I was very honored to be invited to participate in a group discussion recently for folks who are considering or have had weight loss surgery. I was instantly reminded of the power of the group and how people challenge you. Poke you in the soft spots. So many opinions and questions flying around the group as well as inside my own head. Challenging my notions of “good enough” and internal as well as external body talk.
Group support and the group process have been important to my development, evolution and my recovery process. Group support was critical for me to challenge my assumptions about the role I play in the world. The group process and who I was in the groups I belonged to were examined. I realized that I got to decide when to lead and how I offer compassion as well as ask for help. The group mindset (made up of similar and divergent people with unique opinions and their own lens) creates friction and pushes your own assumptions about how the world works (or how you think it should work).
One of topics that the group discussed was body image. Everyone went around and told their stories. How they came to needing/wanting weight loss, how much they had lost and for how long. What their Issues and challenges were with food and self-care. How much they struggle with exercising and seeing food as nutrition. How they view their changing bodies. Some with compassion and some with disgust.
I am six years post surgery. I worked very hard pre-surgery to come to terms with what my morbidly obese body looked like. Prior to surgery, I struggled with only being able to acknowledge parts of my body. Perhaps a good day was tolerate or ignore and bad day was eat and want to hide. I could only acknowledging my own body from the neck up because there was too much pain below the neck. My bloated body trapped pain both emotional and physical. The fat and pain were sometimes overwhelming to me and constricted my movements and my choices.
A woman arrived late to the group and sat to the side of me. She was strong and outspoken. She talked about how her sagging flesh was GROSS. I felt this word visceral as she said. The word GROSS kept hitting me in the gut. Every time it dropped out of her mouth I felt it like a paper cut. It was so loaded and charged with disgust for herself. Triggered my own battle with being “good enough.”
I spoke up and challenged her word choice. I explained that I thought “bad body talk” was filling yourself with negative beliefs and reaffirming what you felt about yourself when you were heavy. Negative words or adjectives bring you down and drag you back. I love my body just the way it is. It is beautiful. I am beautiful.
She reacted to my reaction. She felt she was a “realist” and that “she had completely accepted herself but that her extra skin was gross.” “It just is. GROSS.” And she smiled and me and started bouncing her leg.
Again, I challenged her. She resisted. Then I suggested perhaps she was still evolving her opinion of herself. She didn’t particularly agree with the idea but was less resistant to it.
I wish there was a LCD screen above her head to provide subtitles to her thoughts. One that came through loud and clear was “who does she think she is? she is kidding herself.”
I know part of what she was saying to me was “Yeah, you live it la-la land.” She thought somehow me not participating in the bad body talk I was ignoring things about myself. My point was that I was accepting with love and kindness things about my life, my body or my mind that were not exactly the way I would like. We were on different ends of a spectrum where the middle would be neutral. Negative talk = GROSS on one end and positive talk = LOVE on the other. Neutral would be I accept it but don’t hate it or love it.
Her acceptance = acknowledging grossness and moving on. Her reality was harsh. I remembered what that feels like and was trying to offer my hand for a path towards a different way. All I did was create resistance.
I tried to get her to see that the word choice of her flesh was a way to describe herself. I said if you say your flesh is gross then you are saying you are gross. She disagreed. She separated her flesh from herself. She also said she tries not to look at herself in the mirror. She avoids looking at the part of her body.
I admired her moxie. She was spirited and rough and opinionated. I could hear her resolve and grit and determination. I understand that drive. But that drive is so much stronger when it comes with self-love and acceptance. It is the difference of a kind hand helping you along vs a tough hand slapping you in the back of the head until you get “it”.
I think you can’t fully say you accept yourself if you hate or ignore a part of yourself. If you accept it you might see its limitations but you don’t view it negatively. You view it gently and kindly. Further acceptance would be not wanting or needing to change it.
I tried another vantage point and asked her if she would use that word to describe someone else or how it would feel to her if someone else described her with that word. She closed down and wouldn’t view it differently. She viewed my questions and comments from that point on as challenges.
We were sitting next to each other and every time she spoke she would rapidly bounce her foot and not look at me. I know what that means. It is a dismiss. I triggered her. I challenged her world. I got under her skin. As she did mine.
The power of the group is we challenge each other’s bullshit and tightly held beliefs. I am still thinking about her. I bet she is me as well.