Since childhood, medical nutritionist Paula Frederichi de Souza realized that her calves were larger compared to other children and, because of this condition, she could not have high white boots that were successful in her generation. It was only in early adulthood, after restricting diets for thinking that the accumulation of fat in the legs would be eliminated with weight loss, that she heard the diagnosis that freed her: lipedema.
Lipedema is a chronic vascular disease that affects more women, associated with hormonal issues, and whose main symptom is swelling in the legs. It is not related to the person’s weight, and can generate pain in the region, sensitivity to touch and, aesthetically, a notion of body disproportion. For Paula, it was also a reason for depression, anxiety attacks, low self-esteem and isolation. But four years ago plastic surgery changed that.
Then it counts to universe how her experience with lipedema inspired her to work informing other women about the disease, and how she rediscovered self-esteem based on the diagnosis.
Fear of showing your legs
“Swollen legs became an issue when, as a child, I wanted a tall white boot and didn’t have any that would fit my legs.
It was years of suffering. At school sleepovers, the girls wore shorts and I wore pants. I had many anxiety attacks before any event. I always hoped that someone else would go on the rides in pants, because that way I wouldn’t be the only one who didn’t wear shorts. What if it was sunny and I needed to put on a bikini in front of people? I went through all this, especially in my teens.
I went to many doctors and they said it was obesity. So, the diagnosis of lipedema helped me to understand that it had a name and that it wasn’t my fault. Because I tried everything to change, I lost weight, but I didn’t have any changes in my legs.
If I wore some pants that showed more of my ankle, I would always hear comments: ‘Sit down, something’s happening, your leg is very swollen.’
To try to change that, I sacrificed myself: I went on a lot of crazy, restrictive diets. She was thin, her face thinned, her belly was gone, but not the fat on her leg. The frustration with this made me binge eating; then, I gained weight again. Not to mention that all the money I had was spent on aesthetic treatments.
At 25 years old, I decided to undergo plastic surgery. It wasn’t aesthetic, it was because I felt a lot of pain, I got a lot of bruises on my skin. It’s a pain sensitive to touch. Operating on lipedema is like having bariatric surgery, I usually say: if you don’t ‘operate on your head’ and continue with a treatment, nothing changes.
Six liters of fat were eliminated from the knee down. That’s what gave me a quality of life, self-esteem. I was already in medical school and could not stand for long in the operating room. I know that surgery is a momentary solution, because lipoedema is a chronic disease, but she was also able to give me the leg with the design I always wanted.
In the case of lipedema, you need to take care: taking anti-inflammatory medications, doing low-impact activities, balanced and specific diets, using compression socks indicated for this. This is what I also recommend to women who end up seeking information through the organization I created, the Brazilian Association of Patients with Lipedema.
There, I find patients with zero self-esteem, who do not have sex because of their body’s shame. I always say that you have to make peace with the mirror, like I did.
It is important to say that fat can accumulate there again, depending on the stage of the disease. The medical literature hasn’t explained very well why it appears, but we know there are more women—who don’t always get the right diagnosis.
In fact, doctors of any specialty can learn to deal with lipoedema, just listen to what the woman has to say about her health, about emotional and hormonal issues. I study nutrology because I believe this is one of the ways to help. Thinking about food.
The Association serves to bring together patients who want to have the same sense of liberation that I had. Today, the cellulite came back there, my leg got bigger again, but I’m in a very big process of self-acceptance. I’ve been to a water park with my fiancé, something I’ve never done before. I wear more dresses. And every time I go into a shoe store, I make a point of trying on the tall boots, which I can now wear.”