In 2006, when I was in my late teens, the Western medical community was just getting the idea that weight loss surgery would fit in well with the trendy world of diets and weight loss culture.
My mom didn't fit into the minimum weight category to get the surgery done in the U.S., so she went to Mexico and got it done. I didn't know. I was at college. My parents invited me over for dinner and my mom was sipping tomato soup while we ate steak and she told me, with a "please don't be pissed" face, since I've kind of always been my family's "this is messed up" barometer.
I was horrified. I didn't say so, because the forced social environment was "Yay, Mom!" She's not the first woman in our family to get weight loss surgery. But going to a country with a lesser medical system because of the standards here being so high is a scary thing. Still...thumbs up.
Because of the quality of the surgery, she suffered some pretty severe complications, including regurgitation of food -- often at dinner, behind a napkin while everyone just kind of pretended it wasn't happening.
And then it was decided that since I was starting a new semester of school at a new college in a few months, I would get the surgery. I say "it was decided" because I didn't consent, or think it was a good idea. I was always a bit horrified with the concept.
But we went to a doctor in my town who practiced bariatric surgery and sat through a consult about how it's better to eat broccoli after the surgery, because your stomach will be so small you can either waste your space on junk food or broccoli (this was backed up with diagrams), how it's a quick and fast surgery and I can get it done and go to college with no problems, and how his previous patients are all really happy, and some of them even got boyfriends as a result.
"I'll admit," my mom said, batting her eyelashes and clutching her purse as the doctor looked at her, "she's only here because I want her to be here." Retrospectively the fact that my mom explicitly admitted she wanted me to get the surgery and not me, I'm surprised the doctor felt safe with his license going forward that day and planning the operation. There wasn't a psychiatric consult (generally recommended to rule out Binge Eating Disorder,) or any other type of fanfare. Just...scheduling. I remember feeling really conflicted.
I wasn't yet diagnosed with Bulimia but would soon be, and then my diagnosis would shift to Eating Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified (which can literally mean that you don't throw up often enough.) My mom doesn't believe the diagnosis because, and I quote, "of the way I've seen you eat."
At that point I was overeating and occasionally bingeing, and so the surgery would've been catastrophic. No one really seemed to care, though. It would help me lose weight.
Both the women in my family who had gotten the surgery threw up a lot, usually right after they ate or during their meals. It was a trademark of weight loss surgery, whether gastric bypass or lap band, circa 2006. In my developing bulimic mind, I thought...but I'll be able to throw up a lot easier, since it will happen automatically and all.
But then the healthier part of me panicked and squashed that theory out with dread. At that point I didn't want to lose the ability to eat things other than broccoli, because broccoli sucks in most circumstances, and especially if it becomes your entire food pyramid. So I didn't want it. I kept telling my parents so, and they kept ignoring me, and it kept contributing to the tension in our home.
The consults with a nutritionist, to my mother's chagrin, could not be completed with her there, dominating the conversation. They actually occurred over the phone in the dining room while she occupied herself in the kitchen. The nutritionist was actually much cooler than the surgeon, perhaps because she had my welfare in mind, not money or a surgery to do.
I remember her frankly discussing what was safe to eat and not to eat, and how she had patients think they could get away with fried chicken and pay dearly in complications. I responded with some measure of fear. Give up fried chicken? That would mean sitting there sadly as the boys in our family ate fried chicken and my mom and I had soup or something.
I don't remember what I said, exactly, but it was enough for the nutritionist to not sign off on the surgery. Things started to change very quickly. The fights got worse. My parents got more desperate about what they essentially believed was a last chance. I came to terms with the fact that I was never meant to be Mischa Barton -- there was definitely not a lot of representation for fat women on TV, especially for young women back then -- and solidly opposed my parents on the issue of the surgery. I didn't know what would happen, if they were going to do it anyway.
The entire affair culminated days before the operation date -- I didn't know it had been called off yet. There was a bridal shower for a friend at my church. My parents informed me that, according to them, it was a good idea that we didn't do it, because I didn't have the physical discipline to lose weight. And I remember being yelled at in the car and arriving, shaken up, to the bridal shower and pretending to be happy.
Since then, I've become pretty passionately opposed to weight loss surgery of any type, partially because it's a dangerous thing to do that can kill you, and does kill people, and partially because it doesn't make you skinny. It's advertised that way, but that's a lie.
I still get asked by doctors and nurses if I will get the surgery. It's positively pushed down my throat that I need this surgery. I refuse every time because, now, I have the option. It strikes me how easily it could've happened to me against my will.
I wrote this to tell my story -- openly. Because I don't believe in keeping secrets secret, especially when they are this kind of secret. I also wrote this story as a sort of reminder that weight loss surgery is a painful, violent subject for many, many people. It's a tool used to abuse people. The thought that it will take us from worthless creatures and make us into worthy of respect humans is a lie.
So...doctors/nurses reading this: I know it's a big time surgery and you're probably under pressure to sign people up, or however else that goes, but exercise kindness and caution when talking about it. Recognize that you're maybe one in 50 medical professionals who has pressured this person into weight loss surgery. Realize you might lose their respect for you as a medical professional and you could be doing harm.
Mothers of fat kids reading this: I know people accuse you of child abuse because your child is fat, but I was also a fat kid and a kid who was abused well into adulthood by her mother. You are not abusive because of the amount of body fat your child possesses, or the fact that they like cheese puffs, or their dislike of soccer. Step back from the Weight Watchers book, do NOT put any child on a diet, especially if they have not yet gone through puberty, and reevaluate. If they're eighteen and you're thinking "but is lap-band a good idea for my child"? You need to let them decide fully for themselves without any pressure from you.
People who have gotten weight loss surgery, reading this: it's not hatred of you personally that we speak of when we speak so strongly about this surgery. You had your reasons. Hopefully you weren't forced and hopefully you are okay. Just know that your story isn't everyone's story. There are painful ones like mine. There's a dark side. That's why.
Thank you for reading.