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They used to call me “Troika.”

It was a nickname bestowed upon me in the 4th grade by Brett Rosenbaum* and “The Michaels” (of which there were three), and had very little to do with the actual definition of the word–“a Russian vehicle drawn by three horses abreast”–which I doubt they ever knew. To them it was a made up term. Onomatopoeic. A name to match my size.

I was a big girl. A fat girl. A troika.

The moniker caught on and followed me into middle school, through high school, and though I never heard it uttered aloud thereafter, Troika did make her way to college–tucked in next to my Brother word processor, a Jane’s Addiction poster, and two sets of extra long sheets.

It was a conscious decision.

I used her pain, my newfound freedom to feed myself, and the knowledge I gained working part-time in a health food store to lose the “freshman fifteen,” the “sophomore twelve,” the “junior eight” so that by the time I graduated, I was, in fact, a thin person. And I’ve been a thin person ever since. At nearly 42, I have now officially been a “skinny bitch” longer than I ever was a “fat girl,” but if you could hear the voice of Troika in my head, particularly on a bad day, you might think I was still pushing 200lbs. For better or worse, I’ve carried her with me for the last 33 years. But I’m pleased to say she’s finally evolving.

In my 20s, she manifested in department store fitting rooms. I would choose all the wrong sizes, sweat profusely as I tried things on, lose patience and leave with nothing. Until one day my best friend (Hi Betty!) had the “come to Jesus” talk with me in the middle of Urban Outfitters.

“Dana! Why are you picking up anything large? Honey! That’s not you anymore. You are not large. Let me see these.” She ripped a pile of clothing from my arms. “Size 12, size 14? What the hell is wrong with you? You’re small! You’re like, a size 2! Here.” She threw a pair of jeans at me. “Go put these on.”

They fit. She was right. But I didn’t see a size 2. I saw Troika.

In my 30s, after a few years of the blessed talking-cure, I came to a place where I knew that I needed to look in the mirror a solid three times before I could get past Troika to see what the rest of the world saw when they looked at me. I developed a sense of humor about it, too. I became known as “the fat one” among my cycling teammates–a nickname I could finally enjoy precisely because it implied the opposite. But it’s worth noting that I was, at the pinnacle of my amateur racing career, all of 5’7″, 120lbs, and about 8% body fat, and yet I still had to be convinced (again in a fitting room, this time in the Old Navy on Maui) that I could “get away with” wearing a bikini. Oh, Troika.

But 40 changed everything. I was finally pregnant. I’ll admit, going into it, I was a little worried for myself, for Troika, and the metamorphosis I was about to put her through. She could be so cruel. For starters, my OB-GYN recommended I gain 10lbs before even trying to conceive–“the hormones you need to sustain a pregnancy are stored in fat, and you, my dear, could really use more body fat.” My desire for motherhood far outweighed my desire for ripped abs, so I listened. I slowed my activity down–waaaaay down. I embraced the avocado, nuts and cheese, and took myself from 120lbs to 130lbs over the course of about a year. Troika survived. Barely. She refused to wear shorts in public. But soon there was a baby on board.

Those first few months of pregnancy–that awkward time when you aren’t telling anyone, and your breasts explode out of B-cups into Ds, and your belly protuberates into a babyless blob before hardening into an actual bump–I kind of wanted to hide. I would run into people, nurses I used to work with in the ICU, bike racing acquaintances, and I could swear they were looking me up and down thinking damn, she really let herself go. But once there was a bump, an actual, recognizable, she-ain’t-heavy-it’s-the-baby bump, Troika all but disappeared.

I LOVED my pregnant body. For the first time in my adult life I felt truly, unselfconsciously beautiful. I marveled at myself in the mirror. I wore dresses that clung to every curve. And at  8-months pregnant, sitting in a bathtub, my giant belly rising out of the suds, I made a promise to myself and my unborn son: I was going to love and honor my post-baby body in the same way that I loved this pregnant one. Troika-be-damned.

Eighteen months later, I have kept my promise.

Parts of me jiggle now. My post-baby body weighs in at a respectable 129lbs, and yet there are parts of me that jiggle that have never jiggled before–not even when I was young and round. And I don’t mean the tennis-balls-in-tube-socks that were once the tidy Bs before they fed my kid. I mean my ass, my thighs, my belly. They jiggle and sway with my swagger, but I refuse to lose my swagger ever again.

I hike every day. I strap my son on my back and head for the hills, sometimes for hours at a time. We sing songs, touch tree bark and moss, distinguish yellow flowers from purple. We stop to watch deer. We swim together once a week. Every Sunday I put on a bathing suit and head to the local Jewish Community Center for a mama-baby swim class. It’s hard not to notice that I’m one of the only mamas in a sea of papas and babies in the pool. The mamas are there of course. On the deck. Fully clothed. I think I know why, and I completely understand, but I wish it could be different. For everyone.

Troika hasn’t left me. I still pause to acknowledge her when I look in the mirror most days of the week. But lately, instead of pulling at my clothing, turning every which way, trying to get past her, I imagine her as that sweet chubby 9-year old girl and I give her exactly what she needed all along: a little love. I thank her for being with me, for keeping me honest about my health and food choices, and I move on. I want my son to grow up with memories of us splashing together in the waves, of his mama running down the beach unselfconsciously, laughing. To raise my little boy, I needed to raze my little Troika. It may have taken the better part of 33 years, but I think I’m finally, finally there.

*names have been changed to protect the innocent

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