Despite the positive changes weight loss surgery has made in my life, it’s also come with a few complications, especially in the seven most important relationships in my life.
Choosing to have surgery is never an easy choice. There are risks for even the smallest of procedures, and everyone knows at least one story about a routine operation that went wrong. Bariatric surgery, like everything else, isn’t without risk: infections, severe pain, embolisms, and death are all potential side-effects. Despite this, I elected to undergo weight loss surgery (WLS for short) when I was 25 years old.
I’ve been overweight my whole life. As a kid, I remember being picked on for being the largest girl in my grade, but my mom would always tell me that it was just “baby weight” and that it would go away in a few years or when I hit puberty. But then puberty hit and that so-called “baby weight” was just extra weight, and I was now a fat teen going through an awkward phase instead of a fat kid. As I grew up, I kept hoping that these extra pounds would disappear like everyone had promised me they would, but instead they seemed to double with each birthday. I went from being a chubby girl to an obese woman, and by the time I was ready to do something about it, I was long past the point of no return.
I felt hopeless. I hated what I saw in the mirror each morning, but no matter how hard I tried I couldn't fix it. Instead, I kept getting bigger and more unhappy with myself. My asthma was so bad and exacerbated by my extra weight that I couldn’t walk up the stairs without feeling winded, and I was getting to the point where I couldn’t comfortably fit into chairs on roller coasters or even at the cinema. It was horrible.
I finally worked up the courage to speak to my doctor about having weight loss surgery. By then, my breathing was so bad I needed an inhaler, traditionally taken by people with emphysema, and my joints were so sore I wondered if I had arthritis. He thought it was a great idea and, eleven months later, I was recovering from surgery and feeling better than ever about my decision. It’s been a year and a half since the operation, and my biggest regret is not doing it sooner.
Since I went under the knife, I’ve lost 125 pounds, my asthma is practically gone, I have so much extra energy, and I don’t feel hopeless about my situation anymore. I have a newfound sense of confidence, self-acceptance, and self-love that I didn’t know I’d ever have. My life has done a complete 180, and I’m beyond grateful I made the difficult decision to have the vertical sleeve gastrectomy done (which is a form of bariatric surgery where they make your stomach between 1/4th to 1/5th its previous size).
But despite the positive change weight loss surgery has made in my life, because of how young I am, it’s also come with a few complications, especially when it comes to the seven major relationships in my life.
MY FAMILY IS MORE SUPPORTIVE OF MY CHOICES
I’ve always been lucky when it comes to my family. Whether it was trying every sport, every artistic whim, every possible career path while going to university, my family has always been supportive of my choices. Well, almost always.
When I told them I was going to have bariatric surgery, everyone except my mother was vehemently against the idea. In part, because they didn’t understand what my surgeon was going to do (and, truth be told, I’m pretty sure most of them still don’t know what happened on the operating table), but also because there’s a stigma that weight loss surgery is the “easy way out.” People often don’t realize the willpower and immense effort it takes to lose weight post-op, not to mention how hard it is to maintain the weight loss years down the road, and so my family worried I was taking a potentially deadly shortcut by going under the knife.
But even for them, it’s hard to deny just how much my life has changed for the better. I’m happier, healthier (my asthma has practically disappeared), and more self-assured, which in turn has made them more supportive of my big decisions. I trusted my gut (pun fully intended) to do what was best for me, despite what other people said. Had there been complications from the operation, I’m sure this wouldn’t be the case today, but my family understands that I know what I need and they’re behind me all the way.
MY PROFESSIONAL REPUTATION TOOK A HIT
I’ve always prided myself on being body positive and encouraging others to love themselves for who they are. I built my portfolio around what it’s like being a young, plus size, woman. It’s unsurprising that, knowing I elected to have weight loss surgery, people were quick to tell me they were confused about my choice. While I ultimately made my decision based on health reasons, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t partially motivated by a personal desire to be thinner, to shop for clothing more easily, and to look like I’d wanted to since I was young. Although I never considered that to be the antithesis of body positivity, especially since I’ve made a point to champion beauty at all sizes, people I’d previously worked with disagreed.
Working for specific publications also became difficult. Because I was no longer considered plus size, my editorials on what life was like as a plus size woman became a hard sell. Despite these articles reflecting the truth I’d experienced for over twenty years, my newfound weight seemed to erase any credibility I had on the issues at hand.
If it wasn’t enough that my journalistic reputation was running the gauntlet, my image as a horror author was also going through an unforeseen change. It’s not uncommon for people to assume I write romance, erotica, or poetry because of my gender. Despite the fact that women make up a huge section of readers in the horror market, people are still surprised when I tell them it’s my preferred genre to work in. When I was plus size, although people still gave me slack because of my gender and age, they still seemed to trust my sensibilities when it came to what made a good story. I was taken seriously and rarely sexualized in my professional sphere.
Following my 125 pounds weight loss, people within the horror community began to treat me differently. I was suddenly too pretty to be a horror author, too cute to be a scary writer, too delicate to know what was genuinely frightening to grown men. Thanks to new opportunities lecturing at conventions and publishers who’d already come to trust my reputation in the indie horror community, I was able to build my name back to what it was and in record time.
PEOPLE PAY MORE ATTENTION TO ME
When I was plus size, attention came in three very specific forms: negative, fetishizing, or none at all. People either looked at me with disgust because of my size (not to mention their preconceived ideas about overweight individuals), because they wanted to hook up with me (either because they had a thing for “thick chicks” or because “big girls like to eat more, ifyouknowwhatImean”), or it was like they couldn’t see me at all and their eyes would glance over me in search of someone else.
Now that I’m no longer teetering on the 300 pounds mark, people look at me a whole lot more and, truthfully, that’s a double-edged sword if ever there was one.
On the one hand, there’s a level of satisfaction that comes with receiving attention when you haven’t had it in forever. People looking at you and seeing you, not just fat, is an exhilarating feeling and something everyone deserves. Alternatively, the street harassment and feeling unsafe that comes with being noticed is anything but a delight. Since my surgery, the number of times I’ve been catcalled, touched without consent, or harassed in a public space has skyrocketed. This isn’t to say that it didn’t happen at my former weight, simply that it didn’t happen nearly as often or to the level of severity that it happens now. And while I was still a target of sexual harassment and assault, there was something about my size that made me feel more confident in my safety when out at night in the big city.
Now, the size difference between me and the men who harass me is noticeable, and it petrifies me. It wasn’t something I consciously realized until a man I dated held me down and forced his tongue into my mouth, or when I couldn’t escape the grip of the guy who grabbed my arm on the train platform to ask for my number.
DATING SUCKS, BUT THE SEX IS GREAT
At my heaviest, sex was a nightmare. I felt uncomfortable naked and didn’t enjoy being intimate with my partners. I felt out of breath a lot more than I wanted to admit, got sweaty easily, couldn’t enjoy the positions I wanted to, and constantly worried that I’d hurt my partner if I was on top of them. I was so aware of my body, and the space it took up, that I couldn’t enjoy the moments of intimacy I was experiencing.
Now, sex is great. Although my body is far from perfect, I love it in a way I was never able to. Now, I shed my insecurities and focus on connecting with my partner and enjoy the intimate moment that I’m sharing with someone special.
Dating, on the other hand, became a lot more complicated for me. As a plus size woman, it was easy for me to weed out the potential partners who were going to be problematic. People who were shallow or judgmental didn’t bother to seek me out because I didn’t fit their narrow standard of what was acceptable for a partner and, thankfully, I didn’t have to worry about figuring out if they fit my standards either.
Now that I’ve lost weight, it seems like f*ckbois run rampant and love is mostly dead. It’s harder to spot the people who want to date me for me vs. the people who want to date me to try their luck and getting into my pants. There’s also the constant question of “would they have dated me when I was overweight?” that would run on a loop in the back of my mind whenever I’d meet someone for drinks. Thankfully I’m currently out of the dating game. I found a partner who supports me, loves me, and that I know would stick by me through thick or thin.
I KNOW WHO MY REAL FRIENDS ARE
The friends I had when I was plus size aren’t necessarily the friends I have now. Although some of them have stayed a part of my life throughout, I’d be lying if I said that all my friendships have changed since I went under the knife, for better or worse.
Weight loss surgery was quick to show me which friends were jealous of my success and which friends were genuinely happy that I’d made a positive change in my life. Some of the people I thought I could depend on were nowhere to be found when the extra weight was gone, and I was all that was left. It felt like, for some of my friends, we’d only really bonded through the mutually shared experience of being overweight and young. But once that stopped being something we had in common, we no longer had anything in common, and they quickly resented the fact that I’d gone through with this.
Other friends began to see me in a romantic light, something they never would have considered back when I was 300 pounds, and that really hurt. People I deeply cared for now felt that I owed them for our past friendship and that it wasn’t right of me to put them in the friendzone (because that’s not a double standard, or creepy). A few of my male friends quickly showed their more predatory side, and we’ve since stopped talking. But some friends really came through and supported me in ways I didn’t expect they would. They were genuinely happy for my success and while the parameters of our friendships have changed, the experience has only made us grow closer and better relate to each others’ experiences.
I DON’T LOOK AT FOOD THE SAME WAY
I’ve always loved food. You don’t get to be 300 pounds if you don’t. And as much as I wish that would have changed after surgery, it didn’t. I still love food. What has changed is my relationship with it.
Thanks to my surgeon and the great team that operated on me and were there for me before and after the procedure, I’ve been able to relearn how to approach food. Other than the obvious restrictions that come with WLS—I can only eat a cup at a time, I have to avoid carbonation, I can’t eat and drink simultaneously, and I need to cut carbs to focus on getting enough protein—I’ve had to reexamine how I see food in relation to social situations and my emotional state. I no longer eat when I’m bored, and I’m careful not to drown my sorrows with ice cream or extra servings of pizza. I’m able to tell when I’m really hungry, or when I’m just eating so I have something to do or because it’s expected of me (like going out with friends, drinking at a club, having a PSL just because).
Despite this newfound balance when it comes to food, I’m also more afraid of it. Knowing how easy it was to get myself to my highest weight, part of me is always terrified that I’m going to balloon back up to this size. Even keeping active and logging my food, part of me is perpetually paranoid that I’m going to find myself going back down the self-destructive path I was on.
I HAD TO GET TO KNOW MYSELF ALL OVER AGAIN
When I was overweight, I knew who I was on both a mental and physical level. I knew every curve of my body, the shape of my face, and what size pants I could—or most often couldn’t—fit into. I knew which food I liked, what styles suited me, how I fitted into the world around me (literally and metaphorically), and even how my voice sounded. But all of that changed following the operation.
Having spent the better portion of my life as a plus size woman, I faced a bit of an identity crisis following the operation. If I wasn’t the funny, weird, fat friend, then who was I? I was used to occupying a specific role with my friends—the self-deprecating big chick—but that wasn’t the case after 125 pounds of me came off. Foods tasted different, my style changed, my outlook on life was suddenly more positive and full of possibility, and the way I saw myself after WLS was significantly different than it had been going into it. Even my voice changed following the surgery due to some complications following acid reflux and a bout of laryngitis. I suddenly looked different, sounded different, had a boyfriend and even a new job. Everything felt like it was moving too fast and I didn’t know how to handle it.
It was a slow process but with some time, not to mention a fair bit of trial and error, I got to learn who I really was as a person. I rediscovered things I liked and didn’t like, how I saw myself, and what I wanted for my future now that it felt a lot brighter. I got a chance to put things in perspective and figure out what I really wanted of, and from, myself.
I still have “fat brain,” or at least that’s what I call it. It’s these habits and reactions I think a lot of plus size individuals develop over time and have been conditioned to think. I still worry if I’ll fit when I have to pass between two people sitting at a restaurant, and I get nervous when I don’t shop in the plus section at Forever 2I. Without thinking, I’ll try to sit as close to the window as I can when I’m on a bus in order to keep myself from spilling out onto the next seat, even though I know that’s not a problem anymore. I’m learning how to enjoy seeing myself on camera and teaching myself how to love my body (even when I’m having a “fat” day).
My life is still a work in progress, and maybe in ten years from now I’ll feel differently about the life-changing operation I had when I was 25. But, at least for now, I wouldn’t change it for the world.
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