One topic I see mentioned often in groups is how people treat you different POST dramatic weight loss. People talk a lot about how they are treated differently, not only by loved ones but also by strangers as well. This topic is really quite interesting to me because I wonder WHO did change, did the person who lost the weight change or did the world around them change, or is it both? I honestly am not here to offer an answer because I don’t have one, not even in my own personal circumstance. I think that on an individual basis it varies and that it’s most likely a combination of both things.
What do I mean by who’s changed. Well people who have lost say 100 pounds or more FREQUENTLY report being treated differently in their day to day lives. Doors are now held open for them, people acknowledge them more, smile at them more, clerks are more attentive; and just in general they feel VISIBLE after spending years feeling INVISIBLE. So why IS that such a prevalent theme for those who have lost a great deal of weight? For the most part I have heard two schools of thought on this.
First there is the stigma’s attached to obesity and the discrimination that comes along with them. Whether the thoughts are conscious or not many people automatically view anyone who is obese as being lazy, slovenly, and gluttonous. Therefore not commanding the same respect and/or attentions that a “normal” sized person might. Do I believe this is true, yes I do; I’ve experienced it from being over 500 pounds, and I’ve also witnessed it at 145 pounds. I’m not suggesting that ALL normal sized persons behave in a discriminatory way towards obese people, but it’s common enough to be noticeable. So then when the weight is gone, now doors are held, you get more smiles, more acknowledgements, more attention and more respect in general. The saddest part of that entire concept to ME is the respect.
I’d love to grab some people and shake them and say: “HONESTLY, do you think I’m unworthy of dignity and respect just because MY addiction shows itself in the weight I carry on my body?”. It’s particularly bothersome to me because the same one’s who might judge you for that weight would not be so happy if THEIR demons were worn on their sleeve for all the world to judge them by. You cheat on your wife/husband? To borrow from Jeff Foxworthy “Here’s your sign” ~ please attach it in a visible spot on your person anytime you enter society. You drink a fifth of whiskey every night? Here’s your sign. You beat your child/spouse when no one is home? Here’s your sign. You made a bad choice when you were young and have an STD? Here’s your sign. You snort cocaine – but only on the weekends? Here’s your sign. I’m actually not trying to condemn anyone for their own demons either, but the reality is that if all those sins showed up to the naked eye as easily as obesity does then just maybe people would be less quick to judge. So that’s ONE part of the “change” in people, the way we (the losers) are perceived by and subsequently treated by society on the whole.
There is also a part two to this though and that is how the person losing the weight behaves or interacts differently. It’s likely that someone who has lost 100, 200, 300 pounds is in fact “feeling better about themselves”. Not JUST physically, but also emotionally and mentally and that brings with it some changes in your own behavior. Your confidence increases, you are less likely to be intimidated and I believe more likely to engage without such fear of “being judged”. I believe that new found confidence ALSO plays a role in the difference in treatment people who have lost that much weight experience. There is a saying that people only treat you the way you ALLOW yourself to be treated, and I think there is something to that. I’m not suggesting that there is NOT any discrimination out there because I do not believe that is the case. I’m simply suggesting that there is a part of this “change” we experience when we lose that much weight that comes from within in equal parts to the changes we experience in how others treat us.
For myself in particular I can say that both things are true. I can also say that since I’ve become more of an average size person I’ve become even more aware of how the obese are sometimes treated. Personally I actually go out of my way to acknowledge, smile at, interact with anyone who I meet that is obese and looks even the slightest bit uncomfortable in any given situation. What I WANT to do is hug them and go HEY, no judgement HERE and show them an older picture of myself just to make them feel better. I can’t really do that of course because you know, that would border on creepy ~ but the thoughts are always in my mind. So I DO try to be aware and to interact, in the hopes that they might feel a little better about their day. I can tell you that often times though when I do that, I get dismissed or ignored. That just confirms for me that the “part 2” of these two reason really is a legitimate factor.
I have no “solution”, people from all walks of life are discriminated against and judged every minute of the day everywhere around the world. Whether it’s for skin tone, weight, accent, wealth (or lack thereof), religion ~ a million things; it happens every day in every way. This particular idea and discrimination is certainly no “worse” than any other and I’m not presenting it because I believe that it is, but it just relates to my own journey and the main topics of my particular blog. One woman told a story of how she has stopped at the same place for coffee for YEARS, every morning 5-days a week on her way to work. She would frequently see the same people on this stop, and in particular this one man – who for years had let the door slam in her face, never smiled, nodded said hello ~ nothing, as if she did not exist. She saw him recently (after losing over 100 pounds), and she got a big smile, a hello AND the door held for her. Her comment was “Really? That 100 pounds made me invisible for all these years, and now suddenly I am good enough to exist in your world?”. To me that is a great example of this very subject.
I know there is no quick fix, and I know it’s a multi-layered thing – all discrimination is. I guess I would just say, if you are obese – (even if you have not “lost” weight yet); monitor your own behavior a little and see if you contribute. Do you look away or engage less because you ASSUME you will be dismissed or discriminated against? In fact, is that not JUST as bad? Judging the average sized person and just assigning them that attribute assuming they will treat you that way? I think it is in fact just as bad, it’s a type of reverse discrimination. I won’t give you the chance to ignore me, I’ll ignore you first. If you are “normal” sized, and/or have never had a real issue with obesity, pay attention to your reactions and interactions when you meet someone who is obese. Do you look away? Do you engage and smile or speak the same way you would with someone who is not obese? You may not do it with INTENT but choose a day and just monitor yourself for that day, see what preconceived notions and thought run through your mind without any effort, and watch how those thoughts and ideas impact your own behavior. At the end of the day we are ALL human, and everyone deserves to be treated with compassion and kindness. Obesity is unfortunately one of those “crosses” that are carried in plain sight of the entire world, and therefore subjects that person to quick and often harsh judgement. I’m just saying that no matter what side of the coin you live on (or if you are like me and live or have lived on both sides), a little awareness can go a long way towards making a change. Thanks for tuning in, I really appreciate every person who take the time to read!