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Body Image Issues After WLS

The Me vs Her Perspective

May 2013 336I have a lot of photos of myself from days long past.

Photos of myself at an extremely unhealthy weight.

Photos of myself at a time that I was eating as a way of dealing with my emotions.

These pictures represent a time in my life where I was constantly sad, constantly depressed. They represent a time when I felt completely unworthy. They are pictures of a woman who put on a fake smile to hide all the pain inside.

They capture a woman who felt like she was drowning in the co-morbid conditions that the disease of obesity had brought her too.

I was full-blown diabetic, I had high blood pressure, high cholesterol, sleep apnea, severe edema and severe depression. There were days that I was simply non-functional.

I knew that my weight was causing these medical issues and truthfully, I didn’t care. I had given up on life, love and the pursuit of happiness. I very consciously made the decision to not care about what my lifestyle behavior choices were doing to my health and to my body.

Pandora420lbI had a lot of days that I really wished I wasn’t even there. I was very aware that I was digging a grave with a fork and a spoon. In fact, if I am being completely honest, that was very much my intention.

These photos portray a woman who truthfully didn’t love herself. A woman who didn’t believe that she was worthy of being loved.

They portray a woman who was still very much caught in the survivor mentality of life. A woman who had grown up a survivor of physical, sexual and verbal abuse. A woman who was psychologically using her weight as a way to build walls and keep people out.

PandoraChildhoodObesitySometimes I post photos of my transformation, a before-and-after photo of myself and I look at it and I think “Oh my god, who is that girl?” or “I don’t recognize that woman anymore.”

Almost instantly someone will see my photo and tell me that I was just as beautiful then as I am now or that I have always been the same person.

I very rarely respond to these comments because I really don’t know how to explain. Really, that’s your interpretation, not mine. I don’t need you to qualify my beauty and I don’t need you to diminish the celebration of my transformation.

Pandora400PlusLet me pause here and clarify something – if you have ever been one of those people who came on to my post and made a comment like this, I am not spanking you. I realize that you’re trying to be a positive voice in a negative world. I realized that you are trying to be supportive and kind and I appreciate that. I try to do the same and there are far too many people out there that are willing to tear each other down rather than to build each other up.

What I am trying to do is maybe get you to see the situation through a different perspective. I’m trying bring light to the fact that sometimes what we think is positive and supportive, if contrary to how someone feels about themselves, really isn’t.

november11 009Sometimes I think we are so busy trying to make sure that those that are dealing with obesity do not feel shamed or stigmatized that we forget that obesity is a very complex disease and that it can be caused by many different things.

If I was a recovering drug addict and I posted a before and after photo of myself with a tourniquet around my arm and a needle in my vein would you tell me that I was just as beautiful then as I am now?

May 2013 335I am one of the first people to stand up against weight bias, weight stigma and weight discrimination. Nobody should ever have to experience those things and I spend a lot of my free time trying to help educate and raise awareness to fight these societal intolerances.

I am also the first person to stand up and say that obesity is not healthy. Obesity isn’t a pretty disease. It is as unkind and ugly as any other deadly disease. Just like you can’t look at a photo of someone and decide that the reason they struggle with their weight is because they make poor lifestyle choices and over consume food; you also can’t look at a photo and assume that it’s not.

NKOTBCropAs a recovering food addict, someone who used food to feed my feelings and someone who was purposely and systematically killing herself with food, when I look at a photo of myself and say “I don’t recognize that girl anymore.” — I don’t need someone to tell me that they do.

I’d much rather see my transformation acknowledged in a way that doesn’t focus on looks but rather on the accomplishment. “Way to go! What an amazing transformation.” “That’s awesome, congratulations on your health accomplishments!” “What a great job. Look how far you have come.” There are a ton of ways we can acknowledge before and after transformations without using beauty as our quantifier.

May 2013 339As someone who has very openly discussed body images issues after weight loss, I can honestly tell you that when someone tells me I am just as beautiful then as I am now I have to remind myself that they are talking about on the inside. Because just a couple of years ago a comment like that would have me standing in front of my mirror wondering what I needed to “fix” about my body to make it noticeably different.

When I look at those before photos and all they represent, I don’t think I was beautiful then. I think I was suffering. I think I was in a very dark place and I think my obesity was a very physical symptom of that ugliness. I’m relieved everyday that I was able to bounce back from it.

I look back at those photos and I am thankful that I have managed to find a way to maintain my recovery from obesity and food addictions in a world that is food centric. I look back at those photos and I am grateful that I wasn’t successful at trying to end my life via obesity.  

Some people look at those photos and think that I hated myself because I suffered from obesity. The truth is I suffered from obesity because I hated myself. The moment I learned to start loving myself and finding myself worthy, I started making healthier lifestyle decisions.

I am not the same person in those photos. Not on the outside. Not on the inside. I have successfully navigated a lifestyle transformation. If I was the girl you see in my before pictures, you likely wouldn’t have the pleasure of knowing me today, my friends would have been shopping for a casket by now.

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Pandora Williams author of Desperately Seeking Slender is a  Cooper Approved Wellness Coach Trained in Weight Management Strategies and Motivational Speaker studying to become a Certified Personal Trainer.

Some Days I Hate That I Don’t Feel Pretty

I’m unsure as I write if I’ll post it. I try not to put too much negative self talk out into the universe anymore.

11207285_1178583082168160_5042750784111183783_nI’ve struggled with feeling “pretty” lately.

People tell me I am pretty all the time and yet, I rarely see it unless I catch a selfie at a good angle.

My weight has been bouncing around on the scale between 159 and 165 lately. That’s awesome. 165 is my maintenance weight. Every single time I get into the 150s though this instant panic sets it for me.

I’ve started to gain more muscle again. People have started to notice. They ask me if I’ve lost weight and tell me I look great. I thank them even though my heart palpitates with fear.

You might be asking why I would be afraid to lose more weight right?

For me to achieve a “normal” body weight on a BMI scale I would have to get under 150 lb. According to a BMI chart my “ideal body weight” is somewhere between 127 -156, So really I shouldn’t be afraid of losing a few more pounds. Not that I adhere to the standards of a BMI chart. I’m from the BMI Is Bullshit Club truthfully.

My ideal body weight has to be ideal for ME.  But those are the statistics. Those are the magic numbers provided to me and I really should not be afraid to be somewhere in these numbers. Yet the idea  of being anywhere in those ranges really does sort of terrify me.

I’ll tell you why.

Last night I sat on the couch and as I put my leg up to rest on something I looked down and noticed this area behind the back of my right knee. It was that area right behind that amazing calf muscle that training for and running eleven half marathons earned me. It was a patch of loose skin. Not quite the trophy I was after.

I’ve already had four major reconstructive plastic surgeries after massive weight loss. I even had two little procedures after that to try to fix my right arm. That damn little crease in it STILL drives me insane. That was the ONE thing I wanted fixed more than anything during my last round of reconstructive surgery. It didn’t work.

I look amazing compared to my before and after photos both from a weight loss perspective and from a reconstructive plastic surgery perspective.

But I still look in the mirror each day and see spots that my body hasn’t been reconstructed that bother me. Nobody else notices them, unless I point them out. Just me.

Most days I reason myself into accepting my flaws and strive to accept the perfectly imperfect me.

Some days it’s harder than others.

I hate that noticing a new area on my body that is now affected by excess skin deters me from wanting to lose anymore weight.

I hate that the terror of making anything on my body looser after putting myself in bankruptcy to get where I am today is a legitimate fear of mine.

I’m disturbed that at 5am on my day off when I could be sleeping in, this is what keeps me awake.

I’m disappointed in myself that I can’t see what others see when they look at me.

I get resentful when someone says to me “You don’t look like you weigh 165 pounds.” – I realize it’s an attempt at a compliment. But really, implying that I don’t look like I weigh as much as I do is something that I have heard my whole life. “You don’t look like you weigh 420 pounds!” – I just want to look at them and say, Gee, thanks, I’m glad I wear my weight so well.

I’m perplexed by the fact that when I see a number lower than 165 on the scale — without even realizing I am doing it — sometimes I start to self sabotage any further weight loss.

Yeah, those two pieces of pizza last night that made me feel like I was overdosing on carbohydrates and fats and sent me into a food coma is a good example.

Yes, even I make some really bad food decisions when my head isn’t in the game.

I’d consult with a plastic surgeon about getting the areas of my body I am still not happy with fixed if I didn’t know that the price tag on doing so would be way beyond anything I will ever be able to afford again. True story.

I detest the fact that when it comes to our own mental well-being after weight loss surgery, everything is considered cosmetic and has a five digit price tag attached to it.

But most of all, I just hate that I don’t feel pretty.

I wish I had some magic mirror that showed me what everyone sees when they look at me rather than what I perceive as my own reflection. I’d make a million dollars and be able to afford all the reconstructive surgery I wanted if I found a way to make that product.

Sometimes I just have to take a deep breath and remind myself that this too shall pass.

Some days I just have to take a few of those positive emotion moments that I have stored in my emotional savings account, withdraw them and remind myself of all the things I am proud of.

Sometimes I have to think of all the things that make me feel good and tell myself that it’s okay.

Some days I just need to work on that positive self talk with a little more determination than normal, remind myself that my feelings are valid and that the long list of things about myself that I am proud of make me beautiful on the inside and that is all that really matters.

My father used to tell me that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. That’s awesome, I wish I had the beholder’s eyes.

But since I don’t have their eyes or a magic mirror that reflects what everyone else sees back to me, I’m just going to have to go back to sleep and hope that when I wake up my head  is in a better place than it did at 5am this morning.

Maybe I’ll do something crazy and sleep well into the afternoon, waste the entire day away and then get up and spend a little “me time” by taking a bubble bath and reading a book. Maybe I’ll take a bike ride to the gym and spend a little time sweating in the sauna.

Whatever I do with my Sunday off, it’s going to be something that makes me feel good so that I can attempt to wash this negativity off my skin. I just don’t like the smell of it, it’s far from my signature scent of positivity.

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Pandora Williams author of Desperately Seeking Slender is a  Cooper Approved Wellness Coach Trained in Weight Management Strategies, a Motivational Speaker and Exercise Instructor at a women’s only fitness facility in Wilmington North Carolina.

 

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Author: Pandora Williams

Author of Desperately Seeking Slender

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