I have been a fat person all my life. Varying degrees of fat, granted, but always fat.
Surprisingly though, there were very few times it actually bothered me.
I consider myself to be pretty far down the path of body acceptance, and dare I even say love? I have spent the last seven years working hard on reconciling the feelings towards my body I once harboured. Feelings, which, in hindsight, I can truly say were never actually my own. Any feelings of hatred, loathing, disgust and disappointment towards my body were actually those of others around me. My parents, friends and family. The lovers who kept me a secret through embarrassment, the men who rejected me because I was simply too fat to be seen with. But truth be told, there were very few times that I personally disliked me or my body. If anything, I was just utterly destroyed as to why everyone whom I thought loved me, wanted me to change. Why wasn’t I good enough? Why couldn’t they love me just as I was?
These feelings of isolation led me to some very dark places in the pursuit of weight loss. As a teenager, long before the days of weight loss surgery, I would fantasise about having my jaw wired shut. This of course wasn’t an option to 13-year-old me, so I would follow diet after diet, each one stripping me of my sense of self just that little bit more. In my 20s I would seek out diet pills and continue on a vicious cycle of binge eating to bury my sadness and starvation through guilt. It was also around that time the subject of gastric surgery was becoming popular across the media.
I started to research this so-called miracle cure. Imagine, an operation that would make people love me… because that’s all I wanted. I didn’t care for thinness, what I longed for was acceptance. To be noticed for the excellent human I knew I was underneath this shroud of fatness.
To put things into perspective, at this point I was a healthy and active 25-year-old woman. I had no pre-existing health problems; I could walk for miles, I enjoyed a healthy sex life and I had a great job. My fatness had no effect on my life whatsoever. So off I took myself to the doctors. I’d done my research and I knew without any adverse health indicators and at such a young age, I would have a fight on my hands to be considered for surgery. Or at least that’s what I thought. Without hesitation I was referred to the dietician and surgeon for a gastric bypass. Not just the lesser gastric band, which has fewer risks and is reversible, but the full on Roux en Y operation, which halves your stomach size and bypasses part of your small intestine.
After two consultations, I was placed on the waiting list. The surgery and recovery itself were pretty problem-free, considering.
And within the first 18 months I had lost around 8 stone. To put that into perspective, when I had the operation, I weighed 24 stone and wore a UK size 32. At my slimmest, I was around 16.5 stone and wore a UK 18-20. But then, for some reason the weight loss completely plateaued. And I was devastated. Only I could get life-threatening surgery and mess it up. I felt like a complete failure. I went through all that and was still fat. That, I discovered though would be the least of my problems.
In the months that followed the operation I frequently found myself feeling weak and tired. My stomach would cramp and I would have to go to the toilet several times in a day, which, when you work in a large shared office can feel really embarrassing.
A few years down the line, I fell pregnant with my daughter Poppy. It was not an easy pregnancy and I was signed off work for the most part. I would become nauseous and dizzy almost every day, incredibly weak and completely exhausted. I also began losing weight again. The doctors didn’t have any answers other than it was great I was losing weight, but I was still classed as high risk because of my ‘obesity’ – go figure! Having done some research I was able to ascertain from American websites, where this kind of surgery had been in existence longer, that my ill-health was most probably down to the fact that I was absorbing very little nutrients and calories because of my surgery. And what little energy I had left was going towards sustaining my baby, therefore leaving my ‘engine’ so to-speak on empty. The doctors in my hometown had so little knowledge of my operation, let alone anyone going through pregnancy post-bypass that they just shrugged their shoulders and told me to take it easy.
After having Poppy, in what was thankfully a very easy labour compared to the hell of pregnancy, I settled into motherhood best I could. But within a few months I started getting the most chronic pain mainly around my ribs, which resulted in me being rushed to hospital in an ambulance and placed on morphine for the pain. After a few weeks of investigation, I was diagnosed with gallbladder disease. This was a result of losing such a large amount of weight in such a short time, and was just another complication on what was becoming a long list.
Around the time Poppy turned one, I found myself in a very dark place mentally. In hindsight, I think I may have been suffering from post-natal depression, but at the time, I took all those feelings of negativity and sadness out on my body. I started punishing myself with extreme dieting and starvation again. Blaming my body for my sadness just as everyone else had previously.
In my desperation I turned to social media, I began throwing my feelings into the void of Twitter, except it wasn’t so much of a void as I had thought. Complete strangers began to answer my cries. I would receive comfort and advice from people I had never met. And slowly but surely I began to discover a world of other fat women like me.
Except, these fat women loved themselves, or at the very least lived unapologetically. They had blogs full of pictures of them enjoying fashion and living life to the absolute fullest. A wave of positivity began to sweep over me. I could feel my mindset changing; I wanted to get involved and feel part of this wonderful community. A community that didn’t judge me on my size. A community that told me I was good enough. They recognised me for my achievements and gave me a voice I’d never had before. And it was through them I began to find myself. My true self. Not the version of me everyone told me I was.
The thought of the surgery I’d been through now seemed grotesque to me. How could I have put my wonderful, able and capable body through such pain and mutilation? All in the pursuit of what? Thinness I never actually achieved, nor was I going to and most importantly, nor did I need to.
The physical effects of the operation will stay with me forever. I have several chronic vitamin deficiencies that affect my body and mental health. I have been diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Disease, which affects my daily life in a most painful and sometimes embarrassing way.
I think in some ways I’m still working through my feelings around the surgery. I often wonder, had I discovered the plus size community sooner, would I have even considered the op? If I had known about the life-changing after effects of it, would I have bothered at all? I’m not sure.
But I am often asked would I recommend it. And to that I resolutely say no. I can’t tell people not to lose weight, everyone has agency over their own body. But what I can advise is that these operations are dangerous, painful and life-changing and no amount of weight loss is worth the effect they will have on your physical and mental health. My advice would be to ask yourself why you want to lose weight and for whom. Who told you your body wasn’t good enough? At what point did you fall out of love with the wondrous person you are? Because believe me, this wasn’t your doing. We don’t suddenly begin to hate ourselves. That is learned behaviour through those around us and via the media. You my darling, are perfect as you are. You are valid. You are wonderful.