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    • Maya Stiles Parsons Spier

      Columnist, Editor-in-Chief
    • December 2, 2013 in Columnists

    I am almost there, but where is that?

    Transformation literally means going beyond your form.
    Wayne Dyer

    I wasn't actually ugly, even though I felt I was.  I was 28 and my gorgeous daughter was 8.

    I wasn’t actually ugly, even though I felt I was. I was 28 and my gorgeous daughter was 8.

    When I was 28 years old, I weighed 420 pounds.  Unless you have been that big, you cannot fathom it.  Trust me on this.  Personal hygiene was a nightmare.  When I bent over, it felt as if my skin was about to split.  I was scarcely human in the eyes of most people and that included myself.  They tortured my daughter at school for having a mother like me.

    There is a condition called dysmorphia where the person involved literally cannot see their physical status.  This is usually associated with anorexia.  Sufferers typically think they are morbidly obese when they are at their most skeletal.  However, I can tell you it can affect any size person – I truly had no idea how big I had become, despite the physical evidence and having plenty of mirrors available.

    My moment of truth came at an optician’s, sitting in a chair that was probably silently screaming in anguish at bearing my weight.  As I waited to be fitted for my glasses, I caught a glimpse of an absolutely enormous woman out of the corner of my eye.  I was aghast – how had she let herself get to this state?  And then I stopped, literally gobsmacked by the realization that…this was me.

    This was me.  That enormous woman was me.

    I sprang into action literally the next day.  I joined the YMCA and arrived as soon as they opened, 8-year-old in tow.  I tucked her into a nest made in a playpen and went upstairs to swim, the only exercise I could manage.  I was so big that I could only do breaststroke.  My arms were too heavy to lift out of the water.

    I began eating mostly vegetable soups and salads.  I was soon able to get back on a bicycle (visualize people’s reactions to me zipping by on a black, English bicycle, 40 mph downhill since the more you weigh, the faster you go).  I bicycled to work each morning, downhill and back home, uphill.  If you think I got some interesting looks going downhill, imagine the looks I got going uphill.  I’m sure it seemed improbable.

    I lost 225 lbs in perhaps a year.  I honestly don’t remember how long it took.  It’s been a while.

    This was the size I was when I did martial arts.

    This was the size I was when I did martial arts.

    It would be nice if that was the end of the story, but it wasn’t. The commonly accepted measure of a diet’s success is if the person keeps it off for five years. This actually means that if you are at the precisely the same weight as when you started the process five years before, you are still considered a success. I kept about 100 pounds of it off, most of the time, for the next 30 years. That’s a success, right? Problem was the 125 pounds I had put back on.

    It’s not as if I didn’t do a good job of living in my big body. I did exceptionally well.  I was a power lifter so strong that the big guys used to ask how my workout was going.  These are the guys who speak only to other big guys or women they’re pursuing.  I nearly fell over the first time they acknowledged me, but soon realized that if you can do the weight, you qualify for membership in their club.  I was 38 years old and weighed 340 pounds at my peak.

    Some years later, I got a red belt in Mixed Martial Arts.  That’s considered the first step of the black belt series.  I was 56 years old and weighed about 290.

    Still, despite having spurts of weight loss, I could never keep it off, and my diabetes was getting worse.  When my doctor offered to get me into my HMOs bariatric surgery program, after a week’s hesitation, I said yes.

    I've lost more since then.  I need a new picture.

    I’ve lost more since then. I need a new picture.

    My surgery date was May 28, 2013, my surgeon the amazing and accomplished Dr. Jeffrey Landers, who is on my short list of the three best doctors I have ever known.  Despite needing an extra hour to deal with adhesions from a previous hernia surgery, I sailed through and have bounded easily through my recovery period.

    I am now two pounds from being 200 pounds lighter than I was at age 26.  I weighed 222.6 pounds.  I probably have 20 to 30 pounds of extra skin.  Remove that, and I have about 40 pounds of fat to go before I am at the 160 pounds I hope to be.  It’s heavier than the recommended chart weight for a 5’2”, 58 year old woman, but my physical infrastructure grew and densened to support all this weight – not to mention all that power lifting.  I will look great at 160 or so.

    Even now, even not finished, I have more energy than I have had in years.  I can do the full ballerina bendover with my feet together, wrapping my arms around the back of my legs, then bending a little further to stand on my fingers.

    These are other things I can do that I couldn’t do before:

    • Pull my leg up while sitting on the bed in order to tie my shoes, or
    • Just bend over and tie them.
    • Cross my legs.  Seriously.  I’ve never been able to do that.
    • Fit into most chairs, comfortably.
    • Move the driver’s seat up in my car because my butt’s that much smaller.
    • Hug my husband, children and grandchild much closer.
    • Climb up a stepladder without fear of mortal consequences.
    • Climb up and down stairs without being out of breath.
    My daughter insisted I get this hat.  Those are reading glasses.  Suddenly, apparently, I'm cute.

    My daughter insisted I get this hat. Those are reading glasses. Suddenly, apparently, I’m cute.

    I am quite sure there are more goodies to come.  What astounds most is how differently I’m being treated.  The hate is suddenly just gone.  I smile at people at the supermarket and I no longer get the “don’t look at me, you disgusting, subhuman monster” response.  Men I’ve known at work for years are suddenly a bit shy or are rather more attentive.

    It seems I’ve gotten exponentially more intelligent in this process, and oddly, my opinions are more interesting than irritating.  I no longer sense I need to grovel apologetically for being visible – or audible.  It seems I’ve regained my right to a place in this world.  I worried at first that this would make me angry, and I suppose it does if I dwell on it, but honestly, I’m just so damned relieved that people are nicer that I’m just going with it.

    My fair-weather husband, who has loved me regardless of body size for these 28-plus years, has hied himself abroad once more for his annual six months of world travel.  He will return on the one-year anniversary of my surgery.  It will be fascinating to see if he recognizes me when I come pick him up at the airport.

    I’ll keep you posted on that one.


    • What an amazing journey. I also struggle with the winging pendulum of body size, and have also noted that the sad fact is that people’s perceptions about you change with your dress size. People’s beliefs and opinions about you change as well. Having a fluctuating body size teaches you to devalue the opinions of others, and have faith in your own.
      Good job, Maya – I appreciate you no matter what size you are!

    • I have tremendous admiration for the way you’ve managed to avoid bitterness. My wife has had the same struggles — although not to the same degree — so I have some feeling for what it must have been like.

    • You continue to go girl.

      • Maya North

      • December 2, 2013 at 9:41 am
      • Reply

      Thank you, Debra. It’s not easy to resist feeling as if I have grown more valuable as I’ve shrunk. It was impossible to feel that I was no longer human when I was that big. I have always depended on the opinions of strangers and it’s been a journey to learn to value my own perception of what’s within. <3

      • Maya North

      • December 2, 2013 at 9:43 am
      • Reply

      Ed, my husband has loved me at all my sizes and while he is no more perfect than I am, that’s part of what makes him a keeper. I treasure this in part because it allows me to see, as people of color or disability do, what it’s like when many people consider you to be “other.” I would not trade that understanding for anything (even tight skin).

      • Maya North

      • December 2, 2013 at 9:43 am
      • Reply

      Madge, I promise. 😀

    • Wow, Maya. I had never heard of dysmorphia. You and Debra have convinced me, too, that body size does affect people’s perceptions. How sad that we “need” conditions on which to hang our irrational hate. How we define these conditions is SO hurtful as well. You are absolutely AMAZING. Like all your readers, I anxiously wait to hear about your husband’s return in six months and your reaction to his reaction! What a read this was!

      • Maya North

      • December 2, 2013 at 10:17 am
      • Reply

      Kathie, I knew from early days that body size made all the difference. I was a sturdy and well muscled child being raised by stick insect people. Neither of us was a “wrong” body type, but they filtered me through their perception that theirs was the only truly correct state of being and disdained me for my imperfections (despite the 103 situps I could do in the fitness test, being the fastest kid up the rope in grade school and later being able to do boys’ routines on the even parallel bars, 400 situps (I got bored and stopped there) and being on a swim team. At 12, I weighed 113 and measured 36-28-36, just about perfect. That was when they started putting me on a diet in earnest. I felt I was a complete failure as a human being on every possible count — and it got worse from there. While I celebrate all the new joys, it grieves me that it took this to be allowed back into the human race…

    • Maya, you are such an inspiration. I admire and want to emulate your spirit. Hugs.

        • Maya North

        • December 2, 2013 at 7:23 pm
        • Reply

        Oh, Judith, thank you. It doesn’t seem extraordinary when you’re in the middle of it and it’s so much work (kinda like dogpaddling in the ocean of life) — but then, you are a profoundly inspiring woman, so you would understand that <3

      • Terri Connett

      • December 2, 2013 at 7:23 pm
      • Reply

      Maya, thank you for your honesty and courage. What a shame you have been treated so poorly for an issue that was yours, not theirs. It’s sad people are so superficial and society is so bent on a myth of perfection. I want you to know your beauty was always there. And I would love to see a pic of your husband’s face when he first lays eyes on you!

        • Maya North

        • December 2, 2013 at 7:27 pm
        • Reply

        Terri, thank you so much. <3 I have felt so much like a troll that it seemed I ought to be setting up shop underneath a bridge and setting a tithe of a cookie for everyone who wanted to cross. It's interesting to be so unfamiliar to myself that I can see myself objectively -- and also to have changed so much that I can see my big woman pictures and realize that, no, I really never was ugly. I hope to have my daughter the amazing photographer at his homecoming to catch his expression. I should have lost that last 60 lbs by then. Hugs!!!

      • Jesse

      • December 2, 2013 at 7:36 pm
      • Reply

      You look happy, healthy, and at wonder with the world. Yeah!

        • Maya North

        • December 2, 2013 at 7:53 pm
        • Reply

        It’s so amazing. I find myself, well, settling. Not settling for but settling down and settling in.

        It’s a really nice place to be, however uncharted. XXXOOO

      • Carolyn Wyler

      • December 2, 2013 at 8:37 pm
      • Reply

      Awesome Maya! You rock!

        • Maya North

        • December 2, 2013 at 9:01 pm
        • Reply

        Thank you, love. <3 Starting to believe it. 😀

    • Thank you for sharing your journey with us. I started reading ipinions! because I am a supporter/admirer/follower of Kathie Yount. I have found on here Debra DeAngelo & you,Maya North. It’s been such a treat reading you 3 ladies’ articles. Ya’ll inspire me.

      I had not thought before about what you looked like. I just knew that if you were my friend,I’d be blessed to have you as my friend. At any weight you are a wonderful writer & person. I see a shining light, a loving,caring & insightful woman from your writing. And I love your humor.

      ( Although I really hesitated to say “you have a great sense of humor”.Isn’t that the stereotypical line for over weight people?)

      I’ve learned “Where ever you go,there you are”. Enjoy this moment, where you are,right now.

        • Maya North

        • December 3, 2013 at 11:13 pm
        • Reply

        Thank you so very much — you sound like a profound blessing <3 You are so right about "wherever you go, there you are!" It's so important to remember that when we just want to run away -- even if it's an awful situation, so much of the problem is still us if for no other reason than we got ourselves there in the first place, if that makes sense. I really do my best to savor right now -- and right now is about the best it's ever been. Big hugs! 😀

      • Nancy

      • December 3, 2013 at 9:15 am
      • Reply

      Maya,what an inspiration you are and what a journey . It needs a determination and dedication to achieve the goal and you have achieved. I too am fighting a war with bulge from the age of 21 and still am fighting at the age of 50 to keep off the monster of weight. You look cute in your new self. I began to read your blog from this march and believe me I found you a wonderful and full of life person. Always be like that.

      Nancy from India

        • Maya North

        • December 3, 2013 at 11:17 pm
        • Reply

        Nancy, thank you so very much! I am nothing if not determined — how on earth else do the middle-aged ever achieve anything? It’s ironic, but I had to let go of valuing myself based on body size to finally be able to actually release the weight itself. I confess it’s nice to have my human card returned to me, but just as I was when I was a small and recalcitrant child, I stubbornly refused to entirely give in, even when it was so daunting, to the idea that I was worth less. It was a struggle every day not to be borne down by the cruelty of others. I am still me. I will still be me. I would be a very poor imitation of anyone else, no matter how cool I thought they were. Big hugs!

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