Forty is the new twenty. [Guest Column]


Forty is the new twenty.

By Mandi Konesni

My mother is my hero, and she’s the greatest and strongest woman I know. Having said that, most people are probably rolling their eyes and thinking of their own mother. That, and a lot of you probably think I’m biased, which I more than likely am.

“Age is something that doesn’t matter, unless you are cheese.”

- Billie Burke

Mother and Daughter

“The Backstory”

My mom was taken away from her mother when she was young, and was pushed from foster home to foster home. Sometimes, they weren’t exactly the nice place they were thought to be.

She emerged from high school to set off on her own life, but was plagued by chronic asthma so bad she could hardly walk out of the front door without having an attack. The doctors put her on Prednisone, a corticosteroid. After years of being on it, she weighed 370lbs. Rather than hiding because of her asthma, she was hiding because of her weight. It hurt that she wouldn’t come to our school performances and things that were important to us. We didn’t see what she saw when she looked in the mirror… we saw a loving and caring mother who would do anything for us.

My mom swore when she was younger that if she ever hit three hundred pounds, she would commit suicide rather than live a life of relying on others for daily tasks. After she hit almost four hundred pounds, she hit rock bottom. She got depressed and suicidal, and my dad called hourly just to make sure she was still alive. When I think of how close we came to not having her here, I still get tears in my eyes. Then on Christmas Eve she had a massive asthma attack. She almost died in front of us, and it took four paramedics to carry the stretcher to the ambulance. She was mortified, and came out of the hospital determined to find a better life.

After a year of waiting and going through tests, she was finally approved for gastric bypass surgery. It took two years for her to lose the weight, but she now weighs a hundred and forty pounds and looks absolutely amazing. However, she still has the excess skin to be removed, and because of that, she still feels that she doesn’t belong in her own body — that she’s a prisoner of her own flesh.

“Modified Mom”

Mom found an outlet for herself, a niche that allowed her to be happy with the way she looked when she saw herself in the mirror: Mom got pierced.

Her first piercings were her nipples. She got them done at Juki’s Tattoo in Toledo, but had to take them out to get tests done at random times because of her asthma and upcoming surgery. Finally she got tired of spending money on re-piercing them, and ended up learning to do them herself. My mom has pierced her own nipples five times each, and has kept them open for years. Then she decided she wanted her hood pierced, but was so embarrassed by the excess skin that she didn’t want to go to a piercer to do it. I bought her the supplies she needed as a birthday gift, and she pierced her own horizontal hood. After a week, she decided that she didn’t like it and wanted it vertical — promptly taking it out and re-piercing it. A week later she had to re-pierce yet again because the bead popped out and the ring was lost. A self-done navel piercing, two self-done cartilage piercings, and a professional tongue piercing soon followed; as well as three tattoos.

Looking at my mom now is amazing. She’s a totally different person. She smiles and laughs, she has the confidence to show off her modifications, and help other people decide if piercings and tattoos are right for them. She allows her children to find their own way as well, knowing that her modifications became such a huge part of her life that she couldn’t possibly restrict that happiness from us. She’s my best friend and I know I can tell her anything and she’ll understand. Finding herself has led her to re-discover her long-lost childhood and has helped her to better redefine herself as a woman, not as a forty-something year old housewife and mother.

“Mom Speak”

After getting gastric bypass surgery, what made you decide to modify your body further?

I’ve always found piercings and tattoos sexy, but my weight kept me away. I was afraid people would say rude things and make fun of me if I tried looking “sexy” at 370 pounds. At thirty-eight years old, I figured that if I didn’t get the things I wanted done soon then I wouldn’t do them at all. Unfortunately, it worked too good and I couldn’t stop. Besides, now, I can look down and see my piercings!

Do you have any specific reasons or meanings for the modifications that you have gotten?

Tinkerbell was kind of a “Neverland” thing. She’s magical and cute, reminding me that just because I’m not a child anymore doesn’t mean I can’t still have that naivety and innocence that I long to keep. My heart tattoo was a celebration of losing the first two hundred pounds. I felt brand new, and decided to get my tattoo as a permanent reminder of how far I had come. The Leo sign was honestly a compliment to Tinkerbell when I got it, but now I see it as an embodiment of myself — a true Leo in every way, shape, and form.

My birthday present tongue piercing I did it mainly for the shock value. I’m a 42 year old woman with a tongue piercing, and I absolutely love it. My nipples I got done before I had lost the weight. I did them to feel sexy, to feel that I had something special about me that other people couldn’t see. I always loved the look of them, and felt they made me more womanly. My hood piercing was inspired by Marilyn Chambers. She’s a porn star, and in “Behind the Green Door” she had a hood piercing and I was captivated by it. I wanted one ever since! Also, because I pierced it myself, it’s deeply personal and symbolic of my inner strength that I never knew I had.

My navel was a spur of the moment thing… I thought it was cute, but never thought and overweight woman could have one. Once I lost the weight, I decided to go for it, even with the excess skin kind of covering it.

When people first find out about your piercings and tattoos, what is the first reaction? Is there a different between age groups?

The first reaction is probably disbelief and shock. People don’t think that a forty-two year old housewife would have modifications, and don’t believe that I do. When they get over that, they always want to see them, even the more private ones. The people who know me almost expect it of me — nothing about me is what you could call “average”! To be honest, there isn’t really much of a difference between age groups. People who are in their teens react the same way as people who are sixty or seventy years old. It’s very accepted nowadays, and people are truly interested in the decorations I have.

If your husband or family complained (as in the recent Dear Abby column) what would your response to them be? How would you feel if they said you were too “old” for such things?

I would tell them that it’s none of their business. Honestly, my piercings and tattoos are highly personal and symbolic of how far I’ve come. No one has a right to tell me what I can and can’t do to my body, especially because I’ve worked so long to like myself in it. What does age have to do with it anyways? I’m a woman, not a corpse! As a human, we have the basic right to sate our curiously and make ourselves happy. No one should come between that. A husband should support his wife in any endeavor, even if it’s not something he particularly enjoys.

What would be your advice to the woman (not the husband) in the “Dear Abby” situation?

If she got the piercings for herself to make herself happy, there’s something to be said when your husband won’t support that. It’s the same thing as in the sixties when women burned their bras. Men in relationships don’t want their wives to suddenly be liberated. However, he pledged to love her and support her no matter what when he stood on the altar. A bit of metal doesn’t change the person he married, but his reaction says volumes. I say, more power to her! My husband didn’t necessarily want me to get the piercings and tattoos that I’ve gotten… but he supported me. Now he refuses to let me even think of taking them out, because he loves them so much!

What role did your weight loss surgery play in your decision to get the piercings and tattoos that you wanted?

Everything. I felt more sexy and more womanly inside, and wanted to express that wanton abandonment for all to see. Most of my piercings are sexual in nature, and I did that on purpose. When you’re over forty, it’s hard to feel sexy in your own right. Every little bit helps! Without the surgery, I probably would have still gotten everything except the Leo tattoo and the navel… only because I wouldn’t have pulled my pants down to get the tattoo, and I felt I was too big for a navel piercing. I’m so glad that I’m not limited by those misconceptions anymore, and I feel good enough about myself that I can change my body however I want to, without worrying about what others will think of me.

After your kids watched you struggle with your weight, and the consequences of losing it, how does it make you feel knowing that they look to you as a hero, and are following in your modification footsteps?

I am who I am because of the things that I went though. I wouldn’t wish my past on anyone, but I wouldn’t change it either. It’s made me the person that I am today. I’m nobody’s hero, but every mother wants her kids to look up to her, and if my children think that I’m a hero it makes what I went through all the better.

Following in my footsteps, you know… I didn’t realize that’s what they were doing. I made it “ok” for them to express their own individuality. I’m not one of those mothers whose kids are too afraid to ask for a piercing, so if they wanted something like that, they knew they could ask and I’d probably let them. Well, I suppose I should say “within reason”… otherwise that’ll probably come back to bite me in the ass!

Any further comments you’d like to share?

Yes. I think that people in this world need to grow up. As a forty-two year old woman, I want to tell Dear Abby and all columnists like her that the times are changing. If you’re writing to the public you need to open up your eyes and mind. Not everyone fits into this “cookie-cutter” mold you seem to have surrounded yourself with. I’m happy, and I wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for my surgery and subsequent modifications. You can’t tell me that my happiness should be forsaken just to fit into society’s misconceptions. I’d rather be a happily modified woman than another suicide statistic.

Mandi Konesni (iam:cuthalcoven) is is a full-time student studying English and Abnormal Psychology. She spends a lot of time rehabilitating wild animals and rockhounding, as well as reviewing experiences for BME. She plans to eventually teach psychology in Toledo, Ohio.

Online presentation copyright © 2004 Mandi Konesni and LLC. Requests to republish must be confirmed in writing. For bibliographical purposes this article was first published online December 19th, 2004 by LLC in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.


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