• author
    • Maya Spier Stiles North

      Columnist, Copy Editor
    • July 24, 2015 in Columnists

    Free at last from my apron of fat

    Not long after Debra DeAngelo wrote about belly shame (Introducing the term belly shame and destroying it all at once ), I added my two cents’ worth with “When belly shame is medical, too” (When belly shame is medical, too). In fear and trembling, I took pictures of the enormous panniculus – the apron of fat – that had caused me so much physical pain and discomfort, not to mention a belly shame so epic that the self loathing climbed my soul like a giant ape who has taken residence in the upper stories of a tall building. I was told that I was brave to show it. In a culture that demands physical perfection well into old age, I suppose exposing something so deeply imperfect could be seen that way, but it seemed long overdue to speak my truth about it. It wasn’t as if I could truly hide it. And it wasn’t as if I was the only one, either.

    Lest we forget where it started -- actually 80 lbs lighter than my heaviest

    Lest we forget where it started — actually 80 lbs lighter than my heaviest

    There are a number of surgeries used to divest a body of a panniculus. What I needed was a panniculectomy. Some people get abdominoplasties which also involve cutting and shortening the abdominal muscles. I didn’t need that. Years of athletics have given me tight, steely muscles underneath my squid suit.

    I had taken several runs at convincing my HMO that this was not cosmetic – although there is, of course, a cosmetic element to it. The damned thing rested on my legs, cutting off circulation, creating numb, painful patches on my thighs. It got dreadful fungal and occasional bacterial infections, but after a lifetime, I was able to keep those down to a minimum. Their requirement for consideration hinged mainly on having an intransigent bacterial infection that required internal antibiotics and two office visits. I also had to be a certain time out from my gastric bypass with stabilized weight, but it was the requirement for an infection that stymied me most.

    Seriously? I had spent 40 years preventing infections! I wore underpants several sizes too large and tucked them everywhere flesh met flesh, every place that could generate an infection. I’d had enough of them to know they had to be prevented. They were horrible – miserable, tunneling infections that raised my blood sugar along with my temperature and made me really sick. And I was supposed to allow that in order to prove I needed surgery to prevent it? I wrote my primary care physician, a doctor so good she apparently has a waiting list, that it was flat out foolhardiness to expect a diabetic to allow an infection that would damage her health in order to prove a need for surgery to prevent just that. Bless her common sense and my columnist writing skills. She replied “You’re right. It’s absolute foolishness. I’ll back you up!”

    Thus encouraged, despite the initial denial of my first request and subsequent appeal, back I went to the plastic surgeon who told me rather glumly that it was an absolute waste of time and of his staff’s resources to try again.

    June 19th, wearing the same shirt as my after pictures

    June 19th, wearing the same shirt as my after pictures

    “We have to try again,” I told him. “Third time’s a charm. If it doesn’t go through this time, I’ll explore other options, but we simply must. And if we get turned down, I’m writing the Insurance Commissioner with all my mad columnist skillz to make a great deal of noise because this is bigotry. I’m pretty sure if this wasn’t fat related, they would be far less reluctant to cover it.” After all, you want plastic surgery? Have a mastectomy! You can get brand new boobies for free because, after all, what is a woman without boobies? Seriously – as far as I know, you can get reconstructed before you even wake up from the mastectomy!

    The lovely plastic surgeon sighed and acquiesced. He would start the process again. He would send his recommendation that this was truly necessary, complete with pictures, but he held out little hope.

    That was May 29. Late June, the letter came. The surgery was authorized.

    I must have read it three times, terrified that all it said was I was retroactively authorized for the initial exam, but no, it was for the surgery. It really was. I literally doubled over and sobbed. Forty years. Imagine it. Forty years.

    I called the surgeon’s office the very next day and took the first possible date – July 8. Miraculously, I had the leave.

    I confess, I had a few moments where I seriously questioned why the hell I would put myself through surgery and recovery again. Surgery HURTS. But 40 years of pain – even all the pain of recovery doesn’t compare if you consider 40 years of pure misery.

    I made my arrangements. My daughter offered her one-story home and TLC for the initial stages of my recovery. I brought two chihuahuas for comfort.

    Right before the operation. Pretty excited.

    Right before the operation. Pretty excited.

    I wore overalls to the hospital and my daughter put my hair into two tiny braids. I was cheerful throughout the whole process, giggled through the surgeon marking my belly up with a purple marker (it tickled!). They wheeled my bed into the operating room. I smiled at the people looming over me and—

    My eyes opened. I was numb and dizzy and disoriented. The nurse was kind. Did my family come in? Yeah, they must have – my daughter took a picture to prove I had survived and posted it on Facebook. I got well wishes and wrote garble. My daughter tells me I discussed elephants and lifted my boobies and announced I still had cleavage.

    Post surgery, holding forth regarding elephants and boobies

    Post surgery, holding forth regarding elephants and boobies

    The next day, I went to my daughter’s house. And oh, it hurt.

    The hernia operation – no biggy. The gastric bypass, not even painful within a week. This? Oh My Freaking God. It’s been 15 days and it still hurts. The incision is EPIC. It goes from behind one hip to behind the other. I look like I nearly got cut in half then got reattached again. My tummy is swollen. My daughter informed me, with an embarassed snicker, that I looked like a frog.

    I also have no belly button.

    It's epic, I have no belly button and I do look like a frog, but that will improve

    It’s epic, I have no belly button and I do look like a frog, but that will improve

    But – it’s GONE. This damned fecking panniculus, this thing that hurt and screwed with my back and was hideous and mortifying – it’s GONE! I look down at legs. I can see my female bits for the first time in 40 years. (I have BITS???)

    And now, at least in clothes, I actually look normal. I’m not thin, but I’m really not what most people would consider fat. I get smiles, greeted as if I was just anybody because now I am. I don’t weigh over 400 lbs. I don’t have a huge belly that jiggles and bulges and flaps when I run. I just look like anybody.

    It still pisses me off that I had to literally transform myself to be considered human again, but at the same time, I would be lying if I was to say I wasn’t beyond delighted by this brand new life. I’m crafting my crone, my elder, my old bat and believe me, my honeys, she’s gonna fly.

    And where my belly button is supposed to be, I’m getting a mandala tattoo. Pictures to follow…

    20150722 Side view

    After, side view, and yes, in a bathroom — same shirt

    20150722 Front view

    After, front view, — same shirt



    • Having watched you on every step of this difficult journey, may I say that you are an inspiration… and will be to so many more who feel that they must wear their “apron” forever. You are a trailblazer!!!


        • Maya Spier Stiles North

        • July 24, 2015 at 9:34 am
        • Reply

        Thank you so much! I believe elephants need to come out from under rugs — they’re elephants, you can’t actually hide them! Once extracted From under the rug, they can then be shown to the door! As long as they stay under those rugs, there they will remain… ♡♡♡



    • You’re a lesson in never giving up! And you look fabulous!


        • Maya Spier Stiles North

        • July 24, 2015 at 10:40 am
        • Reply

        Thank you! Not giving up is pretty much the story of my life. Apparently it’s genetic — my bio mom said in my non identifying information that her father was extremely determined. Apparently he wasn’t all that nice, either — I hope I avoided that part! ♡♡♡


      • Jesse Loren

      • July 24, 2015 at 9:33 am
      • Reply

      You look great and you did something amazing. You fought for yourself. You fought for what was right. You made your life longer and sweeter because you fought for this. Don’t mourn your belly button. Mine is freaky weird and I’ve just learned not to look at it. 😉 A mandala is better! Now, you need to get one of those sexy VS bras, get fitted first, and admire your breast to rib cage ratio. I bed it looks marvelous! I’m so proud of you! JL


        • Maya Spier Stiles North

        • July 24, 2015 at 10:43 am
        • Reply

        Awww, thank you so much. I’m afraid that when the fat fairy came to take away the fat, she brought her sister, the boob fairy, who also got to work. There’s not much boobage left. It’s still pretty neat to look down and see feet! ♡♡♡


      • Robin Pratt

      • July 24, 2015 at 10:08 am
      • Reply

      Congratulations. You worked hard for this!


        • Maya Spier Stiles North

        • July 24, 2015 at 10:45 am
        • Reply

        Thank you! Seems like I’ve worked for this my whole life and just finally got there. Feels pretty good to have crossed this finish line! ♡♡♡



    • So happy this all worked out. Now you need to throw away all those big shirts and buy some form fitting ones. You deserve it.


        • Maya Spier Stiles North

        • July 24, 2015 at 10:55 am
        • Reply

        Thank you, Madge! Once the swelling goes down, we’ll see what looks good. I’m still in froggy mode and they tell me I have a month to go on that. 😉 🙂 ♡♡♡


      • Lynn

      • July 24, 2015 at 11:10 am
      • Reply

      You look fabulous. And happy.I especially like the happy. Actually, radiant is a good word.


        • Maya Spier Stiles North

        • July 24, 2015 at 11:31 am
        • Reply

        Thank you, love! I really am. 🙂 ♡♡♡


      • Kathy Brotherton

      • July 24, 2015 at 11:47 am
      • Reply

      lalalalala love you! You journey is one of such bravery! Be so proud of this! We are all cheering you on all the way Sweet girl!


        • Maya North

        • July 24, 2015 at 12:42 pm
        • Reply

        Thank you, love! I’ve had soooo much help, love and encouragement along the way — it’s made ALL the difference! SMOOCH!!!


      • Debbie Oberklaus

      • July 24, 2015 at 1:32 pm
      • Reply

      You should be so proud of yourself!


        • Maya Spier Stiles North

        • July 24, 2015 at 9:19 pm
        • Reply

        Thank you so very much! It’s been a long, long road and I’ve had amazing help along the way. I probably could have done it on my own, well, sort of. I did have the gastric bypass, although that’s not the free pass some think it is. And this surgery was covered by insurance. There are so many people who truly need it and can’t get it. I’m deeply grateful I was able to. <3 <3 <3


      • Kelvin

      • July 24, 2015 at 9:54 pm
      • Reply

      Wow! This was an epic journey. The whole idea of a person having to get sickerand risk their health before a surgical intervention is crazy. If that infection makes its way into your bloodstream…ack!!! I’m glad you were persistent. I’m glad you’re a squeaky wheel. You’re an inspiration. You ROCK!!!! Love you!


        • Maya Spier Stiles North

        • July 24, 2015 at 10:15 pm
        • Reply

        Thank you, beloved. It was oxymoronic, actually. I had infections that horrific — why would I be so foolish as to get one to prove my point? I am NOTHING if not persistent — I just keep going until I get it or it’s obviously just not possible. I’ve been inspired by so many — YOU for one. I love you right back. <3 <3 <3


      • bethkoz

      • July 24, 2015 at 10:36 pm
      • Reply

      So good to see the pictures of you! You do look marhvelous, Darlink!


        • Maya Spier Stiles North

        • July 24, 2015 at 10:44 pm
        • Reply

        Why thank you kindly (bows gracefully and grins)! <3 <3 <3


      • Carolyn Wyler

      • July 25, 2015 at 4:31 pm
      • Reply

      Wow, you do look great!



    • You epitomize courage, Maya! Thank you for sharing!


      • Terri Connett

      • August 5, 2015 at 8:12 am
      • Reply

      Maya my darling. I’m so happy you made this happen. Unbelievable what you had to go through. Makes me wonder about those in your shoes who are not as talented and persistent as you. Our health care system is embarrassing. The Affordable Care Act is a good start. But come awn! I also think there’s a bias in health care regarding weight-related health issues. Bravo!


      • Heather Alani

      • August 9, 2015 at 11:15 pm
      • Reply

      You are so brave! I am so proud of you! You are a beautiful woman!



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