Sometimes I wonder how many 12-year-old girls wore control top pantyhose in the 90s? I wonder because I did, but also because I can name ten girls who probably should have. When time travel is invented, I will go back and slip a few pairs of Spanx ™ in all their top drawers; or, better yet, in their mother’s lingerie drawer, where I found mine.
I can remember getting ready before every school dance. I would start in my mother’s room. My hand would search for the egg-shaped container they came in because if mom still had the container, that pair was fresh; the control top was intact. I would move my wide feet and fleshy calves easily through the netting. When they met my already dimpled thighs, that’s when things got hairy (literally and figuratively – I never shaved above the knee until college). The stretching began, the bending and hopping up and down, trying to enlist gravity to move the fat through my legs to the bottom, which was already encased—knowing the whole time that the end result would be worth this effort.
Once they were on, I would look in the full-length bathroom mirror admiring myself. The shape of my body was much the same; the beautiful transformation was in the fact that there was so little of the jiggling that I despised: the jiggling which made running difficult in gym class, shopping impossible, and riding a bus on school trips uncomfortable. (Why are there no shocks on school buses? Don’t they know fat girls can’t sit in the back with the cool kids that way?).
Now that I am 31 and I chaperone field trips, I see myself in the students who jiggle. They are the same kids who sit in the front of the bus, who joke loudly about how boring Friday’s dance will be. I hear them, and I cringe. I used to cover up the pain of feeling different with my gloom, verbosity, and gregariousness, just as I covered up my rolls of flesh with mom’s pantyhose.
It took a long time to shed those emotional layers and accept my physical ones.
So now, when I see myself in the eyes of the kids on the sidelines of our school gym or when I hear a student joking at their own expense several classrooms over, I don’t roll my eyes or ask, “So why did you come if you aren’t going to dance?” I don’t laugh at those jokes. Instead, I sit next to them. I offer to paint their nails before the next basketball game in our school’s colors. My purse always holds extra tubes of lipstick, and I paint them on girls who compliment mine (how fierce do you feel when you have new lipstick on?). I pass on clothes I’ve outgrown and then smile from ear to ear when they wear them.
Most importantly, though, I’ve learned to stop saying negative things about myself. If I complain about my big butt or fleshy arms, how will they feel about theirs? I hope that by loving myself openly and frequently, some young, chubby girl will give herself permission to do the same. If she learns to do that before she’s 30 (when I did), what a wonderful life she’ll lead.