Stacy and Clinton (ad)dress gastric bypass on WNTW
I have been a fan of What Not To Wear since its first season (anyone else remember Wayne, the male co-host before Clinton?) and have nearly always appreciated Stacy and Clinton’s take on how to dress oneself. One of their main mantras is “Dress the body you have now, not the body you wish you had” which is always refreshing to hear on television. They never encourage someone to lose weight or work out and tone up. They simply speak to the person openly and honestly about the shape of his or her body, without judgment, and how to maximize its benefits and camouflage the less flattering aspects.
So I was particularly interested to see that the first episode of the new season was going to feature Courtney, a woman who lost 170 pounds after gastric bypass surgery as well as plastic surgery. I always wanted to be on the show (even though I believe I do a fair job of dressing myself within my slim budget), and here was my chance to see how the particular issues of dressing oneself after the significant (and sometimes quick) weight loss that follows gastric bypass.
Like many post-gastric bypass folks, Courtney has a split fashion personality; she either dresses in clothes that are too big for her or ones that are far too tight. When, for the first time in your life, you can zip up a pair of size “whatever” pants (*insert dream size here*), it can be simply too amazing to believe you can get them on, nevermind the fact that you look like you’re wearing denim plastic wrap. I was never one to be really hung up on the number on my clothes, no matter what size I was at, but there were still those moments where an ill-fitting or oddly-colored piece of clothing was made tempting simply by the number on the tag. (I’m still holding onto a size “S/M” shirt that no longer fits simply because I think it’s the only medium, nevermind small, item I have ever owned.)
Courtney stated how when she looked in the mirror, she didn’t actually “see” herself – an experience I remember quite strongly. In particular, there was one day at the gym where I looked in the mirror across the room and thought, “Oh, that woman has the same t-shirt I do.” It was a full four or five seconds before I realized I was actually looking at myself. Now imagine that mental disconnect in effect as you look at racks of clothes and try to figure out what to bring into the dressing room.
My husband watched the episode with me (disclosure: I have made him a full WNTW fan) and his questions and comments were interesting since we met after I had lost weight so he wasn’t around to follow my shopping experiences post-surgery. He expressed frustration at how difficult Courtney was finding it to shop and thought she should be less troubled about needing to get things tailored since (as a veteran watcher of the show) even my husband knows that a lot of people need to get clothing tailored. I, on the other hand, felt my heart go out to her. I had a difficult time explaining the experience, except to say: imagine walking into a store and having no idea what will fit, no idea what your size looks like, and no idea what flatters you anymore. Then add to that the lifelong expectation that “being thin = shopping is easy.”
The truth is that shopping was never more difficult than it was in the first half year following the bulk of my weight loss. Most of us don’t lose weight in proportion to how we carried the excess weight (and loose skin also changes one’s size requirement), so this changes the proportions we need to dress and the curves and angles we need to take into consideration. Yes, it feels great to shop in a store you previously couldn’t buy a single thing in, but it’s a huge let-down when you still can’t find anything that fits right. I had to admit to my husband that my post-surgery shopping experiences included many dressing room tears and that I never thought my post-weight loss life would include wishing I was a size 26 again because shopping was simpler then.
I think Stacy and Clinton did a very fair job of representing and addressing the issues involved with dressing oneself after losing a significant amount of weight, be it through surgery or other means. They’ve had other weight loss people on the show, and I know there are dozens of reasons to have a mind/body perception disconnect, but because of the speed at which weight can (sometimes, not always) come off after weight-loss surgery, I appreciate that this was specifically mentioned a few times during the episode. It’s remarkably unsettling to be folding your own laundry and not recognize your own clothes because they look far too small to fit on your body. (And, yes, it goes the other way, too – it is also unsettling to not recognize an item of clothing because it looks larger than your body requires when, in actuality, you know it fits perfectly.)
The opening to the show wasn’t perfect, with its doom and gloom lighting and sound and the statistics about obesity in America, and a few statements bothered me, like when Stacy said Courtney “accomplished the ultimate and lost 170 pounds.” Clearly, for many people, this is not the ultimate accomplishment, but I’m willing to cut them a little slack on the more dramatic statements because the episode proved itself pretty well. Stacy and Clinton even acknowledged that Courtney “used eating as a coping mechanism, which a lot of people do.”
The week of February 21 is National Eating Disorder Awareness Week (and some sources identify February as National Eating Disorder Awareness Month). I would love to see Stacy and Clinton do a series of episodes in which they help people who are suffering from various stages of body dysmorphia or dissatisfaction due to eating disorders and/or the related recovery; I think I’ll be writing them to suggest it.
Have you ever faced some unexpected truths in a dressing room? Ever look in a mirror and know you weren’t actually seeing yourself? Anyone see this episode and have thoughts on it or Stacy and Clinton?