When I was doing research for my book, I ran across a report of a weight loss device that seemed absurd at the time — the AspireAssist. At that time, the inventor of the Segway was applying for approval for a device he calls AspireAssist which is medical device with a tube which is surgically implanted in the stomach and is attached to a skin-port which is equipped with a valve which is attached to a battery operated pump which sucks a portion of your stomach contents out of your gut and mechanically vomits them into your toilet. About 30% of what has been eaten is removed. In short it is medically induced bulimia. In a thin or normal weight person, induced vomiting after eating is considered an eating disorder, purging which is a part of anorexia and bulimia, and seen as a health hazard and psychiatric disorder. In a fat person, a device that does this is seen as treatment.
I actually thought that the FDA would recognize this device for what it is, but I was wrong. Last week, with much ballyhoo, AspireAssist actually received FDA approval. Look at how the New York Times headlined their piece on it: FDA Approves Stomach-Draining Obesity Treatment — makes me want to shout ARE YOU KIDDING?
And I think about how women were treated 100 years or so ago. In the late 19th century and into the early 20th century women were subject to a variety of harsh interventions to “cure” them. Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Room” gives a look at one of these, the “rest cure” to cure hysteria. Clitoridectomies were prescribed to stop masturbation — that’s right, female genital mutilation had a prominent place in American medicine for longer than we might want to believe. Now, in the latter years of the 20th and into the 21st centuries, the focus has shifted to women’s body size. The vast majority of bariatric surgery patients, 82% of them, are women. And there is no doubt that the majority of those who elect the AspireAssist will be women as well.
We women mutilate our bodies and engage in destructive behaviors in order to discipline our bodies, in order to fit in. It isn’t about health because with very rare exceptions, there is no evidence that these procedures offer greater longevity — because nobody has bothered to look. They do introduce complications and sometimes, in the case of surgery, lead to death. There is no denying that it is difficult to live in a non-conforming body, to be fat in a world that abhors fat. But really is attacking, assaulting that body really the answer?