I remember the first time I walked into my bariatric surgery support group, well before I had decided to have the surgery. Mr. Stuck and I were there on a ‘fact-finding mission’ and weren’t sure what to expect. We had previously gone to a seminar or two, where you sit among other prospective WLS patients in a chilly hospital meeting room stocked with bottles of tepid water and an overhead projector and listen to doctors and post-ops for an hour. While those seminars do provide a lot of information, it’s almost too much at that point – you don’t even know what questions to ask. But the support group is different in that they want you to engage with the other members and hear their stories.
I confess that one of my first impressions was of a post-op lady who seemed to want to monopolize the dialogue. Everything was about her. Right off the bat, that annoyed me, and as I sat and watched her talk, I found I was paying more attention to what she looked like than what she said. I remember thinking that her clothing was too tight; she looked like a sausage with a belt on. I wondered why she would choose to wear something so unflattering, especially after (I assumed) a significant weight loss. Although I knew nothing about her, I allowed my mind to wander a bit, and I decided that maybe she just didn’t know how to find clothing that was better suited to her shape, or maybe she didn’t have a realistic view of herself when she looked in the mirror. (How very judgmental of me.)
Fast forward to here and now and find me smack-dab in that same situation. I have lost a significant amount of weight, but I still have more to go. I pass a mirror and stop to look at the slimmer me, and I see the newly flat-as-a-pancake bustline, flabby midsection, and saggy arms. I turn to the side and see my droopy butt and poochy belly. And I see that same sausage shape that I noticed that first night at the support group.
So I apologize for thinking those things about that lady (who, by the way, has not attended the group in a very long time), because I am standing squarely in her shoes, and I had no business judging her in the first place.
For one, when you lose a lot of weight, your shape is very different. It’s different from what it was when you were obese, obviously, but it’s also different from the shape you may remember having before you were obese. In my case, I always had a tree-trunk shape, with no real waist definition or curves. That’s still my shape. But now I also have to contend with the excess skin and loose flesh that is left after the pounds come off. I’m left with what looks like a post-partum belly. That makes it tougher to find clothes that fit correctly, because if the waist fits, the butt is too big; if the butt fits, the waist is uncomfortably snug. I find myself wanting to hide under baggy clothes once again, just to conceal the muffin top. More sit-ups!
Something else that didn’t occur to me before it happened to me (isn’t that so often the case, anyway?) is that after surgery, things are different on the inside. A bypass actually re-routes your stomach and intestines, while a sleeve removes the major portion of your stomach. These are big changes that cause other organs and tissue to move around and readjust, too, and it is common to feel little reminders of the rearrangement from time to time. Does this contribute to my different shape? Sure. The muscles that hold everything in that area have been stretched like the skin has been stretched, and it all takes time for these things to find their new happy places.
I should be happy and grateful that my new shape is smaller and healthier than it was, instead of complaining that it isn’t what I want it to be. I should be thankful that I no longer have to wear ‘plus-sized’ clothes and I can fit in a restaurant booth and a seatbelt. I should celebrate that I have so many more choices and opportunities as a normal-sized person. Don’t get me wrong – I am thankful and glad for all of those things.
Wrapping your head around your changing shape is hard. Changing the way you see yourself (and others, too) is even harder. I know I don’t have a realistic view of myself when I look in the mirror, and I am still learning how to dress my altered shape, but I keep telling myself these things take time.
Meanwhile, and rightly so, I’m calling myself out for judging a stranger in the same manner that I have been judged (and have judged myself) — for something as minor as appearance. Every time I have to stuff my marshmallowy torso into my best-fitting pants, I remember that.
Kettle, it’s nice to meet you. Sincerely, Pot.