I lift my arms up high, fists pumping towards the cracked ceiling of my bedroom, and my head fights through the hole of my 100% cotton, 3XL long sleeved t-shirt. A simple, green graphic of a heron standing in reeds with the words “Cape May” written beneath it embellish the otherwise plain white fabric. I have taken off my bra, savoring those precious six or so hours each day when I don’t have to wear one, and my pendulous, smooth breasts, which have already gone up a size in one year alone, swing with the motion of putting on the shirt. I smile; my kangaroo belly, which caused one of my neighbors to ask me how the baby is coming along not knowing that no, this is just how I look, is barely visible inside a shirt this big, and that is why I love it.
This is the year that I have graduated from 1X to 2XL shirts thanks to metabolic side effects from a new medication I’m taking. Lithium will do that to you. I’m told by the endocrinologist that I have to eat less than 1,200 calories a day if I want to lose weight, and so I begin a regimen of fruit, yogurt, salad, and soup. I find my day revolving around the mystery of which salad to create, and I scrape the sides of my salad-specific lunch box until I get every last, miniscule tear of lettuce to wipe up the remaining drops of dressing. The diet works for a little while, but then I, enraged with the narrow parameters (along with the tasty temptations of the holiday season), give up and embrace food-cheese, chocolate, ice cream, cake. I find that my saliva seeps out of the corners of my mouth and gathers in a little puddle on my tongue whenever I’m around food, and I build my day around figuring out what to eat next. I cradle my tummy and rest things on it whenever I am lying on the couch. I have owned it, fully.
I find myself identifying with every plus size woman I see and silently noting other chubby chicks I see each day in the city. There’s one, I think, and, oh, there’s another one! I convince myself that for every overweight woman I see, I’ve found my tribe. The little voice in my head that has been there since I was nine years old, the one that told me that the only reason I got a part of a Swedish Fish in the swim club’s water musical was because people see me as a gummy, pudgy candy in real life, is proven right: I am fat. Part of me wants to surrender to the fat, relish it, become a full-figured femme fatale like the obese beauties in Medieval and Pre-Raphaelite paintings, or, if I’m really lucky, Joan on Mad Men. Someday maybe I’ll be a muse for a man who doesn’t care about the stretch marks on my chest, or the fact that I have trouble discerning if my toenail polish needs a touch up since it’s tricky to see my feet beneath my enormous stomach.
But this shirt was never meant for me. It was meant for my father, who has at least 50 pounds and a couple of inches on me. He bought this shirt a few years ago on a trip to the Jersey Shore with my mother. He doesn’t wear it anymore, most likely because he’s accepted that I need it more now than he needed it on the unusually cold day on which he bought it. When I wiggle into that shirt, I am my father’s girl, and part of me feels that I am wrapped up in his hold when I wear it. My father-the man who has never cared about how I look, has always accepted me for my plump, plus sized body. This is the same reason why I wear his 4XL fleece sweatshirts when I’m cold and it’s the morning and no one else is awake to see it-I am a Russian nesting doll, captured inside a larger me.
Tonight is the first night I can wear the Cape May shirt after it’s come out of the laundry, and I can keep on wearing it for the next two nights before it becomes unreasonable and I have to wash it again. For a little longer, I stand there and savor the cool cotton, impractical to wear since it’s a deep freeze night. But I, happy that I am wearing something that actually fits, surrender to the roominess of it and start to feel normal. I am hidden.