The year was 1995 or so and we lived in Florida at the time. Unlike where I live now, there was no fall and it was always hot.
One October, I was shopping and I heard, “Look at that fat lady, Mommy.” I turned to look at who the child was referring to, and realized with much horror that it was me. I was standing in line at Wal-Mart, getting ready to check out when I heard the excited exclamation of the young girl. Once I realized it was me to whom she was referring, I quickly turned back around and pretended I didn’t hear her.
I listened carefully to see what her mother’s response would be, and to my surprise she just said, “Yes, I see her, but you must speak more quietly in the store.” Okay, now the Mom was calling me fat too. I didn’t know what to do, or where to look, so I just stood like a statue. I wanted to sink into the floor in embarrassment, but couldn’t without losing my place in the pretty long line.
And so, I remained standing there, trying not to cry.
I knew I was heavy, and if pressed I would have admitted to being fat. But other people shouldn’t say it, just me. (And honestly, I shouldn’t have called myself fat either, but that’s a post for another day.) I could joke about my weight with John and my friends, but they weren’t allowed to say anything. I’d tell the big people “jolly” jokes, laugh at fat jokes other people told, and pretend my weight didn’t bother me, but it always did.
After all, I knew that I had trouble walking and that people watched me get in and out of my car with sympathy and sometimes disgust. I overheard two people say, “She can hardly walk, she’s so big,” as I walked through our local mall one day.
I dreaded doctor visits where I would have to stand on the scale because I could only imagine what the nurse was thinking, and I completely avoided the dentist when I was obese. (To the tune of eight cavities when I finally went after losing weight.) Sitting in chairs could be embarrassing, and restaurant booths were just too small.
But other people should not point out my faults to my face, in remarks loud enough to be heard, or by sending me anonymous notes telling me I’d be so much prettier if I would lose weight. (Which happened more than once.)
Unless you’ve dealt with obvious obesity you might find it hard to believe how insensitive people can be towards those who suffer from a public problem. We wouldn’t dare comment on a physical deformity, or mental handicap, fat comments are allowed and laughed at.
That mother could have used her daughter’s innocent exclamation as a teachable moment, where she explained to her about what was and wasn’t appropriate to say out loud. She didn’t right then, and because of her own comment, I’m doubtful if she did later. She may have even told her friends what happened and laughed about it.
I should have been used to comments like that by then, because I had been obese for years. But, every time I heard one it was as hurtful as the first. I developed a thick skin, and learned to shrink into my own shell when it happened.
Comments kids make can be excused, but comments from other adults aren’t so easily excused. It is my hope that as time goes by, we will be more understanding of people with weight problems, while at the same time offering support when asked.
When I see overweight people now, I feel extreme empathy and the desire to help. I can’t help someone without their initiation, but sometimes I wish I could. As you travel through your own personal weight loss journey, I hope that you will continue to feel empathy for those that struggle with weight, while at the same time encouraging them to walk a more healthy path.
Why do you think it is still “okay” to make fun of the overweight? Diane