Big Fat Blog has a post today about Brooke Bates, a 13-year-old girl who underwent liposuction and a tummy tuck at 12, gained back most of the weight, and has now been fitted with a Mexican Lap-Band. Her parents had trouble finding a doctor to do it in the States, stunningly enough — for starters, Brooke’s BMI was well under the usual cut-off of 35, and it’s just so much more expensive to go through all the screening required to make sure the surgery will be, you know, safe.
“It’s so much paperwork that you have to go through — so much red tape is what I call it. They want you to get psychological testing, they want you to get sleep apnea testing and all those things I’m sure are very important, but it’s money,” said [mother Cindy] Bates.
Yes, god forbid you spend the money on psychological testing for a child whom you said in the previous breath is a “compulsive overeater.” Those greedy American bastards might have actually wanted to treat your child’s eating disorder before performing another surgery on her. The nerve!
It all becomes even more heartbreaking when you learn this, from a People article published during Brooke’s post-lipo honeymoon phase (emphasis mine):
She tried to lose the weight; in fact she had dieted most of her childhood. There was the $1,400 low–carb plan her parents enrolled her in during third grade. Then Richard Simmons’s Deal–a–Meal in fourth grade and Weight Watchers in the fifth.
Her parents tried to help at home by “getting rid of all the chips, crackers and cookies,” her father, Joey, says. But regardless of any success she had, the pounds always came back. “Brooke seemed to be the kind of kid who gained weight from just looking at food,” says her mother, Cindy.
Later in the article, Cindy is quoted as saying her daughter has “basically been on a diet from the age of three.”
So wait, does she gain weight just by looking at food, or is she a compulsive overeater? And if it’s the latter, do you suppose your having starved her from the age of three on might have anything to do with that compulsion?
The articles say Brooke had high blood pressure by age 11 and was declared a “ticking time bomb” by a doctor, though they don’t say how high it was, or whether the stress of being ridiculed for her body at school, having her parents obsess about her weight, and learning that her father had cancer thought to be terminal might have driven her blood pressure up. Regardless of those question marks, it’s clear that her health had very little to do with the surgery decisions. I mean, from stuff besides the fact that her parents saw all that pesky health screening as a waste of money.
It wasn’t easy. Even Dr. Robert Ersek, a local plastic surgeon and the self–proclaimed “biggest fat–sucker in Texas,” initially said no. But because [Brooke's father] Joey had that winter been diagnosed with bladder cancer (thought by the Bateses to be terminal), Ersek agreed to take Brooke as his patient. The girl had told him, “I want my dad to see me looking slim and pretty in a dress before he dies.”
Jesus, this poor kid. Her father’s cancer was in remission by the time of the article, thankfully, but how unbelievably fucked up is it that at 11 or 12 years old, she wasn’t only worried about her dad dying, but about him dying with a fat daughter?
And of course, that was on top of the pain of being a fat kid at school:
Brooke says her physical pain was nothing compared with the psychological anguish she endured. One day in junior high, boys harassed her until she fled in tears. “I wanted to die,” she says. In class no one wanted to sit next to her. “Kids would say, ‘You stink,’ because people tend to think fat people smell bad, even though I didn’t.”
It’s all too familiar to anyone who was ever a fat kid. And yet, we insist on framing the problem as having to do with her weight, not this culture’s perverse obsession with thinness. Of course Brooke’s self-esteem improved after weight loss, but not because her psychological problems had actually been addressed; because she was less of a target both for other children and her own goddamned parents. The problem was never about her weight. It was other people treating her like shit for her weight. So when she gained the weight back, it was business as usual.
And the solution was another surgery.
As much as I’d like to wring her parents’ necks on the one hand, on the other, I can’t even blame them that much. They’re products of this culture, too. They want their child not to be tortured in school. They might even have been worried, not without cause, about the state taking their daughter away when she continued to gain weight despite all the diets.
But it makes me furious that this poor girl, dealing with so much, has never had a safe space to be in her own body without shame, guilt, and fear. The tragedy here is not that she cracked 200 lbs. before high school; it’s that she’s never known what it’s like to be accepted unconditionally, even by her own family.
This is what a fat-hating culture does to people. It makes them spend thousands of dollars on weight loss programs for growing children. It makes parents believe that putting their child through three elective surgeries before she starts high school — one of those by a doctor chosen precisely because he wouldn’t require all that “red tape” of pre-surgery health screening — is reasonable and responsible, even loving. It makes a child believe that going under the knife is preferable to walking into one more classroom with her fat body.
And then, when this shit makes the news, we all gasp and say, “How could they? 12 years old! That’s unconscionable!”
But we don’t ask ourselves, Well, what if she’d been 16? 21? Would it make sense then to follow up an entire lifetime of dieting with multiple elective surgeries? Or to follow-up one failed surgery with a different one aiming at the same goal?
And most of all, we don’t ask ourselves, What made Brooke Bates’s life so fucking miserable that she wanted to do this at such a young age? We believe we already know the answer to that: fat made her miserable! Question answered! No need to think about anything else!
Like the fact that other children treating her like a pariah made her miserable.
Or that chronic dieting made her miserable.
Or not being fully accepted by her own parents made her miserable.
Or hearing that her father was going to die made her miserable.
Or going through adolescence made her miserable.
No, it was just the fat. It’s always just the fat. Remove the fat by any means necessary, and all the other problems go away.
Except when they don’t.