Sunday, April 02, 2006


("Bariatrix" sounds like a superhero, or an old-fashioned feminization of something, but I am going to be talking about weight-loss surgery. Yes, even though "bariatrics" actually refers to any and all care for very fat people, technically.)

Here, the proprietress of Hello, I am Fat considers weight-loss surgery. That woman is a very good writer, and every time I visit her blog—which is admittedly sporadically, since her updates are few and far between—I am overwhelmed by the visceral force of her suffering. That woman is suffering, and she is not kidding around about it. Feeling her suffering reminds me of how I used to feel about my own body, and I can't usually stick around that blog for very long. What disturbs me most is how normal people seem to find the fact of her suffering. People empathize or try to buck her up, but there is no sense that this experience either is or should be out of the ordinary.

Already, I'm imagining how I am going to be, a year from now, she says. I've done that too. I've made lists and spun fantasies to go to sleep by. I have tried to stop doing those things. I have considered weight-loss surgery.

But more than I have considered weight-loss surgery (and I never, certainly, went as far as scheduling a consultation, because for me, once I set myself on a track, I am on it, so a consultation is basically anaesthetic), I have considered how I feel about weight-loss surgery in the abstract. People who are in favor of fat acceptance are supposed to really hate it, and I think part of the reason that it's a thorny issue for fat acceptance is that in some way, it makes fatness a choice, and a lot of fat activists are devoted to fighting that idea. Me, I don't care so much. I'm okay with choosing fatness. I'm kind of having fun being fat right now. I'm kind of having a lot of fun being fat right now. I am rocking my fatness. I don't know if I'd choose it away. (I think if I were less socially privileged I'd be a lot more interested in choosing it away.) On the other hand? It is expensive and dangerous, and it is the promise of all of your fantasies fulfilled, and it might be a lie. It kills people because they want to be thin, or it cripples them, or it takes their money and years of their lives and doesn't make them thin. Or it makes them thin, and they have what they thought they wanted and discover that thin isn't quite the magic bullet that we, the unthin, tend to think it is. There are so many people waiting to begin living their lives until they are thin. But I think what they are waiting for is not "thin," it is "assurance of safety and success," and thin can't really give that. And maybe there are people for whom weight-loss surgery does just what it needs to do, it takes the pressure off their knees or rebalances their hormones or whatever. Bodies are mysteries.

It's hard for me to figure. On the one hand, can you blame people for wanting to escape social stigma and the suffering that comes with it? I don't think so. That is such a powerful dream—there is no way to describe it if you haven't experienced it. On the other hand, can you wish that they would stick around and tough it out and get their shit together and stop feeding an industry and an image that's damaging to fat people who don't choose weight-loss surgery? Yes, I think you can.

So why haven't I chosen weight-loss surgery? Usually when I ask myself if I'd rather be thin than fat, say, a size 8 rather than a size 20, the answer is an instant and unqualified "yes." Currently I'm having a little bit of difficulty answering that question because I'm not really feeling any penalties of being fat other than residual emotional stuff, and I'm so enjoying all of the stuff surrounding fatness—getting to shock people by shocking about it, the thrill of the chase of fat clothes shopping, the thinking about fat semiotics, &c. Nevertheless, I think if the question were if I'd rather never have been fat, the answer would be affirmative. But that's not going to happen. And weight-loss surgery won't take away the pain I've already come through. It won't take away my stretch marks or my loose skin or give me unblemished years as a taut teenage beauty-ideal girl. I'm sad that I never got to be that girl. But weight-loss surgery wouldn't fix that. And it would, I think, in some way negate the tremendous amount of work I've done to stabilize my life and my mind, not to mention my weight, to make myself happier and healthier and kinder to myself and others. A friend told me recently that she thought I should take a fattish friend of hers under my wing, teach her to stop yo-yo dieting and how to dress her body. That I am the kind of person who is a resource for that is something I consider a tremendous achievement. And weight-loss surgery would tarnish that achievement.

Also, it would cost me a gazillion dollars and might kill me or leave me malnourished and smelly and emotionally shell-shocked and it would hurt a lot and I would never be able to eat tremendous amounts of Indian food with my dear friends and then go to sleep in a happy exhausted sated pile ever again.