Thursday, April 7, 2011

Annie: the way people talk

I know I've posted here before about how it annoys me that it's still socially OK, in many circles, to judge/look down on overweight people... because fundamentally, others believe it's "their fault."

And, for most of us, it is.

It is my fault that I ate far more than I should have. It is my fault that I chose far more bad-for-me foods than good-for-me foods. It is my fault that I exercised far less than I should have.

I'm not perfect. But neither is anyone else - it just happens that my particular brand of imperfection is visible from the outside, and makes me unattractive in addition to unhealthy.

Mae posted a while back about feeling judged for her size by the smokers standing outside her office building. To her mind, the smokers weren't in any position to judge, because they were engaging in behaviour that was just as bad for them as overweight - despite knowing the likely consequences. 

If they were judging her, she was right. But not just because they were smokers.

Crossing the magic line

When I lost all my weight in 2003, I remember specifically noticing the first time I heard people start talking insultingly about a fat person behind her back. I had lost just about 40 lbs, and was, in fact, about the same weight I am now.

I was at the office, when a friend of mine (still a friend, but not one who reads this blog) started talking about someone from another floor who had put on a fair amount of weight in a relatively short period of time.

"Oh my God, have you seen her? Awful! How could she allow that to happen?"

I remember thinking: "I'm standing right here. Can't you see me? Why are you talking like that in front of me?"

And then, it struck me: I'd crossed the magic line from hideously fat (judge-worthy) to stocky (within eyeshot of "normal," anyway). I had reached the weight when not-hideously-fat people thought of me as one of them again... and, I guess, assumed I would now judge very overweight people too, since I had "done something" about my weight.

It reminded me of a SNL skit from the 80s, when Eddie Murphy disguised himself as a white man and discovered the secret life of white people (when there aren't any black people around). Here's the only clip I could find on YouTube - it's from right before the white bank manager offers "white" Eddie Murphy free money when he's just applying for a loan:

I was now one of "us," not "them."

That friend wasn't the only person in my life who suddenly felt comfortable speaking disparagingly of fat people in my presence. Another resumed her habit of referring to people she considered lazy as "big fat lazy" people, or people she considered stupid as "big fat stupid" people, whether they were actually fat or not. Fat and lazy and stupid go together, right? If you're fat, you must be lazy and stupid, because otherwise why wouldn't you just go ahead and lose all that weight?

Other times, it would be someone pointing out a fat woman in a food court eating french fries or something that wouldn't help her situation. "She really shouldn't be eating that..."

Of course, it's true, she shouldn't have been eating that. But then again, food court food isn't great for any of us - and we all do other things that are bad for us, too. Smoking, drinking, jaywalking, not enough exercise, too much exercise, too much sunlight, aargh! But we all engage in unhealthy behaviours because we're in denial about their catching up with us.

Those who are addicted to something, whether it's smoking or drinking or eating, are out of control of their behaviour, which makes it even more gutting to them. Before I was able to get my program going, I thought about my weight, and its implications on me and my family, any time my mind was free. I felt guilty, and less valuable as a human being, and selfish, and weak. It was awful, and you have to believe that if I had been able to reverse the problem sooner, I would have done it. No-one chooses to feel that way. No-one chooses food over self-worth - consciously, at least.

When you've never struggled (in a significant way) to control your weight, or with a food addiction, you can't understand what's involved in getting in control of it. As you know if you read this blog at all regularly, my number one cheerleader is the Faithful Mo - she's always there encouraging me, and helping me believe I can do it. But she knows that she doesn't understand what I battle just to do what comes more easily to her (eating well, exercising as a lifestyle).

Similarly, I can't understand why a smoker would ever want to smoke. And because I don't understand it, I can't (or shouldn't) just say that since others have quit smoking, you should be able to or you're a bad person.

If your smoking is anything like my food addiction, you think about your smoking and the risks and the problems and the judgment of others all the time. It makes you miserable sometimes, likely, and you would love to quit. But you can't figure out how.

But even with that said, smokers are still generally viewed with less disdain than fat people - by most. If you don't believe me, count up the number of smokers among Hollywood stars and supermodels, and compare it to the number of fat people.

And even among the ranks of non-celebrities, most people recognize that cigarettes are chemically addictive - so "it's harder" to quit smoking than to lose weight.


I'm still me

I was hurt that day in the office, because I realized that people (maybe even including my friend) had most likely been talking or at least thinking that way about me before I'd lost my weight. I tried to take it as a compliment that they no longer saw me that way, but I couldn't. Because whether fat or fit, I am the same person. Judging me "then" is the same as judging me "now." I have the same weaknesses - I just happen to be having more success right now dealing with them.

Losing weight doesn't make you suddenly disdain people who haven't been able to find their answer; it gives you more sympathy for them. You wish you could share your answer with them, but you know that you can't: everyone has to find their own.

A couple of weeks ago, I reached that line again, with my current weight battle. I was at a dinner with an ignorant person (demonstrated over time, not just this one incident!), who started talking, out of the blue, about a friend who keeps complaining about how she needs to lose weight, but then eats terribly.

Would this topic have been raised in my presence 62.2 pounds ago? Unlikely - even this person isn't quite that ignorant. So here I am again, back "in disguise" as a closer-to-normal-than-hideous person, now privvy to the comments about and judgments of those lazy, fat and apparently stupid people who eat too many cookies and then can't figure out how to lose weight.

I don't really have a moral here; this post doesn't have a "teachable moment" particularly. I just happened to notice that here again, at this weight, I'm back to hearing fitter people make mean comments about fatter people, because it's acceptable to do so.

You know what? I think I've just discovered the only thing about being fat that I'll actually miss.


  1. We ALL have our battles and those battles will change and evolve throughout our lifetimes. How some people deal with them is to focus on other people's faults rather than their own, which is easy, but gets them nowhere. Don't waste energy being annoyed by others' ignorant comments because that is never going to change. And keep in mind a lot of those people may also have no idea they are hurting your feelings if they have never been through that struggle themselves.

    Just remember why you are doing this. It's for you and it's for me and it's for your girl and for all the many others who care about your health and happiness. Hopefully someone reading your blog and following your success in your battle will inspire them to win theirs.

  2. Annie sez: That's great advice, Mo, as always. I know you're right about them not knowing they're hurting my feelings - these are people who care about me. If they're thinking about me at all, they're probably thinking it's a compliment to me to not have to be protected from the topic.

    And I hope this blog helps someone other than me, too!