Ever since I can remember, I have always struggled with my weight. Medically speaking, I was morbidly obese.
Nearly twice the size of all the other kids in my class, I was constantly bullied for being overweight and was referred to as ‘Big Brooke’ in school because of my size.
Kids would tease me all the time, saying that I looked like a whale. One boy even asked if I was pregnant as my stomach was so large.
When my family and I went out to restaurants I was constantly being stared at by strangers and my mum was always accused of being a bad parent for letting me get so fat. But no matter how many diets she put me on or how many doctors I consulted, nothing helped me lose weight.
As a little girl growing up I saw a paediatrician regularly to monitor my health, weight and growth. Other than being labelled ‘obese’ I was not diagnosed with any particular medical condition. I ate the same foods as my family ate. For breakfast we’d have cereal or eggs. For lunch we’d have a sandwich and chips and for dinner usually pasta or a chicken dish with vegetables.
The only difference was that I never felt full after a regular meal and so I was constantly asking for more food on my plate. I’d go back for second and third helpings when the rest of my family was full after just one serving.
I exercised and played just like other kids my age – riding bikes, running around the park and going on walks with my mum. Still, the exercise didn’t help burn the extra calories I was consuming on a daily basis.
I even joined the jump rope team at school when I was seven so I could get exercise, but the main problem was my eating habits and, more importantly, my portion control. I could not stop eating. For dinner, I could eat an entire large pizza by myself followed by a whole box of cookies and ice cream without ever feeling satisfied or full.
Then in the middle of the night I would sneak into the kitchen without my parents knowing and fix myself a sandwich or have a plate of leftovers from dinner. It was almost like I had a hole in my stomach. I never knew when to stop eating.
The doctor said I simply needed to watch my eating habits, cut back on my portion sizes and get more exercise. My parents are not obese but my older sister, Bailey, was on the heavier side. My parents tried to control and monitor my diet, but I was always hungry and constantly snacking.
When I was eight years old, my mum put me on my first diet. She cleared the kitchen of junk food, stopped allowing me second and third helpings at meals and forbid me from eating snacks in between meals.
A typical breakfast for me was cereal and fruit and a snack of chips. Lunch was salad or sandwiches, chips and fruit, while at dinner I had grilled chicken and vegetables or pizza. For dessert I had cookies or a pastry.
It may not have been a super healthy diet, but at least we weren’t eating fast food every day. My problem was that I was overeating. Of course, with dishes like salad, for example, I would put mounds of dressing over the lettuce, which clearly makes it go from healthy to unhealthy.
My mum would even turn up at school every day to bring me a healthy salad and eat lunch with me outside so the other kids wouldn’t tease me in the cafeteria. Even though I was following mum’s diet, I still wasn’t losing weight and was always hungry.
My mum would say to me, “Honey, you can’t eat three plates of food and expect to
be a skinny girl.”
I would respond, “Mum, I’m starving. I’m not full yet, I need more food.”
At a loss
Over the years – from eight until 11 – my parents spent thousands of dollars on diets, weight-loss books and seven different dieticians to help structure my diet.
Always jumping from one diet to the next, my mum felt guilty for depriving me. But at a loss for how to help she didn’t know what else to do. When I was eight, I weighed more than 64kg and at age ten I was over 68kg. By the time I was 165cm tall and 12 years old, I had high blood pressure, was pre-diabetic and tipped the scales at 100kg.
Feeling self conscious and miserable in my body, I came up with a solution after watching a TV special about an 18-year-old girl who got liposuction. “I want to get weight-loss surgery,” I said to my mum.
Stunned, she didn’t know what else to say except for a stern ‘No!’ I explained the TV special I’d watched, and continued to plead with her, that this was the answer to my prayers.
“That girl was 18, Brooke, you’re only 12,” mum said. “You’re far too young and you’re not going to risk your life just so you can be skinny.”
But as the days went on, my mum, Cindy, and my dad, Joey, watched me being harassed at school. “I want this surgery,” I pleaded day after day. “I want to fit in with my friends, I want to be on the cheerleading team, and
I desperately want to be able to wear normal-sized clothes. I don’t want to be a fat girl for the rest of my life.”
Finally, my parents agreed to allow me to undergo weight-loss surgery. Before I knew it, after several consultations with various doctors, my dream finally came true when I was 12.
While most people would have seen a gastric bypass surgery as the best option, my parents ruled out that out from the very beginning as a family friend had died from the surgery years earlier. So instead, I opted for liposuction and
a tummy tuck.
During my first consultation with Dr Robert Ersek in Austin, Texas, he explained that he didn’t have any experience with weight-loss surgery in children, as at that time it was unheard of for kids my age. But he believed I was a good candidate.
Dr Ersek went on to explain the risks, which included the possibility that I could die on the operating table or that complications could occur years later, as my body was still developing. I knew the risks, my parents knew the risks, but still I wanted to proceed.
In 2006 at the age of 12, I became the youngest person in the world to have liposuction and a tummy tuck. The $25,000 (Dh91,812) surgery took place on March 14, 2006. Dr Ersek removed 16kg of fat from my arms, back midsection and chin.
During the surgery he was able to remove fat under the skin using a vacuum suction tool. Then, he removed my fat deposits and shaped each area of my body.
While the surgery only took three hours, the weeks following the procedure were very painful. I couldn’t get out of bed by myself as I was so sore. Amazingly, within a few weeks of the operation I lost another 9kg by committing to healthy eating habits.
Then, two months after my surgery I went back for a tummy tuck to remove the loose skin and lost another 4kg.
Before the operation, I hated looking in the mirror, but now, as I saw my body begin to shrink before my eyes, I loved admiring myself in the mirror.
With diet and exercise I continued to get smaller and I started to feel a lot better. Before I knew it, I was down to 70kg and fitting into a US size 10 dress.
Waking up from surgery I’d never felt happier in my whole life.
“We did it,” I told my mum during my eight-week recovery. “I’m finally going to be skinny.”
That summer of 2006 was the first time I felt comfortable in a two-piece bikini and I wore it proudly.
But to my dismay, the surgery didn’t work permanently. Within a few months of losing the weight – by August 2006 – I gained it all back plus an additional 2kg.
As I was so young, I naively thought having surgery would fix everything. I didn’t realise having liposuction and a tummy tuck was only the beginning, not the end.
I didn’t understand that I needed to diet for the rest of my life in order to maintain a new body. Soon after slipping back into my old compulsive eating habits and snacking on junk food in between every meal, the weight piled back on just as quickly as it had come off.
Feeling like a failure that I couldn’t stay skinny, I cried to my mum every day that I would rather die than be fat again.
I even contemplated desperate measures as I felt living in my disgusting body wasn’t living at all. I felt I did not require counselling so did not undergo it.
A year later, at 13, my mum convinced me it wasn’t my fault and said we could try again. As I was always seen as the fat kid in class, I didn’t really have many close friends and at that age, the only person I really counted on for help was my mum.
This time, we flew to Mexico where I was fitted with a lap band around my stomach, which restricted the amount of food I could physically eat.
Lap band is a medical term used in the US. In essence, it’s a laparoscopic adjustable gastric band that is placed around the top portion of the stomach to create a small stomach pouch. This is indented to slow and limit consumption the amount of food that can physical be consumed. The surgery cost $8,000 (Dh29.380). My older sister, Bailey, who was 19 at the time, and weighed and 86kg, was also fitted with a lap band.
The controversial surgery, was illegal in the United States, as I was only 13 years old, which is why we did it in Mexico. But luckily, it worked and within the first year I lost 14kg.
Finally, I felt in control of my body and eating habits as the band around my stomach made it physically impossible to overindulge.
However, as I grew into my new body, I was still not satisfied as the constant weight gain and weight loss I had gone through, left my skin sagging all over my body.
So when I turned 15 I had more liposuction on my arms and legs, which cost $10,000 (Dh36,725) to reduce my sagging skin.
Since getting all this plastic surgery it’s completely changed and saved my life. I’ve gone from the name ‘Big Brooke’ to ‘Barbie Brooke’. Friends say I look like Barbie doll, and I no longer felt like an outcast in school. My friends all said I looked great!
For a while there was a low point in my early teens, I was lucky enough to have my parents help me and support me through those hard times. And I thank them everyday for giving me my life back and helping to make me happy with my new body.
But truth be told, if anyone thinks getting weight-loss surgery is taking the easy road they are crazy. For despite all the plastic surgery I have already had, I still struggle with my weight and I don’t think there will ever be a day in my life when I won’t think about the number on the scale.
I’m always terrified that one day I’m going to wake up and be fat again, so to counteract that from happening, I try my best to eat healthy and spend at least an hour every day in the gym.
Now, my meals are more controlled. Breakfast is poached eggs with fruit. At lunch I have salad and dinner, I eat grilled fish and vegetables.
I’m much more aware of my portion sizes and I don’t allow myself to overeat any more.
Right now, I am 168cm tall and weigh 68kg, I feel confident in myself and my body and, most importantly of all, I feel happy about who I am.
But just like my parents made an investment in my future with these plastic surgeries, I, too, am setting aside money to keep up with my new appearance.
Within the next year I’m hoping to have more liposuction on my arms and, eventually when the time is right, I will probably have a face and bottom lift, too.
Right now I don’t have the perfect body and I’m not sure I ever will, as even now I’m dieting every day hoping to lose another 7kg. But I can say that I feel much happier in my skin now as an adult that I ever did was a kid.
Brooke Bates, 19, lives in Austin, Texas.