Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Is Your Gastric Bypass Surgery Any of My Business?

Yes, this “weight loss tool” really exists. Heaven help us.

Lest you missed the past 10 years, we now officially live in a culture of oversharing. Celebs talk about their rehab stints and fertility treatments in between questions from “serious” reporters about when they lost their virginity. And it isn’t just the rich and famous subjected to this treatment. I’ve had perfect strangers ask me how much I paid for my house ( - the socially acceptable way to be invasive!), if I’m open to swinging (not the ballroom variety and no), and if my children all have the same father (yes, it’s their mother we’re not sure about - thanks to several of you for that zinger!). And of course I’ve asked my fair share of inappropriate questions.

One memorable occassion happened at - where else? - the gym. I was waiting for one of my favorite cardio classes to start when a woman approached me. I’d never spoken to her nor had I ever really even seen her before. “Excuse me,” she said, “but you have great breasts! Did you get them done or are they natural?” My shocked look only impelled her to continue, “I’m only asking because I’m thinking of getting mine done and yours are pretty much exactly what I want.” She was red. I was red. Turbo Jennie was laughing her butt off.

“Oh honey, you don’t need a plastic surgeon to get my chest,” I finally answered. “See Target sells this really nifty Champion sports bra. It has separate cups and just enough padding to keep everything pointed in the right direction. $16.99. I have one in every color.” True story: I love my padded sports bra. (Overshare!)

This scene was replayed the other day but on a much higher scale of embarassment as an acquaintance was grilled about her weight loss. You’ve all seen it go down; you know the drill. Someone loses a lot of weight pretty quickly and rumors start flying. Everyone wants to know her secret. Well, in this case, the woman finally admitted to having gastric bypass surgery. Reactions to her revelation were mixed. Some people were dismissive - “Oh, she took the easy way out” - even though it is generally known that despite the surgery one still has to diet and exercise. Others were intensely curious and pestered the poor woman with questions - “Did it hurt?” “How fast did you lose the weight?” “Do you have diarrhea all the time now?” “Do you have tons of loose skin?” “How much did it cost?” For her part, she seemed pretty open to discussing it.

The entire exchange wouldn’t have even seemed particularly remarkable to me except for the last comment someone made, after the woman was out of ear shot. “It’s a good thing she told us otherwise she’d have just been a liar like Starr Jones.” You all remember Ms. Jones, formerly of The View? Girl lost a ton of weight, almost overnight, and claimed for years that she did it with diet and exercise although all the signs and speculation pointed to surgery. She finally came clean with what everyone already knew earlier this year.

Dear Abby recently addressed the same issue in one of her collumns when a reader wrote in asking how to conceal the fact she’d just had gastric banding surgery. Responses from other readers were all over the map:

The disingenious: I, too, had lap band surgery a year ago. When folks comment on my weight loss, I say, “Isn’t it great? I feel fabulous!” When they ask how I lost the weight, I tell them that I eat less and exercise more. It’s the truth without going into details. — JILL IN IDAHO

The forthright: I was so excited about my gastric bypass surgery, I told anyone who would listen. Everyone was extremely supportive. Responses ranged from “Good for you!” to curiosity about the procedure. “Mini” has nothing to be ashamed of. And it’s not a sign of weakness or “taking the easy way out” because there’s nothing easy about weight-loss surgery. — MINIER-ME IN CALIFORNIA

The reluctant: Being open about the surgery and successful weight loss can inspire others as well as reinforce the positive changes she has introduced into her life. It turns out the folks I didn’t want to tell have become my biggest cheerleaders. — HAPPY LOSER IN KANSAS

The defensive: There is still enormous bias against overweight people, even from those who should know better. The perception is that the problem is a “lack of control.” There is also prejudice from these same folks against individuals who seek the lap band procedure because it is regarded as “taking the easy way out.” I understand why “Mini” would prefer to keep her procedure and adjustments private. One’s own body and eating habits are a private matter. If “Mini” wants to deflect negative speculation, she can say that she is worried about her health, has sought medical advice and is following her doctor’s plan to help her lose weight. Kudos to “Mini” for improving her health. Weight loss is always a struggle, and well-meaning people should not pass judgment or interfere. — MINI-ME SUPPORTER IN OAKLAND

So my question is, whether it’s Lindsay Lohan’s rumored Adderall abuse or your neighbor’s gastric surgery, is how people lose weight any of our business? On one hand, I’m as curious as the next girl. I like to know things. And it does change the game if a person has outside help with their weight loss whether via surgery or pills or even hypnosis. I don’t buy that losing weight with surgery is as hard as losing weight without it - as some people claim. If that were true then the surgery would be pointless. And if you’ve found something that helps, don’t you have a duty to share it with others? On the other hand, weight loss is so closely tied to body image which is an intensely private matter. Just because I want to know something doesn’t mean I have a right to know it. And also, what works for someone else may not work for me.

Your thoughts? Any of you had the surgery? Did you tell people about it or keep it to yourself? Any of you lose weight via a different method and felt compelled to keep it a secret?