But You Don’t LOOK That Big

As I’ve talked to people about my experiences with bariatric surgery, I’ve heard the same thing over and over – “But you didn’t look that big.” “I never thought of you as fat.” “I just thought of you as my normal friend.” It reminds me of things I’ve heard about other parts of my identity: “You don’t look Mexican.” “I never think of you as introverted.” “I just thought of you as my normal friend.” But just because you don’t acknowledge one part of my identity doesn’t mean I don’t live it. And when denial of the problem is the response to the fact of my surgery, it assumes exactly the thing I was trying to avoid: that I did it because I wanted to improve my appearance.

I’ve talked about the numbers, but if you’ve read my earlier posts, you know that just numbers don’t tell the whole story. The experience of living in a body that carries a significant amount of excess weight is constant, it’s difficult, it’s humiliating.

The insults and limitations start at the beginning of every day. I get up and go to my dresser or my closet, and think “What can I wear that is both comfortable and doesn’t make me look like I’ve given up on myself?” Women’s bodies vary so much in shape, and as we gain and lose weight, that shape can change drastically, so it’s not a matter of finding a style of clothing that works for me, it’s a matter of finding a single brand, manufacturer, or single item of clothing that reliably fits and is comfortable (I am of the opinion that clothing that fits correctly and is comfortable is automatically flattering. Feel good, look good.)

Now I’m dressed, and I face the challenge of breakfast. What to have? I could skip breakfast, telling myself that I’m sparing myself the calories, but I also know that one of the down sides of having a suppressed metabolism is that if I miss a meal, it may spur my body to either eat more at my next meal to “make up” for it, or to hang onto calories it would otherwise burn easily because it’s in starvation mode. So, skipping breakfast not a great idea. Most days I’d have tea (I don’t drink coffee, but I drink so much tea…) and toast, perhaps some fruit.

Now comes the challenge of incorporating exercise into my day. I would sit at my desk for a few hours working on stuff, and the longer I sat at my desk, the more guilt I felt because I know I should be getting my steps in, should be taking breaks to walk around, etc. But because I work from home, if I got up from my desk, I had a choice between go out for a walk or getting actual chores done, and there are always chores that need to get done. This is a reality for a whole lot of people – the time it takes to work out is a luxury a lot of folks just can’t afford. Similarly, if I’m out running around on errands and it’s way past lunch time and my toast and tea have worn off, it’s easy to make choices that aren’t the healthiest. Have you ever tried eating a salad while driving down the freeway? It’s worse than texting. But you can eat chicken fingers with one hand.

Dinner time is the next hazard. I have a family, and nobody has the time to make three entirely different meals and then clean up afterward. It means that there was not just food that wasn’t the best for me (tons of pasta) but a whole lot of it (because my family can put away a whole lot of pasta). Worse, there were a lot of days that we didn’t even start thinking about dinner until it was too late in the day to begin cooking, so we opted for take out – pizza, Indian, Thai, Chinese. And I would eat not just because I was hungry at the end of the day, but to be social with my family and to ease the tension and stress of the day. It wasn’t uncommon to get up from the dinner table with some variation of “I’m stuffed!”

Bedtime. The final challenge. By bedtime, my lower back and left hip were so painful that I knew I won’t be able to sleep. I take ibuprofen, I take CBD, I put a couple of Salonpas patches on my lower back and hip. One doctor said I should stretch more because I hike without stretching first. Another just said to take more pain killers. Every doctor said “lose weight,” although not one would tell me how. It could be hard to fall asleep and impossible to stay asleep because the pain in my lower back was so great.

And then I would get up the next day and do it over again. And none of this includes doing things like shopping for clothes (I couldn’t walk into a mall, go into any clothing store, and count on finding clothes that would fit me), taking public transportation (being embarrassed because people would rather stand than sit next to me on the bus, and if they were standing and I was sitting, it wasn’t unusual to get hostile stares from them as though I were purposely denying them a seat), grocery shopping (the feeling of shame and self loathing as I put things like ice cream or potato chips in my cart, even if those things weren’t for me), or doing anything that required me to ask someone for help in person (it would be unusual to get the attention of a service worker, and when I did, they were almost never motivated to put much effort into helping me solve my problem).

So, while I appreciate that you didn’t see me as fat, I hope that you understand that I didn’t do this to change anyone’s opinion of me. That’s ultimately not my business. I did it because there were realities of my day-to-day existence that I didn’t want to live with anymore.

I Love Him, I Love Him Not

I’ve been thinking about writer/performer Mike Daisey’s public demise over the story about Apple that aired on This American Life, and I am really torn over it.

On the one hand, I’m as angry as anybody else about the fact that Mike Daisey lied. I feel manipulated and betrayed. He swears that most of what he said actually did happen, just not the way he laid it out, but I don’t believe him about any of it. It makes me wonder what kind of agenda Daisey has that he felt he needed to go all the way to China to make people hate Apple as much as he apparently does. According to his interpreter, there were two things in Mike Daisey’s monologue that she could confirm: that he showed up, a fat white American guy, wearing a Hawaiian shirt, and that he told her that he planned to lie to a lot of people.

I’m angry that when Ira Glass confronted him with facts and the testimony of his own interpreter, Mike Daisey wouldn’t come out and say the words “I lied.” He prevaricated, saying that he stood by his representation of things as true in a theatrical way. Which is like saying that Tom Cruise is tall in a theatrical way. No matter how many times Ira Glass or anyone else said to him “But that just didn’t happen,” he would not say the words “I lied.”

But there’s what he did say. While Ira Glass grilled him, at several points Mike Daisey had a hard time talking. His voice came out in a hoarse whisper, choked with emotion, and at one point he said that he wished that the producers of This American Life had killed the show. While I can’t say positively that he cried, it was obvious that he was overcome with emotion.

This is where my anger at Mike Daisey evaporates, to be replaced by pity and a kind of tenderness. Yes, he lied. Absolutely, no question. But who among us hasn’t been caught in a lie?

To me, there are two kinds of lies – the little social lies that we tell in order to not hurt someone’s feelings, like saying “No, that dress doesn’t make you look fat at all” because you don’t want your friend to feel awkward and self-conscious all day, or pretending not to notice that the old lady in front of you is suffering from catastrophic intestinal distress. Those kinds of lies allow everyone a little dignity, although everyone involved in the transaction knows that lying is involved.

The other kind of lie is where the teller counts on the hearer’s belief that the tale is true to manipulate. “I didn’t eat those cookies.” “This isn’t what it looks like.” “I meant to pay it back.” Where social lies have the cooperation of teller and hearer, there is no contract in a manipulative lie, and if the hearer discovers the lie, they can call the teller out.

But being called out is painful. Having your lie, and the reasons behind your lie, exposed shows your weakness. Mike Daisey is an attention-seeking guy who can’t let the truth stand on its own because he can’t depend on his own skill as a writer to manipulate people’s emotions, so he had to lie. He was paraded on talk shows, profiled in magazines, and the longer he let the lie stand, the more adoration he received. As long as everyone believed his story, they all adored him.

But now the public has turned. Mike Daisey has been vilified as a liar and everything he’s done is being called into question. Nobody loves him anymore, just like nobody loved James Frey when they found out his Oprah-selected memoir was fiction, nobody loved Jayson Blair when they found out that all his New York Times stories had been made up.

I found it painful to hear Daisey squirm and gasp – it was like watching a pinned insect wriggle and die. It was gruesome and shameful and made me feel like a bad person for witnessing his humiliation. I feel that his humiliation, his fear, his weakness and need mark him as human, and make me feel pity for him. As surely as I condemn what he did, I do pity him.

P.S. There is one thing I want to make clear: What Mike Daisey did was lie. He knew that the things he said were untrue, but he represented them as true. What Ira Glass and NPR did was make a mistake. They didn’t do a complete enough job of fact checking, and because many parts of his story checked out, they allowed themselves to believe all of it.

A mistake is unintentional. A lie is not. If you can’t tell the difference, you’re an idiot, which is something else altogether.