A true anxiety I had during my teen-years was that I would one day have a medical emergency and I’d have to expose my body to everyone in the ER. They’d remove my clothing and most frighteningly of all — they’d see my fat, and they’d see my stretch marks.
Maybe I watched too many Lifetime movies after school. It was an imagining that I couldn’t shake, so I worked at losing my body fat (rather than my body image). There’s nothing you can really do about stretch marks, or cellulite. Maybe rub some cocoa butter on them — I had that stuff but wasn’t really buying into it. I cut corners around what I ate. Once I brought green peppers in a brown paper bag for my lunch. A girl at the lunch table asked if anyone smelled peppers — I was so embarrassed — I hid the peppers like they were the stretch marks. That was middle-school.
In high school I would pay less than a buck for Twizzlers at lunch. I would go home in the afternoon and stuff my face with whatever non-fat grossness I could find. The thing then was not to eat anything with fat, so I didn’t.
I’ve come a really long way. I’ll put mayo in tuna, even though I still think mayo is disgusting. I’ll put butter on bread, even though when I lived in Ireland –with the butter gods– I wouldn’t touch it. But now, I’m willing to explore the richness of fat in foods, and finally the richness of fat on my body.
This past year I went to the ER 6 times. That body-consciousness was never on my mind, but if it were — it would’ve gone down like this:
Now is the moment I feared my whole life. The ER staff will quickly learn that I have stretch marks on my belly and hips, and even discover some stretch marks on my side-boob. They will notice the disproportionate curvature around my middle area, how it occupies so much more space there than anywhere else. And when they make their incision for the chest-tube, they’ll notice my cup size — which increased in the past year. Maybe they will approve of that? They’re going to uncover what I work so hard to cover up. I have a lot of fat.
The truth of course is that these things never crossed my mind while in medical crisis. By the time I had my first emergency surgery, I was 38 years old. We, my body and me, have thankfully diverged from body-shaming. I recall it now because I am very aware that my body has changed in the past few years, my sizes have gone up. Especially in these convalescent days, I decided that the fat and gaining any weight was low-priority concern. Obviously, healing my recurring collapsed right lung, and simply breathing, was the focus.
Last week I had a dream I was talking to a friend who had experienced terminal illness. IRL, I had watched her go through her health journey when she was alive. In the dream, we talked about weight for health’s sake. Not weight for vanity or perfection. The next day I had a similar discussion about health and weight with a friend on FaceTime. Since then, I’ve been putting more thought into my diet and my activity. After never owning a scale in my entire adult life, I bought a scale and started weighing myself yesterday. It wasn’t as horrible as I thought. I actually believe I’m in a positive place for this, and my ER friends in the hospital only helped me get here.
When I emerged from my first lung surgery — which was pretty major surgery — I noticed I didn’t have my pants on anymore, or my own undies. I had hospital undies and a hospital gown, hospital socks. I wanted my comfy PJ pants that I came in with, and eventually saw they were not lost, but in a plastic bag that read ‘Patient Belongings’. Then I wondered, who took off my pants? And… my underwear? These things happened while I was unconscious.
When I read my post-op report, I find words that paint the picture — people moved my body, they positioned me specifically to insert a tube down my throat. They did all kinds of difficult-to-imagine medical things. I don’t remember feeling any of it. I can’t even picture the face of the person who removed my clothes from the most vulnerable area of my body.
When you give your body over the health professionals, it can be scary. I saw the fear in my husband’s face before they put me under anesthesia that first time. I had to hand over my wedding ring to him in that moment. And it did cross my mind — I’m going to go through hell before I get to wear that again. I might not be the same when I get to wear that again. And, you better not lose my ring! *The anesthesiologist gave him a pee-cup to keep it safe in his pocket.
How my body was going to change after this surgery preoccupied my mind. Please return my body to me with all the TLC you can, please be gentle. And please help. I didn’t worry about the perception of my body, but I did worry what it would be like on the other side of this long sleep.
The compassion I have for all parts of my body is endless today. She’s been through a lot, the scars are my testimony and I’m thankful for them, I’m proud of them. They will never let me forget how precious and fragile this life is, and how strong we are.
As for the stretch marks, I usually assume they aren’t there. They were something I had as a kid. But maybe someday they will tell me more of their story.