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Self Advocacy; What You Allow in Your Emotional Headspace

Dear Slender Seekers,

I’ve received a few letters from some of the #SlenderSeekers out there that heard that I got up and left the room during the Lisa Lampanelli show at the WLSFA event the other night and wanted to know why, so I wanted to take a moment to explain.

We each have different paths and different journeys, we each arrive at different places at different times. For me personally my path and my personal mission is to help those that are affected by obesity to overcome some of the emotional challenges they face along the way and find a path to wellness through transformation of not just their bodies but their minds as well.

For those of you that know me well, I am an abuse survivor. Verbal and Emotional abuse was prevalent in my world through my childhood and teenage years. I was also affected by obesity at a very young age; I remember being that little “fat kid” that got picked on as early as first grade.

Each and every one of us has to be our own advocate for our own emotional wellness; we are the ones that are the most responsible for who and what we allow to reside in our emotional head space.  As such, when I find myself in a situation where something that is going on negatively impacts my emotions I have a personal responsibility to address the issue.

Likewise, I have a goal, a mission, and a path that I am currently on, and if my involvement with something goes against that path, I have a personal responsibility to decide whether or not I wish to be involved with it. I have stood up in this community and said repeatedly that I will not tolerate fat jokes, fat shaming, weight bias, weight stigma or bullying. I do not feel that there is ever a time, social environment or population in which those things are ever tolerable, justified or acceptable.

My job as a Wellness Coach is to help my clients, who are affected by obesity to recognize obstacles and barriers that are in their way and to find solutions to problematic behaviors that are hindering their endeavors in weight loss in order to help them achieve their goals. I use these same techniques in my own life when trying to achieve my goals and if my goal is to be a positive beacon of light against weight stigma, weight bias and bullying, it’s contrary for me to sit in a room where those affected by obesity are the punchline to the jokes being told.

I used to be that girl who kids walked up to and said “You’re so fat when you go to Kentucky Fried Chicken you order the size on the roof.” I used to be that woman who teenage boys rolled down the window and made animal noises at when I walked down the side-walk. These things were not funny to me then and they are not funny to me today.

I understand humor as a self-defense mechanism as well as the concept of laughing at yourself so that others can’t laugh with you. We all build walls and defend ourselves from the things that we fear and the things that hurt us. I also understand that stand-up comedy has a certain kind of “expected offensiveness” to it.

There are many of my friends, dear friends, who stayed in the room and said that by the end of the show the comedian had turned it around, brought it to a place that was personal and allowed you to understand how much she cared about and wanted to help those that struggle with her weight, and it makes my heart smile that they were able to take that positive message away from it. I’m glad that there was a positive message to be heard if you waited for it.

For me personally, jokes that target people of size are never okay. If someone posted any of those jokes singularly in the social media as a community we would be outraged and I believe that if we create this gray area where sometimes it’s okay and sometimes it’s not, we weaken our stance in the fight against weight stigma and weight bias. If we say “It’s okay in this situation, but not this one or than one, we open it up for debate, but for me there is no debate, it should never be okay.  That is why I had also left the room the night before when the MC made a joke that referenced the size of someone’s belt. For me personally, with where I am in my journey, I cannot sit and laugh while those affected by obesity are used as comedy content.  Obesity just isn’t a laughing matter to me.

I have stood up several times and told you that I believe if you silently sit by and allow an injustice to take place that you have aided that injustice. So to me, if I tolerate even ONE joke that is weight biased I have done a disservice to my mission.

But this is MY mission, my path, my journey, and nobody else has to walk it with me.  I am not upset, angry or against the WLSFA, the people in attendance or anyone involved with the event.  I found myself in a situation that made me emotionally uncomfortable, that made me feel like I was betraying who am what I am by being involved and so I did exactly what I would recommend anyone else do in that position, I removed myself from the situation and went back to doing what I had come there to do; meet and greet and socialize with my friends.

There will be a few people out there who are upset with the fact that I have chosen to write about this, but as someone very special to me reminded me before I left Tampa, I’m not the type of person that lets fear of what others think drive me; I am fearless in my fight against obesity and I will always stand up and fight for those that are affected by it. Desperately Seeking Slender has always been a “I’ll shoot straight and tell you the truth, even when the truth isn’t popular,” sort of venue. And this time, the truth is that I’m not out to be popular. I’m out to win the fight against a disease that robs people of the health, their lives and their mobility and that Slender Seekers, is no joke.

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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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About (Pandora) The Author

Author of Desperately Seeking Slender
Jaime "Pandora" Williams

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