The journey to a positive body image requires a different path for all people.
CN: Weight Loss
The journey to a positive body image requires a different path for all people. Some are born and encouraged to love themselves from day one and find no issue with celebrating themselves. Others have a few more obstacles to climb. These obstacles often include negative messages from others and weight concerns.
Regardless of what your path has looked like, it is important to acknowledge that your path is not the only option.
And for some, this journey includes weight loss surgery. I was fortunate enough to speak with Serena Johnson*, who underwent weight loss surgery in 2016. As she approaches one-year post-op, Serena shares her past, present, and future.
Thank you so much for your time, Serena. I know body image and weight are both very sensitive topics. Let's dive right into our Q&A.
What is body positivity to you?
Body positivity to me is being able to look at yourself in the mirror butt-naked and love every facet your body.
Growing up, how was your body image?
Growing up, my body image and self-esteem as a whole were pretty non-existent. I lived in the shadows of someone everyone deemed beautiful, and that in turn made me feel less than. I often struggled with my weight and because of it kept my body hidden under frumpy clothing. As well, I wasn't anything close to what was portrayed or seen as attractive on TV. Big butts weren't in; I'm not light-skinned with silky black hair — you get my drift.
Goodness, that had to have been tough. At what point did you first consider weight loss surgery?
I'd considered WLS a lot in my life, especially in the earlier years. But it wasn't until my health started declining that I seriously researched and looked into it. I had gained 60 lbs. in three months, I was suffering from anxiety and depression, and my blood pressure and A1C levels were through the roof. At the rate I was going, I was gonna have type 2 diabetes, and possibly a stroke, before 30. I knew it was time to change, and I believe WLS was the push I needed.
Do you feel being a black woman has played any role in your fear of stigma?
Um, I feel like it’s a yes and a no. As a woman, people assume I did it because I wanted to change for my husband or other people and that I didn't want to work for it. But as a black woman, in my family it was seen as a cop out or that I cheated. I watched a relative of mine go through backlash for WLS, and she was told that weight loss surgery isn’t something “Black women do.” I didn’t want to experience what she went through.
Post surgery, how do you feel? How much weight have you lost so far?
Right after surgery, I felt pretty crappy. I couldn't eat regular food, and even drinking water hurt, so I went thru a depressive stage. Almost a year later, though, I am happier than I've ever been. I look in the mirror and say “damn I'm cute!” sometimes. I've lost about 90 lbs., and I'm now just working on maintaining my weight.
I know you said it was a “lifestyle change.” What is different about your life post surgery?
WLS really gave me a push because I knew — even though I had surgery — if I continued to sit on my ass, nothing would change. I started jogging, going to the gym with friends, and my diet has drastically changed. I still have a relationship with food, but now with caveats. Eat until satiated, I tell myself. On the other end, my social lifestyle has changed too. I wore a sexy costume for the first time, and I don't feel like the ugly duckling anymore when out with friends.
Have you told your family? If so, how have their reactions been? If not why?
I have told very select few members of my family, and of those I've told, their reactions have been overall positive. For the ones I haven't told, it was two very distinct reasons. One being, some of my family is on a “need to know” basis with me, which typically excludes them from all things private. And two, the majority will either look at me differently, and I will inevitably return to being a pariah in my family.
Do you ever plan to tell them about you big decision?
Honestly, not even a little bit. For my own well-being and happiness, I feel it's best not to. I don't want to feel guilty for choosing my own happiness
Why do you think your family is so critical of weight loss surgery?
For them, it is equated to taking the easy route or giving up. And as my grandma put it, “We weren't raised like that.”
Is there anything you wish your family would understand?
I just wish they would understand it wasn't a cop out and I was doing it for me. This is ultimately a huge life decision not a quick fix. Your body will never be completely the same, and I want them to believe I went in fully knowing that.
How have you remained body positive post-surgery?
Oh God, that's difficult! I started wearing clothes that embraced my figure and were less frumpy. I also created a mantra to let myself know that I am pretty no matter what. I’ve been focusing on myself and focused on less my physical qualities.
What do you want others who have had/ or are considering WLS to know?
I want them to know that it’s not a quick fix. People assume it means you don't have to do anything but you still have to work your ass off to get to your end goal. Also, there are gonna be new body obstacles to overcome. There are a lot of side effects with your hair, skin, and other things as a result of the surgery. It’s not an end goal; you still have to put in work.
*Names have been changed to protect the identity of those involved