Posts Categorized: guest post

Passing Over: Gastric Bypass, Thin Privilege, and Perspective by Shoshanna Schechter-Shaffin

I connected with Shoshanna Schechter-Shaffin after reading her excellent article, “A Feminist Defense of Cinderella” and tweeting about it. We began a conversation over e-mail and she mentioned that her own body image issues had worsened after losing 140 pounds due to a gastric bypass procedure. I immediately asked if she’d read “Stranger Here” by my girl Jen Larson, and she said her experience had been quite different. When she filled me in on the details, I knew I had to convince her to share her story here. I’m honored that she’s agreed to do so. Read on to hear about Shoshanna’s surprising before and after experiences.

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Shoshanna Schechter-Shaffin

I’ll never forget the first moment when I realized that I had passed over. I was standing in an overly crowded holiday package mailing line at my local post office in December. It had been five months since my gastric bypass weight loss surgery and I was down almost 100 pounds. “Sweetie, let me help you with that package!” the helpful clerk ran over to me as I attempted to lug my heavy package. “Who is sweetie?” was my first thought. “Oh, wait that’s me!” Something was different and that something was me.

Unlike people who choose weight loss surgery hoping that the procedure will radically change their lives for the better, I was quite happy with my pre-op life. At the age of 29 I had already traveled the world, successfully pursued several degrees in Women’s Studies, was in the process of developing a meaningful career, married the love of my life, and had three beautiful daughters. Yes, I was obese –morbidly obese according to the doctors’ charts – but I had never let my weight stop me from pursuing my dreams. In fact, my weight was part of who I was and had been part of my journey up until that point. I have always believed that beauty can be found in all sizes and spent many enjoyable hours styling my plus-sized self.

I made the decision to undergo weight loss surgery while I was leading a trip of college students on a service-based “alternative spring break” to the north of Israel. I had travelled to Israel many times previously, but this time was different. To begin with, I barely fit into the airplane seat and spent nine hours in horrible discomfort. When we arrived in Israel and began the fast-paced trip – which included hiking and sight-seeing as well as community volunteering and service – for the first time in my life, I could not keep up. The truth was staring me in my profusely sweating face. I couldn’t deny the inevitable anymore, my weight was catching up with me. “My knees hurt, my back hurts, I just CAN’T live like this anymore,” I thought to myself. Something had to change. I was ready. Or so I thought.

With many failed attempts at serious weight loss under my belt and a father who’d had a highly successful gastric bypass four years earlier, I pursued the weight loss surgery approval process with a passionate vengeance. Nothing was going to stop me. I never gave much thought to the reality of my post-op life. I wanted to be able to get up off the couch easily, I wanted to be able to prepare Thanksgiving dinner without stopping for sitting breaks, I wanted to run after my kids at the park, I wanted to be healthy.

My surgeon was the first one to shock me into reality during our final pre-op visit. In typical overachiever fashion, I had exceeded the requisite 20 pound pre-surgical weight loss, and feeling particularly brazen, had decided to ask the surgeon “how low” he thought I could get. “Oh, you could easily get down to 130 or so. Are you prepared for that? People will not recognize you. Is 130 too thin for you?” Ha! I laughed in his face at the pure disbelief that I could actual be 130 pounds as an adult. 130 pounds … impossible! Too thin? Who ever heard of being too thin?

The surgery took place on July 12, 2010, and as expected, the weight fell off. By New Year’s Eve I was down 100 pounds to 165. I was both thrilled and convinced that the weight loss would slow down, that I could somehow control it. My weight eventually settled at 125 pounds – a size 2 – with what one of my doctors unprofessionally referred to as a “Barbie body.” But it wasn’t just my appearance that changed. My entire life began to change as well.

Around the time the weight settled, we moved several states away and I began a new life as a thin person. My speaking and teaching career began to take off with flying colors. Suddenly I was much “better” at a career that I had already been in for over 15 years. I began to notice an acceptance and approval in people’s eyes that hadn’t been there before. And wouldn’t you know? My trip leader reviews on the next trip I led to Israel – only 18 months post-op – showed drastic and remarkable improvement.

After having spent the first 30 years of my life working on my own self-esteem to try to be the most fabulous plus sized lady I could be, now as a thin person I began to discover the cold truth of obesity discrimination. I’d been good, but I’d never been “the best” because I was fat. The more I succeeded in my new body the more I wondered how often I had not succeeded in my old one. How many opportunities had I missed because of my weight? How often had my weight really held me back? As an adult, the only life I’d known had been as an obese person, so I had no idea how badly I was being treated and judged until I was given the chance to “pass over” to the other side. Now strangers smile at me more on the street, grocery clerks call me “sweetie” and “honey,” even my student reviews and classroom registration numbers have drastically changed. Just this past spring semester my “Biblical Hebrew 2” class held the highest registration on record at my university for a second semester of this very niche subject.

I am no longer invisible or ignorable. When I step on stage or in front of a microphone and smile at the audience as my Speech 101 teacher taught me to do so many years ago, I can feel a difference: I’ve already won over the crowd before I begin to speak. It wasn’t so long ago that I had to work hard to win over my audiences and it was a challenge that I loved; slowly drawing in the audience with my wit, personal stories, and knowledge of complex subject matter. I still work hard to engage my audiences and students as I always have. It’s the only “me” that I know how to be. But I’m still consistently amazed by the instant approval that I feel from my audience as I watch them give me the once over. Thin is instantly acceptable, fat needs to prove itself. I’ve always been a woman with a lot to say, but now everyone appears to be more interested in listening.

Another drastic change was in the way I was treated by healthcare professionals. As a morbidly obese woman, any sort of doctor’s appointment created several weeks’ worth of anxiety, mostly at the thought of being weighed and the resulting fat shaming and insulting conversation that was sure to follow. Oh really? At 5”4 I’m not supposed to be 265 pounds? I had no idea! I have had doctors sneer at me, call me lazy, roll their eyes at my explanations for my obesity, and more. Worst of all, I have had some doctors use my vulnerability and desperation to lose weight to try to convince me to shell out hundreds of dollars for their special weight loss “supplements.” Since the gastric bypass, doctors have given me nothing but warm congratulatory smiles at my continued weight loss success. You are such an inspiration! Good for you!

I’m intrigued, but as a professor of Women’s Studies I am also disgusted and bear tremendous guilt at what opportunities “thin privilege” has opened up for me. Worst of all, I’m not even sure that our society is conscious of the discrimination that is inflicted on obese individuals every single day. It’s no coincidence that so many people become involved in the “size acceptance” movement after successful weight loss surgeries. The only way to change what is commonly referred to as “the last acceptable form of discrimination” is through exposure, education, and self- love. Weight loss surgery may not for everyone, but size acceptance is.

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Shoshanna Schechter-Shaffin is the Director of Women’s Division, Israel, and Overseas Programming for the Jewish Community Federation of Richmond and serves on the faculty of the departments of Religious Studies and Women’s Studies at Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, Virginia. Shoshanna earned her Bachelor’s degree in Anthropology and Jewish Studies from the University of Maryland and a Master’s Degree in Jewish Studies with a focus on Jewish Gender and Women’s Studies from the Jewish Theological Seminary.

Shoshanna’s writing elsewhere:

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Two Stylists, Two Looks: gr.dano Striped Top


The best thing you can possibly do when you meet someone who works in your field doing the exact same thing as you? Befriend them. Share resources. Swap tips. The notion that there is a finite amount of success in the world is preposterous, and someone else’s success will never impede your own. So when you encounter someone who is doing fabulously at something you’re also doing fabulously at, don’t get territorial or jealous. Join forces. Both of your careers will benefit, guaranteed.

This was an especially easy maxim for me to follow when I first met professional stylist Carly Gatzlaff of A la Mode Wardrobe Consulting. Because she’s FABULOUS. We hit it off in an instant and were exchanging stories and ideas and plotting collaborations within the hour. Carly works here in the Twin Cities, and offers an amazing array of services to her loyal clients. She is skilled and successful at what she does, gets nothing but accolades from her customers, and is both a savvy businesswoman and a truly lovely person.

Carly and I have extremely similar business models for consulting with clients, but we also have very different personal styles. Naturally, we put our own preferences aside when working with clients and focus on their tastes and needs, but we definitely bring different ideas and techniques to the table. So one of the collaborations I thought would be fun and interesting would be for us to each take an item from our personal wishlists and style it into an outfit, then post them side by side. Today, we’re starting with my pick – a striped asymmetric top from San Francisco-based gr.dano!

Carly’s Look

Already Pretty Polyvore

CARLY’S THOUGHTS: Black and white tops are a fabulous year-round option, but to make the look scream spring, keep the rest of your outfit light! A boyfriend style distressed denim is a fabulous way to add style to any outfit this spring. Leave the top untucked to show off the asymmetrical detail and top it with a collarless cropped coral blazer. The collarless detail will lengthen you and show off the cowl, while the cropped length will define your waist! Finish off your look with ladylike details. A vintage-inspired earring and pearl bracelet help balance the menswear-inspired pant. The neutral heel gives your leg length and is a flattering counterpart to the more relaxed bottom. A leather and straw bag pulls everything together, a timeless piece for this spring and many to come!

Sally’s Look

grdano top look

SALLY’S THOUGHTS: I desperately wanted to do a skirt, but with a longish asymmetric hemline this top makes more sense with pants. I love black, white, and red together so I opted for some bold red ankle pants and a white, elongated moto-style jacket for keeping the cool spring breezes at bay. A bright white topper will make the outfit feel more seasonal than dark black, though feel free to take it off and let the beautifully designed top shine on its own. These pants have a flat front which will create minimal interference with the lightweight draping of the top. The polka dot pumps create a fun print mix and will help elongate the leg line against the cropped pants, while slightly punky earrings and a leather wrap bracelet add edge. Throw in a utilitarian-cool crossbody bag with a chain strap to complete the look.

Definitely some overlap with these looks, but they’re quite different, too! Which one suits your taste? Or would you wear both?

Thanks again to my girl Carly Gatzlaff of A la Mode Wardrobe Consulting, and keep your eyes peeled for the next installment which will feature one of her wishlist picks!

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Guest Post: Pondering Midwest Style with Lauren of This Life Styled

My amazing friend Amy Guth – who recently became publisher at RedEye in Chicago – dropped me a note to introduce me to one of her style writers, Lauren Krause. And when Amy makes an intro, I pay attention. Lauren not only covers style for RedEye, but she also works on audience engagement at the Chicago Tribune and runs her own blog, This Life Styled, on the side. So she’s probably not doing a lot of sleeping. Since it’s a question that I couldn’t answer myself, I asked Lauren to weigh in on what defines Midwestern style (because I’m cruel and twerpy like that) and totally love her response. Read on for Lauren’s thoughts, and input from some her her favorite Midwestern style bloggers!

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lauren krause

When I think of West Coast style, my mind conjures up images of relaxed women looking cool and content under the California sun. Cue the long skirts, cut-offs, and Bohemian vibe stirred by the breeze wafting off the Pacific Ocean. My perception is that East Coast style is remarkably different, erring on the side of structured sophistication and traditional elegance, not to mention black piled on black. Both coasts have unique styles to call their own, but what about the Midwest? The quintessential style of women living in the center of our country isn’t as easy to define, but that doesn’t stop thousands of bloggers and fashion lovers alike from “working it,” if you know what I mean.

As a Midwest gal myself – born in Cleveland and currently living in Chicago – the primary factor I consider when dressing is the weather. Unlike the breezy, consistent weather of sunny Southern California, Midwestern weather can be changeable and fickle. After spending the coldest winter in years cocooned in my cold-weather clothes, I have finally started to reappear from underneath layers of wool, scarves, and bulky outerwear. Dusting off my spring wardrobe – which has been sitting patiently in the back of my closet – I feel ready to re-emerge as a stylish, Midwestern lady. Unfortunately, spring dressing in the Midwest can prove more challenging than ever. Temperatures jump daily and a sudden rain shower can totally ruin a look. I absolutely must rely on layering and rain gear to survive a Midwestern spring. Although I’m still not convinced that weather is the sole factor when it comes down to the wire. Choosing the right jacket is important, but am I only drawing influence from the changing seasons? Are other fashion forces inspiring myself and the styles of other women living in the Windy City and Midwest?
Still puzzled by this question, I sought advice from a few of my fashion blogging friends and asked what Midwest style means to them.

“To me, style in the heartland of America is chic yet practical. We Midwestern girls want to look stylish, but still be able to make a mad dash to catch the train! We take basic, classic pieces and spice them up with statement necklaces or pop-of-color heels that express our own individuality.”
– Jesi, Pepperminting

“When I think of Midwest style I think of a girl on the go who is confident in her unique, trendy, and multi-layered look. She isn’t afraid to mix patterns/colors/textures and can put herself together at a moment’s notice.”
– Peggy, Hallways are My Runways

“Midwest style is a mix of current trends, sophistication, and a laid-back attitude. People here aren’t afraid to take risks, push boundaries, and define who they are through what they wear. Unfortunately, weather plays a big role here so leggings, boots, and chunky knits are great go-tos for the colder months. Hopefully it will get warmer soon so we can break out the maxi dresses, gladiator sandals, and rompers!”
– Samantha, Gold Coast Girl

So what’s the common theme in all of their answers? There isn’t one! It seems that Midwest style is so varied and inconsistent because that’s quite literally how our climate forces us to dress. We are confident, trendy, sophisticated, and laid-back, but practicality is something we must consider. While much of the West Coast has the luxury of gorgeous weather and the East Coast often prioritizes elegance over pragmatism, women of the Midwest aim to practice self-expression but with a side order of function.

Whether we’re dashing to catch a train, running errands, or attending a great party, we must be prepared. So our closets contain a combination of practical and personal style. Practical style consists of layers, seasonal jackets, and fun, chic accessories. Personal style includes both trendy and timeless pieces, garments and accessories that catch our eyes, and items that make us feel great. The bottom line: Midwest style is its own breed of logical fashion. The weather informs our outfits, but it hasn’t stopped us from combining the fabulous with the functional.

Lauren Krause is a Chicago fashion blogger, journalist, and the brains behind This Life Styled, a Chicago fashion and lifestyle blog with a focus on how to’s, outfit compilation, and styling tricks.

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