Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Sweet 16 and How I Lost It

By Paula Gaikowski


The woman was stunning, enjoying a classic feminine beauty that seemed effortless. She moved with an elegant charm in an ivory colored suit, her heels tapped musically as she exited the elevator leaving behind a rich floral scent. Most men would desire her, but I desired to be like her.

A few weeks later, I was in Lord & Taylor where I saw the most beautiful ivory suit on a mannequin. Paired with a pair of black pumps and purse it called out to me. I had to have it.
I checked the rack looking for a size that fit me. The largest one I found was a Misses size 16, but I wore a Women’s size 24. I bought the size 16.

I don’t know why, but I had to have that dress. It didn’t fit; the skirt wouldn’t go past my knees. It hung in my closet for three years. Sometimes I would take it out and hold it up and daydream.

Time had passed and today was the day; the suit was ready back from the cleaners. It hung there in a clear plastic bag. I was ready too, pantyhose, bra, Spanx, hair and makeup. I took her from the hanger and opened the zipper on the skirt, stepped into it, pulled it over my hips, and reached behind and heard the wonderful sound of “zzzippp!” as the skirt fit perfectly around my waist.

As I slipped into the jacket, the satin lining felt cool against my skin. As I worked the buttons closed, the jacket hugged my hips seductively and proudly accented my bust. I sprayed a bit of perfume and then stepped into my shoes. When I turned toward the mirror, there she was: the women from the elevator. Although I was smiling, a tear ran down my cheek.

In 2009, I turned 50 years old and had reached the weight of 280 pounds. I hated how I looked. I was a year or two away from high blood pressure and diabetes. My dreams of expressing my feminine side were slipping away. I was burdened with guilt, shame and self loathing.

Through the years, I had worked so hard and sacrificed for so many things for so many people in my life. Now at 50, the one thing I wanted most, the one thing that had nagged at me since childhood was going to be left unanswered. I could not do it. I could not let it go. I needed to express that woman who I knew lived inside me. I may never transition, but I needed to experience the world as a woman in some way.

I had no plan. I was still lost, but then one day during lunch I went to a local mall. I decided that I was going to buy makeup --- a good quality foundation. I walked around the sleek and polished cosmetic counters in Lord & Taylor. I was feeling horribly out of place and self-conscious.

I walked up to the Lacome counter and stammered out a request for a foundation with heavy coverage. The sales associate told me that their foundations were very sheer, but asked me to wait a minute; she walked over to another kiosk and spoke briefly with another sales associate.

Meanwhile I was turning red with embarrassment; I was sure they were shocked and appalled by my request. I fought the urge to bolt and run as I had done in earlier attempts. But I was starting to get weary of making excuses and being afraid. I had enough and I wasn’t going to run anymore. I was going to stand up to that bully who lived inside of me.

From across the aisle came a smile and a petite wave. Soon I found myself standing in front of an attractive young woman who was the manager of the NARS counter. Kasey, I would later learn her name, was pretty enough to be a model. Her make-up, true to her profession, was artistically perfect. She quickly put me at ease and started to explain the different types of foundations available.

For the first time in my life I spoke the truth openly about who I was. I told her that I was transgender and was starting to use makeup and wanted to develop a conservative business look for going out in the world. I didn’t know what to expect in return. I imagined the worst:  disdain, scorn, condescension, but instead, she responded with enthusiasm and it was contagious.

I listened intently to every word. Fifteen minutes later, I departed and walked proudly back to the car carrying my cute little NARS bag with my new foundation. Best of all, I felt good about my purchase; I didn’t feel guilty or shameful. For the first time in my life I felt acceptance.

About three weeks later I went back to the NARS counter. Still a bit apprehensive and uneasy about what my reception might be, I was relieved to be greeted by Kasey and a friendly smile. “Hey, how’s the foundation working for you?”

She then helped me pick out colors for my eyes and gave me advice on application. When she reached for her business card under the counter I noticed her lunch, a small container of soup, fruit and a bottle of water. As I walked away it dawned on me, if I wanted to look like a slender stylish woman I needed to eat like one.

I was a yo-yo dieter who always went back to a fat and bad carb-based diet. It was what I was used t, and it was destroying me physically, but also destroying any hope I had of stepping out into the world as a woman.

This was an epiphany. At that moment, I associated and connected my diet with being feminine and achieving my dream. I wanted to dress as a woman, socialize as a woman, and be accepted as a woman, that is, in all practical ways, I wanted to live as a woman. I finally realized that along with the clothes, cosmetics, manicures, perfume and hair, I also needed to include a diet!

Now anytime I reached for food I asked myself, “What would a healthy woman eat?” Every time I made a correct choice, it connected me a tiny bit to my feminine side. No longer was making a healthy choice an act of self-denial, but instead, it was self-actualization and a step toward femininity. That realization made all the difference in my battle against weight.

As my weight dropped, I built a wardrobe and began to evolve as a woman. I started seeing a gender therapist and began to talk about my feelings openly. The guilt started to fade away. I began to accept the fact that I was transgender. I wasn’t doing anything wrong and I didn’t have to be ashamed about dressing as a woman. The world opened up to me.

What worked for me was simplicity. I live a busy life. My family has all kinds of foods and busy schedules. I didn’t go out and buy all kinds of diet food. Rather, I started counting calories.

Male bodies (unfortunately that’s what I’m working with here) burn 2000 calories a day if you don’t exercise. So I began slowly changing my diet. For example, for breakfast, instead of a cheese omelet, toast, butter, and bacon, I would have just eggs, maybe some mushrooms, and a slice of toast without butter. Then for lunch, maybe some soup and fruit, or a sandwich and some fruit. We are not even up to 1000 calories yet. Dinner just a small piece of meat, lots of vegetables and maybe some bread.

The trick is to eat different foods and get into a rhythm that is acceptable on a full-time basis. Your hunger will diminish and you will begin to lose weight. On weekends, I don’t go crazy but do enjoy nice dinners, pizza and maybe some beer.

Find an exercise that you can do regularly. If going to the gym is going to cause problems with your busy schedule, then find a niche of free time. I walk. I used to be a runner and laughed at walkers, but research will tell you that the benefits of walking are close to running. Best of all, I can do it anywhere. On the weekends, I can hike in the woods and during the week, I can trek through the office park. A half hour or an hour starts to slice off those 2000 calories.

Most importantly and listen closely here, if you do not enjoy exercise, you won’t keep it up. My walks are an escape. I enjoy them and feel as if something is missing if I don’t get that daily walk in.

The whole process is not rocket science. Eat healthier food, keep it under 2000 calories a day and exercise. The experts emphasize that diets do not work, but that eating healthy does work. I found a reason to eat healthy --- something that gave me more satisfaction than feasting: femininity.




Two femulators in Sweden (1967).




Wearing Zac Posen (dress) and Loeffler Randal (clutch).


  1. It does make a difference does it not Paula when we finally are at peace with ourselves and our nature. I know its made a world of difference in mine and now at 50 years of age I have finally arrived at a place where I am comfortable with my gender variance and my place in the world. Very nicely said and very inpsiring as well. You go girl!

  2. Paula,
    Great inspiration and a good use of having our 'T'side work for our overall good.
    You look great.

  3. Thought of your Femulate art work when I saw this in the comics today http://bizarrocomics.com/files/2013/06/bz-panel-06-05-13.jpg