overheard: in my therapist’s waiting room

In a comment on Rachel’s post about experiences with mental health providers, I mentioned my therapist’s main practice is in evaluating candidates for weight loss surgery. I didn’t know that when I found him – a good thing, since this was pre-fatosphere for me, and I probably would have wanted to ask him about it, and then he probably would have told me to do it, and then ick – but he’s a good guy, the best therapist I’ve ever had, and my weight has never come up.

Until last week, I’d never chatted with anyone in the waiting room. I keep my eyes down, read a book, smile when the door opens but never start a conversation. Last Thursday, though, a middle aged woman dropped her keys and laughed and made a joke about how clumsy she was. I smiled and said “me, too” and she took that as an invitation. After a bit of small talk, she asked “Are you having the surgery soon?” I blinked. Paused. And just said “Oh, no.” “I am,” she said. “Next month.”

Her question threw me for a loop. This woman was nowhere near big enough (I would have thought) for weight loss surgery. I’m terrible at estimating things (truly, I can’t tell the difference between a three-year-old and a seven-year-old), but I’d guess that she was a size 14 at most. She was a bit older than middle-aged and a bit saggy in the places that older ladies (and me!) are saggy, but not at all out of the ordinary. I’m not surprised that she wants the surgery – she was far enough from the cultural ideal that she must feel a lot of the societal pressure we fatties feel with regards to our bodies. I am surprised, though, that her medical team – including my therapist! – are on board with her decision

More than that, I was offended by her question. In part, I was offended because I wanted to respond with some fat acceptance bloviation (“No, I would NEVER dare do something so harmful to my body just for the sake of social acceptability. I am SO MUCH STRONGER than you. But good luck with your little surgery.”).

But to be honest (and this part is hard to admit) I was put off by her question because I want to draw a bright line between me and “those people” who are fat enough for surgery. (Never mind that this woman was smaller than me and was in line for the surgery.) Sure, I’m fat, I wear a 22/24 dress, I weigh around 300 pounds, but I think of myself as basically “normal”, while the people who sign up for weight-loss surgery are huge, behemoth, definitely “abnormal.” Hearing from a stranger that she sees me as someone who needs surgery? It hurt. It exposed the ugly thoughts I’m harboring about other fat people, then turned them around and lobbed them at me.

I have come a long way on fat acceptance since I started reading Shapely Prose last year, but experiences like these show me how much farther I have to go.

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4 responses to “overheard: in my therapist’s waiting room

  1. I understand! It takes a long time to recover from the “weight hierarchy” mindset. When I was growing up I used to think there was a class system imposed on women which was a combination of money and weight. The thinner you were, the higher up you were, though if you were poor and thin you might not have the status a richer fatter person would have, etc etc.

    I think acceptance of self, which implies acceptance of others (trust me on this one!) comes in stages. When I first started writing about FA I was so busy myth-busting I didn’t realize I was upholding the Good/Bad Fatty dichotomy. Then I realized I still got a mild form of pleasure when I gave my weight and height and someone said, “That’s not _that_ big!” I had to nip that in the bud right away.

    And as for gastric bypass surgery, I think we’re going to see the weight threshold doing nothing but scaling down in the coming years. So while we’re used to it being for these opaquely defined, “dire, life and death” cases at the highest end of the spectrum, the threshold is slowly going to lower until this surgery is just another form of extreme, though ultimately acceptable, weight loss for anyone who wants it.

    It’s important to remember—and I carry this thought around with me whenever I encounter the surgery talk in the news—is that gastric bypass, LapBand, etc is just forced bulimia for the majority of surgery patients.

    The cognitive dissonance: bulimia is seen (rightfully) as an unhealthy state of body and mind. Forced bulimia via surgery, since it goes by another name and is being imposed upon people by medical professionals, is a healthier state of being than “obesity.”

  2. I think it’s appalling and medically irresponsible that doctors are performing life-altering and potentially threatening surgeries on people with just a little weight to lose. I remain highly dubious on WLS, but if it is done, I think it should be done only as a last resort for those for whom weight does pose a significant and morbid health risk. This woman will now have to get her daily nutrients from a pill and must eat a highly restricted diet for the rest of her life and for what? So she can lose a few dress sizes?

  3. Don’t we all consider ourselves more or less ‘normal’ no matter what? I mean, we wouldn’t be able to live with ourselves if we didn’t, right?

    Although I have to admit I’m suffering from similar problems. I keenly accept and respect people of all shapes and sizes but accepting myself – whoa – not so much just yet.

  4. **boggle** WLS on a size 14? And oh goddess, is it ever the height of rudeness to ASSUME someone is having “the surgery.” I think I’d have said something like, “Hell no, my farts are noxious enough already, and I kind of like not having beriberi. I can actually remember my name that way.” BTW, I know shrinks are not allowed to discuss their patients with anyone else, but I wonder if you could ask yours in a general sense if he’d approve of WLS for someone that size, and see what he has to say.

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