"Skin Tight": Reflections on the Loose Skin Experience
Back in 2008 when I first wrote a blog post about loose skin, I knew logically that it was going to be part of my future. Everyone knows if you are morbidly obese and lose weight and you're not a teenager anymore, you're left with loose skin. I didn't have it yet at 219 pounds, but my fat was starting to get weird and saggy and squishy instead of firm. I was so excited to be getting smaller, though, that I was really dismissive about the whole loose skin thing. It seemed like no big deal to me. I wrote:
"...not for ONE SECOND do I think I would prefer to have nice tight skin and be 278 pounds, rather than be a normal weight with loose skin. I will take the loose skin and a normal, healthy life! And if you are really distressed about it, you have two choices. You can have skin removal surgery when you get to your goal. Or, if you really hate the skin problem and don't want surgery, and find yourself longing for your formerly tight, fat-filled skin, you can always gain back all the weight. Right?"
Oh yes... right. I didn't know how right I was! I *could* gain the weight back for sure! But at the time, I really thought it was lame that people worried about skin and I just knew that when I lost the weight I would not care about the extra skin at all. I was wrong. Thirty pounds later, I was writing a different story as my body continued to deflate and the thinner layers of skin and fat started really hanging and wobbling. It started getting strangely wrinkly and unpleasant, rather than smooth. I wrote:
"I don't like my melting body. I don't like the skin being wrinkly in places and the deflated feeling of my fat. I don't like that I can poke with my finger and it goes in two inches because the fat is so loose and mushy. I don't like that when I put on my underwear, which fit perfectly and are not tight at all, they dent into my fat a good inch or more because that fat is so soft and squishy. I don't like that my upper arm fat sways in the breeze if I reach for something, or that I have a patch of wrinkly skin appearing under my jawline. I absolutely do not like the sensation that I am melting, with my flesh dripping down like wax off a hot candle. My body is not the right shape anymore. It feels like someone should take a spatula and scrape up the oozing frosting and get rid of the drips. I do not like it at all."
I weighed 185 pounds at that time and was becoming afraid that the skin issue would just keep getting worse as I lost more weight. And I was right. Ten pounds later, to my horror the crepe-papery, wrinkled skin under my jaw was becoming even more noticeable. And the last straw was when I noticed loose hanging skin starting around my wrists and forearms! I felt like a Shar-pei.
I cannot justify how much this affected me, because logically to me it seemed SO shallow. I don't think I am a vain person. I know I am not going to look like I did 20 years ago and I knew there would be loose skin. But actually seeing it ON my body, in the mirror, and in places I could not cover it up was very distressing to me. The way my body literally looked like melting wax and had strange unfamiliar globs and drips that I could not erase or smooth out was a shock to me. There was a a gut feeling, an anxiety, a fear... a sense of "this is not right... this is not me" that I couldn't shake. It makes no logical sense to me. But those feelings came right back last night when I was watching a TV show.
There's a new TLC series called "Skin Tight" that's about the excess skin of weight loss, Watching it last night, I was taken right back in time to the point when I had lost enough pounds to see that no, it was not just more fat hanging on my body that would go away if I just kept losing weight. It was a whole different problem.
I wondered if I was losing one problem just to gain another that was just as unpleasant. I mean, you do all this work, you defy the odds and take off all those pounds... and then you feel imprisoned in a whole different way: a way that is unfixable without surgery. On the show, right before she had her skin surgery, Lauana said, "This has to work, because it's my last hope." She said this AFTER she had lost the weight... AFTER getting to a normal BMI. We are so used to thinking of some diet, some gastric bypass or last ditch weight loss attempt as the "last hope" because the goal is a healthy, normal-ish body. But instead, she got something else very distressing: a new body that she felt compelled to hide.
So she had this very extensive, scary looking surgery. And then instead of happiness and relief, we see her crying with sadness after taking off her bandages for the first time and seeing her scarred, still-imperfect arms... it was just too much. I got tears in my eyes.
Watching her surgery and recovery, the whole time I was thinking, "there is no way, NO WAY I would ever have that surgery. Absolutely not." And that's the thing. I *am* 95% sure I would not choose to have surgery to remove loose skin, no matter how distressing it was, unless it was actually getting infected and going to kill me. I would not do it for comfort, or cosmetics, because I have such a strong feeling that I need to *be here* for my family and I have an intense (irrational, perhaps?) fear of dying during surgery. So... knowing that I am almost certain to have a large amount of loose, hanging skin if I lose weight past a certain point, but also knowing that I am very unlikely to ever have skin removal surgery, there comes the realization that was lingering under the surface, possibly driving me to subconsciously regain and not re-lose: if I keep losing weight, I am going to have that horrible, loose, hanging skin. For the rest of my life. I am going to feel trapped in a different kind of way, with different things to hide, with a body that drips with deflated fat rolls.
During the episode last night, both of the featured persons conveyed that they could not live life to the fullest unless the lose skin was gone... even though they had lost massive amounts of weight.
Tim said, "I was held captive by that loose skin." He was freed by the skin removal surgery.
After skin removal, Lauana said, "I can do anything now!" She definitely didn't feel that way after weight loss alone. It took skin removal.
I know that my loose skin was a major factor in why I regained so much of the lost weight. I have written many, many times as I lost weight about how disconcerting the too-large "skin bag" is when it's hanging on a normal-sized body. Like Lauana said, she wondered if it would be almost better to be a bit chubby than to be thin and have all this skin hanging. I felt that way. I did not consciously WANT to regain any weight, but I felt better about my body 10 pounds heavier than my lowest... all the while still wanting to get the weight off and lose even more. But the loose skin situation was so emotionally triggering for me that I just could not handle it. Right now, at 229 pounds, I have pretty much NO loose skin. I have nothing unnatural looking about my (fat) body. I mean, that's the thing, isn't it? People expect a fat person to have curves and bulges, so my body right now looks and feels pretty normal for a fat chick. I feel smooth, soft, and curvy. If I lose 30 or 40 more pounds, my body is going to look and feel like a dripping candle again. Do I really want to go there?
Do I really want to lose the weight again, just to be stuck with a deformed, unsightly body that I am embarrassed about? Do I want to trade wishing away the fat (which can be lost) to wishing away the skin (which cannot be lost)? Am I trading one jail for another?
At this point I just tell myself, "look, you will be healthier by losing weight, so just do it. Do it for your health. Do it so you can be more active and feel better. Get back into the skin care routine: the lotions, the dry brushing, all of that, to minimize the skin issues. Maybe take some kind of skin care supplements like collagen. Just do it." But I admit... it's scary wondering if history is just going to repeat itself. Guess once again, we will see.
I am 38 years old, female, a degree-holding stay-at-home-mom, and I weigh 278 pounds. I have been obese for ten years now. Time to get out of this fat prison I have made for myself.
--This is the original introduction I wrote when I first started this blog in 2007. I leave it as a reminder to myself of where I came from. Currently, I am 46 years old and weigh significantly less...see the blog for details. I lost 103 pounds, then had a partial regain, and am once again working at weight loss and better health.
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