Category Archives: fat shaming

Weight Loss Surgery Cheating 101

I’m writing this message for people thinking about, and those who’ve had, weight loss surgery (WLS), such as a Roux en Y, or the Sleeve. You (me too, I’m five years post-op) are making life-altering and significant decisions concerning your health. It’s natural to turn to those closest to you to discuss your choices and compare options. And when you do, you’re likely to run into someone who is going to tell you WLS is a way to “cheat” at losing weight.

It might be a family member, friend, co-worker, spiritual advisor, gym instructor, teacher, or even an acquaintance. She may have been your greatest cheerleader during every diet you’ve failed. He might be the one pressuring you to get thin. They may have watched your weight gain over the years and had plenty to say about it. But it’s pretty much assured that someone is going to say to you, “Surgery is taking the easy way out. C’mon, it’s really cheating.”

And after you’ve lost a significant amount of weight the same people will say, “My, you’ve changed. Where’s that sweet person I used to know?”

Okay, let’s take this step by step. In the first place, it’s not easy to realize that repeated failure is inevitable through traditional means. Oh sure, diets work until we reach our desired weight and begin to eat normally again, and compulsive exercise programs may shape and tone…until we get thinner and decide to skip a session or ten. You have stepped out of the box and recognized that it’s foolish to keep doing the same things time and again with predictably disappointing results – every pound you lost traditionally has come back and brought twenty more for good measure.

Secondly, who exactly are you cheating? And precisely how?

Are you cheating the person accusing you by taking their money under false pretenses? Perhaps they’re paying for your weight loss program, diet, and gym costs and think you’re dodging your responsibilities?

Maybe you’re swindling society at large because everyone’s physiology is obviously identical and those who no longer conform must struggle? Is dieting a competition you are fated to lose? Is it really depriving your community of anything if you choose to step out of a race you can’t win, place in, or even finish? Is dieting plus extreme exercise equals weight loss the only honest solution to a compulsory problem?

Or more insidiously, are you being accused of cheating yourself? Out of what; depression, health problems, discrimination, dismissiveness, rude behavior, cruel bullying, or early death?

Nonsense. Cheating, even short-cutting, permanent weight loss is impossible. It is not a game to be won, no score is being kept, no investor is paying for your weight loss and expecting a dividend. And duh, it’s impossible to cheat on yourself. As Yoda explained, you do or do not.

During the miraculous year following WLS when so many pounds melt away, you’ll get reactions ranging from praise and admiration, to curiosity, to shock and jealousy, the whole gamut. As strangers start being nice to you (another topic for another time), the bullies up their bullying.

It could be they’re resentful because you succeeded when they secretly bet against you, counting on you to fail this time as you always have before. Some, like alcoholics, might have thought of you as their eating buddy, the one they could always count on for a pig-out to make them feel better when they lost control because you did too. They may have always measured themselves as ‘better’ than you because thinner is the winner and you always outweighed them. Now they are bigger than you and they don’t like it for all the reasons I’ve mentioned and many more I haven’t. The happier you feel the more miserable they become.

They start saying snarky things to undermine you. The first is usually, “I don’t know you anymore. You’ve changed.”

Uh huh, duh. That was the plan, Fran.

You have changed, a lot. You’ve taken control of your own body and now manage its health in ways you never have before. They don’t know who you are anymore because you’ve made decisions far different than their own and much more difficult than they’ve ever managed.

You’ve learned a lot about your body, self-esteem, and the space you take up and it’s changed you. You’re not the same sad, lonely, self-deprecating, shrinking violet they knew before WLS. The days of pretending to be wallpaper so no one will look at you are over. You no longer hunger for acceptance or feel desperate for approval. You don’t need anyone to know your worth because you know it.

When asked where that sweet person they used to know has gone, I’ve answered, “I’m right here, stronger, healthier, and happier. Where’s that supportive sibling/friend/co-worker I used to know?”

If you’ve chosen WLS and someone accuses you of cheating or tries to belittle your accomplishments tell them, “Listen, you can either hop on board my Success Train or get out of my way. Either way, I’m moving on.”

In Vain, or Insane?

So the best part of day 2 on a liquid diet is that day 1 is over.

Although I grazed through the day with

  • 7 8oz cups of water
  • 3 protein drinks, 
  • 2 cups of cream of broccoli soup (eww!), 
  • 1/2 cup of Malt-o-Meal (yeah, they still make it and it still tastes the same…), 
  • one 4oz container of applesauce (no sugar added), 
  • one 4oz container of non-fat pudding, 
  • and one truly bitter container of yogurt, 

somehow I was hungry pretty much every minute of the day.

Okay, in the interest of total disclosure, there were about 10-15 minutes following the protein shakes where I wasn’t actively hungry, but it roared back within the hour.

However, I’m one day closer to my goal, and THAT is pretty cool.

So day 2 started off with me wondering if I should take some photos of myself at the beginning of the journey. After I stopped quivering, I tried once more to talk myself into it. Same visceral reaction.

I learned a long time ago that you can’t be in the photos if you’re the one taking the picture. So I became the family photographer. There are still enough photos of me to make sure I get my face on at least 10 out of 12 months of the Christmas calendar (Mixbook.com), but I make sure they’re head shots. I shudder whenever someone takes a photo of my whole body, and usually crop it out of the photo as soon as possible.

I also avoid seeing my whole reflection in mirrors, focusing on whatever body part I’m dealing with (usually face, teeth, hair…). When I’m walking by large store windows I focus on the models within, rather than my image reflected from the glass. I never try new clothes on in dressing rooms before buying – I just return them after I’ve tried them on at home. In that way I have happily maintained my own ignorance of the true size of my body.

Except that’s not true. When asked to estimate my own weight I’m usually within 10 pounds, startling the hell out of health professionals who uniformly believe overweight people have no true understanding of their situation. Although I routinely refused to be weighed when being seen by doctors (that public humiliation thing I covered yesterday), I have lived with this body my whole life and am aware of what wearing various sizes mean in terms of total weight.

In other words, I know how big I am but avoid like the plague seeing the proof of the pudding, as it were, with my own two eyes. Kind of the way I want the world to deal with me too. You can know I’m a plump (fat), middle-aged (old), charmer (woman), just don’t see me that way. I’d rather you ‘saw’ me as my young, beautiful, healthy self in my eighteen year old body.

Of course, doesn’t everybody?

I don’t know if I’m going to talk myself into a ‘before’ photo or not. I’ll let you know tomorrow.

FAT SHAMING – Another Form of Bullying

I was talking about this with some women the other day. We’re all full-figured women who’ve lived our lives on the heavy side of the scale, rather than the lighter, and each of us had horror stories to tell.

I shared a story of going through the cafeteria at school during the second grade, and being dished up a portion much smaller than those around me who had all paid exactly the same amount of money. When I asked why I got less, the lunch lady smiled sadly and said, “You don’t really need that much, now do you?” This from a woman shaped like a potato dumpling. I turned bright red, the others around me laughed, and I started packing my own lunch, sitting by myself to eat until I found some accepting friends.

I still not comfortable eating in cafeterias or buffets. I feel myself turning bright red as I gather my food as fast as possible, imagining the people ahead and behind me to be judging my choices and always finding me a greedy glutton. Even in restaurants I try to be seated in a sheltered booth or hidden nooks.

In the fourth grade, I already outweighed my teacher. How do I know? Because she decided she would weigh each student, post their weight, and use those numbers to show children how to find the average weight of each person in the class. For shitz and giggles she jumped on the scale too, adding her paltry one-hundred-ten pounds to the mix. After every other student in the class had been weighed, she called me up. To her credit, she had her scale discreetly hidden from class view, but I was having none of it. I told her I wouldn’t do it, an extremely assertive statement for me. She threatened to call my parents and give me a ‘C’ in math, a subject in which I’d always received ‘A’s. I sobbed, telling her I didn’t want to do it, that the other kids would make fun of me, but in the way of adults in authority she had her way, insisting my weight would make a ‘huge’ difference in the class average.

For the next two weeks I stared at a graph filled with pieces of masking tape, every student’s (and the teacher’s) weight written on masking tape, displayed on one full wall of the class. When we each had to add our tape to the board, I had to place my little square all alone in the highest right hand corner. Because the wall graph was so large, I had to pull a desk over to the wall and climb up to put it in the right place. The teacher was so pleased she even invited the principal to admire it, and I blushed when she threw a look right at me. Whether it was sympathy or judgement was difficult for me to decipher when I was nine years old, but by then I’d already learned to assume the worst.

I never felt the same about math after that. What had been challenging and exciting became threatening and difficult. My growing fear of math eventually turned me away from career choices because I was sure I would fail statistics.

Were the lunch lady and the fourth grade teacher bullies? I’m sure they would not only reject that accusation, they’d become defensive and offer excuses for how and why it was for my own good. I’m sure in each of their minds, at the time, it didn’t seem like that big a deal to them. But here it is a half century later and both incidents are still fresh in my memory.

It is my opinion that both women were bullies, using their authority over me as a child to humiliate and publicly shame me in front of my peers. Their actions didn’t help the school or students in any way, but both times I was directly injured.

The cafeteria might have saved a penny or three by shorting my plate each time they served me, but since I was unwilling to go through the lunch line any more and began bringing my own lunch, all they did was lose a paying customer. The damage done to my psyche was far greater than any financial reward reaped by that judgmental lunch lady.

I’ve never forgiven my fourth grade teacher. The rest of that year was a nightmare of humiliation for me. The kids teased me, of course, but I was the daughter of the local pediatrician. All I had to do was remind them that my father had seen them naked, and they pretty much backed off. And after a while my naturally funny personality made a place for me in the social hierarchy, and my diligent intelligence earned me respect from both students and teachers.

Of course, those two incidents stand out in a life of humiliating moments when people decide to either fight my arguments and constructs by tearing down my looks, or decide I just don’t feel bad enough about what they perceive to be a personal failing. They were the first bullies, but they were in no way the last.

Is it true that learning to handle the bullying made me who I am today? Possibly, but just imagine the me I might have been if no one had ever judged me solely based upon the shape and weight of my body.

Fat shaming has been around for too long. It is dehumanizing and cruel, based on the false social construct that slimmer is better than fatter. It is the last refuge of those who cannot create a winning argument. In other words, fat shaming is for losers.