Men & Weight Loss Surgery
Is There a Social Stigma?
It’s estimated 200,000 American’s will undergo gastric bypass surgery this year. Only 15 percent, 30,000, will be men. Yet obesity statistics in this country indicate morbid obesity is not gender specific. About 60% of American men and women are obese. So why are so few men, comparatively speaking, going under the knife to lose weight?
It has long been known that if a man wants to lose weight he’ll go to the gym, pump some iron and maybe run a few laps. Seldom does he head for the kitchen to fix a nutritious, balanced low calorie meal. Men are genetically predisposed to lose weight more quickly than women. Most experts agree men tend to lose weight faster because they typically have more lean muscle mass and a lower body fat percentage than women. Said simply, men generally have a higher metabolism, or rate at which they burn calories, because they have more muscle.
Given the better odds for quicker success can we conclude that men are opting for conventional weight loss methods - diet and exercise – before considering gastric bypass as a plausible option?
Perhaps. But it’s been my experience that obese men, like obese women, are ashamed of being fat, ashamed of failing to lose weight and ashamed to take the last-resort surgical option for weight loss. And unlike women, men don’t cluster to talk about their “feelings” or the shame and self-loathing that accompanies obesity. Not surprisingly, many men feel very alone in their battle of the bulge.
One man, William, who secretly underwent gastric bypass said, “It is very difficult for men to reach out and ask for help because obesity is still very much considered a ‘women's disease’. Men may also not want to come forward for fear that people will think they are vain or worse weak.” When someone asks William how he is losing weight he answers with a slap on the back and a wink, “Working my ass off at the gym, buddy – you ought to try it!” He doesn’t even mention diet, portion control or nutrition.
Women are more often prompted to pursue weight loss, including gastric bypass, for self-esteem issues. They need to recover a sense of self-worth or validation, they need to feel attractive to future mates. Women often perceive that being overweight is a character flaw and by fixing it they can become a better person. Many believe media presentation of perfection fuels this perception. Men have generally been immune to unrealistic standards and historically an overweight man was one of affluence and abundance.
These days more and more men are prompted to lie on the surgical table for health reasons, few will admit having surgery to improve their self-esteem. Obesity related health problems scare, and perhaps, shame men to have surgery, lose weight and become healthier. But social stigma shames men into keeping quiet about it.
“I watched three men in my family, one-by-one, drop dead from massive heart attacks. Near as I could tell I was next,” said 37-year-old Frank Elliott. “At 385 pounds I needed to do something fast. So I had the surgery, I lost the weight and kept my mouth shut about it. I was ashamed of being so weak that I couldn’t lose weight on my own.”
Because men are reluctant to go public with their obesity solution there is a lack of male-bonding or support for one another. One LivingAfterWLS reader, Rob said, “I’m finding it difficult being one of the very few men who’ve had this surgery locally. By nature, I’m a talkative and sometimes overly reflective and analytical person. Maybe this is why I get a real sense of fulfillment when I can “talk shop” with other WLS people. But men, by nature I believe, don’t tend to want to band together in the support groups like women seem prone to. This lack of a true peer support system makes it a bit tough.”
Surprisingly men tend to celebrate the same “magic moments” women do when it comes to massive weight loss. Rob said, “The physical changes have been such a treat! I was wearing size 60 pants this time last year and I’m buying 46s and 48s now. Buying clothes is a blast!! One of my biggest short-term goals was to be able to go to most any store in town and buy clothes off the rack. I’ve jumped for joy each time I’ve had to take my watch to the local jeweler to have a link removed from the band. Did I mention that the physical changes have been a treat? I have collarbones now! The girl at the lab can find my veins by sight instead of “poke and fish” now. I’m almost down to having only a single chin!”
Wouldn’t it be great if he had a support network of men who were celebrating the same milestones?
In the context of human relationship male bonding is most likely to happen on the sports field, at the bar or in the stadium stands. Perhaps this is where the WLS male contingent needs to gather, rather than in the traditional meeting room on folding chairs. Given a familiar and comfortable environment where the words “emotions” and “feelings” aren’t requisite for the event I submit WLS men could build a camaraderie based on shared experience and common compassion.
Will that bust the social stigma for overweight men who chose to control their obesity with surgery? Probably not. But if it can help one or two or a hundred men become more self-respecting and more self-assured then why not? In the meantime, we have several male subscribers to LivingAfterWLS. Rob is one of them. I’m happy you are here.
© 2005 Kaye Bailey - All Rights Reserved