This week I have a short story for you, from 13-year-old Amelie Brown. She submitted this piece for a writing competition, and her mum Emma sent it on to me.
Weight loss surgery is often presented as the ultimate solution to the so-called ‘problem’ of large bodies. The media is littered with vanilla stories presented in carefully scripted press releases from the gastric surgery clinics, with the usual accompanying narrative: “My life was awful, now everything’s peachy keen thanks to the operation.”
In real life, nothing is that simple. For many, the decision to have weight loss surgery is greatly influenced by multiple experiences of weight stigma and prejudice. Authors such as Roxanne Gay have expressed that this pressure was pivotal in the decision-making process. Who wouldn’t want to have an operation that promises an end to being treated badly?
I often wonder – if we lived in a truly weight inclusive world, how many people would choose to go down this path of weight loss surgery?
Far fewer, I suspect.
I want to be clear: I am an anti-diet, health at every size advocate, but I don’t judge people for having weight loss surgery: in fact, I have nothing but empathy. My judgement is directed not to individuals, but to diet culture for creating a fertile breeding ground from which businesses like these can operate.
Almost no attention has been given to the experiences of children of people who have had gastric surgery. What messages do they get when this happens? What is the impact?
This is why Amelie’s story is so important.
I am in awe of how Emma has kept having conversations with Amelie about her decision. She’s not feeding her the typical ‘vanilla’ version. She’s being honest. She’s encouraging Amelie to keep her eyes open and her critical mind asking questions – even if they’re uncomfortable ones.
Here is Amelie’s story:
By Amelie Brown
Five-year-old me sat holding Mum’s hand in the doctor’s office. I was distracted, looking at the models of eyes and brains on the shelf. I was impatient to leave; we were meeting friends at the park afterwards, but I waited quietly.
Mum had a sore ear and the doctor would fix it.
“I think you should consider surgery as an option to deal with your weight.”
Her weight? But she has a sore ear…
Surgery? Cutting people open? My little heart began to race.
Was Mummy sick?
I tugged on her arm and started to ask what was going on, but the doctor kept talking.
She told Mum how she was At Risk Of Heart Attack, Diabetes That Could Leave Her In A Coma and Life-Threatening Strokes. She talked and talked and Mum’s face became more and more broken.
“I’m just here for my ear”, Mum quietly objected.
The doctor kept going.
Small. Thin. Healthy.
“Please stop discussing this in front of my child”
But it would Change Your Life.
Neither the knowledge that her words were not welcome, nor the sight of her patient’s young daughter clinging to her mother in terrified confusion could stop her. Because she was Concerned For Her Health.
Driving home, Mum had stopped crying.
I had started.
“Are you going to die, Mummy?”
That was the day I learnt about weight bias.
The day my mother had to explain to me that she wasn’t going to die, but people like that doctor only saw her obesity.
The day she admitted to me that her body was one to be labelled, mocked, resented and judged.
The body that had made me, cuddled me, nurtured and loved me.
The day she had to tell me why even doctors, people paid to nurture and heal, could be blinded by the size of her body.
Those weren’t the words she used, but they were the ones I heard. I was five years old and I was angry.
Society is taught about the dreaded obesity epidemic. I can’t make it through a science class without being force-fed statistics on the perilously high rates of obesity in teens. Obesity, the hideous child of sloth and gluttony, not simply a disease of the body, but a moral failure. That is what we are taught, the mantra instilled in our souls from the moment our mothers are encouraged to Lose the Pregnancy Weight.
Obese people are a blight on our country. Bigger than us, but smaller than us.
Weight bias is to blame for people suffering from severe conditions being misdiagnosed as having “obesity pains”. For people being refused critical treatment and essential medication. Lose Weight First, they are told. Then we will help you.
I have seen the horrifying degree to which medical professionals dehumanise and distance themselves from obese people, first and second hand, countless times.
I have seen how society allows them to get away with it. Because everyone is invested. They are a drain on Medicare, after all. Taxpayers’ money.
I have seen it.
Heard it, read it.
Eight years later, I am still angry. My mum’s body is different now. Socially acceptable. It invites compliments from suddenly warm and friendly acquaintances. Congratulations! You Look Fantastic!
Her heart is tired.
A surgeon took her stomach, or most of it. She eats less than my four-year-old brother; never more than a cup at a time. Slowly, carefully. She eats only to survive, she relies on supplements so her muscles and bones don’t waste away.
But she is Thin. And that’s what matters?
Thank you Amelie & Emma.
My heart goes out to both of you: may you continue to connect with each other with honesty, love and connection no matter what.