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Documentary ‘All of Me’ shows complexity of obesity surgery

The time in the operating room is perhaps the simplest part of weight loss surgery. That’s one message of a new documentary called “All of Me”  that explores the complexity of what it’s like to be morbidly obese in America.

“The girls,” a group of women in Texas who meet and bond through the Austin, Texas, chapter of the National Assn. to Advance Fat Acceptance, let filmmaker Alexandra Lescaze into their hearts and their homes, into the operating room and into their dreams as they consider drastic measures to lose weight.

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The women are smart and funny, and they demonstrate that there’s a lot more to losing weight than just shedding pounds. Their relationships shift, sometimes radically, to one another and to everyone else around them.  Some friendships and marriages were based on weight; some fail.

“It’s a misnomer that weight-loss surgery is the easy way out,” one of the women from the film, Judy, said after a screening. The challenges are spiritual, physical and emotional, she says.

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“How do you adjust a self-image?” asks John Pilcher, a surgeon who appears in the film. As one of the woman says before her surgery, “Part of me is worried I will change a lot.”

As the United States debates how to cope with an obesity epidemic, from the marketing of billions of dollars of diet paraphernalia to the American Medical Assn.’s declaration that obesity is a disease, “All of Me” offers insights into what life is like for people who are often vilified or ignored. More than 200,000 people undergo weight-loss surgery in the U.S. every year, according to the film.

“If I could still be overweight and be healthy,” Judy says early in the film, she wouldn’t undergo surgery. But she does, and of the three women “All of Me” focuses on, her path seems to be the one that experts would hope patients would take. After surgery, she starts eating healthfully, does gardening, even becomes a yoga teacher. Her husband considers the same surgery. Even all that does mean her path doesn’t get rocky.

Dawn, who’s feisty and determined, says her weight reached 415 pounds; she tried an adjustable gastric band as a “last resort.” Today, she is more than 150 pounds lighter. She says her motivation was the near-certainty she’d be confined to a scooter, unable to do the things in life she wanted to do.

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Zsalynn, the youngest and heaviest of the three women, says at the start of the film that she’s saving money for surgery; at 470 pounds, she prays to reach size 18.  “Inside nobody likes being fat. Nobody likes being different,” she says.

Her husband, who declines to appear in the film, “was shopping for a fat wife -- I was the winner,” Zsalynn says. Eventually, they put the money she’s saved toward a new home.

There’s an interesting collision of ideals in the film, too. Some of the women have been fat models, appearing in calendars and other publications, proud and strong about being large. Others have been dieting since childhood. Some of the men in their lives have what the women call fat fetishes and don’t want thin partners. The women work hard to fight disdain from the public and gain some self-esteem. Their husbands are worried, supportive, angry, confused and loving at various times.

“He’s losing the woman he fell in love with physically,” Dawn says of her husband. They have separated by the end of the film but, she says, remain friends.

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Lescaze, thin herself, said she became interested in “what it would be like to live in a new body” when a colleague underwent weight-loss surgery. Her film had its premiere last weekend at the Los Angeles Film Festival and will be shown as part of the PBS Independent Lens series; a date hasn’t been set.

Mary.MacVean@latimes.com

@mmacvean on Twitter


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