Book ends with Cassie Lehnherr and Ben Rivers

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Over the past few years, the popularity of restaurants that serve organic, healthy food and television shows such as The Biggest Loser has risen. This has done little to deter the obesity rate in the United States. According to the American Heart Association, 155 million Americans are overweight or obese. Amongst the races, over 60% are women. It isn’t surprising, in a society where “thin is in” and a culture obsessed with dramatic fairy tales of sudden weight-loss, that the number of weight-loss surgeries has also skyrocketed, with an estimated 80,000 procedures per year, despite the well-publicized risks.

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Jen Larsen’s memoir Stranger Here: How Weight-Loss Surgery Transformed My Body and Messed with My Head (Seal Press, $16) should be a required manual for any woman uncomfortable with being overweight or any woman considering Lap-Band, bariatric or any other weight-loss surgery. Larsen has lived at both ends of the spectrum- at her heaviest she was 315 pounds, at her lightest 135. Her memoir tells of how eerily similar both of those ends can be.

In the beginning pages, Larsen unflinchingly describes the pain and misery she felt while being overweight. She would often fantasize such morbid and macabre tragedies as herself in a hospital bed, having been diagnosed with cancer and suddenly dropping hundreds of pounds or herself being beheaded and her head being attached to the body of a supermodel.

The stress of being in graduate school, a dead-end relationship and never knowing which clothes were going to fit caused her depression to be to the point where her checklists’ first duty would be “Get out of bed.” She finished graduate school, but still didn’t know where to turn. Enter the gripping allure of duodenal switch surgery.

Jen Larsen went through with the surgery in 2006 and years of painful recovery. For years, if she ate too much, she would become violently ill. She lived recklessly, smoking and drinking heavily. Her $56,000 surgery fees would be spread apart on three separate credit card payments. Perhaps the most painful thing of all – she still didn’t know who she was inside. Her life didn’t magically change with the size of her pants.

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This memoir is a testament to her finding her way. It isn’t all a story of depression – there are many laugh-out-loud and relatable moments. Larsen manages to engage the reader in a disarming and comical way, without being too selfdeprecating.

The cover of the book sums it up (I didn’t judge the cover until after I read the book). It depicts the last, lone figure of a Russian nesting doll. Just because there is less on the outside, one must fill the inside to be truly whole.