January 18, 2018

A Candid Discussion of Excess Skin (post weight loss)

When I had my lower body lift in 2011, I was thrilled with the results of my surgery.

The excess skin was very uncomfortable and I felt so discouraged that I would have to live that way for the rest of my life. I hated the fact that I "ruined" my body with so many years of overeating.

When Caitlin was here recently, we had a conversation about our excess skin (something that many people who have lost a lot of weight tend to have in common). We both said we wished more than anything that we could go back in time and take care of ourselves.

When we were overeating, we never thought about the long term consequences. One you've been overweight as long as we were, some of the damage is permanent. (Of course, there are people whose skin snaps back with no problems, but from my experience, that is not the norm.)

A lot of it depends on factors like how long one was overweight, just how much excess weight that person carried, how quickly the weight was gained, how quickly the weight was lost, etc.

I remember being very young (probably junior high school?) when I first noticed stretch marks. They were light red streaks on my upper arms, and I had no idea what they were. I was hanging out with a friend, and she noticed them. I told her I had no clue what it was, and she said that it was no big deal--she had them on her inner thighs.

I came to the conclusion that everybody had those "things', and I didn't think much of it. Within the next couple of years, I learned that they were stretch marks, and that they were undesirable. I immediately became embarrassed that my body betrayed me like that. Why did I get stretch marks, when none of my other friends had them (well, other than the one who showed me the ones on her thighs)?

When I was 16, I went on a trip to Washington D.C. with several people from my junior class. I met a boy there who I really liked, and after a fun day exploring the city, he kissed me when we got back to the hotel. We were sitting on some steps, talking, when he noticed my arm.

He asked what had happened, and I quickly thought up a lie--I told him that I had gotten boiling water spilled on me years ago. He accepted that answer, and I felt embarrassed. I knew that one day, he'd figure out what stretch marks are, and he'd know that the girl he kissed in Washington D.C. had them on her upper arms.

I became self-conscious of my arms after that, and I covered my them whenever possible. I started getting them on my inner thighs, too. At the time, I still didn't know that they were being caused from weight gain. I was so worried that they'd just keep "growing" everywhere.

They became really bad in college. I started getting them on my hips, sides, and abdomen. These ones were bright red, and thicker than the ones on my arms and thighs. I had gained quite a bit of weight my freshman year of college--from what I recall, I think I went from about 180 to 205 pounds.

When I got pregnant, I gained weight very quickly, and my stretch marks became even worse. With Eli, I gained 90 pounds! The stretch marks on my abdomen went all the way up to my rib cage.

A few years later, when I finally got my act together and started losing the weight, the stretch marks got smaller and more faded, but they were still very noticeable. When gaining weight like I did, the skin literally stretches until it can't anymore, and it pulls too far--causing the skin to thin out in just that stretch mark line.

The best analogy I can think of is one of those nylon hair ties. They have elastic in them, and they are covered with a stretchy fabric. For those of you that wear them, you know that when they get stretched too far, the elastic inside can break, leaving a small spot that is thinner than the rest of it and has lost it's elasticity.

That's what stretch marks are like--the skin gets to the point of stretching until there is no elasticity left. That's what I meant when I said I'd "ruined" my body--no amount of weight loss, exercising, expensive creams, etc, will remove the marks, because that skin has been damaged.

Anyway, on to my point of excess skin. Skin is very elastic, when you think about it. It can accommodate people up to 1,000 pounds or more. But, not without causing permanent damage.

When you blow up a balloon really big, and then let it deflate, it doesn't return to its original size or tight shape. If you blow up a balloon and leave it like that for several days, and then deflate it, it looks even worse. That's the best way I can describe excess skin. It used to be full, and then when it "deflates", the skin is still the same size it was when it was stretched--but since the inside of your body is much smaller, the skin hangs there, looking kind of "baggy".

This can cause all sorts of problems, and not just cosmetic ones. The "apron" of skin over someone's abdomen, for example, can cause rashes and yeast infections in that fold. Running was difficult before my skin removal surgery on my abdomen--my skin would bounce up and down, which was painful. (Think about running without a bra--that's what it felt like on my abdomen.)

My solution was to wear very tight spandex bottoms to hold my skin in place. That certainly helped with the bouncing; but then, by having my skin pressed together in a fold, and sweating from the run, I got chafing and rashes. By running, I was trying to do something good for my body, but I just couldn't win. (Again, I felt terrible that I "ruined" my body, and there was no going back.)

This photo was before I had the skin removal on my abdomen. You can see how I had to tuck in the skin to fit into very tight spandex to hold it in place.

I've gotten several comments and emails about how I don't look like I have loose skin. Well, flattering camera angles and clothing can hide that. But catch me from the right angle, or God forbid, naked, you will avert your eyes and not mention it again. Hahaha!

You may notice that I never run in shorts. The photo below was the only time I tried, and I asked Jerry to take a video, because I was curious if the skin on my thighs looked as bad as it felt. This is to show that there are certain angles that are more flattering than others, which is why people who read my blog may think I don't have loose skin. Of course I'm going to show the more flattering pictures on my blog!

So, to keep the blog honest and real, I'm showing you a comparison of an unflattering pic versus a more flattering one. (These are poor quality because they are screen shots of a video.)

(By the way, I never photoshop pictures of myself to make myself look better. I do use it sometimes to make goofy photos like the header of this post, though! But I want to be "real", so what you see is what you get.)

After I lost 125 pounds, people were naturally very curious about my weight loss. I was asked questions all the time--by friends, family, acquaintances, and even total strangers. When I was losing weight, I never imagined that talking about loose skin would be as painful as it was.

The first question I was asked was, "How did you lose the weight?" and the second was, "Do you have lots of loose (saggy/baggy/deflated/you name it) skin now?" I hate this question with a passion. Unfortunately, people asked me this ALL the time.

I spent the majority of my life (about 25 years) feeling incredibly self-conscious about my body. I was teased in school for being fat. I hated having people look at me, and I always assumed people were thinking about how fat I was. I hated myself; I hated my looks.

Fast forward to age 28, when I had lost 125 pounds. I felt amazing and I loved the way I looked--until I started getting e-mail after e-mail asking me if I have loose skin.

YES, I have loose skin. NO, it's not pretty. Do I need reminding of how grotesque it is day after day? No. (I've had people tell me that they don't want to lose weight because excess skin is gross. Gee, thanks!)

I know that when people ask me this question, they aren't calling me ugly, or saying I look gross--they are just asking out of curiosity. I get it. I was curious before I lost the weight, too.

But please keep in mind that it's a very sensitive question for someone like me who spent the majority of my life being self-conscious. That's why it irritates me so much when a complete stranger asks me about saggy skin when we've never even had a conversation before. If a friend asks, I have no problem talking about my loose skin--because that person cares more about me than about my weight loss and all the flaws on my body.

When the first thing someone asks me after learning of my weight loss is if I have loose skin, it's like saying that all the hard work I did doesn't matter; that losing 125 pounds means nothing if I have loose skin; that I might as well not have lost the weight since my skin is saggy now.

I so badly want to put to rest all of the bad thoughts I have about my body and learn to truly love my body--but it's hard to do so when people remind me that I have "gross saggy skin".

This photo is after I'd lost 118 pounds. You can see how loose the skin is on my upper arms--"bat wings", as people like to refer to this problem area. (Stephanie was setting up her camera to get a photo of the two of us together, and she told me to "look like you're putting your arm around me". Hahaha! I like to tell people it's my imaginary friend ;) )

I hate that when I wave to someone, my loose skin is about half a second behind my arm, hahaha.

All of that said, YES--I have saggy upper arms, saggy inner thighs, deflated boobs (which were never big to begin with), a saggy butt, and a stomach that looked like a deflated balloon (I had the abdominal skin removed in 2011, which I'll share about below).

This is a picture of the skin on my inner thigh. I was lying on my right side (hip on left, knee to the right, so the skin was sagging down). I took this picture to "prove it" (that I had loose skin) a few years ago, but now I realize how stupid that is--I have nothing to prove to anyone! Still, here it is. The picture is a little disorienting, because I was lying on my side in bed, with my other leg tucked underneath, so that you could see the saggy skin.

I was terrified at the thought of having surgery. However, when I broke my jaw in 2010, and surgery was inevitable to fix my jaw, I wasn't afraid of it anymore. (I'm sure the IV of dilaudid helped! hahaha.) I decided to schedule a consult with a plastic surgeon. I'd had no idea at the time, but she told me that my insurance would likely cover a large portion of the surgery. I was shocked.

After some stuff to work out with the insurance company, I scheduled my appointment for pre-op; and then for surgery on November 14, 2011. My surgeon said I would have fantastic results--1) Because I was at a "normal" weight and I wasn't doing the surgery to try to be smaller or lose weight; 2) Because I'd kept the weight off for over a year; and 3) I was running a lot, and in good shape underneath the skin.

Needless to say, I am THRILLED with the results of the surgery, even five years later (I wrote an update of the surgery with current pictures here).

Believe it or not, I could button and zip those jeans before surgery. It just took a lot of stuffing my skin into them. It felt different than trying to wear jeans that were too small.

Over the last several years, I've noticed more and more the toll that the excess skin has taken on my upper arms and my inner thighs. I really don't want surgery for these. But they are hindering things that I'm afraid will only get worse over time.

I will write more about this later, because this post is already long enough. Recently, though, I contacted my plastic surgeon to ask about having a consult. I have in no way made a decision to have more surgery (and I'm thinking that I probably will decide not to--the recovery for legs is terrible, from what a few of my friends who have had the surgery told me).

The consult will only be to see my doctor thinks it's a good option for me, based on the issues I'm having.

If I do choose to go through with surgery, I would likely plan for next winter (maybe November or December) so that my healing time won't be so miserable. We don't tend to do much in the winter months.

I want to make sure my weight stays pretty stable this year, too. I'd like to stay under 144, which is at the top of a normal BMI range for me. (Also, our debt will be paid off and we will be able to save up for the surgery.) Jerry is super supportive of me getting it--he's been mentioning it for a few years now, when he hears me complain about the skin for various reasons.)

Anyway, this turned into a very long-winded post! If anyone has questions about loose skin, I'd be happy to open up and answer them here. (If they are too personal, I will say so, but for the most part, I'm pretty candid about it now. So, ask away!)


  1. I think I know the answer to this is "yes", but just to verify - you definitely think the weight loss advantages outweigh the loose skin right? Sometimes I do wonder if losing my extra weight is pointless since I will never look like I want to look (like I've always weighed 144!) I think I just want you to say "yes! lose the weight! It is SO worth it despite having loose skin." But only if it is true haha.

    1. Hey Shannon! Like Bonnie said, YES YES YES. It is totally worth it. I do think my body looks a lot better, even with the loose skin--but there are so many other benefits! I used to not be able to do things with my kids because the excess fat got in the way. I was so tired and lethargic all the time. The skin is a nuisance, but it doesn't keep me from doing the important things. Losing the weight is completely worth having the loose skin!

  2. Hey Shannon obviously I am not Katie but yes it is absolutely worth it to lose the weight. Do you have a life you love? kids? A partner? Losing weight will extend your life and make life in your body easier. Extra skin can be annoying and on bad days...yes...it can make you feel like crap sometimes but being healthy and being alive are pretty awesome. I have been maintaining 140+ pound weight loss for almost 7 years. I had some skin removal surgery but I still have loose skin. It is what it is. Losing weight in a healthy way will pay dividends long into the future. I want to age gracefully and have mobility. Katie once again I am amazed at how open you are with such personal subjects. You are one of the bravest people I know. Your honesty and transparency are helping more people then you will ever realize. <3

    1. Thank you for the reply! I know my thoughts that it is "too late" is just an excuse to not do the hard work of losing weight. I hate this extra weight and just want to be rid of it! I know it is not about how I look, it's about how I feel and my health long term. Thanks again!

    2. If you're interested, Bonnie (above) has written a guest post on my blog! She is an amazing person. http://www.runsforcookies.com/2014/04/bonnies-story.html

  3. Katie, if it’s uncomfortable for you and is a barrier in ANY WAT from you living your life- do it. An inconvenience or discomfort for a few months does not compare to a lifetime of living all the way! I’ve heard you talk about your arms and thighs since ...2012? The recovery when you’re young and fit (which you are!) will be so much easier than later! Think of your whole life and not just now!

  4. Thanks for sharing all of this with us Katie. Can't believe it has been so long since you had the surgery, feels like not long ago at all! Bizarre to think I've been following your blog for 7 years now. What a journey :)

    [reposted as I made a mistake in the previouss comment]

  5. I too have lost a ton of weight (nearly 100 lbs) and the loose skin is definitely hard for me even at 25. When I lost most of my weight I was 19-20 and everyone told me my skin would recovered because I was so young. False.

  6. Katie, THANK YOU for posting the real shots from the video, unflattering or not ... and they really are fine! To me they just show normal "motion"!
    I used to have a scar that bothered me and I thought was ugly. Then I met a guy who had a bad scar on his hand. I mentioned my ugly scar to him and he told me, "Scars just give you character." Totally changed the way I thought about it and I never tried to cover it up again.
    I think it's the same with loose skin. You can look at it and beat yourself up about being overweight for so long or the loose skin itself can be a remind everyday of how awesome you are for overcoming that challenge.... Just like taking photos at a good angle, it's all about perspective, right?


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