I’m at the Rack on Sunday afternoon, wandering through the last-chance discounted lingerie. I’m pawing, looking for nothing in particular. Well, maybe a new sports bra. My menopausal body is shapeshifting, and not in helpful ways. I pause by the Shapewear. (From Wikipedia: Shapewear is an undergarment designed to temporarily alter the wearer’s body shape, to achieve a more fashionable figure. The function of a foundation garment is not to enhance a bodily feature (as would, for example, a padded bra) but to smooth or control the display of one).
There’s a python-print slippery slip-thing, it almost looks cute/sexy. I grab it. It says Medium. I used to be a Medium. It’s stretchy, right? Should work fine. I pick up a couple more pieces and add them to my cart of random tops and sports bras and head to the changing room.
First I try the tops. My meno-pooch bothers me, and I pass on all of them. Who needs a white tee shirt, anyway? And color is over-rated. Back to black.
Then I get to the shapewear.
I pull the cute python over my head and … I’m being eaten by it, devoured in a tiny changing room by an unforgiving snake. I tug it down past my arms over my torso and realize the fool’s errand this is. But the snake doesn’t let me out as easily as I went in, which was not easy at all. I bend over, hoping that somehow gravity will help me, that I can shake myself out of it. After three minutes of panting, tugging, and swearing under my breath, I wriggle free.
Then I pick up another piece and pull it over my head. What the hell was I thinking? Immediately I am stuck again, my elbows folded in front of my face. I can’t move. I consider calling the attendant for help, but am embarrassed by the thought. I got myself in here, I can get myself out, right? I can’t move my left arm. My shoulder—which has had me in physical therapy for months— is screaming at me. I wonder briefly if I will pass out before I get out of this. There’s a headline; ”Middle-aged woman with soggy midsection is found unconscious in the Rack, strangled by shapewear.”
This is ridiculous. Once again I bend over, shaking and wriggling, and eventually get the slippery piece of lycra back up to my shoulders. Hooking my chin under the edge, I shove it back over my face. Fleetingly I wonder if maybe a bigger size…
The woman who invented Spanx (the most popular brand of shapewear) is brilliant and now is also a Billionaire, according to Forbes: according to Forbes: http://onforb.es/1gRIRBi thanks to throngs of women like me who are uncomfortable with the jellybelly but are not winning in the diet-and-exercise-it-away department.
Then — inexplicably — I pick up a sports bra, and I’m not even making this up. At this point I can’t move my left shoulder, but am willing to shove myself in a sports bra? I regard myself in the harsh fluorescent light of the Rack’s dressing room; pooch, red face, bewildered-looking hair. Just go home.
On the drive home I’m thinking. I’m embarrassed by having gained weight, slowly over the years and occasionally in small chunks. I call it the Battle of the Bulge. I think I should be slimmer, more toned. Where do these thoughts come from? Partly from remembering my younger body (an ever-ready trap). This week in yoga class I caught a glimpse of myself in a mirror as we sat in Cow pose. I can still easily manage Cow pose. This time my stomach brushes my thigh. I don’t think that’s supposed to happen. My belly is just sitting there, comfortably bumping up against my thigh. I can feel a compulsion to do sit-ups and crunches to get it back where it belongs; OFF my thigh.
When I read about a model or celebrity who, for special occasions doubles up on the Spanx, I feel sick. I wonder about the word “model.” Model what? Why do we call the people who embrace eating disorders as a lifestyle “Models”? Shouldn’t we rescue them instead of taking their picture and then photoshopping them even thinner? (Before you message me to stop hating on models, that not all models have eating disorders, how you personally know two models who are healthy, muscular, and eat well, save it. Even models joke about starving themselves and living on coffee, cigarettes, and cocaine. It’s a thing.)
My mom’s girdles come to mind. My mom, who, as a twenty-something was thinner than I ever was— even in high school — and she wore a girdle. When I’m getting dressed these thoughts don’t feel like insecurity, they feel normal. Dress to hide the bulge. Dark colors, clean lines; an elegant esthetic.
Maybe it was those minutes hanging upside down trapped in the Rack dressing room that have given me a sliver of clarity. It has to change, doesn’t it? We no longer wear bustles and corsets. (Well, most of us don’t.) It’s about control, yes, but control of what? More like the illusion of control, of me over my life and body. I’m fooling myself and you into believing that I am in control.
At home, I decide to spend a minute with my belly. When I place my hand on my bare tummy and try not to think evil thoughts, when I sit quietly with the physical presence of my belly, something entirely different happens. I notice that my skin is sooo soft, so smooth. I want to keep my hand there. I want to kiss my own tummy, to press my cheek into it, it feels so nice. The jellybelly that, when confronted in shapewear is repulsive and wrong, here is velvety soft and wonderful. I remember hearing Zsa Zsa Gabor say when a man puts his hand on a woman’s stomach it should be soft there (her excuse for not working out like Jane Fonda). My belly didn’t change between the Shapewear Incident and now. Only my perspective has shifted a teeny bit.
I’m not so silly that I would think I will never have a harsh, unforgiving thought about myself again. The best I can hope for is that the next time it happens, I will remember my tummy and find a way to be nice to myself eventually. Even if I get the idea that shapewear is the answer again. In my very good imagination I can imagine accepting shapewear for a specific event without self-loathing. Kind of the same way that I know I can stick to a diet or do extra workouts while loving myself, no matter what happens.