Tag Archives: weight loss

Accepting A Once-Fat Body


Debbie says:

Of course I knew, as you probably do, that people who have lost large amounts of weight have major skin folds and similar issues, and that many of these people (usually but not always women) have plastic surgery to smooth out their skin and fit it to their new bodies.

What I didn’t know, even after more than three decades of doing this work, is how extensive and dangerous the cosmetic procedure is. I’m simultaneously grateful to Jamie Cattanach, writing at The Establishment, for enlightening me, and shocked by the issues she describes. Cattanach, who walked away from the surgery leaving her nonrefundable $1000 on the table, says:

My phone rang a week before my surgery date, which was set for early December. It was my anesthesiologist. He wanted to triple-check my health history for the many risk factors of general paralysis; I’d be under for at least four, and up to seven, hours.

I’d planned to take the four-week winter break of my senior year in college to get through the worst of the recuperation. Along with all the risks of the surgery itself, a full tummy tuck involves weeks of brutal recovery; patients can’t even sit upright, let alone walk properly, for several days post-op. Bulbous drains are inserted bilaterally into the wound to catch the lymph and blood the body weeps for even longer, requiring regular, stomach-turning maintenance. The incision site can remain swollen and tender for months after the procedure, all to say nothing of the basic, gut-level grisliness of the thing: a hip-to-hip gouge, a triangle of flesh lifted from the abdomen like making the mouth of a Pac-Man.

“Tummy tuck” sounds so casual I might have guessed it was outpatient surgery; I would have been so wrong. Cattanach also explains how, even with no medical complications, it can backfire:

Paradoxically, this surgery meant to make a body look “fitter” requires that body to give up fitness pursuits to properly mend. Many patients find that by the time they’re healed, they’ve gained much of their lost weight back. It’s not an uncommon irony in plastic surgery; breast augmentations, for instance, carry the risk of loss of nipple sensitivity. The sexually-objectified body part becomes a more perfect sexual object, but loses its sexual potency for the woman herself.

And there is the heart of Cattanach’s essay: as she makes so clear, cosmetic surgery is not designed for the person having it, but for the person looking at it. And because we are so conditioned to believe that who we are is how we look, tens of thousands of people go through this process. She opens the essay by recounting how the surgeon handled her to show her boyfriend how “pleasing” she would look after the surgery.

The remainder of the essay is somewhat more familiar to body acceptance activists: Cattanach supports her decision without sugarcoating its negative aspects, and has found — as truth-tellers everywhere find — unexpected benefits:

I can’t deny that excess skin has made dating somewhat challenging — sometimes more so than it was to date fat, when my partners knew what they were signing up for from the start. But in some ways, it’s actually a helpful elimination tool (or, as I like to think of it, an asshole barometer). Given that I look significantly different naked than one might expect when meeting me clothed, I’ve taken to having a frank and open conversation ahead of business time — and if that honesty and imperfection gives a would-be partner pause, I’ve gained an invaluable data point as to whether I really want to sleep with them in the first place.

Reading Cattanach’s essay made me long for truth-in-advertising cosmetic surgery ads and sites. How about:

Lost weight? Got those big, ugly skin folds? Wouldn’t you rather get rid of them? You can spend thousands of dollars,  you can spend a month in bed, you can spend months unable to exercise, and you might gain back the weight you lost before you had the folds removed. But hey, you’ll have a better chance of getting assholes to sleep with you!

I mean, who wouldn’t take an offer like that?

Thanks to Melissa McEwen at Shakesville for the link.

Before and After Acceptance

Lynne Murray says:

This year’s Academy Award ceremonies showed a major Joseph Campbell influence, complete with a video clip celebrating cinema heroes and how greatly we value their journeys.

No one at the Oscars would say this, of course, but the superficial road to heroism, in a very Hollywood manner, intersects with the worship of a certain style of camera-ready physical appearance. Those of us not born into that narrow range of acceptable looks (i.e, everyone), we have to decide how hard to chase them. Scam artists stand ready to take our money by providing the illusion that we can turn ourselves into suitable (looking) heroes of our stories, sometimes with huge efforts on our part and sometimes by the scam artist’s magic pill or nostrum.

I have written before about how Before and After weight loss photos often include image manipulation to the point of outright fraud. I’ve also reported on how my own quest for an acceptable body size led me slowly into fat acceptance and how that somewhat resembles religious conversion.

What distinguishes religious conversion from more humdrum experiences of change is depth. Human beings quite normally undergo alterations of character: we are one person at home, another at work, another again when we awake at four in the morning. But religious conversion, be it sudden or slow, results in a transformation that is stable and that causes a revolution in …those other parts of our personality.

Thinking about both hero’s journeys and religious conversion struck a chord that resonated with a recent small study (PDF at the link) that has the potential to turn the “Before and After” idea on its head.

Sociologist Maya Maor explains in her abstract:

Conducting a comparative analysis of Before-and-After weight-loss articles appearing in an Israeli online health magazine, I examine how these narratives marginalize fat people by presenting fatness as temporary and changeable. I then compare these narratives to life narratives produced by Israeli-Jewish women, who self-identify as fat. …

In a world that valorizes slenderness, being fat is considered a failure caused by individual faults. If these faults are corrected, the fat individual can become a thin person. When fat-acceptance activists argue that fatness is is genetically determined, they are challenging exactly this notion that being fat is a transitory state than can be altered through individual choice.

The visual presentation of the same protagonist as fat and as thin implies that body size is transitory; presenting the ‘‘thin’’ protagonist as successful, attractive, and popular and the ‘‘fat’’ protagonist as ugly, miserable, and an outsider implies that the fat body should be replaced by the thin body. …

Challenging the belief in the necessarily temporary and changeable status of fatness is a crucial step in mobilizing fat activism.

Even though the participants in Maor’s study were socially recognized as thin during their “Before” fat acceptance years, they found themselves obsessed with avoiding weight gain.

Tali: “…it was my [entire] existence … for almost 30 years, I used to get up in the morning and the first, first thing I would be thinking about was: is that what I ate yesterday? Wow! I was so bad.” …

While these efforts were aimed at avoiding weight gain rather than at losing weight, they were narrated by participants as attempts to ward off fat stigma, in advance. In a society where fatness is extremely stigmatized, the prospect of gaining weight is alarming for many people, women in particular.

All of Mora’s participants got help from “alternative social and activist communities” as they found their way from the “Before” of anxious, obsessive dieting to the “After” of calm acceptance:

“After” the transition, participants described their present identities as fat women, and the advantages they found in embracing this identity. Despite their increasing deviation from the thin ideal, participants experienced a greater degree of self-acceptance and a deeper connection to their bodies and identities:

Tali: “Today I feel the best I ever have regarding my body and I’m the fattest I have ever been … I was brought up for 30 years to think of it as a paradox…. I don’t experience it as a paradox but as a marvelous sensation.”

It is important to note that the participants do not argue that they are “naturally thin” and choose to fatten themselves out of ideological motives. Rather, they choose to stop constant attempts to diet that caused them pain and frustration.

I can testify to having a similar experience of serene body acceptance. Truly our bodies respond and function much better when we listen to what we really want and need rather than torturing and starving ourselves to achieve (or maintain) body weights that did not come naturally. Thus, the hero’s journey is not to an ideal body or perfect weight; it is to genuine, unforced acceptance of who(ever) we are.