As I work up the courage to wear something vaguely bathing suit like for the first time in oh… over 2 decades, I appreciate this post from the fabulous Ragen Chastain, which she recently reposted via facebook. I’m also grateful for her follow up post, which can be read here.
It’s not easy for me to admit being intimidated by the idea of putting my fat body into a bathing suit of some sort. Body acceptance isn’t, at least for me, something that just magically happens overnight. It’s a process, and I still have issues to work through. Wearing a swimsuit of some kind in public happens to be one of those issues… and that’s something hard to explain, and a lot of the “concern trolls” or outright haters would point to it as proof that I’m not really happy with myself. But the truth is, I’ve always been my own worst hater. The people out there who think they can offend me by calling me ridiculous names like “hamplanet,” or who try to hurt me by claiming my husband must be gay, repulsed by me or otherwise somehow, in their viewpoint, “broken,” to want to be with me, have no idea that I’ve called myself far, far worse things over the years (they also, incidentally, have no idea how laughable it is to me when they try to attack my marriage… because I’ve never been more sure of anything than I am of my husband’s love for me). I’ve spent plenty of time beating myself down; engaging in an endless cycle of emotional (and sometimes physical) violence towards my body. As sure as I was of the love my husband and I shared, it didn’t mean there weren’t times when I wondered why he loved me, especially in the early days. A lot of therapy and hard work helped me get through that, but I still hated my body. Passionately.
And for what? For how it fucking LOOKED. It did all these unbelievable, amazing things for me. I could walk all over Manhattan. I could take care of a classroom with 14 toddlers, a job where you literally were not allowed to sit unless the children also were sitting (and anyone who’s spent time with a toddler knows “sitting” isn’t one of their favorite past times). and win the praise of parents and fellow staff members. I worked with infants, with constant up and down, lifting, diaper changes, etc, etc. I did all of this while “morbidly obese,” and I did it fabulously. My body allowed me to do it… and I was never grateful. I was never appreciative.
In no small part, my road to body acceptance was paved with an eight-years-in-the-making diagnosis of fibromyalgia (and yes, more therapy). In other words, I didn’t really begin to appreciate what my body had done for me until my body could no longer do those things. And at first, like the doctors and plenty of “concerned” friends and family members, I bought into the idea that my illness was just a symptom of my fat. It took eight incredibly frustrating years, a sleep study that proved I wasn’t suffering from sleep apnea (I wish I could’ve wiped the smirk off the face of the ENT back in Manhattan who assured me I did, because fat + snores has to = sleep apnea, despite a deviated septum), but rather a sleep disorder known to plague fibromyalgia patients, along with a lot of various tests (11 vials of blood in one session and an MRI) to finally realize what was actually wrong.
I don’t hate my body now. And I regret all the wasted years when I could’ve been doing more with it, when I was healthy enough to do more, but too fearful or too certain I had to wait until I was X number of pounds thinner before I dared try that particular thing. Now, even if something happened like some fairy godmother waved a wand and made me magically thin, it wouldn’t matter. I still have fibromyalgia. I still live with the fatigue, the brain fog, the constant feeling of battling a low grade flu… and those are the good days. On the bad days? Taking a shower makes me cry. Hating my body for how it looks? Seems pretty stupid to me now, considering what it’s going through every day. Considering the endless battles it faces. Considering I hated it for that one vain reason for so many damn years before I got sick, and what did that all that self hatred ever do for me? I can assure you, not one damn positive thing.
So, yes… I disagree with those who see my reticence to put on a swimsuit in public as “proof” I hate myself. I point to it as proof that I, like millions upon millions of others, have been brainwashed by a $60 billion dollar a year diet industry (not to mention the entertainment industry, the media in general, the beauty industry…etc), into thinking my body type isn’t attractive and, even worse, is downright repulsive. I’ve come a very, very long way in appreciating it as it is, right now, today. I’ve become far more comfortable in my skin than I ever imagined possible while still *gasp* fat. Part of that is because I realized that if I didn’t learn how to love myself right now, I’d always find something to hate. I could be that dream size (whatever it was at the particular period in my life) and find reasons to be unhappy… like so many women do, even women who perfectly fit into the stereotypical beauty paradigm.
I was tired of hating myself, and I don’t now. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy to battle all those years of “I’m too fat to wear a bathing suit in public,” either. Beyond that, there’s a certain degree of personal comfort with exposing so much skin… it’s been so long, after all. It makes me feel raw, naked and unbelievably vulnerable.
So why do it? Why even bother, right? For years, I wouldn’t have dreamed of going public in a swimsuit. For years I couldn’t see a reason to endure the emotional angst that I’d heap upon myself, nevermind what others might think. And even when I got to a point where I could fairly honestly say, “fuck what others think, Jessica… this ain’t about their opinions,” I still had my own personal demons to battle. So why now?
Circle back to one evil, vicious word. Fibromyalgia. I have fibromyalgia. I have pain every.single.fucking.day. And anyone who lives with this illness knows damn well that it doesn’t tend to get better. One of the biggest challenges we face is trying to not lose the ability to move entirely… because when you’re left exhausted, shaking and in tears simply from showering, it’s pretty damn hard to even begin to consider anymore advanced exercise. When something as simple as using a treadmill leads to a major injury because your muscles are so tight they pull your knee cap out of place and cause a tear in your meniscus, it’s pretty hard to imagine wasting money on a gym membership, let alone doing something more advanced.
Over and over I’ve been told “water therapy.” I loved swimming as a kid. In fact, I lived in the pool in my grandparents’ yard for about 8 hours of every summer day that wasn’t rainy (and even some that were) when I was growing up. Yet, despite loving the water, I’ve avoided the “water therapy” idea for a few years now, partly because my local pool is known for being kept rather cold and because I have concerns over whether that will make my already tight muscles even tighter… but also, if I’m honest, because that meant putting on a swimsuit in a public place. Worse, the pool is located in the same complex as the local high school. I’d been working towards being a teacher, with the hopes of teaching at said high school. It shouldn’t matter how I look, but it does. I had legit concerns that putting on a swimsuit at that pool would risk my ability to be hired there in the future. Perhaps ironically, my illness progressed to the point where I realized I’m not going to be able to work full-time outside of the house, so that reason was eliminated. Which left me forced to accept my real, biggest fear about the entire thing.
Wearing a bathing suit – of some sort – in public. Not because I give a rat’s ass what anyone else thinks. But because I’m still battling my own inner demons. And that realization sucks.
But I’m human. I’m allowed to have these feelings, and these doubts or anxieties. If I choose to not do it, I’m allowed that choice, too. But then I let all those messages about not being worthy of wearing something revealing win. I let the diet industry win. I let the haters win. When it was a matter of swimming for pleasure, well… that was bad enough. But this is different. This is about my health, about my future. This is about wanting to be able to go on trips and walk around without hurting myself from my muscles being so damn tight.
This is about not letting fibromyalgia gain anymore ground.
So, I have to fight my own fears. I have to face them. I have to figure out what I can find to wear to be as comfortable as possible while doing this. I have the support of an amazing husband, who will go with me for moral support, even though he has no desire to swim (he was never a big fan of the water). I have a physical therapist that, despite some… differences of opinion… is willing to go to the public pool with me to show me the exercises I should do. I have a pool that, admittedly might prove to be too cold, but it’s only 30 min away (that’s close in my part of the world), and it’s really inexpensive to go to. I have everything I need, except the swimwear.
I think I finally even have the guts to find that swimwear… and to go, and give it a try. Because while it would suck to lose the $150 bucks or so it will cost me to buy said swimwear if that pool is too cold, what’s at stake here is far greater. What I’m risking losing instead is too big to ignore.
This is about my health, my body and my needs. And if my fat, wet, swimsuit body offends someone? Oh, well. They have the right to avert their eyes. And as for my own personal fears? Well, as Captain Janeway said, “you know as well as I do that fear only exists for one purpose: to be conquered.”