Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Shape Shifting

A friend of mine frequently makes this joke: "I'm in shape.... because round is a shape!" And I laugh the sympathetic laugh of a fellow middle-aged-bigger-than-I-used-to-be mom. But also? I wince.

Because I *AM* round right now, and I don't really know how to deal with it. None of my clothes fit me right. I am completely clueless about how to dress for this shape, because it is not a shape I have ever been before.

Although it's been my shape, more or less, for the past nine years, I keep thinking it's temporary, an aberration and I will just magically morph back into my old shape sometime soon, so I throw on whatever loose (or, disastrously, too tight) clothes I can still tug onto my body and then I don't think about it.

But this round body? Seems to be not going away. Seems to be here to stay, and it's time I learn to dress for it, because I am really tired of looking dumpy and dreadful much of the time.

A little history here? OK...

Like any woman, seeming every woman, I have a long and complicated history with my body, my sense of self and beauty. A lot of this is coming up right now because last week I dredged up photos of myself from my High School graduation, many years ago (1977) for that "Senior Hottie" meme that was going around.

Want to see?  Here:
Me, 1977, High School Graduation day
I know at the time I did not feel beautiful. I thought my breasts were too small, while my hips too large. I didn't feel womanly enough. I look at these pictures now and can so clearly see my loveliness.

And it makes me sad that I was still pick, pick, picking at myself for not being perfect at the same time that I *thought* I was bucking the established order by choosing a "natural" hippie style.

Intellectually I knew real women weren't shaped like Barbie dolls, but still, the little girl in me that had played with them did not know how to feel like a woman, shaped otherwise. (I got over that, but it took a while.)

In my entire childhood? I'd been small, skinny, scrawny even. Then with adolescence I sprouted hips, but not much in the way of breasts, becoming a slim pear, an elongated bosc, lets say. Growing older I put on more weight slowly over the years, but always maintaining that basic pear shape, broader at the bottom than the top, becoming more of a d'anjou.

No matter how round my bottom? I always had a waist. And so, in my mid twenties when I came back East from the California bean sprout farm (yes, literally) and it began to be OK to think about and care more about my looks, I learned to dress for my shape.

Once more wearing undergarments, push up and padded bras balanced the top. Cinched waists, belts, and clothes that flared outwards from there made it look like the dress and not my hips was creating the width.

In my adult life? I gained a few pounds each year, went up to a B-cup (finally!), didn't stress too much about my size or shape. I was never obsessed with my looks, never really cared enough about it to do something radical like diet. I liked food. I was OK being a size 10 or 12. I've been told I was possibly more like a man in that, how the mirror never turns fun-house on me.

Because the thing was?  I always felt somehow comfortable enough in my skin, inhabiting my body fully. And feeling, maybe, more attractive than an objective measurement of my looks might tally? Made me actually more attractive, as confidence is quite a turn-on. So I was never at a loss for a date or mate.

It looked pretty good at 27:
Me at 27 (don't mind the curly mullet, please, it was the 80's)
Even at 37? Not half bad. This is how I looked when I met my husband.
Me at 37 and at the beach
And then, some time quite late in life, this happened:
Me, 39 weeks pregnant with twins
At the ripe old age of 41, I found myself finally pregnant, and with twins, no less.  I went full term, to 39 weeks.  So 12 days shy of my 42nd birthday, I delivered nearly 14 pounds of babies.

That was nearly 9 years ago (the boys' birthday is coming up in late July).

And I have never seen my waist again.

The whole pregnancy process started me down this road.  It involved fertility treatments at the beginning (I permanently lost 2 inches of bust and gained 2 inches of waist in just 2 weeks on one evil anti-hormone drug. Truth.) and then a 4 inch, never healed tear in my abdominal muscles from going full term with the twins (a ligament can only stretch so much before it splits, folks, and it's officially called "Diastasis Recti").

And then, just when I thought I might start to focus on myself again, re-claim my body? One of my twins was diagnosed on the autism spectrum and my life as a full time Autism & Special Needs Mom began. And then my very elderly parents moved back to New York City from Florida so I could take care of and look after them. My second full-time "job."

I'd even managed to join weight watchers for a while and lose seventeen pounds, I thought I was finally on track to shifting my shape back.  But then my father started slowly, intensely dying; followed closely by my mother-in-law. I am a stress eater. I was not sleeping much. No more need be said, right?

Add in the unkindness that each year's peri-menopausal changes have made as I marched towards then crossed over the big 5-0 mark, plus the assault on my body that was this winter's gall bladder attacks, surgery and recovery? And you'll find me, now, heavier and more beach-ball shaped than I have ever been, non-pregnant.

And so now nearly all of my clothes getting are too tight and binding. Except for the mumus.

And those mumus? Any clothes loose enough to not reveal the gut... look like maternity wear and make me look pregnant. Like really, really pregnant. Because my weak as kittens abdominal muscles push my body towards this preggo, weeble, Booh-Bah shape.

All while my body is hurtling towards menopause, making it gut wrenching when people ask when I'm due (and they do).  If folks catch me on a particularly hormonal day when they ask that? I might just wail: "Never! I'm too (sob) OLD (sob) to have more babies, waaaaaah" at them.  You can see that something MUST be done, and soon.

All that said, I am not completely lost and clueless. I have a few "go to" items: 2 perfectly loose-and-flowy-but-not-too-loose-and-baggy shirts, a magic jersey dress that seems to fit me and look halfway decent no matter what size I am (magic!), one pair of black jeans that I am not afraid to wear.

But I need more than 4 items of clothing I feel okay in. Plus these few pieces, already many years old, will eventually fall apart at the seams, leaving me naked. Not a pretty picture.

At BlogHer10 in THE DRESS
At the boys 8th birthday party in THE DRESS
I do have a sense of style, I just have mostly wrong clothes and no idea how to dress for my new increasingly round shape. I hope to change that shape someday, as I know I need to get pay attention to my body again, to become healthier.

It's just I can't keep putting off looking OK now thinking I'm about to be magically transformed back into my old shape at any minute. So I want to simultaneously work, slowly and steadily, at getting my body stronger, healthier, more flexible and a bit smaller while also finding a way to feel beautiful again now, in this odd shape and size that I find myself in.

I need to learn what to wear that works for "round." And how to dress to both feel comfortable and flatter this shape that I'm in while I work to possibly turn it into something else, accepting that at 50 it's going to be a slow process, and might never end me back where I began.

On my 50th birthday last summer, shockingly NOT in THE DRESS
Not too shabby for 50, eh?
At 50 I know who I am, I know my general sense of style (high-end Manhattan hippie meets Boden mommy) but I just really need a lot of help translating that to this "new" body of mine. I am tired of looking dumpy. Really tired of it.

I just learned of this mom's fashion makeover contest today today, so here I am at the 11th hour, frantically trying to slap a post together (both kids FINALLY asleep) and throw it up on my blog before the clock strikes 12 and my coach reverts to a pumpkin. Because I could sure use the help, gals!

This post was written as my entry for a chance to win a Style Session at BlogHer11 from Moms Fashion File.

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