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My Life as a Thin Person


Alison Show  

“I do get a lot of Catholic guilt,” she says, after a moment. “It feels sinful that I’m aware of sexuality. I feel guilty for rediscovering myself. It’s almost . . . vanity.” She pulls out a picture of herself at a 5K race. “Like, I’ll be running. I love running—I think I chose it because it’s the antithesis of being fat, because fat people cannot run—and in the back of my mind, I’ll hear God telling me: You’re worshipping your body. I’ll feel guilty because it’s just a vessel, it’s not my soul. And instead of nourishing my soul, I’m taking such a vested interest in what I look like.”

She flips to an old photo of herself. “God. I feel like my nose was heavier in this picture. I feel like my forehead’s fat.”

Recently, Show also went for reconstructive surgery to tighten the skin around her new, smaller frame. This is a frequent, nearly inevitable by-product of bariatric surgery: the sudden presence of excess skin, shapeless as an oven mitt, surrounding the stomach, arms, and legs. It’s a source of huge embarrassment, a chronic reminder to the patient of the body that was. Usually, its removal is not covered by insurance. And in Show’s case, the operation wasn’t even successful. The procedure often involves the re-creation of a belly button. But Show’s old belly button reopened. Now she has a crater in her tummy about one inch deep.

A few months ago, the various pressures of Show’s new life began to catch up with her, and she began to see a therapist, Jude Milner, who’s had bariatric surgery, too. “The problems actually started maybe a year after my surgery, when I was cast in a show where I was an adagio dancer,” Show explains. “The guy had to lift the girls up. At that time, I was 157 pounds, and all I could think was, This guy is going to break his back.” She’s quiet for a second. “That’s when I started. The vomiting and purging. That’s when I realized how easy it was to develop that habit.” Within two weeks, she’d gotten her weight down to about 145 pounds.

“I used to think that if I were thin, I’d be so much happier, and my life, from that moment on, would be perfect,” she says. “But it’s almost as if I’ve created other ways to be unhappy.

“I was thinking about this on the ride over here,” she concludes. “I’m not really any happier,” she says. “I’m just different.”

Show isn’t alone in having a panicked reaction to keeping her weight off. Sohr, at one point, dipped all the way down to 106 pounds. Her doctors insisted she regain ten. “I was hysterical,” she says. “I started to cry. I felt fat. But my girlfriend who’d been through the surgery, she understood—Oh, my God, you gain a pound, you’re going to go back. It was cool to have her around.” She thinks. “But my other girlfriend who’s always been tiny, she doesn’t bother with me anymore. Another went on a diet. She had marital problems, so she’s trying losing to keep him around.”

We’re sitting in Sohr’s living room, still a frilly wonderland of bridal paraphernalia. “Every girl who knows me from before is on a diet right now,” says Sohr. “And everyone reports to me how much weight they lost.”

Did she tell these people that she’d had surgery to achieve her lovely new results?

“Yeah,” she says. “but they were never heavy enough to qualify for the surgery. Everybody was like, ‘You don’t need to lose weight, you’re wonderful the way you are,’ da da da da da da. But seeing me go from so heavy to so small, they’re all freaked, I think.

“I don’t have any girlfriends now,” she adds. “I had my fiancé’s cousin in my bridal party because I don’t have any girlfriends. My mother was my matron of honor. All my friends are guys.”

She reflects on this for a moment. “I was told by one of them that guys always approach fat chicks because they’re easier,” she says. “That really hurt. That shocked me. It made me rethink everybody I ever dated. Was I a target because of my weight, maybe? It just made me wonder.”

Is it easier being intimate with men, at least? “I still feel uncomfortable with my body,” she says. “A lot of my confidence came from my chest. People always raved about it. Now I look at myself, and I don’t think I have anything sexy anymore. But now people say, ‘It’s the whole package that’s sexy; you don’t need to focus on one thing.’ ”

Yet her clothes, Sohr admits, are far sexier; she no longer dresses in busy patterns or like the girl next door. (“Though my favorite thing was just buying a white shirt,” she says. “Fat girls can’t wear white. You look like you’re wearing a tent.”) She’s invested in two-piece lingerie. She has a closet full of bikinis, a drawer full of thongs. And she marvels at her newfound sexual freedom. “Before, I couldn’t really go on top of someone,” she says. “To be funny-graphic about it, my thighs were so big I couldn’t get a grip on the bed. And there were goofy things—you watch TV, and you think, I wish I could do that. Now Bari tosses me around like I’m a powder puff. And you can’t get close if you’ve got fat in the way, so you don’t get a lot of satisfaction. I’m more sensitive now.

“But you know,” she adds, “I think my favorite sensation is being touched on my hips. Before, I had awful hips. Saddlebags. And now they’re smooth.

“Yeah,” she says, after a second. “I like my hips. I always envisioned the hip being a sexy point on a woman, like an hourglass. So now I have a tendency to lay on my side. The first time Bari put his hand there, I thought, Wow.”

Because bariatric surgery is serious and high-risk, some doctors refuse to keep before-and-after photos in their offices. Like Roslin at Lenox Hill. “If you show pictures,” he says, “the only thing patients see are those pictures. They won’t hear anything else you’ve said. And I’m in the health-care business, not the cosmetics business. Morbid obesity is a serious medical disease.”

Gloria Cahill was Roslin’s patient. She went through a grim odyssey of complications and mishaps after her surgery in March 2001—strictures in her esophagus, blockages in her bowel. It took three endoscopies, two more hospital visits, and three months before her recovery could begin in earnest. She found the ordeal so traumatic she decided she wouldn’t proselytize when it was over, even though she had no doubt, once her health had stabilized, that the surgery had really improved her life. She made just one exception: her sister, Susie. The two of them were very close, both in adulthood and growing up, raised by a widowed mother in a tough neighborhood of Jersey City.

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