Stepping out of the glass box: contemplating radical weight loss from bariatric surgery
In the end, society just might be forced to acknowledge that the burden pressing down so hard on the fat woman’s heart comes not from the weight of her own body, but rather from the crushing force of endless social criticism.
– W.C. Goodman, The Invisible Woman
I am having bariatric surgery on Tuesday, May 28, 2013. I have no clue what time, but at some point, they will knock me out and I will wake up with a stomach pouch that has a three tablespoon capacity, a detached stomach and duodenum (top section of the small intestine) and a jejunum ( the section of the small intestine that follows the duodenum) stitched directly onto the stomach pouch. If I eat too much, food can get stuck. If I eat too much fat or sugar, I will get dumping syndrome. You may not want to know the details about dumping syndrome.
You would think I would be doing this so I wouldn’t be fat anymore. In truth, that isn’t why. I can live in this big body — I was a weightlifter who could do a five-hour full body workout with enormous weights, followed by half an hour of stairmaster and half an hour of swimming and I was 38 years old and weighed 340 lbs at the time. The great big lifters used to ask me how my workout was going because they respected my weights. Eighteen years later, at age 56, weighing in at about 280, I got a red belt (just shy of black) in mixed martial arts. I have not allowed my body size to stop me from doing most of what I’ve wanted in life.
What I can’t live with – at least not as long as I want to live – is the diabetes. Detaching the duodenum was shown to cure diabetes in rats and mice in a study my entirely charming and famously skilled bariatric surgeon, Group Health Cooperative’s Dr. Jeffrey Landers (who does fantastic accents and has a tickle-me-pink sense of humor) had, of course heard of and which I, of course, cannot find reference to on the web. This is the true reason why I am doing it. Diabetes is a tough road to travel and I don’t want to experience its cumulative effects any more than I already have.
The weight loss will be a side effect, but the side effect will be what people notice.
Like most people of size, the bigotry began before I would even truly call myself fat, even though I was a stocky 9 year old and my mother bought my clothes in what was chilling referred to as “chubby” sizes. I was also the fastest kid on the rope climb and could do 103 situps in the requisite time on the PE tests.
The bigotry is sizzling now, but it was just as brutal then, and nobody thought a thing about it, just as most bigotry was accepted without a second thought. I didn’t have words for it at the time, but even then, I had been ushered into a movable glass box from which the only ticket to escape would be the removal of every bit of adipose tissue on my body. This glass box goes with me wherever I go – it’s entirely portable! I can see out and everybody else can see in! I can be heard and I can hear people, even those people who think their judgments and cutting remarks are somehow rendered inaudible by this barrier. Now and then, people step through the door that is invisible to me and visit , but then they leave and I am still in the glass box.
Now I am working toward something that will get me a ticket out, that will make the door visible and I will be able to step through. This requires some contemplation. All this time I have been in this glass box, I have been really angry. Why wouldn’t I be? I’m no different, no less valuable than anybody else on the planet. My body is not shaped the way most people want it to be, but why this has made them feel entitled to shamelessly bully, to demean, to devalue, to judge, I do not know.
For every 10 pounds I lose, without fail, people who find me irritating suddenly feel that I am less so. The opinions that annoy people cease to do so and instead become interesting. It’s not me. I guarantee it. I am still me whether I weigh more or less. The more I weigh, the more I get rolled eyes in response to my assumption that I am as good as anybody else and thus behave with the expectation of being liked and welcomed. The less I weigh, the nicer people become.
About a year from now, when the weight has dropped, my glass box will finally release its prisoner. I will step, blinking, into the brighter light, into a society filled with people who will suddenly be very, very nice to me. Suddenly those who looked as if they wanted to gag at the sight of me will flutter over worshipfully and adore me for having mutilated my body in pursuit of social acceptability. Despite the fact that these people will never make the A list, which consists of those people who always saw me for who I am and loved me as is, I will not be able to manifest my rage and resentment at their previous behavior and the obvious hypocrisy of their sudden turnaround. Doing so would mean that this surgery would have failed, even with improved health and a body that is easier to manage. If I hold on to my anger, my hatred, then I will still be a prisoner of the glass box and all this sacrifice will be for nothing.
It’s going to be an interesting journey to let go of my reasonable response to 48 years of ongoing cruelty, to say the least, but I refuse to let that glass box win. I’ll keep you posted.
This is dedicated to all my fellow prisoners in the glass box, those like me who have a means of escape and those who, by virtue of being in there for other reasons, never will.