Thumbing through my photo albums churns out a storm of memories, provided in full vivid color by Fuji film. These images remind me that I am not and never have been a skinny chick. Don’t get the wrong idea, as a child I really wasn’t overweight but I was never scrawny either. My ribcage has never been visible from a distance, I don’t get compliments on my collarbone and I have never had that elusive “space between my thighs”. At twenty-six years old I can honestly say I have no desire to get a call from Vogue to do a fashion spread, though I might pose for one of Coop’s mischievous zaftig she-devils. Since I have faith in you my audience, I’m sure that you have deduced by now that I was not always so happy with the pictures in those photo albums. The snapshots portray my dark ages. My face smiling up at me from Kodak paper is misleading, never revealing the way I saw myself when they were taken.
Halfway through my junior year of high school I had a brilliant idea: I would fix my life by spending the summer at fat camp. A fire broke out in my mind, and every thought perpetuated the blaze. Where could I go and why had I not thought of this before? I was sixteen and as my thesaurus suggests, well up-holstered. The quintessential wall flower, my shyness was unmitigated, and it was a select few who got to experience my personality in its entirety. Feeling like a cow grazing among gazelles, I avoided the herds and found my own pastures. In my naive mind, it was only the plumpness of my short curvy frame that led to my stifling introversion. There were years of grade school classmates hiding their hushed blows from our teachers; each word leaving my self-esteem tender and bruised. It took almost another decade to realize it was my black and blue identity that left my confidence paralyzed, not my extra weight. Brimming with enthusiasm, I spent a few months researching weight loss camps. I sent out requests and anxiously awaited the responses to be mailed. Sipping my soda I daydreamed of being thin while I read camp programs. I gazed at photos of cabins and round smiling faces. When the brochure arrived, a flash bomb exploded in my mind. I couldn’t shake away my smile; I had found the right one. The camp was far from cheap, so as my own lawyer I presented my case to my parents. The verdict was in, and my parents agreed to send me to the camp of my choice.
Camp was housed on the campus of the University of California at San Diego, in beautiful La Jolla. My heart sprinted around my chest as we drove up to drop off point. I was thousands of miles away from home and wondering if I had made the right decision. From the parking lot I could see the ocean glittering just across the street. Looking back around the parking lot, I saw another ocean, one of European engineering. Mercedes, BMW and Porsche were the vehicles of choice here. I was convinced I wouldn’t fit in with these bourgeois rich kids, but at this point I had no choice but to try.
I wasn’t a child of the upper class elite. I didn’t have my own bloated spending account, but I found the girls in my suite and I got along just fine. At seventeen, I was lucky enough to be bumped up into the young adults group. These eighteen to twenty year olds became my new role models. I was surrounded by outgoing, popular and confident women. Many of my suitemates outweighed me be quite a lot, but their personalities were even bigger. For the first time I could remember, I was one of the popular kids. We went to classes and worked together to lose weight, supporting each other at weigh-ins and bitched in unison about our aches and pains. However, it was the life they showed me away from losing weight that I’ve come to realize was more important.
My ears were threatening to burn right off as I stepped out to show them the outfit I had been given to try on. Embarrassment spread pink across my face, as I tried in vain to cover my ample rear and tummy simultaneously. “Don’t let anyone tell you that you aren’t adorable.”, one of the girls insisted as she handed me another one of her designer dresses to try on. Her clothes hugged my hips instead of hiding them. With their fearlessness and constant encouragement I began to shine. I sunbathed topless on the roof. I talked to strangers. I swayed my hips to my own rhythm, as I walked down the boardwalk in my bathing suit and little else. They took me under their wings, and while I was with them, my confidence soared. I did lose weight at camp, and I thought it was the weight loss that increased my self-belief through that summer.
When I returned home from camp, I started my senior year of high school tanned, thinner and continuing to lose weight. While I was still more confident than the year before, without my role models, my self-assurance faded just as quickly as it had come. I still looked in the mirror and saw a wallflower, close to the ground but always taking up too much room. So continue to stick to the wall is what I did. I reverted back to hiding in a shroud of baggy jeans and t-shirts, eyes forever averted to the floor. I hadn’t learned the lesson my friends at camp had tried to teach me. They didn’t see themselves as ugly whales that no one cared about; they saw themselves as voluptuous women deserving of attention.
So now I’m older, and I’ve been through ups and downs in weight and life. Now when I look in the mirror I see someone I like. I see curves and confidence. I also see someone willing to speak up and not be so timid all the time. After some medical issues I weigh more now than ever, but I’ve finally learned my lesson. I know I weigh more than I should, and by trying to eat right and staying active, if I lose a little weight I won’t complain. If that never happens, I’ll be just fine. Just leave me a little extra room and I’ll make it worth your time.
-- Jessi S. 2005
Since 2005 I've never really lost my confidence. I might not be a social butterfly, but I can still strike up a conversation with new people. I am still lucky enough to like myself. I have moments of self doubt, but they're fleeting. I have wonderful friends, family and a truly amazing man.
Unlucky for me though, those medical issues and some bad choices made my weight continue to rise. I had more trouble finding cute clothes. I began to feel sick all the time, no energy and I couldn't do all the things I wanted to. I ended up having an emergency appendectomy where they found a malignant tumor. There were lots of doctor appointments to make sure everything was fine (it is). It was all this sickness and a few unsuccessful years trying to conceive that became my catalyst to research WLS.
I started out wanting the band, but it quickly became obvious that was not for me. I decided VSG was for me and I knew I was in for a battle since my insurance doesn't normally cover the sleeve. Three surgeon, two bariatric centers, all my research, pre-reqs, two six month diets and I am finally almost there. It feels surreal. Surgery is within my reach and I can't wait!