Part Two of my The Bias Among Us series, read Part One The Bias Among Us – Success?
I have always received the majority of my post-op weight loss surgery (WLS) support online. I initially met most of my WLS friends on ObesityHelp, then had the pleasure of meeting them in person at ObesityHelp events. I have attended eight ObesityHelp events and two Obesity Action Coalition events. Most event attendees will tell you that one of the BEST parts of events is meeting other people and socializing. I know that even after 10 years in the community I enjoy events for the opportunity to catch up with old friend and to meet new friends. However, recently there has been some very disturbing incidents that have happened to me, and other long term post-ops that need to be discussed. Not much bothers me in life, but this is one of them, mostly because it totally zaps my mood, in the midst of enjoying life, socializing with others who “understand” the struggle of living with obesity I am reminded that some people still see me as just FAT, people who cannot see past my FAT to get to know the REAL me, to ask about my REAL journey, yet these same people claim to be “helpers”.
Last year at the inaugural OAC Your Weight Matters convention in Dallas, I meet many new friends. *wave* On the very first day of the conference a group of us were sitting in the lobby talking about our lives, not weight loss surgery, not weight…actually I have a very good memory, I was talking to another Sarah (spelled correctly with the H) about my job as she also worked in healthcare and was familiar with a company with whom I had just received a recruitment call. Suddenly, there was an interruption to my left, it was someone to whom I had never met asking me if I was pre-op and considering weight loss surgery, she came equipped with a pamphlet all about herself and her journey. She continued to tell me all about her weight loss, and how many support groups she speaks to about her journey. It was her sales pitch. Sorry I’m not pre-op, I”m actually many years post-op, yes I’ve regained. Yes, I know that despite having RNY and a revision I am still morbidly obese and qualify for surgery. I whip out my phone show my before picture, then quickly explain Lipedema and show my legs pictures and hope that’s enough to convey that I’m not buying what she was selling. And it was obviously enough because the person never interacted with me again the entire weekend. To me that showed her REAL intention was self promotion, not meeting me or getting to know me. If she really cared to know me, or the others sitting there, she would have engaged in the conversation, not interrupted then leave as soon as her sales pitch failed. This was further confirmed at the recent ObesityHelp Conference in Anaheim when the same person did not make any effort to engage in conversation with me, even after I reintroduced myself.
At the end of the very same conference it happened again. After walking my lap at the Walk from Obesity I went inside to warm up, Dallas was FREEZING that morning. So there I sit in my tutu and tiara and I’m approached by a fellow WLS patient and asked if I’m considering surgery, or am pre-op. Honestly, I don’t remember this conversation as much because I instantly started fiddling with my phone to pull up pictures. Why should I have to do this? I guess I don’t, I guess I could just be as rude as these people are and say something back to them verses explaining that yes I once weighed over 500lbs, see I used to be REALLY fat, now I’m just FAT FAT. I prefer the educational route, and at least this person was not trying to “sell” anything to me, they appeared to be genuinely concerned and/or interested in me and appreciated that I educated them about lipedema and lymphedema.
It is also troubling because the OAC Your Weight Matters Convention is NOT a weight loss surgery focused event, it is educational about healthy weight loss options, and advocacy for obesity. One of my favorite parts about the OAC is the work to make sure individuals have access to weight loss options “when they are ready.” During the weekend I met many professionals in the weight loss field, and not one of them approached me me to discuss my weight, so neither should regular attendees.
But Sarah, that was LAST year, get over it already, you’re too sensitive, these people are just trying to HELP.
No, actually some people are trying to get paid. I was recently scolded for speaking up against a comment I believed was stigmatizing against FAT people. I was told the person’s intentions were to help people, she has “found health” and just wants to pay it forward. Least we forget where we came from? I remember it fondly because I am almost back to where I started. Again the person trying to “help” also has a business marketed to post-op WLS patients, so let’s not confuse paying it forward to getting paid. I too have “found health”, my health might LOOK different than others’s perception of health, but I am healthy and I too help others. I have actually helped others for years to navigate the insurance process in order to get weight loss surgery and post-op plastic surgery covered. There is no weight or size requirement to help others, nor does losing 100lbs automatically qualify as a profession.
There is no weight or size requirement to help others, nor does losing 100lbs automatically qualify as a profession.
That recent experience is only one of the reasons I chose to finally write about this topic. Sadly, I have heard of several other incidents like the ones I experienced in Dallas, at other WLS events. Stories of long term post-ops or mid-journey post-ops being approached by fellow WLS patients and questioned as to why they have yet to reach “goal” weight (which who knows what someone else’s GOAL weight is????) or why the person hasn’t addressed their regain. Of course the person was ready to “help”, here just sign up for my program.
I have invited many long term post op friends to events in their areas only to be told “Oh, I’d LOVE to go, but I can’t, I’ve regained so much I’d be too embarrassed.” Regain happens, it is more common that most think or want to accept. Regain is also the very reason to attend an event. Events can provide education, rejuvenation, and motivation. However, all that can be diminished by a well intentioned person speaking inappropriately to someone about their weight. While I am strong and will just speak up about it and blog about it, it could and does really upset others.
I’m sure many of you reading this will be able to guess who these people are, I am sure their intention are to help as I am sure there are people who would benefit from the type of helpful services they offer. I am just not one of those people, and I feel obligated to point out the approach is inappropriate. If you want to help people do not shame them, also do not dismiss ME as a fellow WLS patient just because I am not a pre-op or in need of your services. You’re missing out on a potential awesome, cool, and funny friend. Most people who take the time to get to know the REAL me would agree, if not I’ll just delete their comments.
On the serious note, this is me being helpful. There is nothing wrong with wanting to help others, or starting a business to do so, however if you are going to enter into “people helping” career, you need to work on people skills. As I stated before, I dislike being approached by strangers about my weight. However, being approached by fellow WLS patients is even more upsetting.
- The WLS community is supposed to be one of support where people “understand” what it’s like to be obese. If you know what is it’s like or remember what it was like you know how mortifying it would have been to be approached about your weight. Also, in the WLS community you do not know if the person is pre-op, newly post-op, started at 500lbs and has lost 200, etc. We all come in so many shapes and sizes you cannot tell where we are in the journey by looking at us.
- Get to know the person. How can you help someone if you do not know them, know their story, where they are on their journey, their struggles? That is the question to ask “Where are you on your journey?” I was recently asked this by a vendor at an event and it was the perfect way to find out how their product might be useful to me without them making an assumption about me based on my appearance.
This year at the OAC Convention in Phoenix I once again met many many news friends. Several who do have businesses or are speakers in the community, but that was not their “pick-up” line, we actually had conversations about ourselves, our lives….the real roots of a support community.