Thursday, January 8, 2009

Surprise fail

I missed the FedEx guy* and thus my computer by TEN MINUTES. Grr. But that's not the fail I'm talking about.

Today I got a cafe au lait to accompany me while I read at the student center. While I was in the (ever interminable) line, a petite woman with red hair and sparkly blue eyes approached me. "Lisa!" she cried.

It showed on my face - shit, who are you? And then it clicked. She and I had shared an office for a couple of years, doing research for my advisor. I hadn't seen her since last spring, right before she had weight-loss surgery. Even with my own experiences with rapid body change, I was blown away. She's so short and now slight that she looks fourteen.

I'm sure my surprise was obvious, at least for the first minute of our conversation. If she noticed she ignored it, chatting about another co-worker and my new hat. I managed to participate normally, but in my head I was still floored. No one I've known closely has undergone that kind of surgery, and somehow the before-and-after images you see on TV don't prepare you for the change when you see it in a friend.

There's a lot of controversy about weight-loss surgery - it's a scam, it's unhealthy; I've even heard it compared to a lobotomy. Sometimes it's still considered "cheating." Regardless, it's a complicated, intimately personal decision. We'd talked about it a little during our time together. She told me how she's always been heavy; how nothing - even medically-supervised diets - had worked. Her knees and back always hurt. Doctors never believed her about her diet and exercise - "I bet you'd lose weight if we locked you in a closet," one said. We commiserated about how, when your body is a tidge to the left or right of normal, it becomes public property and a topic of strangers' (sometimes brutal) comments. I know, however, that my experiences were different - I'd been too thin for a relatively short time, and even to the point of illness, being thin is valorized. Being large, in a lot of ways, is much worse.

I feel awful that I couldn't conceal my surprise better - I know how painful it can be. I didn't actually talk about how much she's changed; I'm pretty sure she knows. Even after having an unstable body image for so long, I can't imagine how hard it must be for her to relearn her body in such a drastic way. Next time I see her I'll apologize, and see if she wants to talk about it.

*I'm not being sexist; I called and it actually is a delivery guy.