To my body image in general, my fat in particular, and my pannus, specifically, I wrote a little break up letter:
“Let’s call your exit what it is: A panniculectomy. An abdominoplasty.
Maybe I’m bougie, but I’m not calling you a tummy tuck. I hate the word ‘tummy.’ (Belly is a bit better.)
Look…I’m not trying to insult you. You have been a part of me for a long time. I don’t want to hate you anymore. I know what my body has done, what it can do (and what it can’t, for that matter).
But it’s time for you to go. Because I’ve changed.”
I’ll spare no language here as I prepare to make a rather radical change to my physicality.
I’m not supposed to hate my gut. I have espoused being “body positive” for decades. I shouldn’t hate my mid-section—it housed two amazing humans. But I don’t have to like it.
I’m told I am beautiful, and I appreciate it, though most days I feel like a potato.
But come on…this lower hanging belly isn’t beautiful. It just isn’t.
Extra skin doesn’t respond to diet and exercise, though I am closely monitoring my intake these days. (Down 31 pounds since this time last year!)
Here’s the deal: in three weeks’ time, I will be saying goodbye to my pannus. My F.U.P.A. (Ew—that acronym!)
My sagging gut.
My pendulous pooch.
My excess flesh.
My extra folds.
My abdominal avoirdupois. (Now that’s a pretty word.)
I’ve been heavy all my life. Well, except for only two times:
Once in my junior year of high school, when my diet consisted every day of an orange, a carton of skim milk or a low-fat yogurt, and a small bag of almonds—sometimes the fancy, flavorful smokehouse kind.
I exercised every day after school, joined field hockey, and even track—for a minute. The coach was a kind and encouraging man, whom I’ve never forgotten. I was still big, but he convinced me I was strong. Stronger than I thought I was, when constantly comparing myself to the lithe, leaner young ladies. When I say I’ve never been athletic, I mean it. I despise exercise. Well…at least that’s what I told myself. And those inner messages are loud.
My restrictive eating (not healthy) took nearly 50 pounds off my 5’9, big-boned frame in a year. I felt unstoppable. But I also found I was developing a fear of food. I was eating only salads for dinner. I danced to a sweaty sheen every evening in my bedroom. I loved feeling in control when I stepped on the scale. It was a dangerous game. It generally isn’t a great idea to weigh in daily. There are many factors to fluctuations.
My weight has gone up and down by a startling hundred pounds over the years. In late 1987, still in the cult in which I was raised—I escaped in the fall of 1992—I was preparing for my more-or-less (no pun intended) wedding, which was to happen on Valentine’s Day of 1988. Again, I restricted, exercised (it was all about the Jane Fonda workout in those days), and got down to a weight I was relatively happy with. I was able to wear a size 13 Gunne Sax dress (a prom gown, really) for my wedding.
But I came back from the honeymoon 10 pounds bigger and pregnant to boot! Up and down, up and down. I was happy to have “only” gained 31 pounds by the time I gave birth to my daughter in November of that same year.
Up and down turned to only up, up, up after the birth of my second child nine years later. I gained the exact same amount of weight while carrying him. (I can tell you my weight, practically to the decimal point, at any point in my life. For real.) But after my beautiful son came along, I fell into a depression.
I was nearly 300 pounds when I decided to get bariatric surgery. (My spell-check just changed that word to barbaric. Interesting.) I went through with it in late August of 2001 at Lenox Hill Hospital in Manhattan, placing my body in the hands of a very capable surgeon who came highly recommended.
Oh boy, do you lose weight quickly after that major procedure! It was exhilarating to drop a pound almost every day. I lost 89, and then it stopped. I had wanted to lose 120. It scared me. I never addressed my addictive nature to food (which would soon give way to full blown alcoholism—a story for another time). I’d addressed only my body, and my obsessive relationship to it. Not my emotions.
So, over the past 20 years, nearly every pound came back. I finally faced the scale last summer and panicked. I am around seven years post-menopausal, pre-diabetic, and have an autoimmune thyroid condition. The odds were against me, but I started low-carbing it, and lost 31 pounds (that number again!) this past year.
This brings us to now.
Let me cut to the chase and elaborate on the decision I’ve made:
I will be shedding my skin. Surgically.
I’m excising from my body the part that has vexed me the most. It’s wild to think of this weight I’ve carried for so long, this soft area into which a scalpel has sunk four times—the last one being a hernia repair—this stretching and contracting expanse which has gotten increasingly out of control over the past decade.
Slack muscles. Losing and gaining…again and again. Skin that is striated and stippled and scarred.
Now there will be new scars over old ones, as three are cut away. A smile-shaped hip-to-hip incision will be made. A new belly button will be carved out, even. A thick pad of fat will be lifted off me and placed in a stainless steel pan—a pan containing the weirdness of a bloody slab of me-meat once attached to how I defined myself.
But it’s not “me.”
I wonder if something perversely masochistic will make me almost miss it?
I’ve always seen my big belly as a sort of soft armor against the world, against my sexuality, against the confidence I never thought I deserved.
My obesity gave me an identity for so many years of the “funny, smart, fat girl” which, in my mind, takes me out of the game…(whatever game that may be).
I want to be more hourglass than bloated beach ball. I want to be amazing and Amazonian.
Tall. Strong. Proud. Curvy.
I’m tired of feeling uncomfortable. Tired of grunting when I tie my sneakers. Tired of that groan when I bend to pick things up. My clumsy way of just getting up. Tired of trying to “suck in” that which can’t be sucked in. Tired of lifting my stomach up in the shower to wash under the deep crease. (Sorry, but it’s true.) Tired of feeling disgusted, and of wearing only long tunic tops. Tired of wearing shorts over bathing suits. Tired of all those “from the neck up only, please” photos. Tired of how it flops over when I lay on my side. A bit more TMI, but I’m tired of its wild jiggling at inopportune times. Yeah, supposedly guys don’t care. But I do. And it’s my opinion that matters.
I’m not doing this to please a man. I’m doing it for me. Seriously. I’m 56 and I get to choose. (Ironic right now, eh?)
I know I don’t have to make apologies for all my parts. But I’m sick of feeling like I have to. I’m tired of the bruises that show up when I have to squeeze by and behind chairs and such. And eyeing restaurant booths for their size-friendly status. Hell, you’d think diner booths would all accommodate those of a larger girth.
Yeah, I know it just seems like vanity. I am a little vain, actually. There are worse ways to be. But it’s far f*cking better than insecurity and constant self-consciousness. Besides, confidence isn’t vanity.
So, on July 25th, early on a Monday morning, I will bid this thing farewell. There will be pain. And swelling. I’ve had two cesarean sections, the hernia repair, and gastric bypass surgery. I’m not afraid of pain. Bring it. And there will be the initial and ongoing process of adjusting to my “new” body.
No…my goal isn’t to be small or thin. That ship has sailed. But I will be contoured. More symmetrical. Sculpted.
And this improved me will walk taller. Prouder. More gracefully. I will use this surgery as a springboard to achieve and maintain my ultimate goal. And if that “magic” number (since my teens!) never happens, that’s okay too.
I am taking control. Control over my own body. Imagine that. Never in a million years did I think I’d have plastic surgery. But…I’m doing it. I vetted the doctor very carefully, and I’m going for it.
As for the cost? A down payment from my savings, and then good old Care Credit, which I budgeted already to pay off, interest free, in 18 months. I consider it an investment in my well-being.
Am I nervous? Yep. A bit. Am I psyched? Hell yeah.
You see, I’ve always been a Goddess. I just don’t want to be the Willendorf.