I stared at my reflection, momentarily in shock. The striped tee shirt I used to wear far too often was now strangling me. All I could see was stomach and nipples and body; there was so much more of me than there was before, and I was ashamed.
After several minutes of self-shaming, I reminded myself how unhealthy this thought process was, ripped that shirt off, and threw it in a trash bag. I proceeded to raid my room and rid it of every single American Apparel extra small tee shirt I owned. Full disclosure: these shirts made up a disturbingly substantial part of my wardrobe. I drove shirtless to the closest donation bin because this couldn’t wait.
As I stood sweating in the parking lot, I looked down at my stomach and thought it looked pretty damn good aside from the ridiculous sunburn. It reminded me of a day at the beach two summers ago when I was reluctant to take off that stupid striped tee.
When I visited a close friend who moved to coastal Connecticut, we planned to spend Saturday at a local cafe and a tiny, secluded beach. While at the coffee shop, my friend took a picture of me that I made my profile picture on just about every social media platform possible. In the photograph, I’m looking down at my coffee and chuckling in the background with a delicious-looking vanilla cupcake on the table in front of me.
Although the picture may have made it appear that the cupcake was mine, I refused to touch it. Knowing that we’d be spending the day on the beach, I faked an upset stomach and sipped black coffee. My friend saw right though me but let it go, knowing that if she pushed me the day would be ruined.
As we arrived at the beach, she immediately stripped down to her bathing suit and forced me to sunblock her vampire-white skin. Afterward, she offered to do the same for me, and I froze. Even after fasting, I couldn’t face the idea of showing my stomach, so I went to the bathroom and panicked for a solid half hour. Eventually I took that striped shirt off, but I was self-conscious the entire afternoon.
Two years later, without the option to put that shirt on, I drove through the only Dunkin Donuts in town, ordered a coffee cake muffin and a large iced coffee with cream, and brought my breakfast to my favorite lakeside park. Ten minutes later, my chest and library book were covered in crumbs, and I was content.
I was no longer too big or too much, and it was no longer too soon. I was a whole person, and that was just enough. I would’ve gone for a cupcake, but no shirt means no service, and I couldn’t be bothered with that.