It happened like this: After a hike through the Santa Monica mountains my athletic, Baltic Papa took my ten-year-old apron of extra belly and grabbed it. I’m sure he spoke words while holding onto my flesh and fat, but trauma can cause bits of your brain to collapse for a moment, or until you go to therapy every week for eight months decades later and decide to talk about your weight shame.
Every photo taken of me before the age of fourteen (when I started cutting instead of eating) proves I binged every possible moment of every day, or imagined food I would enjoy shoveling inside. No barfing for me though, because the more padding between the scary, yell-y world and little Claire the better.
So much padding.
Around the age of eleven I realized all of my XXL and size 16 clothes came from countries that documentaries informed me were poor. Citizens of Cambodia and Thailand are tiny, I thought. What do they think about the disgusting fat people for whom they manufacture all these tents?
Replaying their snickers and laughs as they held up giant pairs of cotton shorts with elastic waistbands became a hobby.
Stretch marks found me before babies.
Of course it is wrong for a woman’s thighs to touch; but when you’re a kid and your thighs press together it’s punishable. Which is maybe why Papa grabbed me?
Oxycodone was the drug that got my ass into rehab, but food was the one that kept that ass big. To this day I am 35lbs “overweight.” Even after all the Goodhardgood work of finding myself.
This tummy has ruined my life. It’s why the boys didn’t like me (in addition to my scary intensity and insecurities). It’s why no nurses could get a good heartbeat of the babies in the delivery rooms, and why ultrasound techs always seemed bothered by its mindless folding & flopping.
They made me hold the flesh back at a recent biopsy in my pelvis. For 45 minutes I mashed my underbelly back into myself, apologizing the whole time to every person I offended with my XXL presence.
My flesh was always the problem.
This is a tricky one for me, because I’m at the tail end of my addiction to cheese and bread and veal marsala. It’s still steaming, just barely, like a dog turd starting to loose that pungent edge. Sarah Bessey talks about the sanitized stories we like to tell, and I want to dab this one with hydrogen peroxide so badly. If only this part of the tale would fit nicely under the control top underwear instead of bulging and flopping out.
But the truth is, I ate thirty cookies the other night. Will you judge me less if I clarify that they were the tiny Trader Joe’s ones? Still, that’s at least 3 regular cookies. Three regular cookies is no fun. Thirty tiny cookies is very fun for people who enjoy mindless conveyor belt handfuls of food.
Until you’re done and the headache hits.
“What the hell just happened? Here I was, flipping through Instagram and now I’m hungover, my biceps hurt, and my sofa is covered in crumbs.”
“Oh, that’s because you just ate four handfuls of cookies, Sweetie. It was an interesting choice.” God replied.
Adam and Eve know how that feels.
“Wait, we have clothes on and God is calling our names. What did you do, Eve?”
“Me? You took the first bite!”
“We ate the fruit?!” They say in unison, but not so loud that the Gardner hears.
When God finally finds them it hits the fan, right? Instead of headaches it’s childbirth (sans epidurals) and shittier soil. I really hope God taught them how to fashion a garden ho, it all seems impossible without a ho.
My network of healers have carried me through the last three years with holy care and insight, so when two of them suggested I try Mayan womb massage to release the traumatic energy my stomach holds I decided it was time to stop laughing at how it sounded leaving their mouth holes, and maybe give the woman a call. It was exactly what I didn’t want to do, which meant it was something I had to do.
At her home office a week later we spent over an hour talking about the first twenty-six years of my life: the cancer, the bone marrow transplant, the men, the dead sister, the dads, abuse, oxy, self-harm and the eating. I bared it all, imagine Lena Dunham but clothed.
She asked questions like a sage-y preschooler, respectful and rapid fire.
“My stomach has always been the problem, and you digging into it makes me want to cry.” I started tearing up. She held the truth & tension so well.
“Well why don’t you go to the bathroom and then come back in here and undress and we will get started.”
Horizontal and waiting I tried adjusting my underwear, the warm sheets, my agony, anything that would make my pudge seem smaller. But it behaves like soup in a Ziplock—there is no removing or flattening. Just slopping.
She starts at my feet to prove her loyalty. The heat begins to melt my tension & feels like a sunrise, or morphine.
Then she moves up to the warm batch of belly soup, and I can sense that she doesn’t want to gobble me up. She has no desire to shame me.
“This is a beautiful belly,” she exhales.
“I was so worried it would be too big for you to do your work.”
“Have you seen the Mayan women who developed this technique!? They are spheres; size has nothing to do with this.”
Inhale. But not all the way because that would make my middle puff out.
Five minutes of soup-kneading pass.
“This is such a soft belly. This is a miracle house to four beautiful babies. This is a Good belly.”
I swear to God she said those words. Somebody told me I had a Good belly. Capital G. For the first time my stomach didn’t fuck it up. No excuses needed; an apology would have fallen flat on its face.
Wait… you mean it’s perfect?
Old Story: Fat is bad and unhealthy. Having flabby skin, flat hair, brittle nails, wrinkled foreheads, cankles, and imperfect breasts should cause anxiety and correction, they deserve punishment and camoflouge.
New Story: No, none of that’s true… I’m a human, so is everyone else—and God adores humans.
Which means wounded family members, deceptive beauty campaigns, and insensitive medical professionals don’t know shit. My tummy didn’t ruin anything!
You are perfect, you are perfect, you are perfect. It’s what Adam and Eve and you and I forgot.
On the way home from my jungle healer compassion tsunamis in and ravages the landscapes that hold so much horror, here is a fresh start. I can barely smell that dog turd. In a moment of silly joy I put my big hand on my big belly and smile out the words, you are a soft and Good belly. I’ve been saying it ever since.