Every Body Belongs
Friend asked me to post some lipedema fighter progress pics for women’s health awareness.
What started as pearshaped in my teens escalated into decades of fatshaming by health professionals & society as my ankles, knees, elbows disappeared beneath layers of dimpled fat & fluid that did not shift with diet or exercise.
I gave up, many times.
Diagnosed with lymphoedema in 2000, but had never heard of lipedema until a physiotherapist diagnosed me in 2009.
“Before” pics taken in Tasmania, 2014
My pics, (from shoulders down, too ashamed to include my face) sent to cosmetic surgeons around Australia – those who bothered to reply said they were unable to help.
The male-dominated plastic surgery industry’s profits lies in exploitation of healthy insecure women willingly spending obscene amounts of money on unnecessary elective procedures.
No one was interested or trained in fat disorders.
It was obvious there was no cosmetic surgeon in my country of birth who cared about the physical and emotional distress I was suffering, nor that of the other 10% of women who suffer from an inherited hormonal condition inhibiting our lives and the macro-level negative effect on our families and communities.
By 2016, I was unable to move around without physical assistance.
Then I found Anne Dancey in England – compassionate surgeon excelling in complex liposuction for lipoedema.
My life has been transformed by the removal of 35 litres of abnormal fat from my feet, ankles, legs & butt.
Last operation was 2017.
“After” pics taken Easter, 2019.
I’m middle aged, saggy & baggy, some loose skin post-op.
My tummy & arms are still affected by lipoedema – but I am mobile again and unabashed.
My “dress size” doesn’t matter.
It only matters that I am outdoors, active, that my thighs no longer sweat, chafe and bleed when I walk.
I can gallivant with my family exploring the world (currently Ireland) instead of waiting in the car alone with swollen unshod feet.
My butt now fits down the slippery dip in the playground…..to the delight of my sixth child. I missed out on sharing that experience with my first five children.
Lipedema robbed me of so much.
BMI was invented by a mathematician in the 19th century & is a false rubric for health assessment, causing false assumptions about life choices made by “overweight people”.
There would have been more I love yous … more I’m sorrys … more I’m listenings … but mostly, given another shot at life, I would seize every minute of it … look at it and really see it … try it on … live it … exhaust it … and never give that minute back until there was nothing left of it. (From “If I Had My Life To Live Over” by Erma Bombeck)
I’m reclaiming my time.
The precious moments wasted, the times I stayed out of the sea I loved so my body would stay hidden from public view, decades of suffering judgement from fatshamers for an undiagnosed inherited condition I couldn’t control, the self loathing, the bouts of depression, the perpetual armour of self-deprecating humour, the clothes I “shouldn’t” wear.
The times I stayed in, to spare people the sight of me.
My despair was in even greater disproportion to actual reality than my thighs were to my waist, though. Most of it was in my head. I didn’t give many people a chance to reassure me of my worth, because I avoided most people.
I thought I was “too big” size 8. Size 10. Size 12. Size 14. Size 16. Size 18. 12. 14. 20. 24. 16. 14. 20. 24. 16. 18.
What difference does it make? Less than a century ago women made our own clothes, on mannequins modelled after our own bodies & shopping “off the rack” hadn’t become public exercise of conformity to sweat shop fashion and the male gaze.
Never did I think I’d be reacquainted with my ankles nor the feeling of my kneebones touching after decades of being trapped in a living unzippable fatsuit…the joy is unreal….but my ops were to restore mobility to a body in constant chronic pain, a body that was destined for a wheelchair unless I had surgical intervention.
Liposuction is not an easy option and it wasn’t a decision made out of vanity.
It was a lifeline, as I viewed my world shrinking to where I was bedridden, no longer able to engage in life as the independent woman I had been just a few years before.
Now, independent again in 2019, living in the moment and looking forward, but with some inner scars that heal slower than others.
My self esteem had four decades of being told that only skinny is sexy, fat can’t be fit.
No-one should be made to feel there isn’t room for them to be among other people.
Life is for living, the Light is for later.
1985….The winter of my fat content & the year my bum defied Dolly.
If my bottom had largely felt ignored whilst I went about my daily business from 1970 – 1985, it was certainly making its presence felt now.
Almost overnight, I became aware that my jeans were tighter in the thighs and my Harry-Highpants ankle-freezer jeans were pinching in places even the most determined of curious gropers had never pinched me before.
Most alarming was the sudden weird fold of flesh that appeared just above both my knees and the dimples that appeared in my outer thigh.
Self-confidence in teenage years is always fragile. I’d already managed to accumulate my fair share of high school bullies who were seemingly both repelled yet magnetically attracted to the idiosyncracies of my appearance and personality.
I was an insecure childish bookworm and BBC re-run viewer who possessed high level of reading comprehension, a reasonably impressive vocabulary for my age and who enunciated properly when speaking.
My parents and relatives affectionately approved this way of expressing myself. They teased me good-naturedly but seemed pleased I didn’t have the harsh strine accent and coarse slang of my peers.
(My first husband used to delight in writing “dunny roll” on my shopping list to torment me with ockerisms I utterly refused to utter. Nothing would have induced the 1989 Pearl Pureheart version of myself to speak the words “spew” or “chunder”. How times change.)
“Nisey has a bit of a plum in her mouth,” my extended family would smile indulgently as I reached for another Coconut Ring bikkie to go with my syrupy tea.
I was far from popular in primary school, generally only one or two close friends who would drift away periodically to take respite from my clinginess, but in a small country whitebread school where everyone knows everyone, eccentricities of family or personal habits were forgiven and I mostly felt included even by the kids who called me by the nickname “Dictionary”.
In high school, this pivoted to male classmates using the school’s office bolt-cutter to remove the Koala padlock from my locker, smear my books with what I thought at the time was Clag glue (but in hindsight as an adult I realised was probably adolescent night emissions) to leave a note that wasn’t as kind as the aforementioned plum metaphor.
“When you talk, it sounds like you have a mouthful of piss”.
I was spotty, too. Not seriously plagued with acne, not like some poor fuckers who slathered themselves in flesh-toned medicated cream from dermatologists and prayed to get through the schoolday without anyone mentioning zits within earshot.
My spots would, as my mother said, “be hardly noticeable if you weren’t pickin’ at your face half the bloody time”. (Her strine accent lurks Pauline Hanson-like beneath a thin veneer of Menzies-era teachers’ college and the inherited genteel vowels of her Federation-era Melburnian matriarch) She was right, though. My spots were only minor blackheads for the main part but I doggedly squeezed and stabbed at them obsessively with bitten fingernails and improvised micro-surgical instruments from my pencil-case, making them worse. I had very fair skin and the scabby holes stood out on my face like bullet holes in a mobster’s getaway car’s fender.
“Pizza face” was the most oft-used Americanism used by the bullies to draw attention to my self-inflicted wounds. It was nonsensical, given my face rarely accommodated more than two pimples at a time, but bullies have a tenuous grasp on logic.
My English and Drama teacher Mr McGann, director of wildly enthusiastic high school musicals and who was indiscriminately nice to everyone, helped me survive Year Ten. I wanted him to be right about me and my talent and potential and a tiny, tiny place in my heart and my ego suspected he was right but his was a lone voice in the wilderness in 1985. (You were right, T. Mike McGann. Too late. I’ll never be fifteen again.)
I’d wanted to be an actor since my mother took me to see an amateur production of My Fair Lady when I was 7 years old. I knew with all my heart I wanted to be on the stage. I was brutally shy in most social situations but once I discovered acting, playing a role brought me to life and made me feel happy.
I didn’t mind people looking at me when I was being someone else.
Of course I thought being an actor (actress, in those gender-specific days) depended on looking like Vivien Leigh or Elizabeth Taylor or, at a pinch, Cathy Bach from Dukes Of Hazzard (what a fucking awful show) who allegedly had insured her pins for a million dollars.
I’d been bombarded with Hollywood dreams, shampoo ads featuring bikini goddesses like Jaclyn Smith, noxious Aussie John Singleton ads with an underaged Elle MacPherson flogging canned chemicals on a beach, Australian Post magazine covers featuring teenaged blondes in crocheted undies and the cult of skinny-worship since I was born.
Although shy and doubtful of my worth, I had confidence in my body. It had never let me down.
Born into a family and an outdoor loving society that worshipped sport and castigating fatties, my parents took pride in my “figure” and praised how I looked in the annual purchase of “bathers” for the season’s public school holiday swimming lessons, beach picnics, paddle pools and sprinklers and every summer’s newly made “tennis frock”. (Yes, I’m that bloody old.)
My older female cousins on both sides of my family seemed impossibly thin and glamorous when I was little. They wore skintight corduroy flares, flicked their hair and wore Bay City Roller and Sherbert T-shirts. They carried their make up and curlers around in giant embossed hinged vinyl portmanteaus with mirrors inside the top lid and went to discos and drive-ins.
I couldn’t wait to grow up and put my skinny healthy body into a strapless terry towelling boobtube with an orchid in my hair and party like it was 1976.
Disco had well and truly karked it by 1985 and the Charlie’s Angels ironic reboot was still twenty years away when I first started to feel the niggle of self-doubt over the body I was relying on for acceptance, approval, romantic success and a future treading the boards.
I wanted to act. I wanted to dance.
Initial enquiries about my own ballet career inspired by fascinatingly mute dancers performing Romeo and Juliet in a late night TV appearance had resigned me to inevitable disappointment and the tyranny of distance whilst leaving me in no doubt as my place in the grand scheme of things.
I’d wandered from my bed to the loungeroom where my mother was sitting, watching TV alone and I was mesmerised by the onscreen leaps and pirouettes. My mother said I could stay for a little while as long as I was quiet. I tried.
“Why aren’t they saying anything?” I ventured.
“That’s what ballet is, telling a story by dancing instead of words” my mother said, without looking at me.
I watched quietly a little longer.
“That lady with the bun is pretty”.
Sigh. “She’s called a ballerina.”
Shy. I felt the familiar knot in my tummy and lump in my throat but I had to ask, I could see the joyful exertions onscreen and felt my core respond to the music, the momentum, the extended toes. “Can I be a ballerina when I grow up?”
“No. To be good enough to be a ballet dancer on the stage you have to start when you’re very young, like three, to be trained properly and it’s only places like Russia that take it seriously enough for it to be a career. Besides, there’s nothing like that around Donnybrook, I’d have to drive all the way to Bunbury for you to have lessons, I don’t have the time and we can’t afford things like that”.
I was five years old, Bunbury was thirty minutes away, my Dad provided well for us. But it never occurred to me her truth wasn’t always the whole truth.
I sat quietly for the rest of the ballet apart from seeking clarification when the beautiful Juliet took her sweet time waking up.
My mother sighed again but explained “She was only asleep but Romeo thought she was dead so he killed himself now she’s woken up and he’s dead so she’s killed herself, too. It’s called committing suicide.”
I was sadly outraged at the tragic waste that a misunderstanding between star cross’d lovers caused and stored “suicide” away for future reference, along with the knowledge Russian three year olds had a better chance at ballet than I did.
“Miss Jenny” arrived with weekly “folk ballet” lessons in the local Lesser Hall not long after that. I was quite awful, although I loved it, and my missteps at the end of year concert caused a ripple of hilarity amongst the captive nursing home audience who’d been wheeled in as human sound baffles.
“I was utterly mortified” said I to my sister twenty years later, recounting how the audience’s (not unkind) laughter had alerted me to the fact my imaginary baby was being rocked about four bars before everyone else.
“Oh, you’re always utterly mortified.” she replied. She may have had a point.
When I was eleven my parents took me to ballroom dancing lessons. I took to it like a duck to water. Quickstep was the closest thing to flying and jive made my heart leap joyously. I immediately wanted to do competition dancing, in fluorescent tulle and hairsprayed chignons like the studio’s best dancers, but the parents of a non-dancer, mystified by their happy and fulfilled relatives’ dedication to supporting their kids at dance events, told my parents that competition ballroom was expensive and time – consuming and they agreed I wasn’t worth the effort and I could count myself grateful I got anything at all, no-one took them to dance lessons when they were kids, they had to walk five miles on a sand track just to get to school, after they milked the cows….
I watched old black and white Ginger Rogers films (it doesn’t matter that your TV is still black and white when your preferred viewing is from the 1930s) on the ABC and dreamed.
I went to the lessons every Saturday until I was fourteen, a half hour of medal class first where I’d got up to my “silvers”, then beginners’ class where I now helped as amateur teacher, trundling four year olds around the dance floor in the same basic steps I had been repeating on autopilot for three years while I yearned for progress, flight and my Fred Astaire.
I wanted to dance more, to challenge myself, I felt silly going to the same class over and over again at my age when most students there were toddlers, but I didn’t know how to express that to myself or to my mother.
I approached her timorously in the kitchen, where she sat reading the paper at the table.
“I was thinking of quitting ballroom dancing…” I began.
If I wanted an aghast protest that my talent would be wasted and questions on why I’d consider quitting the thing I loved most followed by reassurances that she’d help me dance more often, I wasn’t going to get it. She didn’t even look up from the paper.
“Suits me. I’ve got better things to do than spend money on petrol and run around after you all over Bunbury every Saturday morning.”
I stopped dancing and my fitness decreased drastically.
My parents let me join jazz ballet lessons in the local hall the following year, after years of protesting that the skimpy costumes and makeup on little girls were “a bit much”. (They were right – the hyper-sexualisation of ten year old girls with fake cleavage shimmying to woman-hitter Chris Brown songs at my own daughters’ dance concert just a decade ago left me, you guessed it, utterly mortified.)
Ironically, the year I was finally allowed to don the bikini-line lycra and sequins and bump and grind to Madonna was the year my thighs landed, with adipose reinforcements attacking from the rear.
I sought reassurance from my mother as she ate frige leftovers in her TV chair whilst I sat on the brown nylon carpet in front of the oil heater. I’d just returned from Thursday night jazz ballet class, wriggling my toes in footless sheer black tights and “practice pants”, high cut black briefs. I thought I looked like Madonna in her “Into The Groove” video.
“Don’t you think I have nice legs?”
My mother glanced away from the TV to give me a quick critical once-over then said as her eyes returned to the screen “They’re a bit plump, ‘specially the knees – and you have no ankles like the women in your Dad’s side of the family. You look at Grandma next time you see her, her leg goes straight down at the back from the knee to the heel. Never shaves them, either.”
And that was that. My legs weren’t nice at all. I didn’t look like Madonna and never would. I still loved dancing but dancing in front of people would never be the same.
One day in school, I heard a male voice behind me mutter “That’s the weirdest arse I’ve ever seen”.
I looked over my shoulder to see who spoke. It was a boy from my Maths class who’d hitherto always been friendly towards me but his fixed mock-horrified stare hurt me and left me in no doubt that the offending bum was my own.
It was thirty years before the term “First World Problems” became a hashtag for matters of fashion, style and vanity – I had yet to develop a sense of perspective and there was no-one giving me positive messagaging about my developing body.
Getting a little plump around the thighs and bum shouldn’t be looked on as a trauma or a tragedy – but for a self-conscious teenager in Australia in 1985, it certainly felt that way.
“Dolly” magazine prided itself as a resource for Australia’s teenage girls on all things. It was all powerful in influencing its teenage readers and its fashion and advertising were followed slavishly.
I remember in particular wanting to mimic the sultry dark looks of a Dolly model sporting a red bandana knotted around her brown bicep all the better to display a pack of Winfield Red smokes.
Cigarettes: Model’s own, read the caption listing the fashion outlets paying for the ad.
Yeah, sure. In 1985, it was legal to buy cigarettes aged 16. Most corner delis didn’t blink an eye at handing over the coffin nails to a kid in school uniform. The “cool” kids had “cool” mums who would indulgently say “I was the same at their age” when they glimpsed a smoke packet tucked into a handbag on the way to a bluelight Disco (the name stayed but the music was gone).
My mother had heard of the link between cancer and smoking back in the 60s at teachers’ college and left me in no doubt as to her opinion of the suicidal death wish and IQs of smokers or my mouth’s inevitable dissolve into “lipstick gutters” should I take up the filthy habit. On the rare occasions I tried it, I bought Alpine Lights. I didn’t know menthol from methane but I liked the Alpine cinema ads where lovers dressed in white capri pants and billowing linen shirts galloped white horses on a Caribbean beach.
The most prominent recurring ad in Dolly was a two page spread for suntan oil.
Not sunscreen, although the “Slip, Slop, Slap” television campaign by the Australian Cancer Foundation had been a familiar refrain since the late 70s as more and more Aussies succumbed to skin cancer as the ozone layer fizzled out and swimwear became beach fashion not designed for immersion in water.
Suntan oil. The two page spread invited its massive reading audience of teenage girls to compare beautiful skinny youths in shoestring swimwear on the left page to the superior melanin in the epidermis of the beautiful skinny youths in shoestring swimwear on the right page, where they gleamed like beeswaxed mahogany.
SUNTAN vs REEF TAN, screamed the ad’s copy.
Obviously the inability to wear an XS g-string, baste oneself liberally in coconut oil and literally tan my Caucasian hide to leather was another social failing on my part.
School beach outings invariably left me radiantly purple, blistered, shivering, teeth chattering and fantasising of deep baths filled to the brim with Vaseline’s Intensive Care, everyone’s go to for sunburn relief before they started selling aloe in bottles.
1985 was the year I naively parked the virgin flesh of my bum leeward on the beach in a swimsuit cut low at the back, low in the front and high above my hip bone. My friend Dolly had assured me the higher my togs were cut, the longer my now inferior “dumpy” legs would appear, compensating for my shortcomings.
I couldn’t sit down on the school bus that afternoon and I vomited from sunstroke while my Dad near-wept at my teenage stupidity. I didn’t blame him. I felt pretty stupid.
According to the iniquitous ancestry.com, my DNA is 43% Irish, 39% French, 10% English. Whichever idiot thought it would be a good idea for people of that genetic make-up to lie naked in the Australian sun needs a kick up the freckle. I’m looking at you, Coco Chanel, you little Nazi tailor.
(No, really, she did make suntans fashionable from the 1920s after a trip to the French Riviera & the original designer of the LBD was far too nice to WW2 German occupying forces, with tragic results).
Sunning oneself in order to look like everyone else became as much of an intrinsic part of the Aussie beach myth and advertising culture as smoking and dieting.
That summer on the beach, as I straightened my towel for a sunbake, my mother said,
“You’re going to have to start being a bit careful, Nisey, you’re getting a bit of a bum on yer. You’ll end up as big as me, if you’re not careful.”
I was now a fifteen year old pasty non-smoker with a big bum and dimpled thighs.
If anyone wants me, I’m in the bath. Still.
So, around Christmas 2015, I just decided to let it all hang out online, temporarily.
If the Universe had cursed me with a degenerative incurable fat disorder that was rapidly making me immobile, I was going to accept it and get on with living life.
Maybe, if my hubby The Fenian and I took photos of me doing ordinary things, bathing, eating, travelling, swimming, etc and posted them on Instagram or tumblr, my body image and that of other lipoedema sufferers would become normalised.
People would stop staring at lippy ladies.
If I was going to be forced to live with lipoedema then the internet fat-shamers were going to have to become educated about Painful Fat Syndrome and accept me also.
Solidarity, sisters! Where are the modern Rubenesque paintings of lush thighs and dimpled bottoms?
Women in the Victorian era strapped pads to their thighs and metal cages to their arses to make them appear like walking talking butternut squashes the same way Nature shaped me in the 20th Century.
Check out the beautiful photographs taken by Leonard Nimoy of ample-figured women.
Google search “pawg”.
We exist and believe it or not, there’s room for all of us – even with bingo wings.
As you can see from the photo, I have lipoedema in my arms, also.
Thankfully, since the liposuction operations on my legs, my lymph system and overall measurements have reduced and I can now once again buy and wear garments that have sleeves, instead of waving my jiggly fidoobiders around like two overcooked sides of boiling bacon.
Movements like Free The Nipple and mybodygallery.com are designed to liberate women from expectations of body image.
Hyper-sexualisation of the breasts we’ve developed to nurture our babies is exacerbated by men of religion who legislate their hang ups with censorship or in some regimes, stoning to death of women they regard as immodest.
Observing our bodies in their naked state reminds ourselves as a diverse human species inhabiting every corner of the globe that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
The sight of a naked fellow human being, no matter their size, shouldn’t be a shocking thing.
We’ve conditioned ourselves to be shamed by the vessel that houses our spirit and our spirits and our minds are the poorer for the shame.
Variety is the spice of life, despite Miss Universe pageants and Victoria’s Secret marketing.
So, in the spirit of Annie Sprinkle demystifying the female body, I bravely made my nude bath photo my twitter avatar as a mini social experiment.
Unlike Kim Kardashian’s subversive neo-blaxploitation butt pics, the internet didn’t break.
In fact, the internet was too polite to mention it – I had over 1000 twitter followers at the time and barely anyone mentioned one Saturday afternoon that I’d changed my profile pic to that of a tattooed middle-aged morbidly obese woman (with tits and belly that showcased evidence of diligent engagement of six children, a nephew and occasional grandchild) *apparently smoking medicinal cannabis (which remains illegal and blocked by bureaucracy in Australia) in a clawfoot bath.
I chose the bath because it had become my permanent refuge, the water helped my lymph circulation and eased the chronic pain from aching heavy legs and the struggle to pull 125kg around.
I was in the bath more often than anywhere else, although “in bed” and “helped into and out of the recliner” were my other main hangouts.
(In our house in Tasmania, hubby The Fenian had installed a corner spa – although I’m a Greenie and all for water economy I can’t recommend a cool spa for swollen legs and lipoedema highly enough.)
My legs and buttocks had become so large by 2015, I could barely fit in the bath.
In fact, I had to stand up to drain all the water when I pulled the plug – I was a blancmange-like dam. Any top up of hot water never reached the cooling pool between my bum and the non-tap end of the bathtub.
I’d joked for years I was more dugong than woman, unhappy on land. If only I could stay in my tank.
But back to my bath photo – so much for provoking art, photography, debate and education, people were too embarrassed at the sight of me to engage!
So, this is what a woman with lipoedema taking a bath looks like. Live with it.
I’ll post an updated nudie bathtub pic soon – I’m much smaller and rapt with my transformation but still “fat” by trumpism standards.
I don’t care.
This is about women’s health, not the usual shallow misogynistic magazine wankfluff article on “beach bodies” with genetically blessed and silicone enhanced celebrities in designer floss.
The stigma of being “overweight”, whether by lifestyle choices or fat disorders, won’t disappear until we all let it all hang out.
I’m roughly a UK size 16. That’s fine.
Dress size doesn’t mean a thing, other than inconvenience if you can’t sew nor shop off the rack.
It’s about mobility & fitness & confidence and being able to hang out with my family & cycle and walk my dogs – I don’t need to kid myself that if I was size 8 my life would suddenly become wonderful.
My physical independence has been restored – that makes my life wonderful.
My Life As A Beanbag, or Aussie-In-Aspic. (A Lipoedema Survivor’s Tale)
I was fifteen when my bum arrived, so it seemed to me.
I’d always had one, of course, but I hadn’t needed to pay much attention to it because it had generally behaved well and according to the expected standard of most bottoms, keeping itself covered modestly by Australian 70s playing-under-the-sprinkler standards and not suffering as much punishment at the large square red flat hands of my irascible Mother as other kids seemed to cop from their Mums, sometimes aided by belts or wooden spoons, so I hadn’t felt much need to question it.
I definitely knew it was there, obviously. It had been a thing to sit on unquestionably for over a decade. It had recently become an attraction for pinching, curious, groping fingers of high school boys unfettered by the childhood bonding they shared with my female classmates. I had been a new arrival from a regional primary school and my adolescent breasts and small waist, naivete & habitual lack of peers may as well have tattooed “Fresh Meat” on my forehead for the school corridor Lotharios to read.
The girls narrowed their eyes, wrote publicly of their dislike for me in circulated autograph “friendship” books & assumed I liked the boys’ attention. I learned to.
Bums always possessed a strong comic element, of course.
Just the word “bum” was enough to attract tongue-clucking censorship in our home with the suggestion that “bottom” or even “derriere” might be slightly more appropriate term. Backside & arse were generally only expressed in highs or lows of temper or hilarity.
I’ve never seen either of my parents’ nude bottoms & a surprise comedic appearance by one on our black & white TV would inspire reddened faces and mutters of “That’s a bit much” ….although curiously, the recounting of the recounting by an aged Uncle of a daffodil substituted for a thermometer in a Carry On film was always accompanied by belly clutching tear-welling hilarity.
Now my own bottom was behaving strangely.