As I sit writing this, I am buzzing with the self-satisfied ache of having just finished a 12 mile hike. My legs hurt, but I’m hardly in agony. My shins aren’t burning as if someone is ironing them. My body isn’t flooding itself with chemicals to fight pain it simply can’t endure – chemicals that make me sweat and shake and lose blood sugar. That used to be the case when I tried to walk as far as the bus stop.
Like Kelly Osborne, who has spoken openly about her six stone weight loss, I had gastric sleeve surgery some years ago. While I’m not a public figure, I understand both the place you reach that makes such surgery necessary, the desire to undergo it and the judgement that is frequently passed on you doing so.
Having weight loss surgery is seen by some as cheating. That it is a vital head start, which has helped me lose over half my bodyweight – with just a little further to go until I reach my goal – is undeniable. So who exactly have I cheated?
Related video: The health benefits of gastric sleeve surgery
The NHS who invested in me having this surgery and will likely save a fortune from avoiding paying for complications down the line? No. Other dieters then – those that managed to shift weight the hard way? Also no. Most slimmers I know support each other, knowing how hard it is – even for those of us who had this head start.
Simply, women can’t win. And if that’s true for all women – and it really is – it’s even more so for famous women.
For much of the time we see these women as winners; successful and at the pinnacle of their achievements. But when it comes to their most personal of areas – their own bodies – we treat these as public property. They are billboards on which to project our universal obsessions and conversations.
Look at the way we talk about women like Kelly Osborne, Adele – who has recently been the subject of much debate and, frankly, anger over her seven stone weight loss – or Rebel Wilson, who is charting her own slimming regime on social media.
Too fat? How dare they – as role models – set such an example? Don’t they know young girls look up to them?
Then they lose weight. How dare they? Don’t they know that as larger women they were modelling body positivity for young girls? Shouldn’t they send out a message about loving themselves?
Except that gastric sleeve surgery – which Osborne discussed on the Hollywood Raw podcast – isn’t a wheeze or a get out of jail free card.
It’s a major invasive surgery that takes weeks of recovery; a recovery that involves injecting yourself daily – something I found difficult and frightening. It meant a month of only liquid foods. As I had mine at the start of December, which meant my Christmas dinner that year was partridge soup. No solids until the third month.
Month three though is when the really tough work starts. Finding out how much – and of what – you can eat. Your portion sizes are smaller than you imagined (and you will be sick at least a few times before you realise this).
You have to completely reset your relationship with food – at least for a while. And this is incredibly hard to do for someone who has what Kelly Osborne and I both describe as an “addiction”. As a fat person, I thought about food all the time. When I could have it and what I would have. Hating myself for what I had eaten. Punishing myself for having eaten too much. Eating more when the emotional turmoil I was in inevitably led me to the chicken shop.
“I want to be very clear about this kind of surgery I had. I didn’t have a gastric bypass. The kind of surgery I had… if you don’t work out and you don’t eat right, you gain weight. All it does is move you in the right direction,” Osborne explained this week. "What people don’t realise is, it cuts out this hormone that if you have addiction issues, it stops your craving and it makes you not emotionally eat which is a huge problem for me.”
All of which is to say that other people’s inner lives are as complex and difficult as yours. But they are theirs. Nobody’s body belongs to you and nobody’s mind is yours to judge until it impacts on your life. This is as true of those who celebrate other women’s bodies, as it is those who denigrate them.
The phrase “my body, my choice” is at the heart of the fight for women’s reproductive rights. But we do less well at expanding this into other areas. It was my body when it was 25 stone – and you had no right to either challenge or celebrate me then. And it was my right to change my body as I see fit – just as it is Osborne’s.