health

"He usually cancels people with your weight." A doctor fat-shamed me. It was the last straw.

I wasn’t a fat child but I thought I was.

I wasn’t a fat teen, but I thought I was.

I thought I was fat until I was fat.

In January 2021 I was waiting to have a procedure that requires sedation. The nurse had left me stuffed into a puffy black recliner in the hallway. My kinda-thin specialist rushed out from the operating theatre, approaching with smug enthusiasm in her spick and span blue scrubs.

"You’re so lucky the anaesthetist didn’t cancel you. The table we’re using today can only hold a certain weight. He usually cancels people with your weight."

Side note... here's some things you never say in 2021. Post continues below.


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A jolt of pain exploded inside me, the kind of pain that feels like a stab to the heart and a punch in the gut. The kind of pain only words can inflict. The kind of pain that fills me with shame and anger. He didn’t cancel me, so why did she tell me this? Was I supposed to be grateful?

I signed the consent form she handed me. Walking back into the operating theatre, she announced to the staff that I was ready. The door didn’t close, so I heard what came next.

"She’s…"

A pause before the anaesthetist responded,

"I know."

I imagine she made the mime gesture for fat: Arms out to the side, bent in at the elbows. Cheeks filled with air. Violet Beauregarde after eating the three-course meal gum in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. A second later, the anaesthetist appeared to take me through for the procedure.

He didn’t mention my weight.

I entered the room in my too-small gown, hairnet and surgical booties. A team of theatre staff in brightly coloured scrubs looked up. The swiftly administered sedative spared me. Were they laughing about me while I slept?

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Shame is poison.

In Vietnam, locals laughed and pointed as I travelled in the carriage of a pedal-powered cyclo. On a steamy morning in India, I was contentedly drinking chai at a busy street stand when an old man in white with wire-rimmed spectacles stopped pushing his bike to ask:

"Why are you so fat?"

His lecture was in perfect English. I cried and the people watching wondered why.

In Bali, masseurs laughed with their friends at my expense. Silently, I said f**k you. F**k you!

Friends and family generally have good intentions, they want you to be healthy and happy, but their intent is often misguided. A barbed comment about our body masked as I’m just trying to help, tells us we are faulty; not good enough.

"You look great. Have you lost weight?"

"But you have such a pretty face!"

"Are you sure you haven’t lost weight? Your face looks slimmer."

The subtext is the weapon that delivers the poison.

I was born in 1968, and it seems like most people didn’t prioritise the mental health of children in those days. People weren’t as 'woke' about the damage words can do to a tiny soul. An innocent "hold your tummy in" to a child can be translated in their mind to "you’re fat". I don’t blame anyone for this, as Dr Phil says:

"When you know better, you do better."

As a very small child, I had those gorgeous chunky legs that you want to squeeze because they’re so cute. I stretched as I grew to be the tallest girl in my class. In school photos from back then I didn’t stand out as being fat, because I wasn't. It’s hard to understand where I got the idea that I was fat from.

You’re not fat, you’re just big-boned.

I’m almost six feet. Growing up, my friends were small and petite against my tall frame. I felt different, and it’s hard to hide and blend in when you’re tall. I genuinely have bigger bones than a lot of other women.

As a teenager, I couldn’t find bangles to fit over my hands. I did twirling exercises to make my ankles smaller so I could wear an ankle bracelet. But I was NOT fat.

I equated being big to being fat, and fat was bad. As I got older, I read my friends' teen magazines, and started to internalise that fat is also unattractive.

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Society says that I should be ashamed of being fat. Swallowing the fat story created internalised fatphobia.

Being fat can limit you. Squeezing into aeroplane/cinema/public transport seats, I tightly cross my arms in front so I don’t make my neighbour uncomfortable. Like they deserve comfort more than me.

I have high blood pressure, back and knee pain and sleep apnea. Lots of non-fat people also have these problems, but mine is always blamed on fat.

In restaurants, I scan the room to make sure the chairs are sturdy and there is enough room between tables to get through. I try to sit with my back against the wall so my arse isn’t on display.

I take care of my skin and hair and try to dress well because I don’t want to look like a fat slob.

I’m relieved when I see someone who is fatter than me. At least I’m not that fat. I judge other fat people but I hate myself for it.

I’m ashamed of myself.

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In 2012, my son and I finished brunch at a fancy restaurant. I pushed myself backwards, ready to leave, but the legs of the stool stuck to the floor. I fell in slow motion as it collapsed beneath me.

On the floor, devastated and humiliated, the whole room was trying not to look. The manager, desperately apologetic, offered free brunch. I accepted and left.

I assumed the chair broke because of my weight. I assumed all the other diners and staff assumed the same thing. It could have happened to anyone - after all, it has never happened to me again.

Did the other diners laugh when we were gone? Did they store the scene to use as an entertaining anecdote at parties? Did they pity me? Did they hate me?

I hated myself.

I’d read about weight loss surgery and from what I saw in online forums, many people who had it copped flak for being lazy or 'cheating'. In 2013, traumatised by the restaurant incident and looking for a quick fix, I cashed in my superannuation and booked in for gastric band surgery.

Shame clung to me, a parasite on my soul. To be approved for surgery, I had to pay for a one-hour session with a psychologist to determine if I was doing it for the right reasons. I passed the test.

I was doing it for the wrong reasons.

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I knew what I had to say to get the go-ahead for the surgery. I said I wanted to live longer. To be there for my son. To have more energy. The truth is, I wanted to be skinny and hot. I wanted those hundred likes on the progress pics I saw posted on Facebook. I haven’t always been fat. I know what it feels like to be noticed and I didn’t want to be an invisible fat person anymore.

I wanted to be seen.

After surgery, I starved and ran, starved and ran. Pushing myself to run further every day. I hauled myself up steep hills, I survived all day on a few spoons of Greek yoghurt. I danced and partied and dated men. I felt like my best self and I was euphoric from the injections of positive attention.

I got to live the skinny life for about a year before I had complications with the gastric band. I couldn’t keep food down, I had constant heartburn and reflux, I was malnourished. I went in for corrective surgery and the anaesthetist told me I had an amazing resting heart rate. He asked if I was a runner and I felt proud.

That was the last time I felt proud of my body. It took eight years, but I’m fat again.

I am at a crossroads now. The body positivity movement says I’m not supposed to want to lose weight, but I do. Not because of how I look, but because I want to feel vibrant again. I want energy to live an active life, but I refuse to diet because restricting my food intake feels like punishment.

I’m done punishing myself.

I’ve learned a lot through years of therapy and self-reflection. I love who I am now. I have a beautiful long-term partner who has seen me at all sizes and states of mind; he continues to love me through it all.

I wear a bikini because I feel good in it; I don’t care much what people think. I’m only slightly self-conscious when I tuck my top into high waisted trousers. I’ve never been a wallflower; I go for what I want. I’m determined and creative. I’m an excellent mum who raised a kind young man. I’m a good friend. My life is full and I’m happy with where I’m at.

But…

It’s complicated. I want to lose weight.

I’m contemplating weight loss surgery again, this time it would be the more drastic gastric bypass. If I have surgery, I won’t be able to enjoy food in the same way. Learning about other cultures through food is a love I can’t forsake. I’ll have to take vitamins for the rest of my life. I might need surgery to remove loose skin.

There are many things that factor into my weight gain. Years of dieting has screwed my metabolism and I have hereditary hypothyroidism. I was recently diagnosed with ADHD which partly explains my craving for sugar, salt and fat (to get a dopamine hit). Again, it’s complex.

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The impulsive part of ADHD leads to binge-eating. Being in lockdown for the better part of eighteen months has meant that I am more sedentary than ever before. Complex.

There are so many intricacies to body image and weight loss, and it’s not our fault. We should not be shamed by others, including medical professionals, for something that is individual and not as simple as ‘eating less’.

It takes a long time and a lot of hard work to get to a place of physical and mental balance after a lifetime of disordered thinking. Maybe I’ll never get there.

This place doesn’t have to look like 'thin' either, it doesn’t have to look like anything. My dream is to be free of the constant battle with myself over food, I don’t care if I’m fat or thin. I want the battle to be over.

I need more headspace for the good things in my life.

Lindy Ralph is a writer from Melbourne. She writes honest non-fiction about life as a middle-aged woman. Her intention is to help people like her feel ‘seen’.

This post originally appeared on Medium and has been republished here with full permission. 

Feature image: Supplied.

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