Dear World: These are all the reasons why I will not be having weight-loss surgery.

By | September 28, 2010

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I heart my stomach. Out of respect for people’s privacy and their control of their own bodies, the majority of conversations we have about weight-loss surgery (WLS) in fat-talkin’ circles — like this here blog — tend to be rooted in the language of body autonomy, and this is as it should be. My body is not your body and your body is not mine, and we’d all be better off respecting each other’s individual and subjective choices about same.

Having said the above, while we often acknowledge, even begrudgingly, the reasons why a person might choose to go the WLS route, and we sometimes venture onto the slippery slope of saying why a vague and unnamed person — but not you! I wouldn’t tell you what to do! — shouldn’t have WLS, we don’t often speak in equally individual and subjective terms about why we don’t — and won’t — have it done ourselves. Maybe this is because we just assume that not-having-WLS is the default state, or that all of our reasons are identical. I think this is a mistake; just like different people have different reasons for choosing surgical intervention, different people also have different reasons for not doing so.

Thus, these are all the reasons why I will not be having weight loss surgery. This is not to pass judgement on why you had it, or why you’re going to have it, or why you’d have it if you could, or why you can’t although you would. This is about me, and my decision, just like yours are about you, and yours. Sometimes, taking a non-proscriptive approach and speaking simply and honestly from the heart goes a lot further than making broad generalizations. Let’s try it.

Reason: Surgery sucks. Lifesaving benefits aside, even minor surgery is hardly a walk in the park on a sunny fucking day. I have had laparoscopic abdominal surgery, out of necessity, and lo, did it suck mightily, in the days and hours and minutes leading up to the event and for even longer thereafter. There may come other times in my life when I must have surgery for immediate and life-threatening issues, and hey, if that’s the way it goes I will cross that bridge when I come to it. But I would not repeat the experience without a very pressing need, if only because I don’t ever want to hear a nurse curtly inform me that she’ll bring me a bedpan ever again, if I can possibly avoid it.

Reason: My digestive tract is mostly awesome. It is true that we have not always gotten along. Particularly in the first year following the daring escape of my gallbladder-gone-rogue. But so long as I pay attention and make smart choices, my digestive tract does what it’s meant to, and does it well. It takes the food I eat and turns it into energy, which gets shuttled around to the vital bits that need powering, and the extra stuff gets turned into waste, which is efficiently and predictably… evacuated. Also, if I eat something that’s going to make me ill, my stomach ejects it with terrifying and exacting haste. Perhaps more to the point, my fatness is not a result of a malfunction of my digestive tract. Even if I thought Something Had To Be Done about my fatness, I’m not much for playing musical chairs with my internal organs when they’ve got nothing to do with it.

Reason: Bariatric surgery creeps me right out. I can’t even think about it too hard or I start to feel queasy, and I am not a person who is easily enqueasened by biological and medical stuff. I wanted my surgeon to save my gallbladder, for example, so I could keep it in a jar, though he refused (and gave me a look like I was some creepy fetishistic deviant for even asking, but come on, it’s MY gallbladder, isn’t it? and how often do we get to see an internal organ, topside? I am still a little disappointed about this, years later). I will talk at length about the finer points of my own and other folks’ menstrual cycles, given the chance (have you seen the Beautiful Cervix Project? Be warned that link is as non-work-safe as is possible for any link to conceivably be). But bariatric surgery gives me a serious case of the gross-outs. A surgeon takes healthy tissue and Frankensteins it around… INSIDE YOU. The idea really makes me shudder. I think lap bands actually spook me the most, what with the insertion of an INFLATABLE DONUT AROUND YOUR STOMACH which squeezes on that poor sad stomach to make it accept less food. GAAAAH. I need to move on here. I am getting freaked even now.

Reason: Bariatric surgery is an industry built on fat hatred. True facts, y’all. It’s a very lucrative industry, in fact, and getting more profitable all the time, while often downplaying the risks associated with the surgeries it’s peddling. Certainly, there are lots of evil industries I patronize — I ain’t holier than thou — but we all draw our lines somewhere. Some folks only buy responsibly and sustainably produced clothing. Some folks go vegan. I’ve been known to purchase the stray hoodie from Old Navy and to enjoy the company of a nice steak. But I do refuse to give the weight-loss industry — and in this I include all supermarket diet foods and drinks, commercial diet programs, evil fat-hating personal trainers, and anything marketed with slenderizing promises, including Spanx — a single solitary penny of my money. I am, you might say, on a permanent diet with regard to diets, and bariatric surgery is little more than yet another radical diet, albeit one that is surgically enforced.

Reason: I have an amazing wardrobe. Really, kids. Do you know how much time and effort — not to mention expense — has gone into developing my collection of dresses that fit? I wear, on a average, a women’s 26, sometimes a 28, both of which are far beyond the upper size limit at which the vast majority of awesome dresses stop. Even a modest weight loss would mean trouble for me, style-wise. I realize this isn’t that different from folks who want to lose weight so they can fit into certain clothes, but fuck it, I’m being honest here.

Reason: I like food. Sure, weight-loss surgery doesn’t render everyone who has it into uncontrolled vomit machines. But it can. And that’s enough for me. I am not a fan of nausea. I hate the feeling of an overly full stomach. I also hate eating according to a strict schedule, or having to measure things, which is why I am severely pastry-impaired and generally terrible at producing any kind of baked goods. Though I am a good cook in a non-baking sense, I even resent recipes and prefer to improvise — to do things intuitively, as it were. Certainly, there may come a time in the future where I must be more rigid in my dealings with food, but for now, if I just want popcorn for dinner, I’m going to have it. If I don’t feel like eating lunch, then I won’t. I do what I want!

Reason: I trust my body. For me — and I only speak for myself — this kind of elective surgery would betray a lack of trust in my body and its ability to sustain me. My body is, ultimately, the only thing I can truly own; indeed my body is me, we are not separate and discrete entities, and I am not giving directions to a remote object that obeys. We move and work and live together as one, and for me, this surgery would divorce us, would shatter that connectedness and appreciation I have worked damn hard, so damn hard, to cultivate and recover. My body has carried me through my whole life; I have fought and danced and laughed and slept and smiled and cried heaving sobs and seen amazing and beautiful things and screamed for joy and for sorrow and my body has been there for all of it — indeed, without my body I would have none of those stories to tell.

Reason: My body is my activism. My body, as it is, performs activism every day simply by being seen. My body is the book in which I’m writing my hopes for the world. Awhile back, my husband and I were hypothesizing about how the world would change if ever a Magic Pill were invented that made fat people thin, for free, with no risks and no side effects. As I told him them, I will repeat now: I would not take it. Even if I were the last fatass in the world. Some of y’all won’t believe me, and that’s okay. I am more stubborn and willful than my words here can possibly describe.

Having had weight-loss surgery of whatever kind does not automatically mean a person hates fat people. Like so many things in life, these decisions are nuanced, complicated, and personal. And none of my assertions above are intended to imply that folks who do elect to have WLS must hate food, or enjoy surgery, et cetera. Truly, I think the choice to have WLS is likely more indicative of sadness or fear, or both at once, than of a mad rage against fatness. From where I stand, I cannot fathom a circumstance that would compel me in the direction of WLS; I’ve been fat my entire life, and if I have not done it by now, I don’t see it ever happening. But because of my certainty with regard to my own decision on this matter, I must give folks who feel differently the benefit of the doubt — they have their reasons. I have mine. Listed. Above. Just so they’re clear.

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