This past week was rough, if I'm being honest. There was a lot of sadness in the world that was weighing heavy on my heart. My feelings got hurt and I was hanging on to some negative stuff a bit too long and with too tight of a grip. One kid came home from school with pinkeye and another with a terrible cold and within 24 hours it had spread through the entire house. We all ended up crabby and achy, and stuck inside our small home filled to the brim with Christmas crap for three solid days. The cabin fever and short fuses were visible, mainly from this mom who was so goddamn tired of entertaining bored daughters and breaking up arguments about who got the biggest candy cane and constantly keeping the baby from pulling the kitten up by her tail.
Since I was officially diagnosed with perimenopause last spring, my body has been doing some funky shit and putting me through the wringer. From morning sickness nausea to gingivitis, horrible heartburn to my hair falling out in clumps, it isn't pretty. A routine yearly well-woman checkup at my doctor last week ended with a sudden surgical procedure to repair a significant tear that was somehow missed during/after Arlo's birth. Yes, a birth that happened nearly two years ago and a tear that had healed in a large growth of scar tissue that had to be CUT OFF MY VULVA, in which afterward my vagina had to be stuffed with gauze for several hours. To add insult to injury, I COULDN'T HAVE SEX FOR A WEEK.
While I realized at a young age that my body was a political vessel I could use for my social activism and art, it was becoming a mother that really changed my relationship to myself and helped launch me on my body positive journey. The physical changes that come with pregnancy and motherhood are extreme - from stretch marks, swollen-turned-sagging breasts, dry skin, hormonal breakouts, lush hair and losing hair, extreme weight gain and loss, backaches, heartburn, pelvis bones shifting, and your heart growing too big to be contained. Not to mention the emotional and mental roller coaster of joy, fear, exhaustion, worry, excitement, concern, ignorance, and love. Creating and growing three babies was miraculous and significant in my life journey, as was miscarrying two more. Becoming a mother really solidified for me that I wanted to choose life - and live the best and happiest version of one starting right now. All my perceived imperfections are like a roadmap to this journey of mine and I love this body and the stories it tells. Even if those stories include dried snot stains on my ragged pjs and messy bathrooms with tampon boxes and bottles of bubbles and clothes tossed on the floor and a naked toddler hiding behind my thick legs that carried him into this world.
I've been active in the body positive movement for nearly seven years now. In early 2009 I Googled the words, "why am I fat and happy with it?" and after scrolling through pages and pages of diet industry links and how to be happier by losing weight, I finally stumbled across two blogs that forever changed the way I look at my body and the world. I will always be indebted to The Curvy Fashionista and the Fat Heffalump for leading me down a fat acceptance path of revolutionary feminist thought that has helped create the person I am today. I devoured book after book and blog after blog and researched like mad for the following three years, working internally on my voice and self-love, getting stronger day by day. It was showing up in my art and writing and, by early 2012, I was ready to take it public in a big way.
I applied for Ignite Boise, an innovative public presentation event where a few lucky speakers stand up and have 5 minutes and 20 Powerpoint slides to share an idea with the 800 Boiseans who pack the house at the historic Egyptian Theater that night and, later, the world via YouTube video. I offered up a program titled "Accepting the Big Ass: How to Be Fat, Fit and Flabulous," proposing a brilliant and subversive spin-off of a 2011 blog post by Dianne Sylvan called 10 Rules for Fat Girls. Ignite Boise said yes, and I was scared shitless as I stood shaking on stage and told the entire audience that I was fat and that I weighed 250 pounds. It was liberating and terrifying and I'm still pretty damn proud of that performance.
A few weeks later I wanted to do something guerrilla art related to celebrate International No Diet Day on May 6th. I had long been a follower of fat activist Marilyn Wann, who had created some body positive art called a YAY! scale, a traditional bathroom scale turned craftivism that gives you affirmations rather than numbers when you step on it each morning. I thought it was such a fantastic idea that I took my old scale and disassembled it, making my own radical piece.
I decided to sneak it in to Modern Art, a yearly event put on inside a mid-century boutique hotel, in which rooms are rented out to local artists to use as an impromptu gallery for the night. There's live music, drinking, dancing and performance art and it's a super popular Boise event that draws thousands of people to the small downtown hotel.
I placed my version of the YAY! scale along with a sign right near the women's restroom off the lobby. I tucked it into a corner, perfect for people waiting in line to use the only bathroom in the place. The spot was too tiny for covert photographing, but I secretly watched people read the sign and stand on the scale and laugh with joy about their "measurement."
Instead of an arbitrary number.
Right before my Ignite Boise talk I had stood on this very scale before covering those numbers up with positive words, because it felt important to disclose my exact weight to the audience. I could reclaim those numbers like I had reclaimed the word fat.
I do, in fact, still keep another scale hidden in a cupboard alongside my YAY! scale, mostly used over the years to weigh my baby/toddlers to make sure they are getting enough to eat and on the right growth track. Sometimes it's used to weigh heavy packages for shipping estimates around the holidays. Every once in a while, though, I pull it out to weigh myself, especially if I'm about to speak/write about body positivity, because being honest in my work as a fat feminist is a source of pride.
Last year I wrote a story for Mamalode magazine called A Love Letter to 226 Pounds, about renewing my drivers license and the lady at the DMV refusing to update my weight. Again, part of my reclamation of my body as my own is sharing that number with the world, and not being ashamed of it.
In keeping with that spirit, I just pulled out my scale today. I'm down to 210 pounds, forty pounds less than I was three years ago when I stood on stage at the Egyptian Theater. There are many reasons for this. I've been pregnant three times since 2008. I've stopped taking birth control pills after twenty years, a medication that makes me gain weight. A few years ago I also stopped taking SSRI pills for panic attacks from an anxiety disorder that I've been able to manage sans medication. This is something I have gone through several times in my life - meds like Celexa and Paxil have historically caused me to gain 30-50 pounds within the first year on them, and later I've always shed that same 30-50 pounds when I go off of them. I'm also officially in perimenopause and my symptoms are wacky and intense, including severe morning sickness/nausea that makes me either vomit, not want to eat very much most days, or both. Weight loss is not my intentional goal, it is just something my body is doing naturally right now, finding its own rhythm at this place in my life journey, and I'm okay with that.
(This is how I really feel about the archaic brand name of my thrifted vintage bathroom scale hovering over those arbitrary numbers. Health at every size FTW!)
While just like proudly telling the world that I am 40-years-old, I will always powerfully declare that I am also 5'5" tall and 250 226 210 pounds and that I (usually) wear a size 22 20 18 and a 40C bra. And the freedom that comes with sharing those numbers is amazing. But none of these numbers really measure me. I'm more than a number on a scale. I am, in fact, so much more than my body at all.
I can't even begin to describe how insane my life, and the other four lives in my house, has been over the past few months. So much goodness, so much business, so much school stuff, so much extracurricular activities. All my babies were born within three weeks of each other in March/April, so we had birthday parties for a one year old, a seven year old, and an eleven year old. There's been a testing and a diagnosis and school IEP team meetings regarding my youngest daughter which has been so hard (a story and a post for another day). We've celebrated and played Little League baseball, and won track meets, and participated in piano festivals, and written grants, planted gardens, been in the news not one, not two, but three times in about a week's time.
Life is so wonderful and fun and the adventures are amazing and my life is charmed indeed.
During all this living of my life, friends I graduated from high school and college with have started celebrating their fortieth birthdays, with grand weekends away, raging parties, and quiet retreats at spas. I've been thinking about how I'd like to celebrate mine, sneaking up on me in just six months. I've also been thinking about how scary it sounds to be 40. How middle of my life I am. Is it really half over? Maybe. But we're all dying, every day. I'm not super afraid of my mortality for my sake, but for my childrens' sake. I have to be around as long as possible for them. There's also this nagging part of my brain that I can't shake: I still feel seventeen. I'm not alone in this notion - one of my dearest gal pals from high school, Mandilyn, feels just the same way. So much so, in fact, that we've been hashtagging each other in all sorts of posts on social media about buying jewelry at Claire's in the mall and loving Taylor Swift and our affinity for the high school TV drama Friday Night Lights as #stillseventeen.
As life would have it, Mother Nature has added insult to injury by officially setting into motion PERIMENOPAUSE. Like, seriously, I went to the doctor because my body has gone HAYWIRE and here's the documented proof because THIS CAN'T BE HAPPENING I'M STILL 39 AND I JUST HAD A BABY FOR CHRISSAKE:
The journey to this diagnosis was two months in the making and many late night internet searches for what seemed to me to be unrelated symptoms that turned out to be related after all. So, to aid my fellow young friends who have entered menopause freakishly early, and should they come upon this blog post in a frantic late night internet search to find out if they are crazy or dying or just MENOPAUSING, here's a list of a few of the crazymakingly odd symptoms that you may be experiencing right now and may last for 5-10 years and may get worse or change AREN'T WE LUCKY:
Mittelschmerz like you can't believe, but the cramping and back pain doesn't just last a week, it's constant!
Menstruation for three weeks straight! Heavy and filling the toilet with lots of internal tissue and clots.
Moodiness and tearfulness! And not just during PMS or menstruation, but all the time.
Moments of sudden rage! Like maybe you are making scrambled eggs and talking with your husband and it turns into an argument and you slam the plastic spatula on the stovetop to make a point and it breaks and he's like WTF ARE YOU CRAZY?! and in turn you pick up the entire pan of eggs and throw it on the floor BECAUSE YES.
Bloating! Again, not just during PMS or menstruation, but a permanently puffed out belly.
Gingivitis! Swollen, bleeding gums that make it so painful to eat.
Lack of appetite! Everything tastes off and weird like it did when you were pregnant (hello again, crazy hormones!) which is probably fine anyhow because GINGIVITIS.
Hair loss! My hair is falling out in huge clumps, just like it does a few months after I give birth. At least it's growing back; I've got a head full of baby gray hairs to prove it.
Acne! I keep breaking out. ON MY BACK. Which hasn't happened since I was in high school (the irony of #stillseventeen is not lost on me here).
Weird muscle and joint aches! I threw my back out for the first time in my entire life last week. Ain't got no time for ice when you're crawling after a toddler on the floor. Also, picking up a 25 lb. baby in this condition SUCKS.
Sudden dark spots appear on your face! The technical term is melasma, or hyperpigmentation of the skin due to extreme changes in hormones. Sometimes it happens during pregnancy, or sometimes you just wake up one day when you're 39 AND LEAST EXPECTING IT and your upper lip is strangely dark brown.
Itchy dry skin! I feel like bugs are crawling on me and my EARS ARE PEELING. Thank goodness for bulk jars of coconut oil from Costco.
Breast swelling and tingling! This actually ain't that bad. Except it feels like I'm pregnant but my body is actually doing the exact opposite of making a baby (sob).
Heart palpitations! This happened when I was pregnant as well, it's something due to hormones and thinning of blood, but it is also a version of hot flashes, I guess. Anyhow, my heart will flutter and race for a few seconds several times a day and it's real off-putting.
I'm stopping there because I'm literally in tears over it. Turning 40 and the loss of my fertility is making me so sad and depressed and I KNOW IT'S FINE and part of life and I'm so lucky and it's no big deal and it's the biggest deal ever and I just have to go through it (MENOPAUSE EVEN THOUGH I'M ONLY 39) like every woman before and after me and be brave and look on the bright side. I'm trying.
So I bought myself a blue polka dot bikini.
Because I deserve it.
Swim Sexy blue polka dot bikini from Swimsuits For All, size 18 top and size 20 bottom. It might be the best plus sized swimsuit shop in all the world, because of the high quality and ability to order different sized tops and bottoms. It was recommended in a Facebook group I'm part of called the Curvy Girl Guide, and the suit has become such a tour de force we've christened it with it's own hashtags. #polkawhaaaaaaat #thesuit