Photo by Mandee Johnson

Yesterday I filmed a sketch for the upcoming season of Comedy Bang! Bang! on IFC. I played a server and had four whole lines and who knows if I fucked them up or not! There’s one thing I know I didn’t fuck up: standing in only my bra in front of a stranger and being all chill about it.

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To begin: I didn’t know until I arrived on set that I was supposed to provide my own wardrobe options—not a weird request for a four-line role on a sketch-type show, just a message that somehow hadn’t been passed along to me. I didn’t know I was supposed to bring “a variety of white button-down shirts” and no one from the cast of Party Down was on set to give me theirs, so I ended up filming in the black jeans and navy blue T-shirt I wear everyday.

I’m not kidding about it being the same T-shirt and jeans. Well, not the same same shirt and jeans. I own six pairs of the same black jeans and 10 of the same navy blue T-shirts. When I’m not onstage, that’s what I wear everyday. Sometimes I’ll add a jean jacket. Andrew Dice Clay had all-black everything. Andrew WK’s got all white. Black jeans/navy T is my look. I’m the Andrew Dice Gay of Andrew WGays.

Seeing me all T-shirted out, the wardrobe department hustled to try and get a few top options—toptions—together for me to wear. I vetoed a sleeveless number with zippers due to my end stage farmer’s tan—my forearms declare my Italian heritage with a bronzed “Esposito!” but my shoulders are pale as a Dita Von Teese riding a polar bear into a snow bank. Also zippers DO NOT belong on tops, a lesson I learned looking back at mid-’90s photos of myself wearing floral neon polyester zip-up polos from Contempo Casuals.

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When a low-cut, backless cardigan was suggested next, I decided to humor them and pop it on as a gesture of, “See, I’m not completely difficult!” Besides, when will I next have the opportunity to wear a low-cut, backless cardigan, since I am always buying shirts that have a back or a front, if not a back and front? If you need help imagining a low-cut, backless cardigan, picture a scarf with buttons. Even the fact that it exists is a miracle!

Here’s the thing about wardrobe: You just change right in front of them. They are pros and they see it all the time and your body ain’t that special—it’s that sort of thing. It’s like at Victoria’s Secret, when, if you will allow the bra-measurers into the fitting room, they’ll just zoom their hands around your underwire and pinch a cup or two before you can blink. It’s their job; nudity or bra-dity just isn’t a big deal to them. But it is a big deal to me.

I went on my first diet when I was 11. I’d always been a sturdy child, pot-bellied and muscular during that era when some kids waifed around on bony flamingo legs. I was not extremely overweight, just slightly round and a bit square. I had sort of the same body I have now: A woman’s body. It’s a body I am still trying to learn to love because people can be shit when you’re a little kid with an extra curve or two.

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Yes, kids pointed out the flaws they perceived in my thighs or in the shape of my stomach, but not just kids. Strangers on the street and some of my friends’ parents said awful things too. I remember a close friend’s mom asking me if I really felt comfortable wearing a swimsuit next to her daughter’s much more slender body. I was 8. When you are a little kid, you can’t protect yourself from this shit. You think the shit is you. I did, at least.

Eleven is an awful age to begin dieting. It’s an age when the body is still growing, when sexuality is emerging, and when one’s self-image is beginning to form. It’s an awful age to begin dieting because it’s the age when one develops self-hate. A lot of childhood is, really. We spend our childhoods coiling our self-hate, our adulthoods trying to unravel it, and our Twilight years trying impregnate Bella and defeat the Volturi.

I started measuring my food when I was 11—weighing out portions on a tiny kitchen scale. I stopped eating butter at 12. Cookies and pizza were cut out at 13. By 14, I was getting ready to enter high school and eating only from a strict menu I invented in keeping with the low-fat faux health food craze of the time. My preferred foods were pasta (cooked, no butter, no oil, no sauce), reduced-fat graham crackers, and soft-serve frozen yogurt from McDonalds.

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I reached my full height that year—a towering 5’4”—and I weighed 105 pounds, about 20 pounds less than I do now, and an unnatural weight for my frame. How do I know it was unnatural? By the way I maintained it.

I counted calories by setting up a daily eating schedule—to this day, I know the calorie count in the recommended serving size of most foods—and allowed myself no deviation from my planned eating for the day. Even a bite I had not planned out sent me into a fury. I would scream at my parents, begging them to explain why they had given me the body I was born with. I would storm out of restaurants, unable to be around unmonitored eating.

I developed an aversion to chewing sounds that I still struggle with and would have to engage in a practice I termed “sensory depravation”—plugging my ears and covering my eyes—to eat meals with family or even watch an actor eat a meal on television. I became so nervous about food that I began to have an exceptionally difficult time in the bathroom—yeah, I’m honestly going to talk about pooping here. Sorry about that. My anxiety settled in my digestive tract and tore right through it. So much so that my parents worried I might not be able to share a common bathroom when I went to college.

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For all this anger and discomfort, I also felt intoxicating levels of self-satisfaction at changing the body I was so ashamed of through sheer force of will. I remember the joy I felt purchasing pants in a size 00—a size so small it is actually smaller than the smallest size! I remember occupying myself by counting ribs in the mirror, and nights spent lying in bed with my shirt pulled up, staring down my perfectly flat stomach. Alongside this satisfaction, an interesting inverse proportionality also began to take shape: The thinner I got, the more private I became about my body. The things I disliked about myself only stuck out in greater relief to the parts I began to obsess over. “I will show my body when it is perfect,” I told myself, nibbling on an exact serving size of Pepperidge Farm fishy crackers.

I could barely leave that bathroom to go to school and yet, I was an honor student, three-sport athlete, and generally well liked by my peers. I stayed in class and gritted my teeth through intestinal cramps while cracking jokes to distract myself. I was voted “Next Janeane Garofalo” by my senior class—a very specific superlative the school handed out that year to during a Reality Bites viewership boom. That’s the thing about secrets: You can get really good at keeping them.

I didn’t use the term “eating disorder” until I was in my late 20s. By that time, many of the external manifestations of my eating disorder had begun to fade. I no longer weighed my food or counted calories. I switched from living off perfectly doled out serving sizes of packaged foods to eating the least processed food available in the amount that felt as comfortable as possible for my churned-up tummy.

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Therapy helped me move in this direction, as did reading about proper nutrition and the role of digestive aids—I really recommend probiotic for the tummy and walking around like mad for the mind. I have also benefited from living with and learning from partners with healthier eating habits and a decision to wear the same damn clothes everyday because I like the way they look on me. My fiancée recently suggested I attend a group meeting to talk about the daily mental routine of a life-long battle with food, something I haven’t yet done. I think it’s a great idea.

It was extremely hard work to try and love myself better and I am certainly not at some finish line or anything. The external manifestations have faded, but the thought processes remain. They were wired into my mind at that age when minds are wired. I am unwiring. Someday I may be wireless. Maybe I never will.

One thing I have attempted since moving from Chicago to Los Angeles two years ago is to have greater openness about my body. The layered clothing I used to divert attention from my actual human shape makes no sense in L.A.; it’s a zillion degrees here. People actually have pool parties—like adult people have pool parties for adults.

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Bathing suits weren’t a huge part of my life in Chicago. I didn’t really go swimming with pals. In L.A., I do. I didn’t know if I would be able to—it took some looking in the mirror and giving myself a pep talk—but I am and I’m totally proud of myself about it. I wear a dang bikini even!

Yesterday wasn’t the first time I have taken my shirt off in front of a woman—YOU KNOW IT WASN’T!—and it wasn’t the first time I’ve stood bra-only in front of a stranger for a fitting. But it was a little secret victory—a Victorious Secret—because I ate a relatively unmonitored breakfast and popped my shirt right off and felt comfortable in my body. And to be honest, I was wearing a really great bra.


Cameron Esposito is an L.A.-based stand-up comic, writer, and actor. Her new album, Same Sex Symbol, is out this week on Kill Rock Stars records. Follow her on Twitter at @cameronesposito.

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