Why I won't have any more surgery

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Photo: Cultura/Mischa Keijser, posed by model

I am the 'after' side of surgery, having lost more than 112 kilograms. No one gets this, at least not without an explanation, because I still weigh over 90 kilograms, and the weight loss fable is supposed to end when you’re thin, not when you’re merely 'an average fat person'. I still wonder if I should get more surgery. I have so many pieces of clothing that fit, but that I reject because they cling in one place wrong. That particular place is my right thigh and calf, which are obviously larger than the left. (I call it my freak leg.) Doctors have no real explanation, but the general theory is that a fall I suffered when I weighed 272 kilograms actually broke off a chunk of fat in my calf. That place just above my knee seems swollen, and is the reason I can’t wear skirts anywhere close to above the knee.

In general, I have bravado about my body. I worked hard for it, and I willingly wear a swimsuit in public. I endured surgeries for this body. I lost my navel when they chopped off all my redundant skin. 'Redundant.' The word reminds me of English movies where someone gets fired. I have wanted to fire my whole body at one point or another, but that putrid mass of dangling gut skin, my prize after losing nearly 136 kilograms, sat quivering at the top of my layoff list. It oozed and wept and smelled like old gym socks. I could lift it like an apron — not an uncommon phenomena in gastric bypass circles. The surgery to remove this old skin is actually called a panniculectomy because the Latin word for apron is “pannus.”

If you’re a woman fat enough to have required a panniculectomy, and you’re not a total uggo, you’ve probably heard the best, worst compliment thin women can bestow: “You have such a pretty face!” They say it the way you apologise to someone when a pet dies.

Rebecca Golden

Rebecca Golden

I remember the first time. Sixth grade, Central Elementary School, Amy. She had stringy arms and wide blue eyes and long brown hair. She liked to encourage my romantic prospects by talking her creepy redneck boyfriend’s pals into pretending to ask me out. She sauntered by my desk one day, the grin on her face giving me unsubtle clues about her intention. “You have,” she paused, shaking her head again, “such a pretty face. Such. A. Pretty. Face.” She smirked, and wandered off to tell her friends about this coup. I went to the girls’ room and looked in the dull mirror, its edge chipped in one corner. My hair needed brushing. I have wildly curly hair and a very sensitive scalp, so I spent the ’80s looking like someone had electrocuted a very fluffy squirrel and stapled it to the top of my head. My enormous old lady glasses had smudges on them, and my expression looked like what would happen if sullenness and impotent fury made a baby on my face. I tried to give myself a pep talk. What did Amy know anyway? She still thought Swatches were a good idea.

But I grew older, and stronger, and now my face has its moments, especially now that I’ve found decent conditioners and a pain threshold high enough to allow for regular brushing. The dead squirrel look gave way to soft, floaty curls with decent volume. I tilt my face toward a camera I’m holding over my head — and then watch people “like” the images on Facebook.

Eventually I started posting full-body shots, and I met my current boyfriend on OKCupid. But before I wised up, I went on a date with a guy from Detroit. We’d exchanged email for a month and had a bunch of nice phone conversations, but when we finally met he took a phone call about 10 minutes in, made an excuse about his mother, and bailed. Later he sent an email saying his mother died. The email seemed to suggest that I’d had something to do with it. I suspected it was all a lie, given the way he looked at me as he left. And I made jokes about that meeting, played it for laughs, but I felt real anguish. I felt certain that my body repelled him.

I know I’m a specialty item, and that dating, as my friend Becca likes to say, is not a merit-based system, but I feel like losing 136 kilograms and having an 18 kilogram chunk of skin cut off really ought to be enough. I feel like there ought to be an end point when I’m allowed — or allow myself — to think of something other than my body and how wrong it looks.

The truth is that my body serves me well. It fills out a size 22 dress or sweater in ways that some men find very appealing. I have a resting pulse rate of 60, somewhere in the athletic range. I swim laps and take a lot of long walks. I dance. I climb stairs and do all my own stunts. Despite all of this (and the cleavage), when my boyfriend moves to take any of my clothes off, I ask him to turn off the lights. This body I worked so hard for and that my boyfriend takes so much pleasure from still troubles me.

And so I wonder if I shouldn’t work on more surgeries. Having the freak leg corrected would serve a medical purpose. In addition to looking like holy hell, that sheared off chunk under my skin impedes circulation, causing wrenching muscle spasms so intensely and nauseatingly painful I’ve wondered if my calf muscle might succeed in ripping itself off the bone. People who lose most of the excess weight through gastric bypass sometimes have a revision surgery. These people are extreme cases like me, people who weighed more than 180 kilograms and whose “after” falls short of the fable. They get a second bypass and move closer to the cosmetic ideal. I think about revision, but lack the motivation I had with the initial surgery. When I let people cut me open and splice parts of my intestines to my gut in ways not intended by nature, I did so because I knew that if I didn’t have surgery, I’d die. Life expectancy at my start weight was 35 years. I had the operation when I was 33.

I don’t need another surgery to stave off imminent death. My cholesterol is ridiculously low, and my blood pressure is normal. If I had another surgery, I’d be doing it purely for cosmetic reasons, or so that I could land some future boyfriend who’d probably look at my current shape with disgust. While I’d like to have all the dating options thinner women enjoy, I also enjoy being alive, and now fear surgery a lot more than I did.

When I want to imagine the body another operation (and another — there’s always more skin where the last redundant chunk came from) would give me, or when the pants I liked in the store make my calf look like the thick end of a turkey leg, I take a deep breath, look at my pretty face in the mirror, and know that I can always cheat the angle with my camera, phone or toaster. In the end, I’d rather cheat the angle than punish my body any more. I’d rather cheat the angle than cheat myself.

29 comments

  • I have to say congratulations to Rebecca for writing this, as a 25 year old woman who had wls 4 years ago and has unfortunately only lost 33kg it makes me wonder whether I should revise as well, I know if I did I would definitely get down to a healthier weight but it's not a simple solution, if I had another wls I would need another cosmetic surgery to fix what had happened to my body but as I'm young and have never had a bf it seriously makes me wonder if I should for-go travelling overseas, stick the dream of owning a house further down the line so I can afford the surgery that will more than likely be around 20k plus whatever cosmetic surgery will be but in saying that I don't excercise and it really is my own fault, if I wanted to lose the weight I probably could and realistically am trying the easy way out. Regardless congrats to Rebecca, I can understand why further surgery would be a decision severely worth thinking about and if you're happy now then why change anything?

    Commenter
    Sarah
    Date and time
    April 15, 2013, 9:04AM
    • Wow, Rebecca, you're lucky to have a "pretty face". Thin (I once was, before puberty hit and almost overnight my weight increased by 50%) or fat, the best I've done is hearing a couple times, "You've got pretty eyes". I've got a small mouth, tiny teeth, a real beak of a nose and a masculine square jawline.

      When I lived in the UK, I met a man over the Internet in a discussion forum on a topic we are both passionate about. We chatted 10-15 hours a week, for 2.5 years. I came to Australia to meet him and - as you might guess based on experience - his initial reaction was to wrinkle up his nose and literally recoil backwards. He was distantly polite to me for a year or so after we met, but he NEVER AGAIN engaged in one of those wonderful long phone calls where we shared our dreams, he never again offered me advice on business matters he was so keen to advise me on before, and when I needed his help on something with huge meaning to my life that would have cost him only a bit of time and strategic thought, he ran SO far the other day that it's difficult to even describe.

      Before seeing the most considerate man I'd ever known - no man had ever treated me better - turn into a dismissive, standoffish jerk who later claimed to his friends that he didn't even know me, in front of my eyes, I was anti-cosmetic-surgery. Now, though, I wish I'd have had a lot of work done on my face when younger. (due to hormonal issues, I can't do much about the weight beyond 10kg, and I have to starve myself to get there and stay there).

      Commenter
      Carole
      Date and time
      April 15, 2013, 9:12AM
      • I get why you would still want to think this guy you speak of is great and its you that is the problem...no. This guy is a jerk.

        Commenter
        Cass
        Date and time
        April 15, 2013, 10:33AM
      • I've had similar experiences speaking with women, etc, then when we met, it all changed on a few occasions. I would have them not want to speak with me much, etc. I am not fat at all. I am very athletic.

        So, it happens to all of us, not just larger people. There is always someone out there for us, and I must say, I finally met her. I know this may sound cliche, but in the majority of cases, you would get thin-type people get together and larger-type people get together.

        Commenter
        JJ
        Location
        Sydney
        Date and time
        April 15, 2013, 12:01PM
      • @Cass - 'Jerk' - yes, that's what Carole called him, too. Sheesh, why comment before reading?

        Commenter
        roto
        Date and time
        April 15, 2013, 1:58PM
    • I'm thinking that Rebecca really needs to get that calf seen to even if it does mean more surgery. I wouldn't have thought it was a cosmetic thing - she has has a piece of muscle floating around in her leg! It sounds like it's dying and that can't be a good thing. If it was me, I'd be getting it removed as soon as I could.

      But onto the main show! I admire Rebecca. Weight loss is never easy anyone who thinks it is is deluding themselves. Finding out your life expectancy was as low as her's was it would've been one hell of a wake up call.

      And Rebecca, if by some chance you ever read this - get that calf fixed. You're living with pain you probably don't have to.

      Commenter
      lauren
      Date and time
      April 15, 2013, 9:42AM
      • Congratulations on your weight loss Rebecca, and your candidness. Yet I wish you would realise the grass is not always greener on the other side. Plenty of thin women do not have eons of dating options, and many people with lesser looks would love to be complimented on a "pretty face". There is no need to pit yourself against thin women or the world, and there are always people out there who will judge people by looks, regardless of who they are, even models (try reading comments on the Daily Mail!)

        Commenter
        JC
        Date and time
        April 15, 2013, 9:58AM
        • I'm overweight, but much like you Rebecca, I'm extraordinarily healthy. I eat well, I exercise often and hard, my blood pressure and cholesterol are great, and my resting pulse rate is around 40. I very rarely get sick, and if I do I recover very quickly. Among my friends I'm known as fit, strong and very health concious. I don't hate my body and I don't mind having the lights on in intimate moments. What I do hate is that society tells me everyday that I'm lazy, stupid, unattractive and worthless because of the way I look outwardly. I guess it's just hard to love the body you're in when you get told in a million different ways everyday about how much you should hate it, even if you worked bloody hard to get it.

          Commenter
          Charlotte
          Date and time
          April 15, 2013, 10:10AM
          • Hi Charlotte,

            without meaning to alarm or offend you I would go see a good doctor or a hospital like RNS if you are in Sydney and get your resting heart rate investigated as a priority.

            It is possible you have bradycardia. Yes, some elite athletes can have a low RHR but they often have health problems such as an enlarged heart so it is not actually good, they ae fit but not healthy. 60 is normal for a fit healthy person with some deviation on either side.

            I was a RN for many years and a resting heart rate of 40 needs to be investigated asap to determine the cause. It is possible you may have misread your own heart rate. It is easy to make a mistake.

            Sometimes people who were once morbidly obese are left with the legacy of carrying that burden such as enlarged hearts. Please do not be alarmed but do get it checked out.

            Kind regards.

            Commenter
            Jordan
            Date and time
            April 15, 2013, 11:17AM
          • Yep, you have offended me, but not alarmed me. You think living in a society like the one I'm commenting on hasn't resulted in me going to the doctor, having everything checked out and hoping that they'll be able to find something wrong with me to explain why I'm overweight (not morbidly obese)? Do you think because I'm overweight and making the best of it I'm I'm too stupid to have my health checked out?

            I am fit, healthy and my resting pulse rate is low, but nothing to be alarmed about and is comparable with my family (cause genetics!) and with friends I know through playing high-level sport together.

            And yeah, I'm sensitive about it - see above about people making assumptions about your character/intellect (which are scientifically supported, not merely anecdotal) due to your appearance.

            Commenter
            Charlotte
            Date and time
            April 15, 2013, 12:22PM

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