It was an unusually humid evening at Isla Mujeres, Mexico. Isla is a bean-shaped island just off the coast of the Yucatán peninsula, home of Cancun at its most north-eastern tip. My new bride and I were taking a walk, and she casually mentioned to me that she was seriously considering weight-loss surgery of one type or another. She was upset that she was obese, and felt that a surgical procedure could aid her toward the weight and health that she sought fit. I was taken aback.
My initial reaction was a form of confusion. Here was my new bride, my wife, a trained and intellectually-keen medical professional, who was going to “cop out” of hard work including exercise and a calorically-restricted menu? I married my wife knowing that she in fact was indeed overweight, and I never lost the sight of the fact that her weight was more of an issue for her than it was for me. I loved her more than anyone I had ever known, and it seemed odd to me that she was feeling as if I would not accept her given her weight.
That was my own issue, in fact. My wife had never gained a substantial amount of weight in our nascent relationship of a couple of years, and I knew that I was no muscular BMI-perfect “hottie” either. I honestly felt that through a joint regimen of active exercise and healthy diet, that we would both be able to achieve our individual weight loss goals. From my perspective, I knew that I would be able to gain or lose at least twenty pounds or more over a given calendar month, and so I assumed that Gwen would be able to do so also.
My wife later confided in me that in fact she had always battled weight gain in her lifetime, and in fact had even battled bulimia and forms of anorexia. Her mom had provided her morbid templates of unhealthy eating and living, and basically forced her to condition herself to purge her extra calories. Gwen had never been able to sustain a “reasonable” weight level, and her weight had fluctuated considerably since her junior high school days. A decade prior to our marriage, she had a substantial breast reduction, going from an obscene cup size down to a DD or D cup, reflecting about a 2/3 breast weight reduction. Weight and self-image had always been the bane of her existence, and even though she had found someone like myself who honestly loved her despite her obesity, it was still a salient and often daily concern of hers.
I honestly did not know what to think after our vacation. I only wanted the very best for my new wife, but I never really considered surgery for her as an option. Nevertheless, she looked into the surgical options, and came to a determination that a lap-band surgery would be her best choice. She discussed it with me, informing me of the pros and cons of the decision. To me it made sense, knowing that it was a fairly non-invasive approach, and the fact that it was reversible made me feel better. In the Spring of 2007, she underwent WLS surgery to have a lap-band in place. Over the next year, her weight loss was fairly dramatic, as is often the case with those who underwent said surgery. As of today, in late 2009, she has lost all of the predicted pounds she was supposed to have, which amounts to over sixty pounds. She is able to run several miles, and is in the best shape, weight, and health of her life. She is also still a knockout by any measure.
One of the considerations that I have dealt with in this journey is that I wanted to be sure that I did not look at her weight loss results as culminating in a “hot wife” or “thinner, sexier, mate”. However, I would be lying if I were. I was anxious to see what the net effect of the weight loss and healthier regimen would have on her overall physical appearance as well as inner demeanor. When I say “inner demeanor”, I meant her internal “thermostat” as to how she honestly perceives her weight, health, and overall appearance. To date, I know for a fact that she feels better about who she is and how she appears. I also know that my wife feels better about herself in general. A large part of this has to do with the fact that her WLS surgery is only the beginning. She needs to still take care of herself and monitor her nutrition and maintain her weight via exercise and proper association of folks that are similarly congruent in her path of wellness. At this juncture, it can honestly be said that my wife’s lap band is more of a secondary preventative measure, and her attitude toward proper nutrition and exercise, not to mention healthy habits in general, is her first level of defense against obesity and an overall unhealthful lifestyle.
Vanity is always a part of weight loss, whether we consciously acknowledge it or not. In my case, I honestly just wanted my wife to be able to attain a healthy weight and thus a healthy self-image concerning her body and appearance. However, I still have to smile when I think about how Gwen has transformed into a not just an even more gorgeous woman, but one that is dedicated toward a healthier lifestyle in general, regardless of her weight or appearance. This has rubbed off on me as well.
Approximately three months after the lap band surgery, we came across some of our wedding photos that we had hanging in our home on the wall. She remarked how “fat” she looked, with her flabby arms and chubby face. Looking at her at that moment when she said that, I suddenly realized that I could no longer reconcile who I saw when looking at my wife, and who I saw in the pictures of the bride during our wedding day. To be perfectly honest, I never really ever viewed her, in the wedding pictures especially, as “fat” or “obese”. But now, given my wife in front of me, they honestly looked like two very different persons. And yet, I knew that I absolutely loved my wife with all of my heart and intention before and after I married her, regardless of her appearance. The fact that she took her health and appearance so seriously after our marriage only extended the depths of my appreciation and love for her.
In short, weight loss surgery is not just a physical transformation, it is also a personal and inter-relationship transformation. Our western society tells us that we should look and act in a certain way, and when we don’t, an enormous amount of inadequacy and shortcomings tend to plague our personal judgment and self-perception. Many spouses of those who undergo WLS surgery of one type or another are usually eager to see the end result of the effort, which basically amounts to a physical change and appreciation thereof. In my experience, weight loss surgery is only the first step toward a true life transformation, and only seeing the physical results of this effort is seriously short-changing what the reality is. The reality is that it is a life transformation that has much to do with the inner person and their own impression of who they really are, and subsequently a physical transformation that becomes congruent with their inner self-image. I am often reminded of those who undergo sex-change (transgender) operations, and the fact that they must complete and pass a psychological process and examination prior to their physical surgery. In the realm of weight loss surgery, the emotional and psychological change prior and during and especially after the actual surgical procedure is every bit as important as the physical change.
My wife and I often look back at our wedding pictures, and it serves as an important benchmark as to how far she has come regarding her appearance. What is not so evident upon visual observation is how that woman in the wedding dress is in fact not just a thinner, slimmer, sexier, healthier woman…she is also a more integrated and balanced woman. Appearance is over-valued in our culture, but nonetheless it still stands a yardstick as far as how we subjectively determine who is “fat” and who is “not fat”. The fat bias is strong and prevalent, and much of it is unfortunately due to two factors: 1.) the general public’s ignorance as far as body types and healthy physiognomy, and 2.) the inability to perceive ethnic and genetic normalizations and tendencies toward one’s overall appearance and weight. My wife, Gwen, has always felt that she was a much thinner person trapped inside an obese body, and she has since rectified that. Fortunately, she has also come to terms with her overall baseline of health, weight, and appearance and thus can be properly attenuated toward such an ideal. Ironically, as her husband, I have much more work to fulfill toward both of those outcomes, and am thankful that my wife, heavy or not, obese or not, fat or not, chubby or not, has set a wonderfully balanced example for me.
I am so very proud of my wife, in her journey toward a healthier self-realization. It was not just a matter of WLS surgery, but also of hard work, character adjustment, and a fundamental appreciation for who she is as a human being apart from her weight or appearance. I love my wife, and even more so because of not just the work she was willing to do, but her pragmatic understanding that those who are in her life and perceive her as someone important in their lives must look past her physical presence and perceive her far more holistically. WLS surgery did not give her sudden physical acceptance. Her attitude adjustment and constant work in all aspects of her existence is what provides her that, and in turn helps her to know that her physicality and appearance is only a small subset of who she truly is.
(Gwen adds: This photo was taken when we returned from our honeymoon, at a friend's wedding. It was these photos, plus our wedding photos, that convinced me to proceed with WLS. I was appalled at how overweight I had become.)
This photo was taken April 2009 on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. Total weight loss 69 pounds.