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All of Me Movie Screening – A Post RNY Patient Perspective

All-of-Me-Poster-smallI used to think I put “All of me” out there. I used to believe that my life was an open book and that everyone was allowed to read each and ever chapter through my blog and this website. The other day I had the pleasure of watching the screening of the movie “All of me,” and you want to talk about putting yourself out there, these women left nothing about themselves and their journey unexposed.

The movie is about a group of women who started together as a Big Beautiful Women ( BBW ) Group that participated in Fat Acceptance ( FA ) parties together and then later began embarking on a journey to lose weight together through different Bariatric Surgeries. The movie focuses quite a bit on the change in the relationships not only between these women, but with their significant others as well.

We talk often about how our decision to have Bariatric Surgery changes us. How it changes our friendships and how it changes our relationships. Very rarely do we see it unfold in front of our eyes on the big screen and manifest itself in a way that actually makes these thoughts and feelings portrayed in a way that we can see them happening. This movie did that.

DawnI had the pleasure of meeting Dawn, one of the stars of the film. I wish I could express how much I identified with Dawn in the movie. I often say that at 420 lb., I was invisible in the world. I was huge and yet nobody noticed me. It is very obvious when you meet Dawn, and get to know her through the movie, that she is passionate about helping make sure that people whose voices are not necessarily loud enough are heard.

ZsalynnThe truthfulness in this documentary film amazed me. The open and candid approach to things like past BBW adult oriented modeling that some of the women in this film participated in, quite honestly made me smile. I do however think that the film included a little too much of the actual modeling content than it needed to, and I think some of the points the film maker wanted to make got lost to some of their audience in the shock factor response to this. Mentioning it is one thing and showing a few examples another. But the scene where one of the women was actually plopping down on her partner in bed was one of those moments where the audience made a lot of shocked sounds and I think that particular vision stayed with some of them for so long that they missed some of the more important relationship aspects of the film because of it. Though I think there was a little too much of it included, I still applaud the film maker and the women in the documentary for including it. The Bariatric Community as a whole can be very judgmental and so much like high school that to see this documentary where these women were completely honest about their pasts and their journeys with no regard or care as to whether or not they were judged for it, made me smile and think to myself, “This is a group of women I could be friends with.” But I’ve always been of the opinion that this community is far too judgmental to one another and far too un-accepting of one another and our vast differences.

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Watching the audience responses to the film intrigued me. Watching what characters they liked verses which ones they didn’t was interesting to me from a psychological standpoint. It seemed many in the audience didn’t like one of the characters in the movie that had successfully lost her weight, changed her attitude quite a bit, and seemed to distance herself most from those that were not on the same path that she was. It appeared that many found her cocky, arrogant and didn’t like her. I on the other hand found myself understanding the need to remove yourself from situations that are not necessarily mentally healthy for the path you are on and not aiding in getting you to your lifestyle change goals whether they are weight related or not.

I often feel within the Bariatric community we live in a bubble where EVERYTHING is about weight loss, weight loss surgery, support groups, conventions and our weight loss journeys. The thing is, for those in our lives that are not weight loss surgery patients or are not trying to lose weight, this can be a very annoying issue. I’ve seen in it my own personal relationships. My family wants nothing to do with the WLS community, they don’t want to attend events because they feel this community is all-consuming. I have been told on more than one occasion “I want to have a friendship with you, but we have nothing in common anymore because all you are about is WLS, weight loss, fitness, and exercise.” – One of my closest non-op friends told me just recently “You know your Father wanted you to have a happy healthy life. Not a sheltered one where 100% of your life was about weight loss surgery.”

At 420 lb. I was defined by my weight. It held me back from things I wanted to do. Today at 165 lb. my life revolves around my weight still, and I’m so busy doing things with and for the WLS Community that its pretty hard to get time with me outside of that. I remember not to long ago, I made the decision to come to Dallas to attend the NKOTB concert with my chosen sister, and when it meant me not attending a weight loss, exercise oriented convention I was going to attend I was ridiculed a little for it. But my life can’t always be about weight loss or I’m letting my weight control my life just as much now as I did when I weighed 420 lb.

We all change, people change as they get older, as they gain more life experience, and interestingly enough that seems to be one of the big fears people have when it comes to weight loss. “I don’t want to change who I am on the inside because I changed who I am on the outside.” I always want to ask them, if who they are on the outside is a true representation of who they are on the inside. Because when I started this journey, I wanted to change. I wanted to live a happier, healthier life. As I started making those changes, my relationships changed, a lot of them. My business relationships, my friendships, my intimate relationships, they all changed as I changed and became more confident in myself. The things I wanted out of life changed and it caused me to separate myself from people who were unhealthy for me.

As I watched this film I asked myself, if I had been in this group of women, would have remained friends with this group of women or stayed with the men that the women in this film were in relationships with and my answer, because I am honest, was no, I would not.

Dawn-and-GuyIf prior to my decision to lose weight I had been a part of a Big Beautiful Women group where the theme of the group and the friendships in it were, “I’m a big woman and I believe that I am beautiful and there are plenty of people out there that believe that I am beautiful as well.” I would have distanced myself. I would not have found that sort of mindset helpful to where I was trying to go. I was always the girl who looked in the mirror and didn’t like what I saw. I still have issues with what I see in the mirror sometimes because of the excess skin issues. But I was never ok with being morbidly obese, I was never accepting of it in that regard. When it comes to the men in the movie, to be honest I sort of felt that they were unfairly painted in a negative light. Would I have stayed with a man who wasn’t happy with my decision to lose weight and seek a happier, healthier life? No I wouldn’t have. I would have left someone who didn’t support my decisions. That said, if I had married someone who was specifically a “Fat Admirer” or someone who had a fetish for big girls, and I suddenly decided that wasn’t who I wanted to be anymore, I would leave out of respect and love for them. I would look at it and go “Who am I to expect him to give up what he wants and what makes him happy because I have suddenly changed my mind about what I want and what makes me happy and our wants and needs in the relationship no longer parallel each other.”

I wrote down a couple of quotes from the movie that stood out to me as I was watching it and there was one thing in particular that I took away from this movie that really touched me. One of the women talked about how she felt about herself when she looked at her before and after photos. – I have often discussed that I feel completely disassociated from the woman in my before photos. I think one of the biggest relationship changes that we go through in our weight loss journey is our relationship with ourselves. The thing that stood out the most for me in the movie was one of the women saying that when she looks at her before picture, she is thankful to the woman in it, grateful to her for finding a way to protect her. This was one of those lightbulb moments for me. I always looked at my before picture and thought “What was I thinking, why did I ruin my body like that, why did I let me addiction to food get so out of hand.” Today as I am packing up for the OAC Your Weight Matters 2013 Convention, I pulled out the before picture I usually take with me and as I looked at it for the first time I thought to myself…

“What an amazing woman I am that I found a self-defense mechanism that could get me through the horrible abuse I endured. I learned to have relationships with food because food didn’t hurt me when everyone else around me did” We talk about building proverbial walls around ourselves when we have been hurt and having to take them down brick my brick when it is time to start letting people back in. Fat cells were my bricks and I built a very thick wall around myself to protect me from the physical, sexual, mental and emotional abuse that I went through as child and later, a teenager. The truth is, that wall of fat cells probably saved my life a dozen times over. It protected me during a time that I didn’t have healthy people in my life and when the time came, and I was ready, I started taking those fat cells down just like we talk about taking our walls down brick by brick. I don’t think I will ever look at my before picture the same again. I don’t ever think I will look at the woman in those photos with so much disdain, disgust and dislike. That is probably one of the move valuable things I could have learned and this documentary empowered me with that.

I’d definitely recommend the film to anyone who fights a battle with Obesity. It’s a different perspective than I think we are used to seeing, but I think that is healthy. Seeing things from different perspective sometimes helps us see ourselves more clearly. Putting ourselves in other people’s shoes and asking ourselves what we would do, often times gives us a glimpse into who we are that we might not have seen before.

In closing I think All of Me is a documentary that can open doors and discussions about relationships with others and with ourselves and how they change as we battle obesity. It also made me realize that even though I think I am an open book for everyone to read, I am sure I haven’t quite put “All of me” on there… and that’s probably a good thing. I have to save a few things for the book I’ll write someday, right?

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Amazing Memories Happen in Las Vegas – WLSFA 2013 Recap

This blog is a several weeks overdue, but if you follow my blog you know that I’ve had my hands full and have been a busy little Slender Seeker so don’t spank me too hard, or if you have to spank me, do it with something soft.

So let me start by saying – What happens in Vegas – doesn’t stay in Vegas, it comes home with you, haunts you, and makes you want to stick your head in the sand and become an ostrich. But I’m not about to talk about what you think I am, I am Pandora – I do positivity, I don’t do drama, I don’t pick sides, and I don’t get involved in internet flame wars unless you are the CEO of a company and you make some horribly weight biased remark – then I will talk some trash, take some photos in front of your store as I boycott it and pretty much tell you to “go fitch yourself.

So what did I bring home from Vegas that should have stayed there you ask? You really wanna know? Ok – 6 lb. Apparently what happens in Vegas passes your lips, goes to your hips and settles itself anywhere but where you want it. I mean why couldn’t I gain six pounds of butt or boob? But no, where does it go? Right to my abdomen and my love handles. Not my idea of a good time. But I’ve been busy working them off this week and now, I’m back down to my normal 156-166 “I can maintain this.” place.

That said, Vegas was a blast! And I want to take the opportunity to share a few of the highlights of my attendance at the WLSFA 2013 Mother of All Meet and Greets.

I arrived on Thursday, after receiving my first speeding ticket ever on the highway doing 75 in a 55 – which likely ended up making the drive cost me more than the plane tickets for two would have, but we’ll see what happens when I get the bill.

My first experience in Vegas was having one Ms. Cris Martin roll up on me in the check-in line and call my name. I’m horrible with faces, I didn’t recognize her at all, but she recognized my hair from the pictures of my haircut I had posted on Facebook and let me tell you, being picked out of a crowd like that by someone who knew me from my involvement with the community was a really cool experience for me.

We checked in and then it was time to meet up with a few friends for a little dinner date. I got to see three of my favorite people, Diana Lyn, Rain Hampton and Linda Lombardo and got to meet Linda’s very sweet daughter as well. Of course HJ was with me, so we had a full table and lots of catching up to do. Next we headed over to the little Banded Living Gathering that my WLS Mom Sandi Henderson was hosting, and you know me, always volunteering to help the next thing I knew I was up in Laura Van Tuyl’s room working on decorations for the next day. I love how life seems to put me in the right place at the right time, because sitting in Laura’s room that night I ended up meeting three people who would, after this event, end up being very special friends in my world as they came in to say hello, pick up t-shirts, and sit and chit-chat. JULIE and CRYSTAL who would become my and Heather’s BFFS for the weekend and Darren King, a past WLSFA grant recipient, who I’d heard a ton about but never got to meet. After blowing up balloons and playing on the Casino floor with Julie and Crystal for a bit, I headed to bed.

Friday morning came early as I met Laura at her room to help set up for the VIP Luncheon with Carnie Wilson and walked around with a balloon attached to my back that said “Ask me.” as a Greeter for the event. Greeting was so much fun! I got to meet so many people for the first time and get so many hugs from people I hadn’t seen since Dallas. It was a perfect volunteer task for this social butterfly who loves to be inclusive and try to make everyone feel welcome. I’d do that job again any day! Next was the Carnie Luncheon where I had the opportunity to be a table hostess and see a couple of old friends like Mary Chavez and Diana Lyn, and meet a couple of new faces too, like the amazing event photographers Patricia and Airen Miller. The Carnie Lunch was AWESOME and Carnie Wilson was absolutely amazing. Her personal approach, the way she cares so much about our community and the compassion that she has for those walking the path of the weight loss journey shone through in a way that I can only describe as genuine. When my WLS Mom Sandi escorted me up to Carnie for my photo-op and introduced me, she mentioned to Carnie how I had lost my Father during my journey but he had a way of following me in it and impacting it and literally brought Carnie and I both to tears. When she told Carnie how much weight I had lost and how determined I was to help others in their weight loss journey, well, let me just say, I’ve never really experienced one of those moments when your Mom stands there and brags on how proud she is of you, and sharing that moment with Sandi and Carnie was a moment of this journey I will cherish for years to come.

The lunch finished and was time to grab a quick bite to eat. Next we were off to the Paris Party, right after Heather and I addressed the little issue of my shoe malfunction and put band aids on the blisters that the gorgeous heels I had worn earlier that morning left on my feet. ( I Still have those blisters – More proof that what happens in Vegas comes home with you! )

The Paris Party was amazing, I love opportunities to see this community all dressed up and Rain and Darren and I got a great laugh at the amount of food we were able to collect for our little snack platters. The Talent show was amazing all the acts were fun to watch and very entertaining, the MC was great. But there were a couple highlights of the evening I want to mention. First and foremost let me say that the moment when Chaz Martinez started asking people to raise their hands if they had lost over a certain amount of weight and in a sea of bariatric patients I had another wow moment as he paused to congratulate me personally on having one of the highest amounts of weight loss in the room. There were a couple of others that had numbers in the 250 lb. range, but it is always flattering to be recognized for that accomplishment. I didn’t realize until it was pointed out to me that night that at my height to achieve a normal BMI would put me at 149 lb. – I was carrying an extra 271 lb. at my highest recorded weight and I had lost 260 lb. I had lost 96% of my excess body weight. HOLY COW! I had no idea I had that sort of percentage, I had never taken the time to figure it out. Another WOW Moment. But we were not done with WOW moments for the evening. Next Darren King, last years WLSFA Grant recipient who I had met just briefly the night before looks over at me and says “Pandora, you look like P!nk, has anyone ever told you that?” Hello. I love P!nk. I just got my hair cut in a fashion just like hers and you know what, you are my new favorite person right now! You just made my night with that compliment and I love you for it. Wow Moment #3 of the day. Next I was brought to tears as my dear friend Yvonne McCarthy ( Bariatric Girl ) got on stage and preformed a tap dance routine that made the people who told her she would never be able to do it because she was too fat eat a nice helping of humble pie. My admiration and love for that women is endless, and every time I see her stand up against those that put her down as a kid, the little fat girl in me that got teased and tormented cheers inside. Diva Taunia’s performance of “I’m Not Pregnant I’m Just Fat,” brought tears of laughter to my eyes. I wish I could sing, because if I could I’d rock some snarky lyrics just like that to entertain you all, but alas I am not singer, especially if you compared me to the show stopper of the night, the Pacific Northwest’s very own Jeris Underwood. Oh My Gawd, can THAT woman sing. Jeris I hope you are singing at many more events to come after that performance, I was literally in awe of this woman’s talent.

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The night was far from over though, because Jennifer and Kevin Mahonney know how to get a group together and they talked me into going zip lining. Me. Pandora – I am scared to death of heights, I sobbed like a baby at the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris as a teenager – Williams, zip lining. I can’t believe I did it, but we had a big group going, Crystal and Julie and Heather and Rain where tagging along for moral support as they held their hands up in a “Fitch Please” manner when we asked them to go and how could I turn down an opportunity to do something that I absolutely never could have done before when so many people I love were doing it. It was a Pacific Northwest zip lining adventure and I managed to talk Darren into joining us, as our +1.  It was, hands down, one of the most amazing things I have done post weight loss. And what a WOW moment as I stood there, strapped into a harness with a 250 lb. weight limit and realized that I couldn’t have done this before deciding to have a RNY Gastric Bypass and take my life back from obesity.

We won’t talk about how late Darren Julie, Crystal, Heather and I stayed out, or how tired I was the next morning as I attended my Plastic Surgery Consult with Dr. Al Aly and walked the convention floor meeting some of the Vendors. A couple of Vendors sent me home with some presents for a couple of Fan Appreciation Giveaways, so look for that coming in the next few weeks when I have time to take a break from studying and figure out the details. I bowed out at lunch time and headed up to the hotel to get a quick nap in before it was time to get up, and do my table top discussion on “Reconstructive Plastic Surgery from the Patient Perspective.” I want to send a big shout out to all the lovely ladies that showed up for that table top, it means a lot to me that you all support the things I do, so thank you. After a wonderful discussion around the table regarding reconstructive plastic surgery after massive weight loss it was time to get some dinner and get dressed for the “Let Your Star Shine Gala,” – Heather and I ate at the Thai Food restaurant in the Bally’s Hotel and let me just say, I’d eat there again, and again, and again. It was that good. But I need to back up for a moment and share one of the most emotional moments of the weekend for me with you.

As I was getting ready to head to dinner, a man I didn’t know approached me. He wasn’t someone I recognized off Facebook, he wasn’t on my friends list. But he came up to thank me for everything I had done and to tell me how much I inspired him and how grateful he was to me. As someone who aspires to help others in their weight loss journey, THIS sort of moment right here is what I live for. Instantly, I gave Marty a big hug to say thank you and as he started to talk to me about how he was struggling in his journey emotionally, how he had to take some time away from the community to take care of himself and heal, and how hard it was to be a caregiver to his Father who he knew he would not have for much longer, goosebumps raised on my arms, tears swelled in my eyes, and my heart filled with both a sympathetic understanding and an instant love for this man. I truly, truly believe that each of us is put through a journey in life so that we can learn something from it. While being there with my Father through hospice was the single most heartbreaking experience of my entire life, I believe that what I took away from it, has armed me with the experience I needed to help others. Whether it was my best friends mother passing away earlier this year, Heather losing her step-father, or me standing there giving Marty a hug and letting him know that though this part of his journey might be difficult, it is something that he can get through, and if he needs to take time away from this community until he is ready to participate again, there is no shame in that, you have to take care of yourself first. I was able to share with him that I had done the exact same thing, remind him how my blog had gone silent for so long after my Father passed until I felt ready to share part of me with the world again and until I felt that what I had to share was constructive and positive. If there was moment during the whole convention that truly defines who I am and what I am about it was this moment. Being able to share this moment with Marty and hope that I in some small way I may have helped him, is exactly who I am and what I am about. Marty, thank you from the bottom of my heart for giving this moment to me.

The Saturday Gala was so much more than I had expected. Walking it was like you had walked into a red carpet affair, everyone was dressed to the nines, looked absolutely stunning and I couldn’t get enough pictures with people. It is so much fun to get all dressed up and enjoy an evening together. And though I was a little self-conscious in what goes down in history as the shortest and tightest dress I have ever worn in my life, I tried not to let it show too much. Another fun little WOW Moment for me was when I was tapped on the shoulder by Antonia Namnath, the CEO of the WLSFA to go up on stage and participate in the Bling off competition. I know there is a group of people out there that will snub their nose at the entire concept, but I’m not one of them, and I think it was all in good fun and once again, it was humbling, flattering and a bit surreal to me, to stand on the stage in front of all of those people and listen to them cheer and scream for me mostly because I know that when you all scream and cheer, it’s not because you think I am pretty or you think I look great in that sparkly dress, it is because you think I bring something special to this community, you like who I am and what I am about, and you are proud of what I have accomplished; and THAT means a whole lot to me.

I sat in a front row seat at the Gala at a table with Julie and Crystal and Heather and gosh if I remember who else because I was so utterly focused on what was happening on stage, and cheering and screaming as loud as I could for everyone that I possible could. But what really stands out of me about that night is Carnie Wilson’s talk with us. Carnie Wilson is simply amazing. She can have you in tears one moment as she shares emotional parts of her weight loss journey and have you bent over, holding your side in fear it will split open in laughter the next. But the WOW moments of my weekend were not over, there were two more in store for me, first there was the ladies from RealSelf, an organization who gave away a $500 gift card that could be applied towards any thing you wanted in your weight loss journey who approached me with some of the nicest compliments I have ever received about how they had stumbled across my blog and how much they enjoyed my writing, how real I was and how open and honest I am about sharing my journey; ups, downs, twists, turns, triumphs and disappointments with others. But even more flattering than that, they approached me with the request to syndicate my blog on their site and an offer to work with them in the future. Amazing opportunities just seem to present themselves to me and for someone who once dreamed of being a writer and who dreams of writing a book someday, this was truly another WOW moment for me. I just signed the contributor agreements yesterday and I should have information for you soon on where you can find Desperately Seeking Slender syndicated on the RealSelf.com website. Before we headed out after the event I managed to sneak up and steal a hug from my WLS Mom Sandi, and the ever so handsome Mr. Chuck and had the opportunity to speak to Carnie again for a few moments. I thanked her for her wonderful talk, for her support in this community and for being a role model and someone who inspires and motivates us as a community. After we stole another quick photo, Carnie looked at me and laughed a little as she said “Are you kidding me? YOU motivate me.” The comment shocked me and I turned around with tears in my eyes and to collect myself a moment. I doubt Carnie even remembers me as I write this nearly a month later, but Carnie, you made me feel like a rock star that night, and to be told by someone like you who truly has the power and reach to effect change, that I motivate you, well it was freaking amazing.

After the party several of us headed to the dueling piano bar to listen to some music and the Julie and Crystal and Heather and I got a little gamble on. Julie and I had quickly become addicted to that “Let’s Make a Deal” slot machine, but our $20 went a long way that night, I think we sat there playing for nearly an hour and half that night. Morning came early as did the sad and daunting task of saying good-bye began. The last day of an event is bittersweet for me. It’s so hard for me to say good-bye. I was hoping to take home that cool CLICK bike home in the raffle, maybe even that nice iPad that someone went home with because that would have made someone in my house happy, but I came home from the raffle empty-handed. What I got instead was this amazing pictures of more people than I have ever seen doing the Desperately Seeking Slender cheer. \O/

As I left the morning gathering and headed back to the room to get packed I ran into Cris Martin and Jackie Stewart and as the three of us stood there for a bit talking another one of those moments that I live for happened. Cris and Jackie were so sweet and kind to let me know how much they thought of me and how much they felt I had to bring to this community, and I think that they both got a chance to get to know me a little more personally in those few moments that we shared. It is always flattering to me to have people in this community that are so encouraging and supportive of me, but as I told each of them that day, I think every single one of us brings something to this community. The weight loss surgery community is just

beginning, we’re joined each year by more and more post op patients, and each of us, has something to give back to this community. If the weight loss journey was a mountain, some of us are the top, we’ve reached a different place in our journey whether we’re at goal, working on getting there, are starting a journey through reconstructive plastic surgery, or dealing with figuring out who we are in our world after weight loss. Some of us are climbing that mountain, taking one step at a time, learning how our lives change when the weight starts coming off and some of us are at the bottom looking up at the daunting and intimidating journey ahead with excitement and sometimes, fear. But no matter where we are on the mountain, there is always someone a little farther ahead of us that we can reach out to for help and support when we need it. As such, there is always someone behind us that we can reach back for and help a little when they need it. Every time I see this many weight loss surgery patients come together, I see us standing on this mountain together.

I had an amazing time in Vegas. I made new friends that I know I will have for ages, and I had some moments that were truly irreplaceable in my life with folks like Marty, Cris and Jackie. The WLSFA event was a more social event for me than the OAC one was back in Dallas, they are each very different and each have different things to offer just like the organizations themselves. I’m glad I went, and even nearly a month later, I’m proud to be a member of the WLSFA and a part of what they do. Helping people who cannot afford weight loss surgery is a passion of mine. I cannot wait to be a part of helping to fund a skin removal surgery, because that is even more of a passion of mine and something that I can do, through the WLSFA ,to help those that were not as fortunate as I was. What this organization does for those people, and the potential for what it can do in the future will keep me involved and when it comes time for next year’s event, if there is any way I can afford to go, I’ll be there with bells on.

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Author of Desperately Seeking Slender
Jaime "Pandora" Williams

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