**TW: BODY DYSMORPHIA, GRAPHIC MEDICAL DESCRIPTIONS, SEXUAL ASSAULT**
I'd like to present a story about fat shaming. I'm going to use myself for this story because, well, I'm the one who knows me best and I graciously gave myself consent to post photos of me.
This is me, on my honeymoon in 2011. That is not my husband.
That is also me, at the end of 2008. I had a full body lift courtesy of the television show The Doctors. (Brief aside, I do not recommend ever appearing on a talk show. I knew what I was getting into, because I work in entertainment, but the entire experience was sheer hell).
And this is what my abdomen looks like today, three years post trauma.
When you think about having a near death experience (if you've ever been the kind of person to contemplate such things), you generally don't imagine having regrets running through your mind like, "I am afraid I am going to die because of what people told me I should look like," or "At least I won't die fat," or, (my personal favorite), "If I survive this, maybe I'll lose some weight while I'm in the hospital."
The last time I was considered a "normal" weight, I was four years old. I was already taller and heavier than other little girls, though, and I was acutely aware of this fact. I was already treated as clumsy and ungainly, and shoved to the back of the ballet and tap classes so that slimmer, cuter little girls could be featured. I was called butterball in swimming classes - by the instructor. And when I couldn't fit into my flower girl dress as part of my Halloween costume, I cried to my mom about how fat I was. She didn't correct me.
What followed instead was my mom buying me every iteration of Get In Shape Girl! workout kit, dressing me up as Jane Fonda for Halloween in kindergarten, dragging me as her "buddy" to Weight Watchers meetings, and then putting me on my first hospital out-patient weight loss program when I was 7. I don't remember much about that - mostly just sitting on a really hard plastic chair, feeling really embarrassed and ashamed. I looked wrong. I was wrong. I only deserved positive attention if I was smaller, if I ate the right things, if I didn't cry that I was hungry. I just kept gaining weight, instead.
I don't think I need to go into much detail about the rest of my childhood or high school (and even college) experience because it goes exactly how you think it would go: no dates, lots of bullying, a hell of a lot of acting out on my part, a summer at fat camp, being diagnosed with severe hypothyroidism when I was 11, and that particularly rapturous moment when I should have gone to prom and instead was spit on and called a "fat bitch" instead. I had no friends, really.
College was interesting - my first year was hell, though. I finally started dating, but an early introduction to coerced sexual acts left me with the conclusion that the only way anyone would ever want to be with "the fat chick" was if I put out. And boy, did I ever. I made friends with the local sex shop & BDSM proprietress, and had a standing 50% off discount. I amassed quite a collection of toys, but zip self esteem. I lost my virginity to someone I had been on two dates with, because I think virginity was something that had to be "gotten rid of." The date with the guy who brought me back to his place and refused to drive me home until I blew him was soon after.
Throughout this whole time, I never thought of any of this as particularly wrong, to be honest. When my gall bladder went septic because it was so overloaded with gallstones (thanks Xenical!), and I had severe pancreatitis, a liver infection, and jaundice, I believe I deserved it, because I didn't have enough discipline to lose weight on my own. I thought I deserved the bad treatment I got from everyone because I was fat. If someone was nice to me, I knew it was because they felt sorry for the Fat Girl, not because I was cool or worthwhile. I didn't deserve to be treated like other thin, pretty girls. Because that wasn't me. It was as if I were some kind of other species, wholly separate from the feminine ideal. I have never been able to think of myself as particularly womanly or feminine because of the way that my body was "wrong" was reinforced in my brain every day. Even now, when I'd like to wear makeup or buy nice clothes, I chicken out nine times out of ten because I feel like a total fraud. I am not a woman. I am Fat.
In 2006, two years into a relationship that I still didn't yet understand was completely manipulative and emotionally abusive, my boyfriend found me in the bathtub with a bottle of wine and a bottle of Xanax, sobbing while I clawed into my own skin and drew blood; that's how desperate I was to stop being fat. I had been on some kind of diet for 17 years at that point. Countless diet pills, food regimes, exercise plans, sadistic high school PE teachers, and failed bouts of Weight Watchers. I was 360 pounds and desperate. I opted for gastric bypass and my boyfriend threatened to kick me out for "mutilating myself." I went ahead, anyway.
You know how, before you consent to have surgery, the doctor has to go over all the risks and possible complications, no matter how remote it might be? Do you ever pay attention to the stuff that happens in "less than 3% of all cases"? Yeah, neither did I.
On paper, the surgery was a phenomenal success. I lost 90% of my excess weight in a little over 18 months, but I was plagued with the "normal" complications of Roux-En-Y, circa 2006/2007. I suffered from dehydration, malnutrition, and was hospitalized a few times for that. I had my first hernia repair in 2007. I shed 300 pounds of dead weight in a crappy ex the following fall, and then came the full body lift on Halloween of 2008: I had 15 pounds of skin removed, my thighs were slimmed, my waist was whittled, my butt was lifted, and my breasts were completely reconstructed.
Each surgery carried a little more desperation because I still hated my body. I still didn't feel feminine. I agreed to having implants put in that were probably much larger than necessary because I wanted so badly to know what it felt like to be a woman. 27 years old and I had yet to feel like a girl. I was just Fat.
I started having a lot of pain during the following year and I thought it was just the "dumping syndrome" post GB patients tend to suffer from after eating a little too quickly, or having something with more sugar in it than I thought. There were times when I would lie under my desk at work, shaking and sweating, but I couldn't afford to go home and lose money. I worked my ass off, but I still didn't look right. I often got lectures from my bosses about not being "front of office" presentable, that my clothes didn't fit right, and that I needed to work harder at looking better.
Sometime around Labor Day of 2009, I just stopped eating altogether because I was terrified of having one of my "attacks" at work and being fired for being sick. I had a horrible boss who used to catch my chin in her hand and forcibly put lipstick on me. Not a single conversation could be had where there was not a remark made about my appearance. To say I was relieved when she fired me for "not fitting in" is a fucking understatement. I cried a little because I had never been fired before, then I drank a whole bottle of champagne by myself and watched Alice in Wonderland. A month later, I was having an emergency appendectomy because they thought my appendix had gone septic. While it was 7 times larger than any normal appendix, which is definitely odd, I did not have appendicitis. I was sent home with 4 more scars and no explanation of why I was in pain or if the problem had been fixed.
Three weeks after that, I was back in emergency surgery. It turned out I had a hernia the size of a dinner plate in my abdominal wall and 8 feet of my small intestine had decided to go on a joy ride to the wrong side of my body. Each time I was in the hospital, I was more concerned about if I was going to lose or gain weight because of these surgeries. My actual health didn't really register for me. It was always about whether I was finally "thin enough," and everything I did or did not do right in pursuit of that goal.
The pain stopped for about 5 months after that. I got another job, worked my ass off, had a great boss that I loved and who appreciated my work, but then someone came in over him who started harassing me because of my weight. I was denied a place in the writer's room because the new boss, "didn't want to look at my gross, fat body all day." (I am 5'9" and was 185 at the time). I was told that my clothing was, "unacceptable and unfeminine," and the new boss refused to speak to me directly. I was simply, "the fat assistant he couldn't fire because of discrimination or some shit."
Remember those bizarre, super low percentage, possibly fatal complications that could come out of any surgery? Yeah, neither did I until June 16, 2010.
From a piece I wrote recently about that experience:
"The last sense to go is your hearing. That's something I honestly didn't know before June 16, 2010. You'll lose your sense of touch first – your body will become rigid and paralyzed, and your consciousness feels disconnected from everything else going on around you. Sight goes next; I definitely wasn't expecting that. I thought, truly, if there was any justice in the world, I could at least see my death coming head on. Instead, I was inverted on a surgeon's table, unable to move, unable to see, and suddenly unable to smell or taste the blood I had been throwing up for the past twenty minutes.
"Forty over twenty!" That was the last thing I heard.
Hearing death coming is much more frightening than seeing it."
Strangulated hernias are pretty rare and extremely dangerous, especially if they are not caught before the tissue has gone entirely necrotic - usually, you have about 6 hours to save someone from sepsis between the initial cut off from oxygen and blood supply to total cellular death. They cracked open my abdomen after 8 hours.
My case file at the hospital is over 2000 pages long. I was not supposed to survive. Hell, the surgeon was still covered in my blood when he told my parents and my husband (boyfriend at the time) that I was not going to live, and that they should start thinking about funeral arrangements.
The hows, the whys, and the wherefores of how I survived aren't really germane to this particular conversation, though. After finally regaining consciousness, I have a brief memory of being weighed in my ICU bed and being absolutely horrified that my weight was over 200 pounds.
Let me put this in perspective for the people out there who think that body acceptance at any size is "self esteem" horseshit: I had lost 2/3 of my bloody supply due to hemorrhaging, 8 feet of my small bowel to necrosis, liver function at 30%, kidney function at 12%, blood pressure that would climb to 70/40 on a good day with a pulse well over 110, was ON A VENTILATOR AND KEPT IN A MEDICALLY INDUCED TWILIGHT STATE and my first, FIRST conscious thought out of all this?
"Oh my God, I'm fat."
I was in the hospital for 6 months. Even with intense physical and occupational therapy, my muscles were badly atrophied and I dwindled down to 125 pounds by the time I got married in 2011. I couldn't have my husband take a nice picture of me while we were on our honeymoon because I was too self conscious. I would spend egregious amounts of time in front of the mirror, crying over the scar in my abdomen (because it was my fault this happened), and poking and prodding all the parts of me that I still thought were fat.
I weigh 165 now, and that's still too much for me. I have become much more comfortable with my personality and just being me, but I only really feel at home behind a computer, where I can hide my body. I don't know if I'll ever feel comfortable in my own skin. I still hate my body, every day. I still have all the internal demons of 28 years of everyone telling me I was wrong for looking the way I looked, and that I was less of a woman, and worthless as a person, because of how I looked.
What I wouldn't give to go back to that four year old and tell her to flip the bird at those people.
Instead, I still cry in front of the mirror almost every morning, and am sometimes ashamed that I survived.
12/4/13 ETA: So I read Maria Kang's article that was posted to TIME: Fit Pride Isn't 'Hate Speech.' For obvious reasons, I think she's completely oblivious (at best) at what the point of body acceptance is. I decided to post this article to her FB page. Yes, I know that means that I am now putting out my real name, my real location, and parts of my real life, but fuck it. I am sick to death of this argument solely being about size. I am sick to death of this issue being fit vs. fat. I am sick to death that humans are reducing one another's humanity to a simple shape. I died twice, was resuscitated, have less than 1/2 of my small intestine left, a quarter of my stomach, a damaged heart valve from endocarditis, and a 16" scar that splits my abdomen. How about maybe, JUST MAYBE we start talking about the real fucking issue here: IT'S NOT ABOUT THE SHAPE; IT'S ABOUT OUR HUMANITY.