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Tuesday, April 12, 2016

The flip side of how your fat friend might be feeling

I was reading this article from a woman who was trying to explain the plight of the fat friend who receives unsolicited concern from friends, family and strangers about their health.  In reading her experience, I felt horrible that she has had some seriously douchey comments said to her by potentially well meaning people who think tough love was the answer.  I think if you've ever been fat, you've had at least one thing said to you and know how that feels.  No one likes to be put down and made to feel less than.  However, the more I read, a surprising emotion was popping up for me...irritation.  I felt irritation for a few reasons.

See, when I was 494 lbs not one person ever expressed concern for my health.  No one.  I felt like the woman in the article should be so lucky that so many people care about her to want her around for a long time.  Now perfect strangers or teachers commenting on, they can take a flying friggin' leap because they don't know her.  (If someone as callous and mean as that old man said to me what he said to her, I'm pretty sure I would've quickly said "yeah, I am going to die.  We all first."  He deserved a response like that given what he said.)

As someone who has lost over 200 lbs and worked hard to keep that off, I am still fat.  I am still the o word...obese.  Someone could easily look at me on the street and think I'm a lazy slug and not know I workout 6 days a week and make better food choices in one week than they may make all month.  I accept that and if someone had the audacity to say something to me now, I'd say "lost 225 lbs and kept it off" and drop the mic.  From the flip side, I am deathly afraid that my mom who had WLS over 10 years ago and has regained most of the weight is going to die or stroke out.  She has high blood pressure to the point she has fainted at work, she's had blood clots, her knees are to the point she's bone on bone and needs a scooter or cane for mobility.  She says she's too fat to exercise yet has access to a pool all summer/fall long and 20 lbs could take so much pressure off of her knees.  She eats like utter crap all the time.  I have gone to great lengths to help her but don't bring it up unless she does because I know how touchy the subject can be.  I've gone as far as buying her groceries, cooked meals up and froze them and a year later they were still in there.  She takes some kind of pride in the fact that she doesn't have diabetes in a family with history but eats salt like it's a food group with high blood pressure and meds she refuses to take regularly.  You can't expect people who love you to sit back and let you kill yourself without saying something at least once.  I'd do anything to help her but I can't do it for her.

When I was 19, I remember a specific incident where the Mr and I were out to dinner at Ponderosa (remember those?) with my mom.  The subject of weight loss came up and we all needed to lose weight.  They were gung ho and in the mindset and given what I knew of diets and such, I just wasn't mentally ready.  That was the time of low fat diet fads where you were encouraged to eat 15g of fat per day.  Per DAY.  I got super defensive and super bitchy.  On the way home when I ran an orange light, a cop pulled me over and as he approached the window and tried to give me his crap, I just burst into tears from all of the emotion of the talk and the screaming that had just ensued from my mom asking what the hell my problem was.  The cop shrunk away and let me go after looking at the Mr and my mom like "what the hell is wrong with her??"  I think my mom learned never to broach the subject with me again.  At that point, I still had 150+ lbs to gain so I wasn't even at my heaviest.  But when I got to the point where I was turning down invites because I couldn't fit into places or getting out of breath 10 minutes into a grocery visit, it would've been nice for someone to say "hey, I love you and I want you around for a long time.  Is there anything I can do to help you?"  Yes, it may not have felt so hot in the moment but once your rational brain is finally developed and you're 25 or older, you should be able to tell when it is said out of love and true concern...not judgment.  The only time anything was ever said to me about my weight is when I began losing it.  Once I had 150 lbs off (and was still considered morbidly obese by medical standards) several people mentioned they were getting "worried about me."  I smiled and said "I'm sorry but no one was worried about me when I was almost 500 lbs pounds and a ticking time bomb.  So unless I have bones poking through and sunken eyes, you don't get to comment on my weight now."

The other reason I was irritated is because the woman in the article may have been ignoring the only important lesson I've ever gleaned from Dr. Phil:

My two best friends were tortured and I mean tortured in middle school by a bully who got off on making fat girls his target.  Because I was a good 6" or so taller than him, he never really targeted me.  He did walk by once when I was with one of them and he said "what's up fat asses?" and I immediately shot back "f*ck off, @sshole!"  He never said anything to me again in middle school.  I will always remember the fear in my friend's eyes, the way her body caved in and shrunk and the feeling of wanting to make herself as small as possible.  I get that but that is exactly what he wanted.

In my first month of high school, I was internally horrified to see I would be sharing homeroom aka the first 15 minutes of each school day for the next 4 years with said bully due to last name.  One day it happened.  As I was talking to my friend in class, he slid into the table behind us and said "what's up, fat f*ck?!" and the whole class just stopped.  I laughed at him and said "Oooooh fat f*ck, that's the best you could do?  How ORIGINAL!"  Everyone busted out laughing at him and I never had another issue with him ever again.  Standing up to him told him I wasn't going to take his crap and everyone else seeing that likely told their friends and so my reputation for being an "ass kicker" from middle school on (without a single ass ever having been kicked) stayed well intact.

I was consistently the new student in school the first 5 years of my school years so I was always the one having to make friends hoping someone would want to take the tall, fat girl into their fold.  I didn't judge people because I didn't have that luxury.  I was the outsider.  I was the one that needed to prove themselves.  So while I am a highly sensitive person, I developed a defense mechanism of self deprecation that pretty much any fat person adapts that doesn't decide to shrink into themselves.  It's a 'make fun of yourself before they can make fun of you' mentality and honestly, that doesn't serve you well either.  It may keep others from commenting but playing that tape in your own head makes you start to believe it and when you say that in front of people who love or care about you, it makes them uncomfortable.  When you're a grown ass woman, it just makes you sound desperate for validation and that ain't sexy.  I've worked very hard not to do that anymore out loud because I don't like to hear other people say that about themselves.  I don't want to put someone else in that uncomfortable position to reassure me that I'm still worthy even if my body isn't perfect.

However,  I do believe in walking with confidence, head held high and if faced with a potentially threatening situation where there is the possibility things could be said about my weight, I put on my resting bitch face letting them know 'I don't tolerate chit...think again.'  I know it can be hard to armor up especially if giving a 'victim like vibe' is what you're used to.  I know some people will be offended by that term but I don't care.  Offense is typically taken when there's at least a grain of truth to it.  If you identify with that, have enough respect for the awesome person you are to project that to the world...don't give haters the in to disrespect you.  Trust me, they're looking for it.  They're looking at how you walk, where you're looking and if they think they can verbally take you.

You can't stop people from saying things but you can walk with an air about you that conveys how you expect to be treated.  We all deserve to be treated with dignity and respect and that starts with respecting the person staring back at you in the mirror.  See the beautiful things in yourself that the people who love you see unconditionally and teach people how to treat you.

Do you armor up or shrink up when your weight is addressed in any form?

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  1. Weight is such an emotional issue. My parents, with well meaning intentions, would address it over the years with concern health wise. It hurt. I mean you want your parents to love you no matter what but I learned to deal with it and not be hurt. The worst I think was when I was going to see a woman who was my primary doctor at the time. She had just gone through a traumatic medical issue (I had heard) and basically said to me, "Do you want to be around for your children?" In a nutshell, she thought being tough would make me lose weight. Nope, I moved on to another doctor. One who realized berating patients won't get them to lose weight. The irony of it all is it took getting diabetes to kick me in the butt to lose weight. I honestly didn't know how to lose weight or what to do. However my diabetic educator (who is also a nutritionist by trade) helped me learn how to eat. I am not diabetic anymore and kicked it without having to take medication. I am still considered obese despite losing almost 80 lbs. I have more to lose but where I am today is a lot better than 80 lbs ago. But you are correct that you need to teach people how to treat you but it's also unfortunate that people need to be taught kindness.

    1. You are absolutely right, Joy! It seems to be especially hard for people who have never had a weight issue to try to properly express their concern. Tough love seems to be the route of choice for many and it's like do you really think I don't know I could be potentially killing myself with my choices? It's the same with smoking, drugs or any other thing that you can indulge in. You know better but sometimes you just don't do better until you're forced into it. I think the best way to make people understand how to approach it is for them to think about something they are incredibly insecure and ashamed of about themselves (and we ALL have that thing) and think about how they'd want someone to point it out to them. It doesn't even have to be something that can be changed but it can make them a little more empathetic. People absolutely need to be taught kindness and it's sad.

      Congrats on the weight loss and kicking diabetes butt! So proud of you!

  2. We were both in a very bad place and it was hard to even bring up "the fat talk" in conversations between us because neither of us were ready. If there is one thing I've learned in life, now, though, it's that you do have to learn to accept criticism and almost try to distinguish it from just pure insults. What that old man told the lady is on the verge of an insult even though he seems to be trying to give some constructive criticism. But just as you said, acting like a victim will only bring more of that victimization. I like to think that I have learned this lesson and will do better but truth be told, I haven't been tested yet in the real world. It's not an easy thing to deal with but being fat truly is the last hold out in terms of what people think is okay to judge openly. When I see a bunch of teens standing around I get those same old feelings of "brace yourself for fat comment in 3..2..." but thankfully it hasn't happened yet. When it does happen I want to deal with it properly and I may just use your example and say "Oh, how original. I've never been called fat before, you're so creative". I like it!

    1. We've all had those moments where something has been said and we replay "I should've said X" and want a chance to do it over and put them in their place. The 'how original' comment just makes people feel instantly stupid and let's them know they're not going to get to you. Let's hope you never have to use it because if I'm with you and it's said, you might have to pry me off of them before it even comes out of your mouth!

  3. I used to be both ways at one point or another in my life. Victim mentally for many years, then flipped in the other direction to walking around with a chip on my shoulder which was totally false-confidence, while deep down I was believing the words I was saying about myself or hearing from others. I developed a terrible habit of believing that if someone even looked at me (or purposely didn't look at me) that they HAD to have been thinking ugly thoughts about me. It couldn't possibly be that 1) they didn't have an opinion one way or the other about what I looked like or 2) Maybe they had their own crap they were dealing with and weren't even seeing me when they walked by and were in their own world. So I went from a victim mentality to a volunteer mentality. When I turned 40, something changed inside me, but I found that I no longer cared what others thought about me...and I meant it. I didn't feel self-pity nor defensive about it. I just literally didn't care, and could listen to someone say something, either kind or inconsiderate and simply say, "huh, thanks for sharing." I think I gained a better understanding that when people are rude and intrusive, it rarely has anything to do with me and they are lashing out. What a horrible way to choose to live. On the flip side, there have been those that have been concerned, and again I could legitimately say "thanks for sharing" because it would give me something to think about, a different point of view in essence. But sometimes "concern" is "control" in disguise and I spot that a mile away. I used to get all worked up and would yell, "don't try to control or change me!" Now I don't feel the need because I know longer feel compelled to BE controlled or changed. One point of contention with my mom was that she never understood what my meetings were about. She'd say "oh, you don't need to keep going to those -- you'll lose some weight and you'll be fine. You won't always be a compulsive eater." She couldn't understand that in the meetings, we rarely talk about food specifically. We talk about what's going on in our lives and there are three main rules you follow, which I absolutely love: 1)no one interrupts you. 2)no one dominates the conversation or the time. 3)no one gives you advice. As you've often said, what works for one person could be absolutely detrimental to someone else. It's not for me to decide what food plan would work best for anybody else but me. I can share that food plan and leave it there. I will never ever be a "normal" eater. I obsess over food and watch that clock like a hawk needing to know when I get to have my snack or my next meal. I obsess the same if it's healthy food or crap food. And in my meetings I learned the purpose isn't to make me "normal." My favorite quote we say is, "take what you like and leave the rest." And I think this is what has freed me to accept other people's concerns (positive) and comments (negative) without them festering inside me making me believe I am "less than" just because someone said something. It's taken me over four decades to get to that place of marginal peace but I'm incredibly grateful that I no longer live or die mentally by the thoughts of others. A positive comment could literally make my day, while a negative, nasty comment could ruin me for days. I handed over my power to anybody and everybody because I believed they had to be right either way. Uh-uh, those days are behind me. I used to hand out my self-esteem like it was a pamphlet to be given away. I no longer do that, and that makes it easier to let the comments go.

    1. There is nothing worse than someone trying to disguise their "concern" for their own selfish reasons. People think they are doing someone a favor by saying "you're not _____" (like a compulsive eater) because they don't view you that way or its not how they'd handle it. You have to do what works for you and it sounds like those meetings do a world of good for you!

  4. I've been fortunate that people pretty much don't say anything about my weight one way or another. I still feel uncomfortable in some situations (if I buy a bunch of candy so I can give my 90 or so students each a small treat I feel like the cashier thinks I'm going to eat it all myself even though she's never given me reason to think she would think that way). I figure that's more about myself being uncomfortable in my own skin than about how other people really think of me.


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