In the past few years, I was introduced to the body positive movement, and I have finally felt at peace with being and having always been, overweight. I am very grateful to my friend who introduced me to this movement, who also has had the same struggles with fat acceptance and body image throughout her life that I have. However, I am about to undergo gastric bypass surgery. The reasons for this decision are long and complex but boil down to the fact that I have so many medical conditions preventing me from living my authentic life that I am unable to work or engage in the regular everyday activities that make life worth living. Even though this surgery is a drastic step, I feel incredibly conflicted about it. I fear losing the peace I have found with the body acceptance movement and worry those who see that I have lost weight will judge me for being anti-fat acceptance. If I could stay the size I am today, be healthy, be able to function and engage in life, I would. I am happy here as I am. But I will continue to miss out on having a career, going to social events, being reliable, having fun with my friends and family, and starting a family of my own. I will still be a fat girl even if the surgery’s results are as good as predicted, and I am very happy I will be curvy and plus sized, it is part of who I am. I just don’t want to feel like I am being a hypocrite for choosing this path that will lead to weight loss. To me, it is not about pounds lost, but freedom gained from the medical conditions that have kept me sidelined for almost ten years. Please, let me know your thoughts on how I can pursue a healthier life that includes weight loss without losing the comfort I have found in the fat acceptance movement. If you have any thoughts on how I can make sure my friends who are plus sized understand that my choice is not a condemnation of the way they live their lives, but rather that I still believe whole-heartedly in body acceptance and support them as I hope they will support me in my pursuit of a more fulfilling life.
I want you to know that I have so much compassion for all that you’re feeling. I’m not sure, but I’d imagine that thinking about all this doesn’t help with the potential anxiety you may be feeling going into the surgery. Surgery is scary!
One of the things I say all the time is that I am pro-choice before I am anything else politically. I fundamentally believe that people have the right to do with their body what they want because it’s THEIR body.
In that vein, I want to tell you a story.
A couple of weeks ago I was giving a talk at a high school. I was talking about fat discrimination and body image, and the journey from self-hatred to self-acceptance. One of the students in the class raised his hand, and he said, “All the men in my family have died before 55, and my family is very upfront about my weight. Sometimes they tell me if I’m looking fat, and I’m grateful for that. I think that self-hatred is a good thing because it keeps me motivated. What do you think of that?”
I’d never heard someone say something as blunt and poignant about loving self-hatred before in my life, girl. Well, I thought about it for a second, and even though I couldn’t totally understand the appeal of his belief system, I understood that it was complicated. So I said, “If you feel that self-hatred works for you then it works for you. I’m just here to show you an alternative, not to change your mind.”
I’m not telling you this story because I am implying that you are a self-hating person, but rather because I was able to find some common ground with someone whose outlook is radically different from my own because I believe that people get to decide what works for them. I believe that people get to decide the trajectory of their own life story.
I really can’t speak for the fat acceptance movement as a whole. Certainly weight loss surgery is a controversial issue, as you know. There are definitely some people who take a very hard line against the decision to undergo weight loss surgery, but I know that there are others who see that life doesn’t happen in black and white. Big choices are often fraught.
I don’t know the details of your medical history or your life, but at the end of the day you are the best-equipped person to make the right decisions for yourself. And you are the only one who gets to make a decision like this.
It sounds to me like you are worried about losing your community, and I think it’s important to recognize that there is no point in having this fear. There will be people who get your decision and are ok with it, and there are going to be others who don’t. Just as you have the right to choose the path you’re on, each individual has the right to choose who they share their time and energy with.
It’s just a fact that some people in the fat acceptance movement will not be able to handle being friends with someone who has gotten weight loss surgery because maybe they just don’t have room for that in their lives at this moment. And that’s ok. For others, this will not be a deal breaker at all. There’s no way of knowing what your relationships in the fat movement are going to look like, and I know that’s scary, but this is a fundamental truth of all relationships. They are dynamic. They shift as we do, and I feel confident that you will be able to find people who won’t feel that your decision is a commentary on their lives.
Once the surgery is done, you will figure out the ways to have relationships that feel good to you. I am sure of it. I think the best advice I can give you is to be honest, to be open, make peace with the idea that some people may not want to be friends and have faith that you will figure out how to do body acceptance in this new chapter of your life. The most important thing you can do right now is focus on you. You have plenty of time to figure the rest out.
Dear Virgie is a weekly advice column by Virgie Tovar, MA, author, activist and one of the nation’s leading experts and lecturers on fat discrimination and body image. She is the founder of Babecamp and the editor of Hot & Heavy: Fierce Fat Girls on Life, Love and Fashion (Seal Press, November 2012) and the mastermind behind #LoseHateNotWeight. She holds a Master’s degree in Human Sexuality with a focus on the intersections of body size, race, and gender. Virgie has been featured by the New York Times, MTV, Al Jazeera, the San Francisco Chronicle, NPR, Huffington Post, Cosmopolitan Magazine Online, and Bust Magazine. Find her at www.virgietovar.com.