Saying goodbye to my waist.

This is going to be a rambly, self-indulgent, stream-of-consciousness kind of post, so I apologize in advance.

But it recently occurred to me that I have been in a long, gradual process of saying goodbye to my waist. I’ll explain.

As a teenager, I was never thin. I passed for mostly normal (with a big butt), and was always “overweight” by BMI standards. Needless to say, I pretty much hated myself, since that’s par for the course as a teenage girl in this culture. Frankly, I thought I was gross.

(Despite many helpful men in trucks loudly assuring me I was not.)

My one redeeming feature, it seemed to me, was that on top of my wide hips sat a comparatively narrow waist. And I fixated on it. It was, at times, the only thing that kept me from abandoning myself to the despair of total self-hatred, odd as that sounds. It was the one part of me that I felt was, for certain, socially acceptable.

Not my big nose, not my oily skin, not the cellulite on my thighs, not my fat ankles. My waist, and only my waist.

Over the next ten or so years, I would gain a hundred pounds. I would go from being a curvy-but-basically-normal teenager to a frankly fat woman.

For much of that time, through my twenties, my body shape itself did not change much. I looked the same, comparatively small waist and all, just…wider.

But in the last couple of years, as I’ve approached and then passed 30, that has changed. I’ve been watching with interest (and a little anxiety) as my body ages and does the things that it’s programmed to do: tiny surface creases have appeared around the outer edges of my eyes when I smile. Silvery-grey hairs are appearing with more vigour along my temples. My fingers are plumper, the skin on my hands more creased.

And I’ve grown a belly.

I denied it for the first couple of years. I resisted so strongly, in fact, that I wore corset-style bras just to feel normal in my body, so I would look the way I was accustomed to look in clothes.

I look back on it now as a transitional stage I had to go through — and I still keep a waist-nipper on hand in case of sartorial emergency — but I got rid of the corsets not long ago, and began to comfortably wear my clothes without them.

A friend I’ve been close with since the sixth grade came to visit me in the summer. We were at a someone’s house, talking, and I’m sure the topic turned to weight and body image. My old friend has always had a remarkably different body type than mine — long and slender instead of squat and pear-shaped, but with just a hint of belly. We’ve both admitted to having envied the other’s body shape through the interminable torture of adolescence.

Anyhow, on this evening, I stood up to walk into the kitchen, our conversation about bodies trailing off, and I heard her say, quietly, “…you always had such a tiny waist.”

I looked down at myself and had my first conscious thought that that was no longer the case. The body I had mentally defined myself with for so many years was gone, replaced by another I was still getting to know.

Even during all the corset-wearing and fretting about keeping my waist looking slender in clothes, I hadn’t really admitted to myself what it meant. It was just something I had to do to feel normal, and I tried not to think too much about it. Probably for fear of what I’d have to face, which are the things we all face — growing older, changing, losing the easy social acceptability of youth.

But when the realization hit — that I was, indeed, losing my waist — it came with another realization, totally unexpected: I really don’t mind very much. I actually kind of like my new body. And I can look back on old pictures of myself and appreciate what I thought was so hideous at the time, but still feel happy to have what I’ve got now.

If you know me personally, you know that I don’t wear much jewelry, aside from my watch and wedding ring. Nothing on me is pierced, including my ears, and I’ve never really owned a necklace or bracelet as an adult.

If you follow my inane ramblings on Twitter, you’ll also know that I got pearls for Christmas. Or, rather, that I strong-armed them out of my mom (thanks again, Mom!) because I’m an insistent brat who suddenly takes a fancy to something and cannot let it go.

When I turned 17, my mom gave me another piece of jewelry as a gift — another thing I’d suddenly and inexplicably fixated on: a shell cameo brooch, carved in the typical profile of feminine youth. I wore it constantly on a velvet ribbon around my neck, and then put it away when I got married. It’s not surprising that I strongly associate that shell cameo with youth. In my mind, it’s become a token of that period of my life.

And, subsequently, I think the reason I got those pearls, why I wanted them so intensely, was that they signified something about passing from youth into maturity. It was an assertion that there is as much beauty in maturity as in youth — even though it’s rarely admitted by our culture.

I decided I wanted to cultivate that, to appreciate it, after having spent much of my twenties stealthily avoiding cameras, wishing I could reinhabit my teenaged body, and absolutely dreading the thought that I was aging and would soon end up on some kind of social refuse-heap of oldness.

When I got them, I took the shell cameo out of storage. It now lives pinned on the lapel of my coat, like a merit badge of something accomplished, an adolescence survived. I wear the pearls daily, in the cameo’s former place, as an acceptance of finally feeling like a Real Adult, and as a way of showing how pleased I am with it.

The same goes for my belly. When I got rid of the corsets, it took a while to get comfortable wearing my belly so openly. Now it doesn’t faze me, and for the first time in my life, I can look at recent pictures of myself without cringing in horror. When I get up in the morning, and take my usual pains in getting dressed, I actually like how I look in a way I haven’t since early childhood.

I can’t help but think how funny it is that, in the end, gaining a hundred pounds and losing my waist really hasn’t turned out to be so bad. Actually rather nice.

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