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How I Came to Terms with Wearing Sexy Dresses That Barely Fit

I've struggled with extra weight for years. But I've learned the power of sparkly makeup, Diet Coke and acceptance.
 
 
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"Body Issues" is a personal essay series about obsessions with our shape.

Over the past two years, I’ve lost more than a hundred pounds. There’s nothing impressive about this feat — it’s not as if I’ve lost the hundred-plus pounds sensibly, sequentially and permanently. Rather, I’ve lost the same five pounds about 20 different times through a series of dubious dietary stunts.

Per the established metrics of weight-to-height ratio and body mass index, I’m not what a medical professional would call exceedingly overweight — though Hollywood, Madison Avenue and the average “thinspiration” Pinterest page would post dissenting opinion. Essentially, I’m your garden-variety mesomorph who doesn’t eat to live but, rather, who lives to eat her feelings.

What consumes me, urging me to mindlessly consume? Usually nothing special — like so many other people, I nosh my way through shame and regret about the past and anxiety about the future. But 2011 and 2012 were exceptional — annus horribilis, times two: I got dragged off by a riptide of depression that I feared might kill me; one of my sisters learned she had lupus; one of my in-laws was diagnosed with small-cell lung cancer; my mother’s COPD landed her in the hospital, and my beloved bachelor uncle fell ill under conditions too horrible to describe and died eight months later. It was not a good couple of years for illusions of familial immortality. No.

No matter what I ate, or how much, I could always count on peeling off five pounds in a few days by drinking lemon water sprinkled with cayenne pepper, tossing back a couple of health store herbal diuretics, and shunning gluten, sugar and dairy. Then I’d get more bad news and close out my evenings by pulling into a fast-food parking lot to eat a jumbo drive-through Value Meal away from the shaming glow of street lamps, only to go back on my regimen of water, diuretics and selective privation. Then, last May, when my uncle went into intensive care, the stress eating became a constant and the weight came on and stayed.

In the midst of all the awfulness, I received a tremendous gift: a namesake dress. My friend Laura, whom I’ve known since the days of the CBGB Sunday hardcore matinees, built a thriving clothing business based on her original designs inspired by vintage ’40s and ’50s silhouettes.  Pinup Girl Clothing features an adorable array of va-va-voomy dresses, and she’d designed one to my specifications — a body-skimming sheath with day-to-night versatility, made of stretchy fabric with a neckline that’s not too low, a hemline that’s not too high, and longish sleeves.  I was looking for two specific features: forgiveness and good coverage.

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As soon as it came off the production line, the Burana dress was delivered to me in every available colorway — black, navy, plum and green tea. I zipped myself into the navy, then turned and turned before the mirror: Look at this tailoring, I thought. Gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous. My next thought: Oh man, I am way too fat to wear this. I could have asked Laura to send me a bigger size — Pinup Girl sizes items from XS to 2X. But no, I decided, I would wait until I was thin enough to feel good in the dresses I had.

Waiting to feel good was an elusive proposition, physically and emotionally. Even spiritually. In search of comfort beyond the edible realm, I started digging deeper into my quest for some sort of God-like sustenance: Going to yoga, reading books on snuggly, big-tent lefty Christianity, Buddhism, radical acceptance, being in the now. None of it felt better than two double cheeseburgers with extra mustard and large fries washed down by a bucket of Diet Coke, but it seemed important to at least be in the hunt for a more enduring means of soothing my feelings of guilt, loss and vulnerability. I wanted a sense that I was OK, and a bulwark against life’s slights. In other words, forgiveness and good coverage. Is it strange that I wanted the same things from God as I did from a dress?

 
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