Musings on the transient nature of pant sizes and the seat of real beauty

*Trigger Warning: Eating disorders

I’m having a moment. Size 12. Haven’t had a pair of pants that size in at least 16 years. For some people that may be a “big” size. For me — someone who has been a size 22 — that’s a small size. I have no goal size. I have no goal weight, other than to watch that I’m never so heavy that I am in danger of ripping the mesh patch in my gut. (I’d rather not have to have any more surgeries on my abdomen!) My only goal is pain-free, good health and lung capacity in the 80s (best I’ve had as an asthmatic is 85, worst was 66). I will always have a pouch over my gut where there is a big piece of mesh. (It patches the hole that pregnancy made, when my abdomen got ripped beyond self-repair.)

There will never be muscles there because of the mesh and without muscles, things look flabby. Because of that, the world reminds me that I’m a “failure” at the so-called American beauty ideal. I don’t have a narrow waist. And that’s the ideal, or so I’ve been told. So does every clothing maker in the Western Hemisphere. I’m proof that you can lose 100 pounds and still not be able to find clothes that fit. I constantly have to get things tailored. Routinely, people ask me when I’m “due,” because they think I’m pregnant. So the messages I receive from outside myself is that I don’t really make the grade. I do my best to define my own beauty and ignore all those voices, but they seep in.

I do my best to set a good example for my daughter. I don’t put myself down in front of her (which means I try not to do it ever, because she’s always listening). I don’t criticize my body. I don’t call myself fat. Actually, I don’t much talk about my body or whether or not I’m pretty in front of her. That’s got to be at least a small step up from what I witnessed growing up. I’m sure I could do better, but it’s a start. Try not saying anything bad about yourself (any part of your self, your abilities, your life) for one day. Pay attention to how many jokes you make about yourself or times you find yourself looking in a mirror and disapprovingly sighing. So I do my best.

And maybe some part of that has sunk in. Because I don’t think I’m fat at all. I’m reveling in my not-thin-by-your-standards body. I do hot yoga. I hiked up a mountain two weeks ago. And I do lots of things with my daughter without wheezing or taking emergency hits off an inhaler. Maybe I’m not the shape that American fashion and media producers deem beautiful, but I’m feeling pretty good about myself in a lot of ways.

Sometimes I do wish my belly were flatter, but it’s pointless to waste time thinking about it. It’s really just a point of irritation when I have to buy clothes, which I try to avoid doing. (And that’s probably why most of my clothes are 1 or 2 sizes too big.) Today I bought jeans that “fit.” They are size 12, the same size I was when I got married at the age of 20. I feel like I should be excited about that or proud or something. But I’m not. I have a kind of numb feeling about it. I feel like it’s temporary, like every size I’ve ever been. Maybe I’ll get smaller. Maybe I’ll get bigger. What does it matter? Maybe some people will nod approvingly. Maybe some people will furrow their brow and think I should lose some more weight. It’s not real. It’s not who I am. It does not define my presence in the world. And I definitely do not think it defines my beauty.

I hope that this has not been triggering for anyone with any eating disorder issues. I’m really not trying to promote one size or shape over another.

I think the only beauty ideal we should have is to celebrate our authentic selves. Be the healthiest size and shape we can be to function and have happiness in our lives. The rest is just pointless anxiety. For a really long time, probably most of my 20s, I would get so upset and frustrated by my escalating weight and health issues. I thought if I could just lose a certain amount of weight or get to a goal weight on the scale or be a certain clothing size … then I’d be happy with my body! That’s an illusion. The funny thing is, as I looked through old photos last week, I thought that I look better now than I did in high school or college or most of my adult life. Because now when I smile, there’s no sadness in my eyes. When you have happiness in your heart, it radiates out of you. And that makes you look beautiful, no matter your size or weight or shape. So I say this with the least amount of conceited sentiment, I think I look my best now. Post-baby. Post-35. Grey hair creeping in. (Some bright red hair dye takes care of that!) Lines settling on my face. Happy eyes. Flabby waist. Strong legs. Healed back. Whatever the number in my jeans says, it doesn’t really matter compared to that.

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