When a person has suffered great loss, it does not always show in their eyes, or their actions. To much of the population, loss is equated with death of a loved one. But there are other losses. The pain of losing quality time with a trusted friend, the torture of separation, the loss of mobility, the loss of pounds. I live in the US where over 30% of the residents are obese. My eyes pass over a crowd and my inner monologue goes something like this: Those horizontal stripes aren’t doing her any favors, Seriously, a tank top? And he’ll never see his shoe is untied.
I used to be not just obese, but super, morbidly obese. This was not the super power I was looking for. Although it did give me the ability to become invisible. When you’re that large, most people just don’t want to look at you. They look at your eyes, the tops of your ears, or just past you.
In the event you don’t know what classifies as obese, it is having a BMI (body mass index which takes into consideration both your height and weight) of 25 to 30. Mine was 60. I called myself the Manatee. I breathed like Darth Vader.
I had lost the ability to cross my legs. When I got into my Honda, my tremendous breasts rode upon the steering wheel. Sure, it’s funny now. Not so much at the time. My obesity exacerbated my condition that one out of ten women have since birth called PCOS (poly-cystic ovarian syndrome). PCOS means you’re fat, hairy, and can’t conceive. Hirsutism was not my bugaboo. Thankfully.
My job as a radio broadcaster made my life public. People were always disappointed when they met me in person. I stopped talking in public places (the line at a movie theater, the grocery store) because my voice was so recognizable. When people confronted me with recognition they usually said things like: I thought you’d be taller (that means you’re fat) and I thought you’d be a brunette (that means blondes can’t be smart).
I was vaguely aware that Carnie Wilson had lost weight because of a surgery. My friend Lesa did the same in 2001. I remember telling Lesa, “that seems a little severe, I’d rather have a brownie.” To quote the Sassy Gay Friend video series, I was being “a stupid bitch.”
I had already accepted the fact that I would never have children and never be attractive to anyone but my spouse, whose vision is greatly impaired. My weight kept me home and on the couch. That is no place for this bouncy, bouncy personality to be. So I attended a three-hour seminar at Centennial Hospital in Nashville, Tennessee. By the end of the three hours I was ready to have the RNY gastric bypass procedure right there with a plastic knife from the cafeteria. (By the way, water and cheese sticks, not the fried ones, are what is served at three hour seminars attended by morbidly obese people. If you want M&M’s you’ll have to bring them yourself.)
It’s funny how before that seminar I really had no intention of getting the surgery. Over three hours it redefined my life, my purpose, and changed everything. (Yes, I found my “special purpose”.)
Close to $200 billion, yes, with a B, is spent on obesity and obesity-related diseases every year worldwide. Diabetes, sleep apnea, high blood pressure, depression, headaches, infertility, joint pain–those are the main co-morbid conditions that weight loss can control, reduce, or cure.
What changed my mind? I saw myself at 60 and immobile. Even though I was just fat and otherwise healthy, I knew that as I aged the excess weight would destroy me. What’s unusual, looking back at it all, is my appearance, my loss of ability to conceive, my low self-esteem, my loss of myself–none of those were enough to make me change on my own. The next question usually is, if you can follow the food plan given to you to prepare for surgery, and for one month after surgery, can’t you just lose it on your own?
No. No I couldn’t. Some can. I couldn’t. I. Know. Me. I feel deeply. And I’m addicted to carbohydrates. The bad kind. I have had a life of sitting back and taking it all in. I can get a lot out of a person by talking to them and listening because, remember, no one really wants to engage a super morbidly obese woman. You can’t. You’re too busy thinking: does she know how large she is? She could be pretty if she’d just lose weight. How does she buckle her seat belt? Does she only eat at buffets?
Dr. Douglas Olsen performed my surgery on October 25, 2002. At the time, I was his largest (BMI-wise) patient to get a laproscopic RNY gastric bypass. I also had my gallbladder removed as mine was going bad and would soon take to robbing convenience stores. My surgery took closer to eight hours as opposed to the usual two. It set me free.
I lost 101 pounds in six months. That was the start. I received a surprise email from Carnie when her book I’m Still Hungry came out. She and I had started talking and writing to each other and she included me in a paragraph (page 94, go look).
Both she and I had two children after our bariatric procedures. All is well. Yet, I’m still the manatee on the inside. Some call me a narcissist. At least I know the story of Narcissus. But the obsession with my appearance now is actually based in amazement. There are so many photos of me because I still don’t know or believe what I look like. The constant attention I get, from men especially, always has me wondering if they have the right girl. Clearly, they meant to moon over someone else. (Please note, I am not opposed to mooning.)
What only those who have kicked obesity in the ass can understand is weight loss does not change you on the inside. Ever. I’m still the fat girl who wasn’t asked to the prom. I’m still the one who my 6th grade “friend” said was “the nicest girl he had ever met, and also the ugliest.” I’m still, as Mary Elizabeth pointed out in the 4th grade by holding up a National Geographic, the manatee on the cover.
I don’t say that to gain sympathy. That’s not something I need. It’s just to point out perspective. You never truly know what’s going on in someone else’s head, or heart. I have been known to say “I only know what you tell me.” True. But I may have sat back and watched you. I may have surmised a lot. And, as I have always said about myself, “elephants never forget. ”
So what is the grand moral to this? Don’t wait. No matter what it is, don’t put it off. If you want to lose weight, start on it now, don’t wait until Mondays, or rationalize Fridays are free days and screw it all on the weekends. If you love someone tell them, this may be the last time you see them. If you’re unhappy spend some quality you time and try to sort it out–or seek a professional’s advice. Just don’t wait. That is my sole regret. I wish I would’ve had the surgery 15 years ago. I lost so much of my life to being trapped. I have only made a few big mistakes. Settling on living life in a tremendous body was one of them. It won’t happen again.