Most of the dramatic weight loss stories we read or watch on TV have a single theme: work out and make some diet changes, then you'll be celebrity-skinny and lead a rainbows-and-butterflies kind of life, enjoying your toned, tight new body.
And while reality TV isn’t often synonymous with 'authentic,' we have to praise WEtv’s Mama June: From Not to Hot for taking an unflinching look at what really goes into a dramatic body transformation.
Throughout the series, the show had no qualms about revealing the numerous painful, invasive surgeries Mama June underwent to reach her size 4 goal. The gastric sleeve surgery, which cuts a portion of the stomach, may have been a significant aid in Mama June’s weight loss journey, but this surgery was only the beginning.
Surgery also isn't the end of the burdens carried along with the weight. Karen Synne Groven, student at the University of Oslo in Norway, interviewed 22 women who’d undergone gastric bypass surgery as part of her doctoral thesis. She found that the positive outcomes of surgery (read: compliments, friendlier encounters) often led to feelings of guilt rather than happiness for these women. Some participants even confessed to lying to peers when asked about their weight loss; they'd say they had been on a diet because they were ashamed to admit they had surgery.
For Mama June, after the pounds were shed she required multiple (expensive!) surgeries to remove excess skin on the neck, arms and stomach. “Doing all the surgeries really took a toll on me—not just physically, but emotionally,” she confessed.
And it’s easy to see why. Many people who undergo radical weight loss regimens later find that, while the number on the scale matches their expectations, the person in the mirror does not. Skin that has been stretched for years is not able to bounce back to its proper form, leaving a painful visual reminder of the weight they once carried.
"[Excess skin] is given little focus before the operation," Groven notes. "Patients are often told that this is something that can be fixed afterwards. But it is not so easily fixed, and the women are not prepared for the challenge of having to live with the loose skin." These challenges often lead to self-esteem issues in patients, even after the weight is gone.
As the media continues to push the idea that anyone can exercise enough to look like a supermodel, the reality is that there are many physical factors that stand in the way—weight is just one. “I thought that surgery would make me feel better, but it hasn’t,” Mama June admitted on the show during a particularly trying recovery. “My body looks like Frankenstein and I hate that I did this.” While this side of radical weight loss stories isn’t often seen, it’s not uncommon.
Now that Mama June has recovered and is enjoying her new figure, it’s easy to forget all the pain that went into her transformation. However, her story is a compelling one for those who have been surprised or disappointed by their own attempts at transformation.
And she isn't the only celebrity who's gotten candid about their struggles beyond weight loss. Sharon Osbourne had the gastric bypass procedure in 1999 after struggling with her weight for years.
"I felt (like) such a cheat when I had that band on my stomach," she told Entertainment Tonight. Sharon was never satisfied with the band and its side effects (she vomited all the time, she recalls) and later had the band removed. Now, she sticks to the Atkins diet to maintain her healthy weight.
In Groven's study, even those who reported a higher quality of life post-surgery say they still have a negative relationship with food. Some commented that “the eating disorder is not gone,” as they still have to consciously monitor how much or how little they eat so as not to upset the stomach and intestines.
These stories are a strong reminder that these dramatic results are the product of more than a little magic; they’re the product of many surgeries, each of which take a physical and emotional toll. Mama June’s journey resonates with anyone who feels discouraged after finding out that weight loss alone wasn’t the key to their dream body, and we're glad she brings this issue to light.
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