- Avoid self shame and self blame. Even if you’re the cause of the thing you don’t like about your body – it’s a useless, destructive thing to do.
- And you’re not betraying the body positive movement to change something if it makes you feel better about how you look. It doesn’t matter why you feel how you do about your body, whether it’s society or magazines or your family or a fat-shaming doctor or whatever the hell. It just matters that you do feel the way you do. You’re entitled to those feelings.
I also want to mention that I fully understand that not everybody has the incredible privilege I did of being able to financially swing this surgery (which did turn out to be much less than I feared—only $7,000 and that covered EVERYTHING except my $20 of pain meds and some special things I bought to prepare). If I’d found out about my bad abs and bloopy organs fifteen years ago, or even five, I think it would have been emotionally healing to know that the appearance of my midsection wasn’t my fault—but affording it would not have been an option at that point in my life. It happened that since all this epiphany manifested in my mid-thirties, I was able to do something about it immediately.
Anyway, as far as many people are concerned this might just be three thousand words of self absorbed first-world body image mumblings and it might be totally useless or even whiny to many people—but reading something like this would have really encouraged me in my younger life. If it reaches even one or two people who need to see it, I’m OK with that.
In closing: I love you guys—our friends, families, and fans who have encouraged us along the way—thanks for the awesome reception you gave our book this last year, especially in consideration of the fact that we and our teensy publisher are absolute unknowns right now, and we look forward to meeting as many of our lovely fans as we can at our convention appearances this year. Hearts and flowers to you all. May joy blossoms rain from the fucking heavens upon you, as you well deserve.