Thursday, July 18, 2013

Birthday Suit Alterations

Almost a week ago I said this in a blog post:

I'm going to get my bikini top altered so it fits me just right.  Me.  My body.  Then I'm going to take my body in my tailored bikini to some pools in my community and see what kinds of reactions I encounter.

I had decided not to lead the swim-in protest I'd blogged about here.  I decided it's best to fight my own battles.  I didn't know at the time it would be such a challenge to get suited up with the proper equipment for battle.

I ordered a bikini online for the swim-in I eventually decided, after the order had shipped, I didn't want to lead.  Still, I want to find ways to promote the Health at Every Size® philosophy.  Two of the main ideas are that "active living" and body acceptance are healthy for all people, no matter how fat or how thin.  So I've decided to draw attention to these ideas, that a fat person can be active and happy with her body, by wearing a bikini at the community pool.  If someone says something to me about my big body in a bikini, I'm going to try to muster all my courage and respond in a calm, reasonable way and use the opportunity to talk about Health at Every Size®.

That's the plan.  We'll see how it goes.  I'll be working against my temperament.  I'm anxious and shy and prone to tears more than reason.  But this is such an important issue for me now, I feel I must brave it for the greater good.  I want Katie to grow up in a society where it's not unusual to see a fat woman comfortable enough in her own skin to show off a little extra at the pool.  I want to raise my daughter to feel good about herself.  The best way I know how to do that is to feel good about myself.  I don't feel good about how fat women are treated in our society.  I must change that.  As Gandhi said, I must be the change I wish to see in the world.

I've tried to change my body, but that didn't work.

I've tried diets.  I've tried gym memberships.  I've tried everything to lose weight.  My whole life I've only found one thing that works: starvation.  I lost lots of weight when I was anorexic.  I was also the least healthy I've ever been.

So I read this book Health at Every Size by Dr. Linda Bacon about three years ago and it changed my life.  I follow her advice.  I eat a variety of food, primarily plants.  I engage in "active living".  I love myself as best I can.  It works.  I'm healthier than ever.  I feel great.  I look great.  I have energy to keep up with my husband who is ten years younger than me and my daughter who is thirty-five years younger than me.  Not too shabby if I say so myself.

And yet I'm still fat.  I've lost a few pounds.  But not much.  Not enough to even be classified as simply "overweight" instead of "obese".  The Health at Every Size® philosophy is a big deal to me.  I have that fervent born-again-like need to evangelize my findings.  Hence, the bikini at the community pool idea.

I called one tailor last week.  I explained to her that I had received a bikini top that is about two sizes too big for me and that I need to get it tailored.

The company I bought it from has run out of the smaller size.  I could return the whole thing and try finding another one, but it's very difficult to find a bikini in my size.  As you can see, it's difficult to find a bikini in my size, according to their sizing chart, that actually fits me, so starting from scratch seems defeatist.  I decided to find a place that could alter it.

I made the first call.

After I explained my situation, she said sure she could fix it and to bring it in.

So I brought it in.

The woman, the only person that was in the store from what I could tell, was sitting behind a sewing machine.  She rose and walked toward Katie and me.  She asked if she could help me.  I took the bikini top out of my bag and held it up for her to see, explaining my situation again.

She stared at me blankly.

"I'm the one who called this morning.  Was that you who I spoke with?" I asked.

"Yes, that was me.  But I can't do this," she said, waving her hands between her body and the bikini top I was holding up.

"You can't do what?" I asked.

"I can't alter your bikini," she said, flatly.

"Oh."  I didn't know what to say.  I stood there for a moment with the bikini top still in the air.  "But this morning on the phone you said you could," I said.  My voice cracked mid-sentence and I could feel my rosacea flaring.

"Well, I see now I can't," she said.

I put it back in my bag.

I didn't know what to think.  She cut me off so suddenly, I thought I had done something wrong.  I turned toward the door.  "Come on, Sweetie," I said to Katie, putting my hand on her shoulder to spin her around toward the door.

As soon as my hand touched my daughter's shoulder I no longer felt like slinking off.  I stopped and turned around.  I cleared my throat and I called out, "You shouldn't tell people you can do things for them if you can't."

She didn't say anything.  We left.

I have no idea what was going on inside her head.  It was odd.  She seemed angered by my presence in her store.  Was she judging me, a fat woman, for bringing a bikini top into her shop?  That's how it felt.  Or did she honestly just take one look at the bikini top and know it's not something she can alter?

I talked it over with Will later that night.  He brought up the fact that maybe she didn't know what a bikini top is when I talked about it on the phone.  She did speak with an accent, so English is not her first language.  Maybe she thought a bikini top was some kind of blouse?

I chose to believe that story.  Why should I allow myself to get upset over an implied injustice that could have been a simple misunderstanding?

I waited a few days to call around to other tailors.  I've been in a depressive slump.  I don't think it's from the odd alterations encounter.  I think it's because yesterday was my dead brother's birthday, the brother who sexually abused me when we were both kids, and the emotions I've been feeling stem from the anniversary effect, and the day before that I found out my aunt, who I was never close to because she was so fat my dad shunned her, died on my birthday twenty years ago, which had no effect on me at the time since I didn't know, but it's left me feeling oddly connected to her now.

So yeah, a lot's been on my mind.

After dragging my ass out of bed this morning, I managed to call two more tailors.  The first one said flat out they don't alter swim suits.  So I felt a little better, knowing it's at least fathomable that the first tailor honestly misunderstood my request on the phone and she really can't alter any swim suits.  Not just my big swim suit.

I called the second tailor and the woman assured me they repair swim suits.

"Even two-sizes-too-big-bikini-tops?" I asked, needing reassurance after my initial bad encounter.

"Yes, bring it in."

So I brought it in.

And everything went well.  Well, almost everything.

The good news is, I left behind my pinned bikini top for them to alter.  The tailor assured me she could do it.  She made no fuss about it at all.  She had me try it on.  Then she took some pins and pinned it up the way it would look if she stitched it.  She asked if I was in a hurry and I said no, so she said it would be ready in about a week.  She didn't mention anything about my size or stare at me or make me feel uncomfortable in any way.  It was an easy, pleasant experience.

The bad news is, inside the dressing room where I tried on the bikini top there was this incredibly fat-phobic cartoon:

image found here

Ha!  Ha!  Ha!  Yes, laugh at the old, fat lady.

I would have brushed it off had I been alone.  But I wasn't alone.  Katie was in the dressing room with me, and she noticed it.

She stared at it for a moment, her mouth moving subtly the way it still does when she's reading.  Then she said, "What does that mean?  What's a birthday suit?"

"Oh, it's a joke.  A birthday suit is a funny thing people call your naked body.  Like, it's the suit you were born in, since we're all naked when we come into this world."

"Oh," she said, looking it over again.

"Why is it a joke?" she asked.

"Well, the joke is that the fat lady is at the tailor's asking if they can make her fat body smaller, to 'take it in'.  But you can't make someone's body smaller by taking it in, so it's a joke."

"Oh," she said, looking it over once more.

I had my bra and shirt back on by then, ready to leave, feeling satisfied that this nice tailor could fix my bikini for me so I can go out into the world and promote the Health at Every Size® philosophy.  What I didn't realize is that I'm already promoting it.  To my child.

"You're not like that," Katie said, looking away from the cartoon at me.  Her smile proud.

Her comment surprised me.  I kind of laughed at the recognition of it and said, "No.  No I am not like that at all."

We held hands on our way out of the shop.  I can't wait to take this girl swimming when my bikini top's done.