'I was suffering a lot': TV reporter explains why it's hard to accept compliments about her new body

After an intense abdominal surgery, Ginella Massa says people assumed her weight loss was something that she must have wanted. It wasn’t. She talks about what it was like to grapple with those assumptions and adjust to her new body.
After having major surgery, TV reporter Ginella Massa says dealing with well-meaning comments about her weight has made the healing process a little complicated. (Ginella Massa/ submitted)

Television reporter Ginella Massa's life changed dramatically nearly a year ago, when she underwent major surgery in order to prevent a potential cancerous growth. 

Massa had the Whipple surgery, a procedure that involved removing half of her pancreas, part of her stomach as well as her gallbladder. 

Because her digestive system's configuration had changed so dramatically, Massa was told to expect some major changes to her diet, lifestyle and weight. 

Foods like dairy, red meat and wheat were suddenly intolerable, and Massa found it challenging to adjust to her new lifestyle.

But she persevered and arrived at a new normal... which resulted in significant weight loss.

What she wasn't quite prepared for, Massa said, was how friends, family and coworkers would respond to the way she looked. 

People congratulated her on the dramatic change, but Massa felt awkward thanking them for the compliment when her transformation was the result of a traumatic event.

She told us about what its been like adjusting to both her new body and the way other people have reacted to it.

Since having major abdominal surgery last year, Massa says she has had to deal with "compliments" about her weight loss from friends, colleagues and viewers of her programme alike. (Ginella Massa/ submitted)

When did people start to notice that something was different about you and what did they say?

My first day back at work, I couldn't find anything to wear, because nothing I owned fit me. Everything was too big, and I had one of those meltdowns like "Oh my God, I have nothing to wear to go back to work." So, I ended up belting a dress on my first day back and had to go shopping for clothes. A couple months later, I was realising that the new clothes I had bought post surgery were also too big for me. So I was continuing to lose weight, and it was now becoming much more noticeable. That's when people were really seeing this massive transformation and starting to make comments. But for me, that was [also] when I was getting the most concerned about my weight loss. It was a marker that something's not right, and [was] really concerning for me in terms of my health.Viewers would send me emails [saying] "Oh, I just saw you on the news and you lost a lot of weight, you look fantastic!" And then people who are close to me were like, "Oh, my God, you look so skinny. You look awesome." And these are people who knew what I had gone through. 

How were you responding to these comments about your appearance?

I did start being more upfront with people and sharing with them a little bit about what was going on. But it's so strange, people automatically see weight loss as something that I must have wanted, something that I must be so happy about.

How did these "compliments" make you feel about your old self?

I never desired to be smaller than I was. And it also left me feeling like - what does that say about the person that I was before? I was a size 12, 165 pounds. I wouldn't consider myself obese -- I definitely was maybe what society would consider chubby, but I was comfortable in my body. I was comfortable in the skin that I was in, and I wasn't someone who was dying to lose weight or dying to be thinner. But I think there was this assumption that I was, and so I must be so excited to suddenly go from a size 12 to a size four. 

And for people to really put this focus on my appearance made me think, "Well, what does this say about me before? What does this say about the old me? I loved the old me. Did you love the old me?" I was suffering a lot and I felt that was dismissed often because there was this focus on: well just be happy, at least you look good. And I said "Yeah, but I want to feel good. And I want to be able to eat the things that I enjoy and want to be able to go on vacation and you know, go to a restaurant and eat whatever."

How do you wish people would approach you about this?

There is no perfect answer. I think it's just about being conscious or cognizant when we say something.

"Oh you lost weight? How are you feeling?" is one way to open the door for a conversation, whether you've lost weight for a good reason or a bad reason, or intentionally or not. So for me, I really want to encourage people to celebrate the fact that I'm here, that I'm alive and not just that I'm skinny.