I hate Ruby, and I haven’t even met her. As I write this, Ruby Gettinger’s eponymous weight loss reality series has yet to debut on cable’s Style Network. I have yet to watch as the 480-pound star dwindles down to 380 pounds through hard work alone. I haven’t seen the show, but I’ve read the soft-focus human interest stories.
One story pats Gettinger on the head for eschewing gastric bypass. Surgery wouldn’t teach her any cute life lessons, or help her have a special touchy-feely journey of inspiration. Gettinger also told the LA Times that she’d choose to be fat.
“I always say I'd rather be big. Because I feel like I'm a better person because of it because I don't judge people. And I'm not mean. I like the person I am. That may sound ironic to somebody, but if you were able to sit on the side and see how mean people can be, you'd understand why I never want to be those kind of people,” Gettinger said to the Times.
If I had to choose, I’d rather not be big. If choosing had anything to do with it, and existed as something other than a beautiful fantasy, I’d choose a thin childhood full of slumber parties and requited schoolyard crushes. I’d choose high school dates and a strapless prom dress, size 6. I’d choose all the stupid, fumbling sexual experiences that mark normal college life, a career in my twenties, a husband, a couple of kids and sad resignation to the inevitable size 10 mom jeans.
Like Gettinger, I once weighed 480 pounds. I weighed far more than that, actually. When I chose gastric bypass surgery three years ago, depriving myself of all sorts of adorable lessons and the early death I would’ve faced had my only weight loss tools been diet and exercise, I weighed 571 pounds. Sadly, this failed to beatify me. I make catty remarks. I dislike a lot of people. I am not, nor have I ever been, jolly.
Television rarely depicts people like me. Sure, you see the pathetic residents of obesity warehousing facilities hamming it up on the Discovery Channel. The Learning Channel gives us 800-pound people at their lurid best, lying on gurneys, weeping as they ride to the hospital in the backs of cargo vans. We see the bloated, tear-stained faces. Sometimes, we see redemption in the form of huge weight loss, achieved via surgery or starvation. We never see the fat person as a real person. Certainly not as a self-aware smart person.
I hate Ruby because the show may convince other super morbidly obese people that surgery is somehow cheating. Weight loss surgery certainly isn’t the best solution for every fat person, but it can and has saved lives, including my own. I worry that people will use the show to bully loved ones out of surgery, or as a proof that people with hundreds of pounds to lose just need some celery sticks and a walk around the block to regain their health.
Gettlinger had a team of doctors, trainers, nutritionists and other professionals to personally tend her. Her situation has little to do with the reality many super morbidly obese people face. Ineligible for insurance, unemployable, immobile and often depressed, they don’t have the resources Ruby Gettinger enjoys, simply because she allowed a camera crew to follow her on the magic journey.
Unlike Ruby, I’m mean and petty. I know that when I see the show, I’ll probably make unkind comments about the star, her wardrobe choices, and the many offences she commits against the English language (a Savannah paper quotes her as using “humidified” as a word in place of “humiliated”, e.g.). But I like myself just fine.
When I weighed nearly 600 pounds, friends actually encouraged me to contact cable TV producers. They reasoned that I might get surgery out of it, or, at very least, a little cash. I decided that I liked having dignity better, mainly because having it at my size was a constant, harrowing struggle. I decided that I wanted to write my own story – literally and figuratively – not have it constructed by reality television producers eager to package me into some dumb, weepy, salable thing.
I hate Ruby. The show, not the woman. Given her circumstances, I can’t help but empathize with her. When I weighed 500 pounds, I felt pain nearly every waking moment. My joints and back ached constantly, and the ugly comments, rude laughter and even the innocent questions of small children broke my heart nearly every day of my life. I wouldn’t wish that existence on anyone, and if Ruby Gettinger needed to sign up for reality TV exploitation to free herself from the weight, I have to respect that choice. I only hope her new fans will extend people like me, those who opted for surgery, those who aren’t cuddly or folksy or poignantly sad, the same courtesy.