Complicated Feelings

Mar 12, 2017

OK, I'm finally starting to see some talk on Tumblr about Gabourey Sidibe's wls. I'm sort of surprised it took this long, or at least this long to start bubbling up in the blogs I read. 

One blog I like very much posted to say the writer would no longer share pictures of Gabourey Sidibe etc and what a disappointment it was and I get that. I really do. Clearly, I had (and have!) weird, confusing feelings about Ms. Sidibe's surgery myself, as I blathered about on a general forum thread.

It disturbs me a little when Fat Acceptance folks get so personally invested in a celebrity's fatness that they feel betrayed by an actress's decision to have weight loss surgery. I'm not unsympathetic; when you have so few people who look like you held up by the media as valuable and good and worthy, if even one of them "succumbs" and chooses wls it would certainly make you feel some feelings. But here's where my understanding breaks down: as someone here on OH said, these bloggers and activists don't know what it is to live in Gabourey Sidibe's body. I feel like she's been pretty careful to avoid framing her operation as an aesthetic decision—she was beautiful before, she's beautiful now—and I appreciate that she hasn't (as far as I've seen) indulged in any "now I'm the real me!" butterfly-from-the-chrysalis talk. She's been candid about the health reasons that prompted her to get the sleeve—type II diabetes, joint pain, etc. So what exactly is she supposed to do, to keep in the good graces of pro-fat bloggers? Live in pain, live in heightened fear of losing toes or limbs to diabetes? That's where they lose me. (I guess they're not, like, banging on Ms. Sidibe's door, wailing that she's betrayed them or something. I shouldn't scold folks for needing space to process their emotions around this topic. I mean, that's basically what I'm doing here, right?)

On a more personal level, what gets me is how a lot of Fat Acceptance writers and activists talk about weight loss surgery. It's "mutilation of healthy organs," it's a "permanent, non-reversible eating disorder," it's doomed to failure anyway, it's gruesome medicalized torture. And, well, while I either agree with or am at least sympathetic to a lot of Fat Acceptance sentiments about wls, that sort of "Mutilation!" rhetoric earns a bit of a from me. (I'm not sure what exactly that emoticon is trying to express, but I'm going for an eyeroll.) Now, I agree that none of us exercise truly "free will" regarding medical decisions. When it comes to existing in a fat body while seeking any kind of medical care, social attitudes about weight, health, and appearance play a huge role in the care we receive. And I'm not going to pretend the decision to pursue weight loss, especially by surgical means, can ever be made in a vacuum, some space of perfect neutrality untouched by considerations of fatphobia, the moral freight attached to being fat, blah blah blah.

So yeah, the choice to pursue surgical weight loss isn't magically neutral any more than a woman's choice to take her husband's last name is neutral. We're all influenced by Society. (Duh.) But that doesn't mean most bariatric patients are gormless dimwits actively coerced by the forces of evil into having our anatomy rearranged just so we can appease fatphobes by making ourselves smaller and more acceptable. This shit's complicated, so much more complicated, than that.

I certainly wasn't able to completely disentangle my anxieties and hopes about my appearance from my concerns about my actual somatic health. Four and a half years ago I was deeply immersed in the "fatosphere" and grappling with my desire to liberate my thinking from dominant narratives about morality and weight and appearance and just everything. I wanted to be a good and brave fat person who didn't apologize for taking up more than the share of space allotted by a fatphobic world. I wanted to live my life without constantly worrying about calorie restrictions, and without assigning moral weight to what I ate, or how much I exercised, or what size I wore. At the same time, I was panicking as my world shrank around me. My daytime drowsiness was so bad (sleep apnea) that I was giving up driving more often than not. I was missing out on things I wanted to do because of fatigue. My joints hurt and I was so afraid of falling and maybe permanently jacking up my back that I was growing timid about going out and doing things. My breathing was labored. 

So, like, what was I supposed to do? Stay physically miserable out of solidarity with Fat Acceptance bloggers I'd never met? I don't think anyone is required to be healthy, get healthy, perform healthy; health is not a moral imperative or a measure of a person's worth. I don't think a fat person needs to try to become thin to deserve respect and kindness and appropriate medical care. I don't even think someone in the same situation I was back then should feel any kind of pressure to lose weight if they don't want to. And I also know there are healthy fat people out there, people heavier than I was at my heaviest whose lives are not constrained by their size (maybe by others' prejudices, but not by their actual bodies). I wouldn't want a thriving fat person to have wls just for the sake of becoming a thin person. And I wouldn't want an unhealthy fat person to be pressured to have wls in order to "earn" decent healthcare. With all those thoughts clanging around in my head, all I could do then was try to figure out the best way forward for myself. 

I really tried to get healthier—not necessarily thinner, though I had lots of difficult feelings and thoughts on that subject at the time—by gradually starting to exercise, by trying to eat in ways that were less destructive to me, by getting a sleep study and treating my sleep apnea. Those things helped but it seemed like I hit a wall. I got a little better but didn't seem to be able to push through to really feeling like myself again. And I wasn't even thirty; the longer I waited, the harder it would be. And I knew people who'd had wls. They'd all been bigger than me when they went for it so part of me was afraid I'd be laughed out of the doctor's office, or maybe turned down by our insurance company.

But anyway, obviously I got the surgery and while I have a lot to say about my "head stuff" since then, physically it's made such a difference in my ability to exist in the world with less pain and more energy. Did losing weight resolve my sleep apnea? Well, no, and I am disappointed about that. But it made it less bad, and made my treatment more effective. And even since regaining, I'm still able to do things I either couldn't or was afraid to try ~five years go. I'm happy I had surgery and happy for the overall improvement in my health, but part of me still feels like I...capitulated? Surrendered to something? Gave up? I don't know. I feel guilty, sometimes, for having weight loss surgery. Like, how can I believe in Fat Acceptance and still have done this?

I have no idea! And I'm not going to sort through all these conflicting feelings tonight, not in one rambling and incoherent blog post. But I'm glad I got this off my chest. 

In other news, I've been a slug all day. Slept in way late, overate (not disastrously, but still), didn't drink enough water. I did manage to rouse myself for an exciting sixteen minutes on the treadmill. Tomorrow I'll be back to tracking—and I'm sure I'll spend at least part of the day brooding on weight loss surgery, celebrity weight loss narratives, Fat Acceptance, etcetera. For now I think it's time to go to bed.  


About Me
Surgery Date
Sep 30, 2012
Member Since

Before & After
rollover to see after photo
2009, at a friend's wedding. Probably weighed ~250 at this point. (I miss that dress.)
Very awkward selfie! I should probably ask for assistance next time, but I'm impatient.

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