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Ellen Inspires my new Letter to Joan Rivers about Fat Jokes

Yesterday I wrote a blog about WLS Plastics from the Patient Perspective. There was a reference in it to a school yard bully incident that I used to help people understand the psychological stigma that such encounters can have on you even 20 years later…

The hall was crowded, kids bustling around as they rushed to their lockers to get their books for their next class. She stood at her locker with her back against it, cradling her books to her chest as if she were protecting them.  Her right foot moved slightly as she readied herself to leave but it halted as a frown appeared on her face. Standing in front of her, blocking her way was one of the more popular girls; one of the “mean girls” if you will. “Awe look at the little fat girl hugging her books because nobody else wants to hug her. Stop eating Ding Dongs and Twinkies and you might not leave high school a never been kissed virgin.” The blond-haired girl clutching her books as if there was safety in them, took a deep breath and even though her voice cracked as tears threatened to stream down her face, she responded courageously, “I might be fat, but I can lose weight, you’re just ugly inside and out and you can’t ever change that.”

oca-logo-footerShortly after I posted that article I received a notice from the OAC about a Bias Buster Alert they had posted on their website. ( See: Joan Rivers’ Comments on Singer-songwriter Adele’s Physical Appearance ) When the OAC asks me to do something, I usually do it, and so I wrote a letter to Joan Rivers instantly and fired it off.

Dear Ms. Rivers,

I had the most unfortunate opportunity to view your guest spot on the Dave Letterman show and I feel the need to write you and tell you that I find your attitude and discriminatory comments towards Adele insulting, and a far cry from funny. I feel that your attempt at making fun of Adele based on her size is a sad expression of your views on the morbidly obese.

The fact that you feel that your job as a fashion reporter for the Oscars somehow gives you the right to mock people who are battling obesity is morally alarming and in my eyes pretty much equates you to a school yard bully that is using their public figure status to pick on over 149 million Americans that are overweight or obese.

Furthermore Ms. Rivers your inability to apologize for offending your fans with tasteless jokes that make fun of people based on things like weight and religion has insured that I will never again watch, or in any way support anything you are a part of. You were once a woman I respected and admired for the name she made for herself in her industry, you’ve lost that respect and I can honestly say without some sort of public apology to Adele and the people you offended with your weight biased comments, I will never see you in the same light again.

Jaime “Pandora” Williams  – Portland OR

As I sit here this morning I am still disturbed by this. Now I will say, that I highly doubt that Joan Rivers cares that she has offended me or several other Americans that have struggled with obesity on any level with her comments.  Currently she is busy refusing to apologize for a joke she made about the Holocaust on the Fashion Police last week. I’m sure if the star who is Jewish herself and whose Husband she said lost family at Auschwitz doesn’t care that she has offended her fellow Jews, she cares little that she has offended people who are battling obesity. ( See: Joan River unapologetic about Holocaust, Adele fat jokes )

I used to respect Joan Rivers. Her tell it like it is, call a spade a spade attitude and the way she made such a name for herself was always something I admired. If I am being honest, which I try to be, both with my readers and with myself, her twisted and often taboo sense of humor is something I normally find entertaining and amusing. Joan Rivers has grinned everyone’s ax for years, that is just the sort of comedy that she does. I have to say though, when her making fun of someone was targeted at a person, group of people and issue that hit so close to home for me, I resented her for it instantly.

The other day, I had my first experience where I actually felt discriminated against. I won’t go into details, it really isn’t important, but it happened in the context of business, when my definition of something referenced “Gay Pride” and I suddenly had someone’s “People” telling me that they were not comfortable with that wording. It sort of blew my mind. I found myself having to walk away from the computer.

But strangely enough, you know what bothers me the most about it… I’m jealous. How stupid is that? But it is the truth. I look at Joan Rivers, and I’m jealous that this woman who picks on people, makes fun of their weaknesses and behaves like a catty sixteen year old gossip monger rather than a classy well aging lady gets to be on television and deliver that message to millions of millions of people.  I’m jealous that she has a venue I only dream of having, and I am disgusted by how she utilizes it. It makes me thankful that people like Oprah and Ellen came along and started reminding people how important it is to give back and to help others and to show one another kindness.

Yesterday I felt like I had been living in a bubble where I never really experienced any sort of discrimination because of my size, gender, race, religious beliefs or sexual preferences. Maybe that was because I was super morbidly obese, self-employed and surrounded myself with only people who accepted me and loved me no matter what. But as I start to experience the world more, I realize that some days aren’t amazing even when you are thin. I always thought being thin would change everything and turn the world into a place where everyone followed rainbows and founds lucky pots of gold but I’ve learned over the last couple of years as I live life after gastric bypass and massive weight loss, that just isn’t the case. In fact, I think the world I live in now is a little bit harsher than it was before.

After I read my blog to HJ this morning she told me about a clip on www.AfterEllen.com where Ellen talks about bullying. ( See: Watch Now! Ellen opens up to “A Current Affair” ) Ellen DeGeneres is one of my personal Hero’s. I grew up in the era where my Mother watched Oprah and I fell in love with Ellen. Her motto “Be kind to one another,” is something I try to incorporate into my life.  Each day, when I am dealing with other people I remind myself to be kind and to pay it forward. A very wise man once taught me that each of us is on a personal journey, and during each of our journeys we each have the responsibility to do two very important things. We must know when to stop and reach forward to those more experienced than ourselves for help and we must know when to stop and reach back to those behind us and offer them the wisdom of our experience in the form of a helping hand. This is the theology I live my life by. As I listened to Ellen’s interview, I found myself chuckling a little at how much it applied to how I was feeling today.

 

“When I say be kind to one another, I think, umm… I just want people to, maybe it will seep in… I think people are rude sometimes, and I think people are unkind and I think people don’t pay attention to someone else’s feelings. And I think that there are a lot of kids out there that are bullied…and I think that needs to stop, and I think adults need to know that they are doing the same thing, it’s not just kids. There are adults out there bullying and they need to be kind.” – Ellen DeGeneres

In this same interview Ellen talks about her take on how you can’t control everything, how some things happen because they are just meant to be and how all you can really do is be yourself. For her that means living life as a good, kind and gentle person. Is it any wonder she is one of my personal heroes? There is even a little comment in there about Joan Rivers and how mean her comedy is.

After watching Ellen’s interview today I have to say, I think I got this wrong. I forgot to approach Ms. Rivers the way I would have wanted to be approached, with kindness and gentleness, because I was so upset at the group of people she was making fun of.  So, inspired by Ellen I decided to write Joan Rivers a new letter today.

Dear Ms. Rivers,

I wrote you a letter yesterday scolding you for your weight biased joke against Adele on the David Letterman show and demanding an apology. I apologize, because demanding anything rarely gets anyone anywhere. As a Bariatric surgery patient that often has to explain to people why I chose surgery as my tool to fight obesity and a post reconstructive plastic surgery patient who now gets judged for not being grateful enough for the body her insurance paid for and a woman who has battled obesity since my childhood, it hit close to home and my first response was defensive and off mark.

I called your behavior the equivalent of a high school bully, and while I think it was, I did neglect to give you the benefit of the doubt and credit the fact that this sort of comedy is your job, and what you are famous for doing.

It occurred to me today Ms. Rivers that as someone who has often been made fun of and ridiculed for her plastic surgery selections, I am sure that you understand how that can feel. I’m sure you understand how hurtful it can be. That’s why I would love to invite you to show your fans and 149 million Americans battling obesity, that you don’t really think it is a laughing matter.

You can do so by joining the Obesity Action Coalition and by making charitable donations to the Obesity Action Coalition and the WLSFA. I’m sure once you get to know about the WLSFA you will love them as much as I do! They are an organization that helps fund grant recipients for patients that need plastic surgery to remove excess skin after massive weight loss. As someone who was lucky enough to have her insurance cover several of these procedures I know how life changing these plastic surgeries can be. I am so passionate about these two organizations and what they do in the fight against obesity that I am thrilled to tell you about them so that you have the opportunity to show the world that you’re really not as mean-spirited as your jokes can be and that there is a kinder gentler Joan behind the jokes.

I’ve included links to both organizations for your convenience.

http://www.obesityaction.org/ – http://www.wlsfa.org/

Thank you for your time Ms. Rivers,

Have a great day

Jaime “Pandora” Williams – Portland OR

Thank you Ellen DeGeneres, though you’ll likely never know you did it, you helped me put into perspective my first real experience with discrimination and helped me set the paradigm for how I will deal with these types of things in the future with more positivity and a more kind and gentle approach. You’ve taught me how to find a way to stay true to who I am, as the world shows me more of who it is.

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WLS Plastics from the Patient Perspective

This is likely one of the hardest blogs I will ever write for you, even as I do it, I am nervous, I am scared and I am self-conscious, but I feel that there is something we’re not talking about out loud in the WLS community and that is, the realism of results and success of body contouring and reconstructive plastic surgery to address the sagging skin that so often occurs after we have successfully lost a good amount of weight.

I get so many questions from readers and fellow Bariatric Surgery patients about plastics; but the thing I get asked the most is, “Can I see your before and after pictures?” I’ve usually quietly avoided the topic; I mean who in the world wants to show someone some of the most unflattering pictures of you ever taken, pretty much naked, with a bunch of extra skin hanging off your body?

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The Before Part of Plastics from the Patient Perspective:

Let’s talk about those before pictures for a moment. I hate them. I hate everything about them. For me personally, the skin hanging off my body was worse than the weight ever was. At 420 lb it was very easy for me to look at myself in the mirror and say “I’m cute, if you don’t think so flip off.” That got harder and harder for me as the skin started showing itself. I’d find myself standing in front of the mirror trying to see the 195 lb body that was underneath all that skin that was left behind and I was more self-conscious, more unhappy and found myself more unattractive than I had ever before.

For me, the biggest emotional success of my weight loss journey is the fact that I can honestly say that I have gone from being a victim, to being a survivor, to actually living for the first time.  For me there were several things I wanted from Plastic Surgery.

  • I wanted a body that represented the hard work I have put into it.
  • I wanted to remove the excess skin that I saw as remnants of my abusers hold on my life and their ability to still affect my life nearly twenty plus years later.
  • I wanted to enjoy exercising more because I didn’t have all this skin swinging off me when I moved.
  • I wanted to feel pretty again, or to be happy enough with myself at 195 lb that I could look in the mirror and say “I’m cute, if you don’t think so flip off.”

I did my research. I looked at before and after photos. I consulted with two different plastic surgeons and I selected my surgeon based on which one’s staff was more willing to work with my insurance. I had spoken to my insurance company several times about the possibility of Reconstructive Plastic Surgery after losing 260 lb and I had several ideas, tips, hints, and suggestions about how I might get the skin removal surgeries covered.

My approach was three-fold:

  1. My insurance covered “complications” of Gastric Bypass so my first approach was that the excess skin was a complication of Gastric Bypass surgery.
  2. My insurance company had told me that they would consider anything that was “Medically Necessary.” With the amount of extra skin I had on my body, I still had skin folds and rolls of skin on my body that allowed for things like rashes, infections and sores and removing the skin would alleviate these issues.
  3.  I have a diagnosis of Discoid Lupus. It is a skin disease that causes rashes and legions on your body, usually in sun exposed areas. For me however, with the excess skin, instead of just the normal photosensitive Lupus issues, I developed Lupus symptoms in the skin folds, in places where my skin touched skin, under my breasts, under my arms, under my stomach. Because of this diagnosis, the “Medical Necessity” of my plastics was even more prevalent.

Getting the insurance approvals on the surgeries wasn’t ever difficult. Of the three surgeries that I did, the insurance company denied only the second one the first time we submitted and that was largely due to the fact that we had included a breast augmentation and implants in the paperwork. All it took was a letter from my Plastic Surgeon clarifying what was medically necessary which was sent the day after we got the denial and just a few days later we had an approval.

We had the insurance approval. We were ready to get started. I was elated… and I had completely unrealistic expectations.

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The Hardest Part of all: The Recover, Recoup, Re-cut Phase

There are so many things about this phase of Body Contouring after plastic surgery that I feel I should share with you I am not even sure where to begin.

First let’s address one of the other questions I get all the time. “Was it painful?” – Yes. It was by far the most painful thing I have ever done in my entire life. I’ve had my tonsils pulled out, my wisdom teeth yanked, my appendix removed, I’ve had a hysterectomy, I’ve broken bones, I use to be a self-mutilator who liked to cut myself and I’ve been physically abused by people a lot stronger than me. NOTHING has ever hurt as bad as reconstructive plastic surgery. Was it worth it? Yes a hundred times over. But did it hurt? Yeah it sort of felt like I had been hit by a truck, severed in half and sewn back together.

And it wasn’t exactly easy on the emotions and feelings either. There were phases that were so difficult. Between surgeries I would hate the parts of my body that were not fixed. I’d stand in front of the mirror grabbing my skin, yanking and pulling on it to trying to envision what my body was going to be like when it was gone. I stopped going to the gym and swimming because I couldn’t handle how much skin was on my thighs and how horrible I felt I looked. It was amazing to me, at 420 lb I had no problem putting on a bathing suit even though I knew people would start at the size of my thighs in astonishment of their girth; but now, I couldn’t handle having anyone see all the skin hanging from them, it embarrassed me and humiliated me more than being heavy ever did. This is hard for a lot of people to understand and wrap their head around, so let me help you…

The hall was crowded, kids bustling around as they rushed to their lockers to get their books for their next class. She stood at her locker with her back against it, cradling her books to her chest as if she were protecting them.  Her right foot moved slightly as she readied herself to leave but it halted as a frown appeared on her face. Standing in front of her, blocking her way was one of the more popular girls; one of the “mean girls” if you will. “Awe look at the little fat girl hugging her books because nobody else wants to hug her. Stop eating Ding Dongs and Twinkies and you might not leave high school a never been kissed virgin.” The blond-haired girl clutching her books as if there was safety in them, took a deep breath and even though her voice cracked as tears threatened to stream down her face, she responded courageously, “I might be fat, but I can lose weight, you’re just ugly inside and out and you can’t ever change that.”

At 420 lb I had two things that I could console myself with whenever I felt ridiculed about my weight. I had the control in the knowledge that I could somehow change my situation, and I had the vision in my head of what I would look like when I did that.  Those two things are what helped me get through nearly 25 years of different unhealthy levels of obesity between the ages and sizes eleven to thirty-two.  Now that was gone.  Prior to my thigh lift surgery in November, I wouldn’t wear a bathing suit because I was so embarrassed of my thighs and because with the skin hanging off them, weighing 165 lbs  there was no more change that I personally could evoke to improve the situation. No amount of exercise was going to make it better, losing more weight would only make it worse, there was no more control and no more hope and it was an emotionally defeating place for me to be living.

Setting aside the physical and emotional aspects there were the financial ones as well. Now I will say I had some complications after the first surgery, but pretty much my year went like this.

  • January – Move Heather here so I had someone to help take care of me after the surgeries.
  • February – Reconstructive Surgery #1
  • March – Healing
  • April – Healing
  • May – Healing / Walked a Half Marathon
  • June – Healing waiting for Surgeons Release to move forward
  • July – Preparing & Submitting for next surgery
  • August – Reconstructive Surgery #2
  • September – Healing
  • October – Healing – Attended the OAC event and spent  1 month in CA with Family
  • November – Reconstructive Surgery #3
  • December – Healing

Now after the first surgery in February I had some complications that took a bit longer to heal from. But pretty much after each surgery for about 6 to 8 and sometimes even ten weeks I was pretty much a lump on a log healing unable to do much and definitely not working. I was very lucky, in that my insurance covered my surgeries thus allowing me to use a $22,500 loan I took out to pay for these surgeries to pay my portion of the first surgery and then, to live on throughout the year when I wasn’t working to keep the bills paid.

Even doing all that, by the end of the year I ended up $30,000 in debt on top of that on credit cards. But you know what, going into this my Family and I expected to end up somewhere around 60,000 in debt on plastic surgery, we’re not surprised to be here, but that doesn’t make it any more comfortable or less stressful and even though my household makes a decent amount of money, when you’ve been living paycheck to paycheck to make ends meet and you’ve maxed out your credit cards and taken out loans for your body that cost more each month than your car payment, it can be a bit overwhelming.   All that said would I do it again in a heartbeat? Yes. I would.

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After the plastics: The Realism of WLS Plastics

This was probably the hardest part of the entire journey for me. In fact, I am not sure that I can tell you with 100% certainty that I am beyond this part. What I can tell you is that my expectations coming into plastic surgery, despite what anyone told me, is that I would have a tight, lean body when all was said and done. Now is my body better than it was before? Hands down and I am grateful. But there are still some areas of my body that I would like improved. I would like my arms tighter and more symmetrical. I would like there to not be puddles of skin hanging from my abdomen when I do a push up. I’d like my breasts to be a bit fuller and I’d like there to not be extra skin hanging from my forearms.

These are things I want, and someday, if and when I can afford them, I will do them because they will make me happier. I’m not sure when that will be, but it will happen someday. In the meantime I won’t allow the little things that I am unhappy with myself about hinder where I am, what I am doing or invalidate the hard work and effort that has gone into having the body that I have, even if that body isn’t perfect.  The truth is I can never expect it to be. I am never going to have the body of a playboy model or a personal trainer who has never been 260 lbs overweight. What I do have is the body of a woman who used to weigh 420 lbs  lost weight and put it back on for years, and finally managed to get to a maintainable healthy weight and is working on being as fit and as healthy as her body will allow her to be. What I do have, is a body that can serve as an example to others who have lost or need to lose huge amounts of weight and give them a realistic idea of what they can expect afterwards so they are not as shocked and disappointed as I was when I realized that plastic surgery wasn’t going to get me the body I first envisioned.

It is with that goal in mind that I am publishing a Before and After Gallery of my Reconstructive Plastic Surgery.  If you’d liked to view these photos you can do so by visiting this link. The page is password protected to insure that you realize that the photos you are about to view are for educational purposes, and may be considered offensive to anyone that has a problem with partial nudity.  You will need to enter the password: PANDORASPLASTICS in order to open the page. By imputing the password you agree that you wish to view these photos.

Comments are not allowed on the gallery page itself but please feel free to post any comments or questions that you might have on this page instead. Please remember that I reserve the right to remove any offensive comments from my blog.  Basically, be kind, I am doing this to help educate people, not to be ridiculed or teased.

Excess Skin, Body Dimorphic Issues,  Weight Dissociation, Plastic Surgery, and Unhealthy Emotional Associations are something that I don’t think we talk about nearly enough in this community and that I do not feel there is nearly enough, patient side information out there on.

It is my intention to open the doors of communication here, and to try to be one of the voices that can both answer some of these questions, and, hopefully, advocate for others so that they might get the sort of medical coverage that I did paying for these life altering reconstructive surgeries.

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Author: Pandora Williams

Author of Desperately Seeking Slender

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