I was first drawn to it while playing in my grandmother’s dresser drawers. I’ve always loved anything with hooks and lace and this had both. Firm mesh side panels, hook and eye closure, trimmed with lace. Even though I had no idea how to wear it, I instinctively wrapped the snug garment around my small, plump belly. Parading around my grandma’s room, I paired my new piece with her 25th wedding anniversary tiara.
It wasn’t until I went home in my new outfit, to my mother, that I learned what I was wearing was meant for fat girls and old ladies to hide their bellies. I didn’t hate the idea of it. In fact, it made me love it even more. My mother gave me no resistance when I asked if I could wear it to school the next day.
And so there I was, 9 years old, in the 4th grade, wearing my girdle underneath a pair of pants that were just a liiittle too difficult to button pre-shapewear. I felt soooooo fine ! No one could have possibly known that these pants didn’t fit me yesterday. I felt powerful, thin, and I listened to my Aaliyah tape at recess and dreamt of being just like her when I grew up. I felt like THIS WAS MY TICKET. Somehow, concealing my tummy was my ticket to being a successful recording artist— nevermind the fact that I can’t carry a tune to save my life.
Needless to say, I liked this feeling. So when my grandma found out I’d worn it to school and said that it wasn’t appropriate for me to wear, I was devastated. She did, however, offer me a different option— tummy tuck panties. They basically did the same thing, but without the pretty hooks and lace. I have no idea how this was more appropriate than the other, but I didn’t question it. I just wore my power panties and listened to my Aaliyah tape.
My heart is still capable, 17 years later, of feeling that glimmer of hope. The kind that made me wrap my arms around my chest as I looked at myself in the mirror and thought about Brandon asking me to be his girl, all the friends I’d have in high school, my first world-tour !
Brandon never asked me to be his girlfriend. Jeremy, the weird boy in class, who I found oddly charming, did.
In high school, I wasn’t friends with Cheylanne Beaver or whoever that other popular girl was. I was friends with Rachel and Jessica and Lauren, queer kids who smoked pot and listened to Ani DiFranco with me.
I haven’t gone on tour. I’ve made art; written stories and taken photos that have resonated with people around the world who now have the courage to love their fat bodies.
Fitting into those pants meant the world to me when I was 9. My story isn’t rare. And it doesn’t end when one fat girl grows out of her girdle. There is a lot of work that has to done, not just for the kids in Spanx or on diets, but for those who make kids feel like they’re incapable of being Aaliyah because they don’t quite fit into the pants they did yesterday.