They tell you when you decide to have weight loss surgery that the physical changes you undergo will touch off emotional reactions. Here’s how my handbook puts it: “Although you have intentionally undergone the surgery to resolve your obesity, weight loss changes the life style you knew so well. Even with its problems and tensions, obesity was comfortable, it was known. Now that life is gone.”

This is not something you really understand until it happens. I read these words. I read about the stages of grief, which many patients go through after weight loss surgery. I thought I knew what it meant. I thought it meant that I was comfortable with my old eating and (lack of) exercise habits, and that I’d have to be strong to adjust to the changes.

So I prepared myself to change my eating and exercise, and I’ve worked really hard at both. And while I do find it depressing that it’s difficult for me to get enough protein each day, I’ve felt strong, and I’ve persevered. Every day is a victory.

But that wasn’t what the handbook was talking about at all.

Today, I am just barely (by .1 pound) into the 170s. My body has changed so much. Sometimes I don’t recognize myself. My face is slimmer, but to me it looks like Play-Doh, like a field of enormous dimples. In the apartment complex fitness center the other day I looked in the mirror and saw an ugly old woman, thin hair pulled back from a big pasty face. It was me.

When I look at my naked body in the mirror, I can see that I’m starting to have a more pleasing shape. But I can also see how being fat has destroyed my skin. I’ve got the surgery scars, of course, but worse than that, I’ve got stretch marks. Everywhere. Stomach, arms, legs, breasts, everywhere.

I have always held in my head this perfect image of how I’d be if I wasn’t fat. I’d look great in a bikini. I’d have a cute face with big eyes and smooth skin. I’d look young.

I’ve never really worried about age before. I’ve never worried about whether or not I could look like my perfect image, because I never thought it was possible to not be fat.

I didn’t really know this until today.

Now I’m looking at myself in the mirror and I’m disappointed. I’m not approaching that perfect image. When I reach whatever final weight I reach, I’m not going to look 22. I’m not going to be able to wear a bikini.

I had never thought of myself as vain before. I always thought I was “above” that somehow.

Now I know that I was just using my obesity as a shield.


  1. I know how you are feeling, I felt similar a few years ago. Although I did not undergo weight loss surgery, I did embark on a four year campaign to get myself to a healthy body weight. When I started I weighed about 240 pounds.

    At the time I started I had a lot of the same issues. I had stretch marks on my arms, legs, and torso. My goal was to just try and lose weight and not feel so self conscious anymore, not to get “ripped” as they say, because I did’nt feel it was possible for me to get that body. I did’nt have the genes for it.

    After four years of sticking with it, I’m down to about 170, all of my stretch marks are gone, my skin has tightened, and I actually have a six pack. First time in my life and I never thought it was possible. Just like you, I was using my weight as a shield.

    Point being, don’t get discouraged. You can do anything you put your mind to, and the only thing stopping you from doing so is every excuse you tell yourself as to why you can’t do it. It just takes time. The most important thing is that you are truly happy with yourself, whether that be 140, 170 or 200 pounds. You don’t have to be able to wear that bikini, but if you really want to I bet you will be able to if you stick with it and give it some time.

    1. I didn’t know stretch marks could go away. I assumed they were just permanent.

      I guess I’ll see what happens to them over time.

      Some googling also suggests natural oils can help.

      Thank you for your comment, Rocky. It’s really weird, but I actually had become happy with myself while I was obese. It’s only since I started losing weight that all these feelings have suddenly come over me. I think it’s just something I’ll have to go through. Since I’m constantly changing, it’s going to be hard to be “content” for awhile, you know? :/

  2. Oh, Heather. This is so touching. While I haven’t been through the surgery that you have and I can’t understand totally what you are going through, I feel for you. I’m not a bikini girl and never have been. I bear a LOT of stretch marks from my own laziness at eating right and lack of exercise. Having a positive self-image at any size is terribly hard. No one is ever satisfied with themselves. But you have done some amazing progress from what I can see. Please try to rejoice in this chance as you improve your physical image as well as what your mind sees. From my perspective, you are doing great… both physically… and mentally if you can right this with such honestly. You are a smart, cultured, and determined person. Keep it up!

    1. Thank you, Karen. Writing is how I deal with things. I actually figured it out earlier today, but I couldn’t cry until I started writing, and I knew I needed to cry.

      I’m feeling better now. I know that no matter what, losing this weight is the best thing for me. I’ll be healthier and stronger and, yes, better looking, even if I won’t resemble a doe-eyed undergrad :>

  3. I feel similarly after having 3 kids Heather! You are not alone! Stretch marks are a rite of passage in womanhood for many! I remember after Cameron was born, my stomach was saggy and loose and felt like a 3rd boob! lol! I did manage to get back to some semblance of thinness and the skin tightened and stretch marks faded (somewhat) within a year or so… After Clara, I kept the weight on a lot longer and never totally went back to my pre-preggo self. Before getting pg again, I decided I needed to shed some of the extra weight I was carrying – I bought a treadmill and worked out for 2 months to lose 10 pounds. Could have stood to lose more, but got pg a few months later. I haven’t used the treadmill since! Though, I intend to get there eventually again, not until after Collin’s 1st bday when I’m done nursing… Where there was once a belly button, there is a belly cave. Par for the course…

    I know they do skin-removal surgeries for people with large amounts of extra skin after significant weight-loss. I guess you could give it some time over the course of a year or 2 and then make a decision on how to handle it from there.

    Daily slathering with cocoa butter-type lotion will help too. And as much water as you can get in you…


    1. My understanding is that the younger you are, the better chance your skin has of tightening back up after/during weight loss surgery. I went into this assuming that since I’m out of my 20s, I will probably need reconstructive surgery to get rid of hanging skin. So far, I don’t have any (that I can tell), but I still have a ways to go. You wouldn’t normally have this done until at least two years after your surgery, when you’ve hit your final weight.

      Even if I do have extra skin removed, I’m not sure it would be enough to get rid of all the stretch marks, so I’m glad to know that the marks do fade some.

      I have to stay hydrated for other reasons, so this just gives me extra motivation. I will have to look into this cocoa butter thing.

  4. I’ve never known anyone PERSONALLY who was able to step up to the big stage and actually talk about using their weight as a shield from the real world and all of its, well, real-NESS. That’s not something I could ever say, or write, or mention, because I just can’t show others that it affects me. (To my ultimate detriment, I think.) I wish that was something I could share in detail with someone. Maybe one day, but not yet, anyway.

    Thank you for putting it all in words. And such eloquent words they are.

    1. Thank you. Given how much I cried while writing this post, I don’t think I could actually say this stuff out loud to a group of people, but sharing my writing has always been really cathartic for me.

      Now that I’ve written it, I might be able to discuss it with one or two people, maybe. But not a big group, and I certainly couldn’t speak to a crowd about it. At least not at this point in my life.

      I think I might have more to say about this, like how the shield works, and how I was always kind of aware of it, and thought it wasn’t a big deal. I know food addiction was one of my biggest weight loss hurdles, but I’m beginning to think the shield was an enormous enabler. “It doesn’t matter anyway. My identity is that of a fat person.”

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