I’ve had an eating disorder since I was sixteen years old. If we’re counting, that’s sixteen years. I recovered when I was twenty-two; I finally stopped purging in the third trimester of my first pregnancy. I gained ninety pounds during that pregnancy. And, because I was a sickly skinny methamphetamine addict before I got sober and subsequently pregnant, I’ve had the life experience I’d not ever wish on another person: doubling my weight in a year.
During my eating disorder “recovery” I spent a couple of years steadily (and by all means healthfully) losing most of the pregnancy weight I’d gained. It was socially acceptable, condoned, and even encouraged. After my second pregnancy–a normal and healthy one by all accounts–I begin working out at a CrossFit facility and eating Paleo. I dropped all my baby weight and then some. I got muscle-y and fit and was smaller than I’d been throughout most of my eating disorder days.
Except for my stomach. The skin on my stomach was puckered and stretched and hung over my underwear. No matter how much I worked out, or how skinny I got, or how low the scale read, that excess skin remained. I dreamed of a tummy tuck. I longed to be sure I was done having kids. I ached for the money to make my dream come true.
When my youngest was two-and-a-half I went back to grad school. I was undoubtedly done having babies and I took max student loans out and hoarded the cash so I could afford a tummy tuck. At the last minute I threw waist and outer thigh liposuction in for shits and giggles (and hope and sanity and prayers of perfection). I wasn’t shy about any of this. I posted before and after–and lots of during–pictures on Facebook and a tummy tuck-specific Instagram account I’d started. I knew I needed to be transparent through this process if I was going to escape the clutches of secrecy and shame that often go along with plastic surgery.
I was over-the-moon with my results. It was like I got a new lease on life. My stomach was taut and flat. Pants fit me off-the-rack! I could pull off a crop top at thirty, after two kids. All my hours of effort in the gym and the kitchen were finally paying off. I, too, could post an after picture of myself flexing in a sports bra without feeling like a fraud or a failure–and a defective one at that.
I put a lot of pressure on myself. So much so that I’d started secretly purging again. I threw up for four years before finally breaking down and seeking help. When I got back into eating disorder therapy I learned about intuitive eating. I stopped killing myself in the gym and started being kind to my body in the yoga studio. I let myself eat whatever sounded good. I watched as my body softened and settled. I first built a tolerance for myself, then a sort of long overdue respect.
But acceptance? Can that really be for me? Acceptance is for what God gave you. Acceptance is for people who didn’t take the “easy” way out or succumb to the pressure of the dieting/fitness industry. Acceptance is for everyone else. Can it still be for me? Can it be for the stomach I always wanted and went to great lengths to assure I have? Can it be for the scar that splits my body between my hips? Can it be for the tattoo I have honoring women of the world–and feminism as a whole–that’s been halved by a surgeon’s knife? Can it be for the lie I inevitably tout as truth? Is acceptance an option for those of us that gave in, that embodied the beauty standards to the ultimate degree, that flaunt our results, that found security and happiness and hope and contentment and self-acceptance after going under the knife?
Can I accept this new body like I imagine I’d now fight to make peace with my old one? Or should I shun it? Should I apologize? Should I wear a sign around my neck (like I often long to) that says “I bought this body–and please don’t compare yourself to it”. Because that truth feels the ultimate betrayal to womankind as a whole. That others will compare their “real” body to my “fake” one. Can I hold myself up with love and acceptance if it harms others?
Is body acceptance still for me?