On the 28 November 2015, I underwent weight loss surgery, also known as sleeve gastrectomy or a gastric sleeve. I wrote about why I needed this operation in my previous blogs, "My Gastric Sleeve and Me" and My Gastric Sleeve and PCOS.
Both mainly dealt with the technical and physical reasons behind my surgery, not so much with how being overweight has made me feel or with what I have experienced as an overweight person for the past 7 or so years.
Our fat shaming society
Among the overweight people I know, there are so many hurtful fat shaming experiences. Some have been shouted at in the street, some have been laughed at publicly, some have not had jobs offered to them on account of their weight, and every single one has been discriminated against by doctors and healthcare professionals.
Big Fat Failure
I have been discriminated against by a number of doctors who didn't handle my weight issues professionally, who didn't know what the answer to my problems were, so instead of referring me to someone who did know, just spoke down to me and ultimately didn't treat me with the respect a patient deserves. I see that looking back, but at the time I didn't know what to do about it, so I never demanded to be heard or ask to speak to someone else who was able to help me, I just went home and felt like a Big Fat Failure.
The Kids with The Fat Mum
But the experiences that have hurt me the most, have actually come mainly from the people close to me.
From a friend who I opened up to about my weight issues, seriously suggesting I start eating popcorn in the evenings... As she assumed I was gorging on sweets and cakes 24/7, I guess?!
To a friend saying, when I told her I was going to have bariatric surgery, "But why don't you just go on a diet?"... Ahh, Thank You, I could have really used that kind of thinking 50 or so kg's ago!
And a work colleague, to whom I mentioned how sick I was of being fat, said "Really? But you seem so happy all the time"... WHAT?
From someone very close to me often remarking, whenever we come across women who are larger than me, "Now look, she's MUCH bigger than you"... Yes. SO?!!
To someone else close to me suggesting that me having the surgery was a great thing, not least for my children who would no longer be known as "the kids with the fat mum"... There. Are. No. Words.
Fat shaming? Yes, but not to my face
Now, I know there was no malice in those particular fat shaming moments of mine (only thoughtlessness and stupidity, perhaps?), as they were all said to my face and in a (failed!) attempt to make me feel better or show compassion... I guess!
Because the really nasty fat shaming remarks are the ones said about me behind my back. Now, I wouldn't have heard these, of course, but I know that many a horrible and derogatory fat shaming remark has been uttered in my direction.. how do I know this? Because I hear the ones made at the expense of other fat people. People just like me. So of course they are made about me as well. No need to elaborate... you have ALL heard them, you know exactly what I'm referring to!
The Silent Fat Person
We hear about diets all the time. If someone has lost weight on a diet, they yell it from the roof tops. But not many others who have had bariatric surgery, have spoken about this publicly. And I wonder why:
Not an Easy Ride
Is it because bariatric surgery is seen to be the easy option? Well, let me tell you something right now, it's not easy! It requires a lifetime of dedication and it is the most long-term diet you can imagine. It is a tool to give someone the chance to succeed with a diet, it's not an easy ride or a free pass AT ALL. Because you CAN cheat your gastric sleeve or bypass and never lose the weight. If all you eat is high calorie, fatty foods and sugary sweets, it's not so hard to get a good 3-4000 calories into your much smaller stomach every day and then you will gain weight, obviously. The gastric sleeve is a tool for life, one that makes it POSSIBLE to lose weight, not a magic cure that does the work for you.
A Fat Failure?
Or do bariatric patients not share their journey because they are embarrassed or because they feel like failures having not succeeded with other diets? Well, if that's the case, then there's even more reason to speak up and be public about it, because being overweight should not be something that causes embarrassment! Being overweight is something that, in most cases, is the result of underlying psychological issues or illnesses, stress and/or in having drawn the short straw in the gene-lottery.
Our Fat Shaming NHS
Or is it, in fact, because even our national health system is a fat shaming body? When you search on the term "obesity" on the NHS website, you get this message: Obesity is generally caused by eating too much and moving too little.
No mention of the 75+ genes or gene groups which have an effect on obesity have now been identified, or of FTO, the first obesity-susceptibility gene identified and the one that has the largest effect on body mass index (BMI) of any known gene. These genes have a powerful effect on our eating habits and how easily we store fat. They can affect metabolism and appetite in various ways.
No mention of PCOS.
No mention of Hypothyroidism (Underactive Thyroid).
No mention of any of the many other causes of overweight and obesity.
No, just "You're eating too much and exercising too little".
Well, Thank You, NHS, for making us feel like failures rather than trying to help us become healthy individuals that do not, in later life, become a burden on... well, YOU!
Let's Talk About Fat, Baby!
I hope that one day, soon, more will join a public debate about obesity, about the serious causes and reasons why some people become overweight and about how we need to stand up to the fat shamers who feel that it is acceptable to look down on those who struggle with obesity or the serious issues that lead to it.
Think of the changes in people's perception just in the last couple of years following the campaigns to shed light on mental illness. They've come a long way, haven't they? And what about alcoholism? Ludomania? Depression? These, too, are now accepted as being illnesses and, therefore, not something we should discriminate against in any way.
I look forward to the day we can say the same about obesity!