Monday, May 22, 2006

"How Many Months?"

Last month I was making some copies at a UPS store. It was a sunny, warm day so I had taken off my sweater and was feeling relaxed in a pair of black, elastic-topped slacks and a tucked-in pink cotton shirt. The Latino guy at the cash register couldn't have been more than 20 years old. I told him how many copies I had made and stood ready with my coin purse. He casually asked, "How many months?"

I frowned slightly in confusion. He said, "You know, how many months?" and he made a half-dome motion with both of his hands over his stomach.

Now my frown cleared, replaced by wide-eyed horror as a feeling of shame washed over me. All I could do was stare at him, my eyes getting bigger as the full insult slammed into me. Now he saw his error and quickly said, "Oh, uh, never mind. Uh, that'll be seventy-four cents," as if resuming our transaction would pull my focus away from the social train wreck he had just caused.

I slowly lowered my gaze to my coin purse, but my look of horror and feeling of shame persisted as I raised my eyes to hand him the money. The young guy tried again to fix his mistake, "Uh, I take it back. I, um, take it back." Oh, this guy was a quick thinker.

Somehow in spite of his taking it back, this guy's presumption stayed with me for a couple of days, the sick horror congealing into lingering shame and ever-ready self-loathing. I've always hated my stomach. Even during my thinnest schoolgirl years, it's been the one body part that sticks out, the first place any extra fat goes. Of course I look pregnant. Of course.

I've heard that as women get older, our spines contract slightly, often causing our abdomens to protrude. Menopausal (and probably pre-menopausal) women also tend to gain weight in the abdomen, our weight shifting as our hormones change. The "pooch" (as Jo Anne calls it) is natural and inevitable, and at a certain point in a woman's life people stop seeing it as a possible pregnancy and recognize it for what it is: the natural shape of the older woman.

Unfortunately, I have been cursed with perpetually looking about 25 years old (seriously, I know you guys don't believe me, but I hate looking so young and this is just another reason). And I don't tend to look overweight since my arms, legs and face tend to look slender. So yeah, I guess my distended belly looks pregnant. Pregnant. One thing I've never even wanted to be.

...hate my body...self-loathing...hate my body...self-loathing...

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