What is a time of joy for many women was my darkest hour.
My life circles around one fundamental question: “Will my ass fit there?”
A chair with tight armrests, the sliver of space on the subway, a cute pencil skirt: any of these obstacles can present a series of embarrassments and stress. Despite the constant calculations, concern, and either acceptance (my ass fits!) or rejection (ass denied!), I really just long to go through life as an assless being, able to wisp in and out of any situation completely unnoticed.
So when I hear the following at the airport, I wonder what trouble my ass has gotten me into this time.
“Please step aside, miss.”
These are, of course, my most dreaded words. I am already rife with anxiety. I obsess over flight numbers. I worry about everything. When I am questioned if I packed my own luggage? I sweat.
Despite the fact that I am horrified by the full body scanners, I go through them anyway, because I don’t want to receive any grief about it.
But then, despite my caution, I am asked to step aside. I am wearing a simple knit dress and leggings. I don’t have pockets. I am in my socks. I am not wearing any jewelry or belts or any other accessories. There is nothing between my body and the machine except a few layers of fabric.
I step aside. I see my husband breeze through security. And then I hear, “I need to feel your outer thighs.”
After a swift but firm pat down, I am sent on my way to collect my boots and other belongings that are taking up far too many bins on the belt.
It is somewhere above the Midwest that I realize that it was my hips that raised concern at the scanner. They certainly protrude far wider than the faceless, genderless body on the modesty monitor at security.
And then I realize, it had happened before.
It happened at the metro station from London to Paris. I set off the metal detector, despite a lack of metal, and again, got a severe hip/butt/crotch pat down. My hips were a threat to national security. My saddlebags could be filled with contraband.
My hips have definitely caused their fair share of trouble over the years. I turn sideways to get through (not that) narrow doorways. I have run out of measuring tape to chart them. Pants have just said, “Hell no,” when faced with the prospect of climbing them. The sheer force of my skirt lining exploding when I sat down has startled those near me.
As a child, my hips were an obscene betrayal, pushing me first out of the horribly named, “Pretty Plus,” girls clothing line at Sears then to the outer cusp of Junior sizing before I hit my teenage years.
Even when some dangerous eating habits pushing my ribs and collarbone further into prominent view, my hips were immune to dieting and self-loathing, an ever-expanding reminder that I was not in control.
One of my saddest moments of self-hatred comes in the form of a photo from high school. After months of extreme dieting, I was 140 pounds, the smallest my 5’6” frame has ever been. It was a dress-up day at school, and I am wearing gray pants and a black sweater set. I am smiling, honestly quite happy in the moment.
But when I saw the photo a few weeks later, I was horrified. The gray pants made my bottom half look contorted and huge, my top half hopeless and small in comparison. I stuffed the photo in the garbage and cried, ashamed that I had ever gone out looking like that. The previously happy occasion was now tinged with shame in my mind.
My adult self is so sad for that girl. Because hell, 140 pounds? I have no doubt the photo was beautiful. But I couldn’t see past my imperfections then.
All I could see was the bulge of my hips, reminding me that despite my efforts to the contrary, I would never be skinny, and junior sizing would never belong to me.
As my weight went up and rarely down, I have battled with clothing. I obsessed over foundation garments, feeling trapped and suffocated, but I didn’t dare go without Spanx. When I was younger, my mom offered a girdle to help tame my lower half, but it was never enough.
On the night of my eighth grade dance, I duct taped my thighs, and then wrapped the tape tightly around my hips, ass, and belly. I honestly have no idea how effective this was, but it seemed like a perfectly reasonable thing to do, until I had to go to the bathroom. I soldiered on, and eventually cut myself out of my tape girdle at the end of the night.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve tried to go outside of my comfort zone. After years of only wearing flared jeans, because I read in a magazine in 1998 that they provide an optical illusion that makes your butt look smaller, I decided to dabble in skinny jeans. It sometimes works.
I’ve had moderate success with the terrifying pencil skirt. I can definitely pull it off with the assurance that no sitting will be involved.
I planned to wear a pencil skirt for a job interview, and I obsessed about it for a week before, practicing daily wearing Spanx and tights. Yet the day before the interview, I sat down, painfully aware of my posture as I felt my hips and butt settle and strain the fabric, pushing its 2% stretch to the limit while still gaping at my waist.
“Yeah, this will totally work,” I deluded myself until I heard the familiar sound of the lining ripping, stitch by stitch popping.
While the airport incident, or how just last week I had to pull an elastic waist skirt over my head, would have driven me to increase my efforts in slashing calories to a dangerously low level, now I’m OK. Mostly.
For me, the only thing that has helped combat my feelings of self-loathing about my body is time. As I get older? I miraculously care less.