The Last Acceptable “ism.”
by Jill Becker, MD., MA.
I am fat. I used to be heavy, before that I was overweight, before that I was chubby, before that I was chunky, before that I was…
I did not always have a weight problem. In fact, when I look at images of myself at eight years old, in 1973, I was very skinny, maybe too skinny.
As far as I can tell, I began to gain weight around the time my parents got divorced – also in 1973. It was just a few pounds at that time, but my mom started bringing me to the “husky” department. Kids teased me about being 20 pounds overweight. A gym teacher told me I was “too fat” to jump hurdles. Soon I was 40 pounds overweight.
I went to extremes to lose weight – I tried every diet you can imagine. Eventually, I did a liquid-only diet getting down to 128 pounds. At that time my nails stopped growing, my hair stopped growing and I lost my equilibrium. But, everyone said I looked “great!”
That was the least healthy I have ever been. But, it was the best I ever felt. It wasn’t because I was falling down; it was because people were admiring my body.
What kind of a society is it in which we live that values sick college students over healthy, full-figured women? More importantly, why don’t we see the obese person as what she is – someone who is in pain. Sometimes the pain stems from an emotional injury. Sometimes it comes from gaining weight due to a physical cause. But the bottom line is, I don’t know anyone who ever said, “Yeah! My goal is to be morbidly obese!”
And yet, we freely pass judgment on those who are heavy. In fact, in my opinion, it is one of the last acceptable forms of an ism – Racism? Unacceptable. Homophobia? Unacceptable. Weightism? Absolutely acceptable and often encouraged!
The next time you look at someone and say, “Wow, how could she let herself get like that (as a personal trainer once said to me)?” stop yourself. Think, the about the amount of pain going on the inside is being shown on the outside. Perhaps an ounce of compassion would help that person rather than the judgment that will most certainly hurt her or him.
After my unhealthy low in college, I, once again started gaining weight during the insane conditions of medical school and residency. Finally, I put on 100 pounds due to the loss of two pregnancies, the horrible termination of another as well as the incidents leading up to the collapse of my marriage and my divorce.
Was eating the best form of medicine? No, but smoking crack wasn’t an option while I had a child at home. And yet, had I become a crack addict or an alcoholic, society would have tried to give me help rather than criticism.
Do I want to be this heavy? No, absolutely not. Do I know the health risks I am putting myself in by staying heavy? Yes, I do!
Will your criticism of me help me want to grab a carrot? No; it will encourage me to use the coping mechanisms I have designed to survive these last 25 years – I will grab tub of ice cream. Would your compassion help? Yes, it probably would.
Recently I heard a lecture about compassion at The Putney School in Vermont. I sat there nodding my head saying to myself, “Yeah, exactly!” And that is what is prompted me to write this piece.
The next time you look at a fat person know that they are in pain. It is not a matter of will is a matter of pain. Please offer her or him the same emotional support you would if you saw tears instead of pounds.