Monday, January 13, 2014

Weighty Reality

This is a repost of something I posted on facebook in 2010--for context, before I became disabled.

Trigger Warnings: disordered eating, fat hatred, self-injury

People on a message board I frequent (at My Fitness Pal, a very cool website with some assholes in the community--like pretty much every community, everywhere) were talking about how they hate seeing fat people in public, and how fatties just gross them out, and how awful they feel when they see a fat person buying unhealthy food at the store, etc. I was so angry that I just had to reply. Here it is:

It is impossible to tell from looking at someone what their lifestyle is. Even when I was at my heaviest (300+ lbs), I still worked out and tried to eat healthy.  Hell, I was a vegan! I have a medical condition and am on medication that makes weight loss almost impossible (which is why my doctor recommended a gastric bypass, which helped but didn't magically fix). When moving hurt, I still made time to exercise in a healthy way, and I was able to keep my blood pressure and sugar levels in a good range (a better indicator of health than pant size). Weight is incredibly complex...experts and studies confirm that it is so, so much more than "eat less/exercise more." Genetics, medication, health conditions, and past lifestyle choices all play a huge part. And heavy people have often been on many, many diets...most of which, studies show, fail, and then cause excessive weight gain and slow metabolism later in life. The assumption that someone who is overweight doesn't take care of themselves, or if they just worked at it they could lose weight, is false and fed by our weight-obsessed society.

Class and money play a huge role. Have you ever tried eating a healthy diet on food stamps? It's almost impossible. My mother tried to feed a family of six on a very limited food budget...she would have loved to have fresh fruits and veggies in the house, but when a package of Top Ramen was cheaper than an apple, and actually satisfied the hunger of her children (an apple is a great snack, but doesn't cut it for dinner), she chose the item that didn't make her kids go to bed starving. Processed food is terrible for you and causes weight gain, but that's what poor people buy, because a) it's cheaper, b) it lasts, and c) it's quick to make, and when you're working 2-3 jobs and going to school (as my mom was), you don't have time to cook healthy dinners. So please don't judge the mom whose shopping cart is filled with items you personally disapprove of; you have no idea what they're going through.

And you really don't know what someone's lifestyle is like based on a quick glance in the grocery store. A couple years ago, my mom sent me the store to pick up candy and other desserts for a church party that evening. While standing in line, the person in front turned around and sneered, "You'll never lose weight if you keep eating like that." Well, considering the food all had milk in it, I wasn't planning on eating any of it. And she seriously thought I was gonna take 15 bags of candy home to eat? Is that really what people think fat folks do, sit around all day eating bags of candy?

When I was the low girl on the work totem pole, my boss sent me out to get food from Costco for everyone. So I was getting several hot dogs and snacky things. When I was walking back, a woman said, "No wonder you're fat," with a horrible, smug and disapproving look on her face. Yeah, like I was gonna eat four hot dogs on my own, and anyway, it's none of her business! I was a lot less confident then, so I was in tears by the time I got back to work, and told my boss I couldn't do the food runs anymore (she was pissed on my behalf and totally agreed...they never made me go again). I was so hurt. It takes courage to go out and try to be happy when you're very heavy, and it just takes a little comment, someone reminding you that to the rest of the world you're hideous, to make you want to go home and slit your wrists or never go outside again.

I have on several occasions been used by mothers to fat-shame their children. It's horrible on two levels: 1) because they're talking about me like I'm disgusting and the worst thing someone could be, which is SO dehumanizing and hurtful, and 2) because they are using me to scare and shame their daughters, passing on the torch of body hatred, and teaching their kids that it's okay to make rude comments about someone's weight, because fat is the worst thing you can be. Quick example: when I was a cashier, a girl was bugging her mom for M&M's. The mom said to her daughter, "Do you want to end up fat like her?" (pointing at me). I quickly finished ringing her up, then had to take a break because I started crying. (I'm a lot tougher now, but, like I said, I used to be more sensitive about my weight.)

This is just one example of many over the years.

It's the reason I always made my little sister get her own popcorn at the theater.  She (skinny girl that she is) likes a lot of extra butter. I told her that I just can't deal with the looks (if not the comments) that I get as a fat girl ordering extra butter. It hurts; I'm not going to put myself in that position. Or if I was celebrating a special occasion or was at a restaurant I really liked and wanted a dessert, sometimes I just didn't order (or made someone else order) because I couldn't stand the looks I would get. People didn't know it was something I rarely did. They just assumed that, hey, fat girl orders cake=she must eat cake all day long and that's why she's fat. Even if I just ordered the same thing my skinny friends ordered.

I have struggled with starving myself (which is the worst thing you can do to lose weight; it just made me unhealthy and more fat), with self-injury (taking out my body hatred on my stomach with a knife), with depression, with social anxiety. Some of it can be traced to the terrible things people have said to me during my life. I'm stronger now, I understand that the people who say and do those things are really just ignorant and scared (they don't understand the complexity of weight loss; they are scared of gaining weight themselves). But it took a lot of therapy and education for me to get to this place, and I still struggle with disordered eating and self-injury.

In conclusion: you don't know what someone's lifestyle is by just looking at them, and you don't know what medical conditions might be the cause of their weight. And you don't know how hurtful even your non-verbal actions can be. Get educated, and have some compassion. Pant size is a terrible indicator of a person's value as a human being.

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