Article By: Tiffany Willis
Tiffany is a Bariatric Coach, Bariatric Patient Advocate, and Co-Host of the Life After Fat Pants Podcast. After losing 349 pounds in just 18 months following bariatric surgery in 2012, Tiffany has dedicated her life's work to helping those suffering from morbid obesity disease.
Does this look good on me? Why can’t I wear clothes that don’t stretch? And why can’t I look like her? Over the years, I’ve asked myself these questions too many times to count. Growing up with a weight problem that soon spiraled out of control, I had super low self-esteem which shaped my entire life. I always wished my life could be a Doris Day movie and my Rock Hudson or Cary Grant would love me for me. Doris’s effortlessly elegant big screen wardrobe seemed magical to me. Watching her was like escaping into an alternate reality where boy always meets girl, and girl never struggles to zip-up her pants.
I would hear all the time, “Tiff you have such a beautiful face.” Or “You would be pretty if you lost weight.” To this day, it still blows my mind that people say that — the audacity! Do we not think that overweight kids or people know that they have weight issues? Newsflash: kids with weight issues are acutely aware. But that’s a whole ‘nother blog post.
When it comes to body image, mine was always in the gutter. My struggle was exacerbated because by some cruel twist of fate, I had a sister who had a more “ideal” body, and she always seemed to have boys chasing her. But I felt like the protagonist in Judy Blume’s novel Blubber. For me, it wasn’t until I turned 39 that I began to figure out why my weight had become such a major health problem. I started real therapy and sought positive life changes, and my weight loss surgery helped put me on the path to better health.
The start of my physical transformation happened on Oct 22,2012 — the day of my surgery. In a leap of faith, I made the choice to embrace surgery as a starting point for transformation. At 531 pounds, this wasn’t as much about body image as it was about keeping my body alive. I was in a dangerous area of obesity where even walking into a store had become an exhausting exercise. It was made even more depressing because by the time I actually made it into whichever plus size clothing store — hardly anything fit. In fact, I sometimes got stuck in the clothes I was trying on in the dressing room. Beam me up, Doris Day!
But it wasn’t until 6 months after my surgery, on my way to my brother’s wedding, when I realized I was making progress. I had to buy outfits and a plane ticket for the long weekend. I seriously wondered whether anyone would even notice the 147 pounds I had already lost in just 6 months? But as soon as I took my seat on the plane and DID NOT have to ask for a seatbelt extender, all of my fears turned to tears of joy. I even had to cinch/tighten my belt for the very first time and, for extra kicks, I CROSSED MY LEGS ON THE PLANE! For my formerly 531-pound self, that was not even a thing. And before we were wheels down, I knew with total certainty that I was changing. At the wedding, I felt more like the bride to be because people noticed my weight loss. They noticed my improved energy. That night was the first time in my life I felt more like Doris and less like “Blubber.”
So how do we change or transform our body image? It’s a complicated question with no easy answers, but I believe it’s a process — and sometimes a long one. I had to learn that I was WORTH it — and not only learn that but believe it, too. This took work — in fact, I would call myself a work in progress. But I am solid on this — I’m worth being loved and valued. And it’s up to me to love and value myself first — and not let my happiness rest on my old Doris Day fantasies. I deserve to laugh and dance at my brother’s wedding. Yes, I had to learn to love myself and that love meant taking action — willful, intentional steps aimed at caring for the only body I have.