Let’s start with my knock-knees. This is not a genetic trait. It is something I did to myself. First, and nobody’s “fault”, I was born with a club foot. To remedy this, doctors put me in various hip-to-toe casts as a baby. They were changed regularly, of course. But this still stunted the growth of my right leg, which is now an inch shorter than my left. Then, growing up fat, my thighs were so big that they kept my feet and knees from ever meeting. Walking and standing while carrying so much excess weight as I was growing made my longer, left leg grow crooked. The femur has a slight bend to the right, the tibia and fibula an exaggerated bend to the left. When I lost my weight, and my thighs got thin, it turned out that when my knees touch, my feet are still six inches apart. When I bring my feet together, my left knee overlaps my right. This embarrasses me. I don’t know why. Maybe because I did it to myself. I wear heels to make it less obvious. And I have a modified “supermodel” walk so that my knees don’t bang together.
But even more embarrassing to me is my skin. I have a lot of it. A crap-load more than I need. It hangs. And it is covered with stretch marks. And there is nothing natural to do about it. The most noticeable places are my arms, breasts, belly, and upper thighs.
I was in a tank top at the playground the other day, and the 3-year-old I take care of said, “Kate, look!” And she pointed to my under-arm. “You have stripes!”
I said, “It’s true. I do.”
I said, “That’s a long story.”
She asked, “Do you have it at home?”
“Do I have what at home?”
She said, “The book. With the story of why you have stripes.”
I read a great analogy once about skin after a huge weight loss. It said that if you take a garbage bag, and stuff it too full of cans, when you take the cans out, the bag is still stretched out of shape. Even if you do it slowly, one can at a time. It is not that I lost my weight too fast. It is that I got so fat at all. I realize that skin is a living organ. That it’s different from a plastic bag. And, indeed, my skin is not still the skin of a 300 lb woman on a thin woman’s body. It has bounced back quite a bit, to be sure. But I still have plenty of extra. And after years of being thin, it is clear to me that it’s never going to go away entirely and leave me with a lean, smooth, tight body.
And I worry about what other people think of that. I would be lying if I said I didn’t. I am afraid of having my body judged. Partly because I’m very protective of it. It’s mine. It has been very good to me. And partly because I am ashamed of having done to it what I did. I scarred it. And I am afraid of owning that. And being reminded of that. Especially if it’s because someone else brought it up because they saw something they found unattractive. (No, I don’t mean the 3-year-old. She loves me just the way I am.)
I have worn a bathing suit in public maybe 4 times in the past 20 years. Always with my family at a hotel pool. Never comfortably. Not even since I got thin.
Being with a man, actually just the thought of being with a man, can bring up a lot of insecurity about my body. I have learned that if a man wants to see you naked, he’s never disappointed if he gets to. But knowing this has never made it easier to take off my clothes in front of one. And I have always wanted to apologize for my body. As if skin and stretch marks make me the booby prize. As if any man wouldn’t be damn lucky to be with a beautiful, intelligent, fascinating, and incredibly sexy woman. All of which I am. If I do say so myself…
But here’s the interesting part of it for me. The truth is that when I am alone with my naked body, I think it is positively beautiful. Saggy boobs, belly flap and all. It is certainly not “conventionally” pretty, but conventional has never occurred to me as all that pretty in the first place. My body is interesting. And womanly. It has a history. And I love it.
As I said, there is nothing natural to do about “fixing” my skin. But there is, of course, something to do about it. Plastic surgery. And I don’t want to. It’s not that I’ve never considered it. It’s not that I’ve never thought it would be nice to wear a bikini to the beach without worrying about the shape of my stomach. Or a backless dress, which can only be worn bra-less. (Which is just not a possibility when you’ve gone from a 44DDD to a 34D…and straight down…) And my step-mother even offered to help me pay for the plastic surgery if it was something I decided to do. But when it comes down to me and me, my relationship with my own body, I like it just the way it is. Flawed, weird, interesting, and beautiful as hell. It’s me. It is exactly who I am. And I don’t need to forget that, or deny it, or pretend that it’s not.
What I’d like more than surgery, is to wear my bikini in public. In my gorgeous, sexy, flawed body. Without shame or embarrassment. Baby steps, Kate…