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Obesity Action Coalition

Does the WLS Community Feel Like High School?

Alright Ladies and Gentlemen, It’s taken me awhile to decide how I wanted to approach this topic…

Let me share a story with you…

A Picture of Me at 15

A Picture of Me at 15

It was my Sophomore year of High School and in general, I wasn’t a very happy teenager. I had a very hard time making friends, I rarely fit in, and any boys that showed any sign of liking me wanted to keep it a secret, because nobody wants all their friends to know that they are hooking up with the fat girl.

This year in particular I had a girl friend named Sharon who was pretty much the only person that hung around me on any regular basis. I wore dark colored clothes, a lot of eyeliner and I painted my nails black. I was “Gothic” before it was in style and before the sort of clothes that everyone buys at Hot Topic and Torrid became mainstream.

And being so visibly different, and being smart, and being fat, in the nonsensical world of high school earned me a lot of teasing, bullying and… rumors. Rumors were one of the things I most detested in high school because combating a rumor once it got started seemed like an impossibility. Rumors were one of those things that immature young women used as a tool to lash out when they we’re upset…

I was walking through the Quad, an area I avoided largely because it was populated by the types of kids that intimidated the hell out of me. But I had a crush on one of the most popular boys in school. He was kind to me, I must say, I don’t have that story of some boy who traumatized me, my unrealistic high school boy crush was gentle with my feelings. As I walked through the collection of popular kids that hardly knew my name one girls voice called out over the crowd.

“Oh look, it’s little miss slit your wrists.”

( Laughing and pointing )

“Wait she’s not l little. I mean here comes big fat miss suicide prevention line.”

“Well if you ate so much that you were that fat before 40 you’d want to kill yourself too.”

“Oh I think it’s more, “You took my fried chicken away I want to die sort of thing.”

( Laughing and point )

“Yeah when she walks into KFC she orders the size on the roof!”

( Roaring Laughter )

I always hated fried chicken but they assumed because I was fat that I ate it. I did want to kill myself, but it had nothing to do with my size or shape it had to do with my life and with my personal emotional struggles. It had to do with my dysfunctional family, and it had to do with the fact that I had absolutely no self-esteem because I was the boys dirty little secret and the girls punching bag. It had to do with the fact that everybody looked at me, judged me, made up stories about me, gossiped about me, started rumors about me and teased me. It had everything to do with how judged I felt, how excluded and unaccepted I felt, and how lonely I was, because I didn’t fit into any of the little cliques. I wanted friends so bad, I wanted girls to like me and accept me, and I was jealous of everyone else and all the friends they had.

And you know what… I’d make a friend, and then all their friends would suddenly pay attention to me and hang out with me and accept me, but then we’d have a falling out over something stupid and suddenly that whole clique hated me. None of them were my friends anymore, they were afraid to hang out with me or talk to me and suddenly I was that groups new target of ridicule. It was a vicious cycle. I hated high school, there isn’t one part of me that would ever want to go back and do that part of life over again unless the story was written entirely differently.

So let me tell you why I have brought this up. Because while we are one of the most vocal group of people when it comes to anti bullying, anti teasing… you see an awful lot of it in this cliquish WLS Community, and nobody is really talking about it out loud because they are scared of becoming the target of anyone’s ridicule.

IMG_2943I am a very big believer in personal accountability. It has been my saving grace through my weight loss journey, the fact that I hold myself accountable for actions that are essential to my weight loss, whether its tracking calories and water intake or writing a blog about a mistake I made in my journey hoping someone else might glean some insight from it for theirs, I believe that personal accountability has been a key factor in my success.

In the last few months I have had so many people write me and talk to me about how decisions they are making in their lives are effected by how they feel people within this community will judge them….

  • There were the women that are afraid to post what they are eating for fear they will be judged and lectured and publicly humiliated over it.
  • There were the women that were scared to their own experience or input on topics they felt passionate about because it might differ from that of someone else and they would get chastised for it.
  • There were the women that were afraid of talking about the parts of their journeys that they are struggling with because they don’t want to give too many personal details and give the WLS world more ammunition against them.
  • There were the women that didn’t know who to hang out with at an event and felt like if they were around one clique they weren’t accepted by others.
  • There were even women I know, making business decisions, based on some of these very issues.

And because I am honest, I’ll say it, I experienced many of these fears myself first hand several times since I emerged in the WLS community back in October.

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My idea of healthy cliquish behavior! Obesity Fighters banding together for a Walk From Obesity in Dallas Texas 2012

I believe, this is one of the few negative factors in the WLS community and it’s a behavior that I personally cannot participate in. To me, doing so makes me no better than the kids in high school doing it to me and it makes me a hypocrite. I can’t stand in front of the world and say “I will help you in the fight against Obesity, stop the bullying and put an end to the bias against weight loss surgery.” if my actions mimic the behavior of immature teenagers that were so emotionally scaring to me.

So me, I root for the underdog, I hang out with the unpopular kids, I flirt with guys that I think might need a little confidence booster, and I try to listen for what a person needs support on and give it to them. My behavior, the way I conduct myself among my friends and peers is one of the examples my 17-year-old step daughter has, and I try to make sure that the behaviors I model for her are healthy and conducive to the way I want her to treat people.

Sometimes I think if we all just remembered a few of the sayings that I’ve heard over the years we’d have a stronger more untied WLS Community…

      • If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.
      • Do not combat positivity with negativity unless you want a negative reaction.
      • Don’t assume… you make an ass out of “u” and me.
      • Opinions are like assholes, everyone has one.
      • If everyone was the same, the world would be a boring place.
      • Do unto others as you would have done unto you.

If we remembered these things on a regular basis and reminded ourselves that we all share a common goal that bonds us together, our passion for the fight against obesity our community might not feel so much like a High School.

You can say that I am crazy, that this isn’t going on, and that nobody in this community feels this way. But, instead I encourage you to apply the teachings of Merrill Littleberry, a wonderful speaker several of us got to hear speak at the 2012 Inaugural Your Weight Matters Convention put on by the Obesity Action Coalition. ( OAC ) and ask yourself if your actions towards others will help them, hinder them, heal them or hurt them and if you can’t say in honesty that your actions will help or heal others, press pause and reconsider. Because honestly my friends, none of the women in this community deserve to feel ridiculed, judged, teased or chastised for choices in their WLS journey, choices in who they hang out with, or because they say or post something you don’t necessarily agree with.

Out for a walk with HJ’s family encouraging movement and Fitness Fun! THIS is what I’m all about!

Personally, I’ve never participated things like internet flame wars, I try to avoid heated conversations on the internet because I think people forget to use their social filters sometimes when they are communicating online rather than face to face. I don’t get involved in fights between others and when people, I don’t take sides, and I don’t choose whether or not I am friends with someone based on anyone else’s opinion of them. I don’t label myself or include myself in any specific group, that’s just not what I am about.

I am about fitness, exercise, inspiration, motivation and helping others in their weight loss journey. HELPING … and I will always shy away from behaviors that I feel are counter productive to that. And if there is something I don’t agree with, if there is someone I don’t like, or if someone posts something that irritates me or annoys me, I hit that little button that makes it go away on my computer. The one that looks like an X — because my personal accountability tells me that if I allow something to let me react in a way that is negative or unhelpful to others that I have hindered my own goals.

I received an email the other day from a woman who noticed that I was in a group she didn’t approve of. Apparently she had some falling out with the owner of the group and she wanted to know if I was a friend of the group owner. This was my response to her email.

Dear Madame,

Thank you for taking the time to write me. It is always nice to hear from fellow WLS folks. In regards to the group that you mentioned my being a part of, I’m not sure what you consider an active member. I suppose I am an active member of every group I am in since I am an active member of the WLS Community. I believe in positivity and inclusion rather than exclusion. My participation with any person or group within the WLS Community is just that, participation in the WLS Community. I am a friend of the fight against obesity, any opportunity or venue I am offered as a means to aid that fight I will gladly accept.

I am a member of many support groups, many WLS forums, I follow many WLS Bloggers, I friend anyone that asks, I’ll try to help anyone that asks.

I am saddened to hear that your opinion of me might somehow be altered by the fact that my named is next to a group  you don’t enjoy participating in. I would ask you to consider whether or not whatever behaviors lead to your dislike of this group have been exhibited by me personally.

I’d also ask you to remember, that my personal goals are likely different from yours. This part of my journey isn’t necessarily about making friends and having people like me, it’s about starting my career as a personal trainer, helping people who are struggling with the fitness aspect of the journey and my distancing myself from large groups of people based on the personal likes and dislikes and friendships of others only hinders my ability to reach those people and limits the venues that they have to reach out to me.

I apologize if any decisions I have made have changed your personal views of me or caused you to no longer wish to read my blog, and I appreciate you sharing your thoughts with me. I’m very glad to hear about how successful you have been with your weight loss. That’s really the most important thing. You have my best wishes for a happy and healthy life and if there is anything I can ever do to aid you in your journey or if you ever want to team up together in the fight against Obesity, please don’t hesitate to let me know!

Sincerely,

Pandora Williams

https://desperatelyseekingslender.com

In closing I’d ask you all to do two things the next time you are about to participate in the WLS Community, ask yourself if your contribution is helpful and constructive to the community and the people involved in or if your behavior exhibits that of the immature teenagers we were in high school. If you find that the truth lies in the latter, practice a little personal accountability.  After all, this community and our fight against obesity is far more important than whether or not you think someone else is nice or you like what they put on their plate at lunch or whether you agree with their methods. We’re all going to approach this journey differently, if you cannot allow others the space and uniqueness to do it their way, maybe you should ask yourself why you are participating in the community being with?

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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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Author: Pandora Williams

Author of Desperately Seeking Slender

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