As regular readers may note, I am cleaning up loose ends before I move on. For example, I finally posted the Rules of Engagement page I had drafted sometime Aprilish when we’d had a visit from a concerned but kind self-promoter (some might say “concern troll”) who thought I was presenting an unnecessarily dark (I would say realistic) impression of weight-loss maintenance. The Rules page is no longer applicable, of course, but to people who come visiting when the blog is closed down and who happen upon the post that inspired it, it will make sense.
I had also meant, shortly after I opened the blog, to say a word or two about plastic surgery. In my initial post on The Unfairness of Weight-Loss Maintenance, I mentioned the issue of loose skin.
“Unfairness 7. You hide a secret under your clothes: your body may be deformed. Friends say you look great, but naked in front of the mirror you find your pendulous parts and saggy skin discouraging. Some maintainers may need counseling; others undergo expensive plastic surgery.”
Well, I was one who went for plastic surgery. I think it is important to talk about this issue openly. So often it is reduced to a mere vanity concern, and it is not.
For some people, I imagine radical weight loss presents a pleasing image, if not nude, then in clothing. For many of us, however, if our skin is not elastic any more, losing radical weight results in a mirror image that we don’t recognize. It doesn’t even look like a human as we have come to understand it. The loose folds may conceal the parts that make us sexually capable and deform those parts that we heretofore thought defined us as sexually appealing.
Many naturally trim people regard fat people as asexual or unappealing regardless, and Madison Avenue does much to perpetuate this notion. Sadly, many fat people buy into the myth as well. That, however, was not my experience with my own fat body. On the way up, weightwise, I became accustomed to my ever increasing curves, lumps and bumps over the years it took to acquire them. I was joyful, sexual and fully human and, to my thinking, a Boticelli babe. On the way down it was very different. Within a period of months, I became a conglomeration of saggy parts. I didn’t adapt well to this change. For example, during intimate times with my husband, instead of being present in the moment and contemplating how to please him, I became self-conscious. I positioned myself so he wouldn’t grab handfuls of flesh.
In my more mundane moments, as well, my body would remind me of its new predicament. As I ran or did other aerobic exercise, the loose parts would bounce about distractingly. Sometimes they would grow itchy from this bouncing, or hurt. It made me angry and sad.
I decided, because I could, to get plastic surgery. I won’t go into the details of the process. Actually, No Celery has produced a nice accounting of a tummy tuck, if you want that. What I would like to do however, is issue a cautionary note, both to people who are considering plastic surgery after radical weight loss and people who are in a position to support them … or not.
If you are contemplating plastic surgery, you will have misgivings, and for good reason. I was frightened that I would leave my husband a widower and my son motherless, all because I couldn’t pull my head together enough to live peacefully with my body. And it wasn’t for lack of support from my husband. He loved me (enthusiastically) sags and all. He had also loved me fat and never pushed me to diet. He says now he would love me fat again. When I lost the weight, he would reflect my feelings back to me, but he never tried to push me, lest I fail to lose the weight or regain whatever I lost. He viscerally understands yo-yo weight cycling, and he knew my history did not make me immune to it. At any rate, at that time, he told me he would support me whatever decision I made with regard to plastic surgery. (What a great guy!) I did research on procedures and the area doctors who did them. I read the scary and the reassuring literature both. I weighed the pros and cons and went for a consult. I weighed the information more. I prayed. Finally, I called and set an appointment for a bilateral mastoplexy without augmentation (removing the excess skin from my breasts) and an abdominoplasty (tummy tuck).
As the date approached, I turned to a clergy friend for support. I’d thought she would understand my misgivings without my having to brace her for them. I told her simply that I was having the surgery and named the date. She responded, “Oh, I don’t believe in that.”
I was dumbstruck. I told her the decision had been made. She tried to reassure me and convince me to reconsider by telling me how great I looked. I babbled at her awkwardly. When she saw I wasn’t going to up and change my mind, she told me she would be at the hospital for me, and I told her I’d rather she’d not. I didn’t want to have her misgivings present that day, along with my own, and I had another friend with pastoral training who could be there, along with my husband. The exchange grew ugly. She is no longer a friend. She is still a pastor, but not mine.
The moral is, as in so many stories, be careful. If you are considering plastic surgery then you’ll need supportive people in place to help you, especially during recovery, but not everyone “gets” this. And people don’t seem to have the social filters in place to restrain their opinions. Had I been choosing a particular cancer treatment, even an unproven alternative treatment, I’m sure this pastor would have been fully behind me. But plastic surgery is one of those things you can choose to not “believe in,” I suppose. I can only think that theologically she must have felt that I needed to deal with what God had given me. That’s the only logical explanation I’ve been able to concoct for her response.
The moral for people on the other side of this decision, people who have friends or loved ones considering plastic surgery: be neutral if you cannot be fully supportive. My husband was the perfect model. This issue is more complex than mere size acceptance. It requires the acceptance of a body that you’ve never seen accurately depicted (not even humorously or disparagingly) in movies or on TV. Leonard Nimoy hasn’t found the beauty in weight-reduced people and depicted it photographically. These days, as each season of the Biggest Loser ticks toward its finale, the men put on T-shirts and the women cover their sports braziers once the skin starts to sag, and viola, out of sight, out of mind, out of existence. For me, this is a travesty.
Plastic surgery: that is this week’s loose end. I’ve had a couple of readers recently ask me to explain how I came to reconcile Size Acceptance and Weight-loss maintenance. That’s a simple story, really. And I’ll try to post on that soon. Then my final entry. Thank you all, again, for listening this past year. You cannot know how meaningful this has been for me.
The floor is open on the topic of plastic surgery and support thereof.