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reSISTERS by Kerry Zagarella

A few months back, during another Covid online shopping spree, I bought some tunics. Long, big huge tunics, that I could wear with leggings or jeans or just drape over my 60 year old body. Not too long ago I deemed these large zipperless, formless bags, “give-up” clothes. The J.Jill catalogue is full of them; beautiful non-fitting linen bolts of fabric folded to appear to be pants or a shirt. I laughed and joked about it as Covid shrunk my own zipper jeans and roomy sweatshirts. What else will you take Covid? If I was going to die anyday, I was not going to spend my days and nights depriving myself. I didn’t want to die on an elliptical machine or eating non-gluten crackers with hummus. Perhaps, if I had a choice, it would be with a double IPA and a fried chicken sandwich on a true southern biscuit...with cheese, the closer. That already sounds like heaven; I’m halfway there! Would I have to resort to the J.Jill look forever? NO!

But then, I caved. I wanted to camouflage what I could; any clothing that fit or touched my skin felt tight, maybe even frightening. Who was I to have a body to be seen? I would become the old tunic lady with colorful woolen socks and sneakers; now that is scary and maybe true. I ordered my pro-angina linen tunic and three days later this monstrous package arrived on my front stoop. It could not fit in my mailbox. I thought of the postal worker having to get out of their truck to put this package on my porch. Did they wonder about it’s contents? Did they think I was planning a COVID camping trip and getting my 7 man tent delivered? My son helped me carry in my tunic and we took shears to the package to pull out the largest shirt I have ever seen. Now mind you, I buy second-hand 4x retro men’s dress shirts to remake into summer dresses I know big. As soon as I found the sleeves I put the bolt of fabric over my head and instantly realized that this was not a piece of “give-up” clothing, in fact it was my first conscious body shaming purchase. Then the pamphlets dropped out of the box. Catalogues with names like, Big and Beautiful, Extra You!, and finally the worst of the bunch, Woman Within. Each catalogue claimed to carry sizes 12W-44W, but the models on every cover were model sized, size 2-6. The Woman Within title is so degrading. I feel for my larger sisters who have to shop this way, with the condescending reassurances from society that, “we know you are a woman under all that weight of yours”. Absolutely disgusting.

I have struggled with weight my whole life, and the really sad thing is that almost every woman of any size can say that. Even as a spindly, skinny little kid I thought about weight, as I watched my Sister and Mom face every Monday with a new diet. Grapefruits, melba toast and cottage cheese filled the otherwise empty pantry. Every Monday they would jog around the field in front of our house round and round, dreading every rotation because clearly their bodies were the enemy! My Mom comically ran round in her Bermuda shorts with a Pall Mall cigarette glued to her lower lip! I couldn’t understand why they did it. I just cut straight through the field to get to the other side. My Father and Brothers didn’t run around on Mondays. They didn’t gorge on all the “bad foods” on Sunday night like my Mom and my Sister did with bowls of hot fudge sundaes and Ed Sullivan. They would often claim they were “bad” when they ate other foods besides the cardboard tasting Monday foods. And whenever they did lose weight, they would take sideways pictures of themselves and suck in their non-existent bellies. It was like a right of passage to start hating your body that much, and I couldn’t wait to be a big girl! But, my body hatred didn’t just come from my family. That campaign dates back to the beginning of time. In the book, Cassandra Speaks, Elizabeth Lesser writes, “Even as a girl I understood there was something out of line about being female-something physical, something emotional, something sexual that made me, and the whole lot of us girls and women, suspect, unworthy, punishable.” In, Cassandra Speaks, Lesser analyzes many myths and ancient origin stories that claim women as inherently shameful and evil. When talking about the Adam and Eve origin myth, Lesser writes, “It’s important to understand the significance of how our society’s origin story is based in blame. It's good to contemplate what our culture would be like if the first woman had not been branded as “second born, first to sin”. These archetypes are burned into our brains and are perpetuated by our society and the “beauty” industry. We have shame, but for what reason? If you are good enough as is, if you embrace your body as an actual part of who you are, our economy falls apart.

Self Magazine reported that the average woman spends over $15,000 in a lifetime just on make-up. You can add to that the INSANE amount of money we spend on haircuts and color, pedicures, manicures, gym memberships, exercise equipment, clothing, and of course numerous versions of the slimming- capped sleeve -empire silhouetted- perfect little black dress. For what again? hide from the purity of our body and mind.

Doesn’t BIG Pharm suffer too, if we attempt to connect our healing to our mind and body as well? One pill wonders fill our shelves and screens, and they rarely work. I have spent so much money on remedies for my RLS and BFS, aka: Restless Legs Syndrome and Benign Fasciculation Syndrome, with no relief. I have experienced these syndromes for close to two decades. The most annoying side effect is severe sleep disturbance. I was under the care of the nation’s expert on RLS for two years. Together we tried battling my body’s neurological misfires with a continued increase in dosages of various drugs. These drugs, or as we like to politely call them, medications, caused more side effects and lasting damage to me, then the nightly sleep problems. I have spent decades being really mad at my body, so sick and tired of the random flailing, involuntary movements, constant neurological pulsations and nightly sleep interruptions. Ok, you might be asking right about now, “Wasn’t she talking about buying a tunic that was too big?” Yes, I was and am! It is all connected. The body shaming, the hatred and disconnection from our entire being fuels our economy. You are taught that you alone cannot heal yourself! We fight against illnesses that portray our body as the enemy. I have already traveled down many tangent rabbit holes while writing this, so I will not get started on “health care” which really just seems like “sick care”. I have concluded to try healing through acceptance. I am trying meditation and alternative healing modalities that actually promote a connection between my lovely flailing body and my curious mind. So far, there are no bad side effects.

I want to be healthy and live a long happy life. I am not alone in that wish, but it does require action. We have to pursue and share our joys, love our loved ones, sow relationships, eat well, and exercise, but not because we hate our bodies, right? Could it possibly be because we love our bodies? This miraculous vehicle we travel in, breathing with the trees. I'm choosing that. I shrunk the tunic. I washed it in the hottest water I could and dried it. It’s massive, still. I might make a baby quilt out of it, or proudly wear it. But I will not accept the title of the Woman Within, believe me I am out and not hard to find.

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