Compassion and understanding in an overweight world‏

by Christine on June 12th, 2010

filed under Christine's Life Updates, Diet, Food, Nutrition, Eating Disorders, General Information

overweightI came across a few blogs this week that had similar themes. (It’s funny how blog themes kind of spread like wildfire. If one person writes about vacation, then soon all the blogs that week will write about vacations! I think it’s because people look to other blogs for inspiration.) These blogs typically discussed encountering overweight people – and chairs made for fat people – and the question: should we, as a society, “cater to their addiction” and allow them to be “acceptable and comfortable?”

There’s a large number of people out there in the world that look down on overweight people, thinking that fat people are less attractive, less intelligent, or less worthy of being loved than thinner people.  In fact, there have been a plethora of scientific studies done on this subject.  For instance, workforce.com has released that there exists a prejudice against overweight people who are applying for jobs. An unpublished study by the University of North Carolina showed that people perceive thinner people to be “more influential,” and obese people as “less intelligent, and therefore will be listened to less and their ideas will not be carried out.” The same study indicated that overweight women face greater challenges in the workplace than do overweight men.  To counter these allegations, an organization called the Council on Size and Weight Discrimination is working to alleviate discrimination against overweight people.

Now, I’m not saying that these bloggers look down on overweight people; in fact, most of the bloggers were themselves overweight at some point in their life. Rather, I think the bloggers were bringing up weight-related issues merely as a conversation topic.  However, I personally found some of the comments disturbing. “It’s sad that our super-sized nation is now super-sizing furniture to accommodate us. Then again, I’ve never been unable to fit in a regular chair so I don’t know if it’s humiliating enough to make me want my own sized chairs,” said one blogger. Another stated, “if we accommodate everything there is no need for change even at such unhealthy weights to need larger chairs.”

What happened to compassion? Equal rights?  Would you expect a woman in a wheelchair to climb a flight of stairs?  Why should you expect an overweight person to be able to fit in the same seat as you? Isn’t this type of physical comfort and accessibility to public spaces exactly what the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) sought to achieve since its passage in 1990?  Not all humans are built with the same stature; why should furniture be built in a one-size-fits-all mentality?

In one of my favorite blogs, The Daily Diary of a Winning Loser, Sean recounts his horror of plastic outdoor furniture. At 500 pounds, plastic furniture would collapse under his weight. Furthermore, booths at restaurants were so uncomfortable his circulation would get cut off. No, typical furniture is not made for people of all shapes and sizes.

People say that by making allowances for overweight people, that they are “enabling” or “condoning” their behaviors. I think what makes me so upset about this topic is that not all overweight people have weight issues because they are lazy or make poor food choices.  In fact, many overweight people fight weight issues because of underlying medical or emotional issues.  Furthermore, it’s not for an outsider to judge WHY one individual is overweight (unless you know their particular situation intimately).  If you could walk a mile in my shoes…

I have struggled with yo-yo weight gain and weight loss for pretty much my whole life. Believe me, I didn’t gain weight because I was lazy, and I certainly put in my fair share of effort in taking it off. Over the course of five years, I saw seven different doctors and nutritionists. I joined a gym and used it regularly. I had a personal trainer. I woke up at 5 a.m. every day for months to work out. I got physical activity in at every opportunity. I rollerbladed at lunchtime and hiked up mountains on the weekends. I kept a food journal and tediously tracked every calorie I consumed. Despite all this effort, I gained weight.  Each doctor would say, “Gee, I don’t know why this is happening. I’m sorry, I cannot help you,” and so I would seek out another doctor to help me figure out why the weight was coming on and to help me take the weight off. Each doctor failed.  The nutritionist would look at my food journals ever week, sometimes make suggestions, but eventually said, “Look Christine, I just don’t know why you can’t lose weight.”  Every single person I saw gave up on me until my most recent doctor said, “nothing else is working. What do you say we look into bariatric surgery?” The surgery changed everything.

Lack of compassion for overweight people is an issue that is near and dear to my heart. I have several friends with overweight daughters. Their kids (6-14 years old) are all active, healthy, and happy, but they are all overweight.  I think in all their cases this is due partially to genetics, but it’s also partially because their parents do not feed them healthy meals several times a day; in all cases the parents allow junk food and fast food to fuel their childrens’ tummies. Do you blame the child for being obese? When that child turns 18 do you start to blame her for being obese?  At what point does weight become their fault instead of a cause/effect of someone else’s actions?

I have a family member that is severely obese.  She has suffered through many medical issues, such as cancer and subsequent chemotherapy, as well as depression, thyroid problems, etc. Is her obesity her fault? Would I ever deny her the ability to sit in a wide chair because I didn’t feel that she’s worthy of being comfortable because she is overweight?  Not on your life. I love her to pieces and would give her the world if I could.

Good heavens! I think the world could use a lot more compassion and understanding and a lot less finger-pointing and blaming. My response to some of the disturbing comments I’ve read this week: Quit worrying about whether a wide chair in your office lobby is “enabling” someone to be fat and instead take some responsibility on yourself. Approach the overweight person and ask, “Is there something I can do for you?  Would you like to go for a walk with me at lunchtime to get a little exercise?”  Every fat person in the world has a mirror; every fat person in the world is aware of their size.  Many are even aware of the health risks associated with their weight.  The last thing that person needs is for the rest of the world to deny them the right to a good job, health insurance benefits, access to and comfort in public spaces, or simple human love and respect.  I challenge everyone to reach out to an overweight person today and try to make a positive, lasting impression on them.  Invite them to walk with you, or share a healthy recipe.  Rather than point a finger at them, reach out to them.  It will make the world a much nicer place to be.

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  • Penny Gambrell

    You are so right! I’ve spent years feeling like I needed to hide out in the house just because of the looks I’ve received when out and about doing normal things with my family. I wasn’t just embarrassed for myself but for my family too. I’ve even had other women flirt with my husband right in front of me, as if to say they had something better to offer because they had a nice slim and trim body. It hurt! And that’s only an example of things that have happened. I really and truly feel like a lot of naturally thin people or people who only, at tops, have to lose 20 lbs. think that we are plain lazy and out of control. There’s so much lack of empathy, compassion, and understanding.  Thank you for your post!