Photo: Mark Andrew
Deborah Voigt, 47, is an opera singer who has wrestled with her weight. In 2003, the Royal Opera House fired her because she couldn't fit into a little black dress. Voigt has since had gastric bypass surgery and lost more than 130 pounds.
I always had a distorted image of my body, even when I was a kid. A lot of attention was paid to weight in my family. My mom had always fought with her weight, been on one diet or another. She had self-esteem issues around her weight. We were constantly going on diets. She'd say, "You need to take some weight off." I felt very self-conscious. I was aware that I was bigger than my small friends at about age 15, 16, 17. Now, when I look at pictures of myself at that age, I was a normal, voluptuous girl with curves in the right places, but I thought I was too big. The weight ballooned. My dad may have felt my weight was a reflection on him in some way. He was very much a "Food Marshal," watching everything I ate. Hearing the cookie jar opening at night, he'd ask, "Who's opening it?" It was me.
I wish things had been different. I would not pay that kind of attention to my little nieces if I saw they'd put a lot of weight on. I'd tell them they were beautiful the way they are. And then I'd invite them out for a bike ride. To make them feel there is something wrong and that something drastic needs to be done is not the way to do it.
By the time I went to have the surgery, I couldn't even shop at Lane Bryant anymore. I was above a size 28, 30. Gastric bypass seemed like the right thing to do. My parents are very happy about my weight loss...though my mom did mention I had put on a few pounds. She'll say that, and then she'll say, "You look great, though." It's a contradictory message. My parents did do the best they could. They saw me very unhappy for most of my life.
At the Opera News gala last week, I had people telling me I'm beautiful. And it's hard for me to hear. It makes me uncomfortable. Something in me doesn't want to believe it or can't believe it. I lived a totally different life for such a long time.
Psychologically, I still think of myself as a really fat girl. I think I like the way I look, but I can't ever be satisfied. What will it take for me to accept myself the way I am and love it?
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