Weighty Matters

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Cautionary Tale, Sort Of

on July 23, 2012

This morning I stopped to do an errand on my way to work.  Someone working in the store who hasn’t seen me since I lost a big chunk of weight was surprised.  So surprised, in fact, that she yelled out to me from 15 feet away.  “Is that Mary Stella??  How did you do it??”

Never mind that there were half a dozen other people in the store who all immediately turned around and stared at me.   I was so shocked and embarrassed by the outburst, that I had to scramble for a coherent reply.  I wish I’d thought up something like, “Pleading the 5th on the advice of counsel” or “Sorry.  A woman’s entitled to her secrets” or the old standby “I could tell you but then I’d have to shoot you”.  Ignoring that I was suddenly the object of peoples’ attention while they tried to figure out what the hell she meant, I managed to smile and tell her we’d chat when I made it up to the counter.  I didn’t make eye contact with anyone else and, thankfully, they returned to whatever they’d been doing.

I got to the woman and imagined everyone reacting like that old “When E.F. Hutton talks, people listen” ad campaign.  I didn’t whisper but used a normalish volume, smiled again and very matter of factly said, “I had weight loss surgery in January.”  This prompted her to tell me that so had she, and she’d lost a lot of weight at first, but then this happened and that happened and . . . and. . .

Her explanation didn’t really conclude but the gist was, I think, that she’d gone into apologetic/explanation mode because, well, somewhere along the journey she either stopped losing weight or she put a chunk of it back on.  I believe she tried to sort of explain it by saying that she hadn’t had the bypass, but something called the sleeve.

“Oh, that’s what I had,” I said, all chipper and happy.  Then I silently gave myself an internal head-smack.  If she’s feeling bad I certainly didn’t want to make her feel worse by shining my current success in her face.

We cruised into her actually taking care of the job I needed her to do to complete my errand.  I thanked her and went on my way with no more talk of surgeries or diets or anything.

It was such a freaking awkward encounter, but there were lessons to be learned by both of us.

1) If you haven’t seen someone in awhile and they’ve lost a lot of weight, or even if it’s someone you see all of the time, if you’re going to say anything to them, do it one-on-one and discreetly.  Do not shout it out in public in front of others.

2) No matter how embarrassing the situation, summon up a smile and ride it out.  You honestly do not have to offer any explanation to anyone else if you don’t want to.  At the very least, you can control the how and when of the telling.

3) Weight loss surgery is not a guarantee of long term success.  It is a tool.  I’ve known this all along, but today really brought it home to me.  I feel bad for the other woman, but am grateful for the reminder.

What a way to start the day!  Thankfully things improved from that point on!

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5 responses to “Cautionary Tale, Sort Of

  1. hoperoth says:

    It sounds like you handled the entire interaction perfectly. I actually think your line was better than one of the ol’ standbys. Because you let her know that she really shouldn’t be shouting your business, but you did it in a subtle way.

  2. pinkpelican says:

    One of the other important things to be sensitive to is that people who have had surgery have differing degrees of privacy about it. I am on the oblivious side, but even I can tell when somebody doesn’t want a lot of attention paid to them, or doesn’t really want to talk about their progress. It doesn’t mean they aren’t proud of what they have accomplished, or that they are ashamed or that they aren’t doing well. It means they are simply more private, or are uncomfortable in the spotlight, or that their personal boundaries are being overstepped.

    I have no problems talking about my journey, although there are, in fact, places I won’t go publicly because they are too private & personal for me to share. But that is me, my comfort zone, and my choice. Some people DON’T walk to discuss things. Some people don’t want to share.

    And that is perfectly acceptable. Everybody is allowed to have their personal boundaries, their lines of privacy. I have learned to pay attention so I can tell when another friend who has had the surgery is at their personal boundary. I don’t want to push anybody places they don’t want to go, and since I tend to be naturally oblivious, I make a point of paying attention so I can help change the direction of the conversation when it’s going too far.

    And sometimes? While the congratulations & expressions of amazement are nice, they become uncomfortable after a while. My weight loss journey and my lifestyle changes are a big deal in my life right now, & because I talk about those changes I expect them to be part of the discussion. But my life isn’t TOTALLY about the weight loss. There’s so much more to me than just losing weight, no matter how dramatic it is right now. And it’s not like I’ve discovered a cure for cancer. I appreciate the support, but it can move into an uncomfortable place. I like praise as much as the next person, but there’s a limit to how much I can take before I want to talk about something — ANYTHING — else. Grin.

    It’s a shame that more people won’t or can’t pick up on someone’s discomfort. Because it’s just as awkward to tell somebody who is praising you that they are pushing boundaries, because then you embarrass them, too. Sigh.

  3. Skye says:

    Sounds like that woman’s social skills are a little remedial. Thank goodness she was talking to someone who’d had weight loss surgery rather than life-threatening illness! It sounds like you handled it very well. But then, you seem to me to be a very well-balanced person who handles surprise and change with grace and aplomb.

    Glad your day improved after that! :)

  4. lora96litdiva says:

    wow. that is so hard to respond to politely. good job u

  5. It is hard when someone blurts something like that out, isn’t it? I find my father-in-law difficult as every single time I see him, he says something about how I must have lost weight even if I’ve gained 20 lbs. since he saw me. I KNOW he doesn’t mean it, he just thinks it’s a nice thing to say to someone who is overweight. Just don’t say anything. Please.

    On the other hand, there have definitely been times when I have opened my mouth and had a toad hop out. And then sit there blinking at me and the person I said it to. Metaphorically, you know. So I try to give others a little slack when they are less than tactful.

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