If we want to Stop Weight Bias, where do we start?
Well, that’s part of the problem. Weight bias is all too common in society, existing in all aspects of daily life. It’s not always overt; sometimes it can be subtle. But the impacts are all the same – hurtful, damaging, and wrong.
For Angela from UT, weight bias is a painful part of everyday life – from going to the grocery store to buying a movie ticket at the box office. Her experiences show just how profound the impacts of weight bias can be. In an effort to raise greater awareness of weight bias and the dangers it carries, we wanted to share part of Angela’s story with you below.
My Story: An Overview
Weight bias has a serious, profound impact on many people who struggle with weight, and it can add many complications to one’s physical and mental health.
In my own life, I’ve struggled with my weight for almost all of it – and I’ve experienced the heartaches associated with weight bias along the way. The following are merely a few of the many painful examples of weight bias and shame that I’ve encountered.
At the Grocery Store
My mom and I had just finished up at the grocery store after purchasing only cases of water. With two very heavy carts stacked above the rim, we got to our car. She told me to get inside while she put the water away because I was struggling with some health issues.
While I sat in the car, a woman walked by and smiled at me. I smiled back, feeling touched that she acknowledged me even though I’m a very large person. As my mom moved to return our carts, the lady proclaimed loudly, “I’ll take this one for you.” Though my mom didn’t need help, the woman insisted.
As they returned, I watched the woman put her arm around my mom’s shoulder. My mom didn’t say anything about the interaction when she got in the car, but I smiled and said, “I saw you got another hug!” She didn’t smile. She replied, “Yes, but I wanted to kick her.”
My mom didn’t want to tell me this, but as the woman hugged her, she said, “If that lady in the car with you would return carts like this, she’d be as skinny as you are!” But my mom was stunned by this comment, and she felt the need to use the “excuse” that I was suffering with health problems. My mom then said to me afterwards, “If she could only know how much I love my daughter, the person in the car with me…”
As touched as I was to be reminded of my mother’s feelings toward me, I was hurt and dumbfounded.
Here I thought the lady was being sweet as we exchanged smiles. I didn’t know she found the situation humorous! But I’m constantly running into situations like this. People say and do things that make me want to stay isolated in my house — as if my size makes me unworthy of existing. It’s worse when I encounter large groups of people. When it’s just one person, they usually avoid commenting — but when someone has an audience, they often feel the need to be “impressive” and put me, and others, down.
At the Grocery Store (Part 2)
On another occasion, I was in a pleasant mood returning from the store to my car. Across the parking lot, a child of about 8 or 9 yelled to his father, “Look how fat SHE is!” I glared at them as the child’s hands flailed all over to point me out. His father tried to hold his arms down with no luck. I guess he must have been embarrassed because he couldn’t wipe the smile off his own face.
I was shocked to see the father fail to correct or reprimand his child. My mood instantly changed as I relayed the experience (and my hurt, gloomy mood) to the person I was with. It took me many months of therapy to deal with that experience emotionally, and even now when I think about it, it still sometimes stings.
At the Movies
Once, I was proud of myself for getting out of my comfort zone and going to the movies alone. As I walked toward the box office with somewhat higher self-esteem, my attention was instantly drawn to two young boys ahead of me following their mother who was pushing a stroller. The older boy saw me, nudged the younger one, then puffed out his cheeks and rounded his arms out to his sides to demonstrate how big I was — much to the younger boy’s amusement.
I ended up right behind them at the box office, feeling horrible while purchasing my ticket. Afterwards, I went to get something to eat before the show started and my eyes began to sting as I almost cried in front of the sweet girl assisting me. I thought to myself, “How can you be nice to me when I’m so hideous?” Frankly, it reminded me of the profound line from Beauty and the Beast that says, “For who could ever… love a beast?”
As I waited for the movie I started to cry, even more so because I was disgusted by a “comedic” movie poster arrogantly displaying a star dressed as someone with severe obesity. When I watch documentaries of people in fat suits that are overtly biased, I’m often frustrated. I understand that many films aim to shed light on weight-based injustices, but many are bent on fat-shaming. I think that if they REALLY want to know how being large feels, they should try strapping on a “fat suit” of at least 300 additional pounds for the filming in its entirety. Then shower in it, go to the bathroom wearing it and drive in it. Then see how funny being overweight really feels.
At the Corner Store
Another time, I had been dealing with a diabetic ulcer in my foot that put me at risk for infection and amputation. I was in a boot at the time, being told to stay off my foot as much as possible.
My mom and I went to a popular corner store where I was thrilled to see a motorized cart. I sat down in it and began to back out (note: beforehand, a car was sitting in the fire zone for a long time without the passengers exiting). Upon backing out, there stood a younger woman who was obviously disgusted as she complained to the cashier, “Do you have another one of these?” They didn’t.
After returning my cart and heading to the car, this woman went to the car in the fire zone. I heard her yell out to the driver (purposely making her voice loud enough for me to hear) that “some FAT (not so choice words) woman” had taken the motorized cart. I didn’t know what her reasons were for needing that cart, but she also didn’t know what mine were. I needed the cart not only for my size, but for my foot. Now, whenever I use a motorized cart at a store, I feel compelled to show that foot off so people don’t assume I’m lazy.
Preparing for a Church Mission
There’s one other event that stands out to me and was very traumatic. It happened when I was 21 years old and involved my church, as I had made the personal decision to serve an 18-month mission. I had made all the preparations for it, including boxing up my room and getting ready to quit my job – to the point where my employer was actively looking for somebody to replace me.
When it came time for me to fill out my application, I was thrilled to fill in all of my talents and accomplishments, feeling that I had a lot to contribute. I had been preparing for this for several years, had received the needed letters from my doctor that gave me the go-ahead, and I knew that my health was good (aside from gaining 25 pounds the year following my father’s death).
After submitting my paperwork, it ended up taking longer than usual to get a response. All of the parishioners kept asking me if I had heard back and were telling me that it was unusual; I should have received my acceptance and the assignment in the mail, but it never came.
Finally, one Sunday at church, my ecclesiastical leader called me into his office and told me that he had received a letter from the main headquarters. I had been denied due to my weight. That was the first time I had ever heard of anyone being declined from serving for any reason. I was hurt beyond belief and that pain contributed to my depression that literally lasted several decades. I couldn’t understand it. I had spent years being insulted and made fun of at school and in life, but I never thought that same type of hurt would happen at my church.
Weight Bias Continues to Affect Me
It’s tough when you aren’t comfortable in your own skin, but when people feel the need to comment on your size, it’s even harder.
I want to stay home and isolate myself. I struggle emotionally to drive anywhere because I feel uncomfortable making eye contact with people. Sometimes I feel like a child who thinks that if I don’t look at them, they won’t see me. But really, they don’t see the REAL me because they’ve already made their mind up about me and condemned me for looking the way I do.
It’s hard to remain in this body. Many times I’ve been discouraged and not felt like I could succeed at weight-loss.
Although we now live in a world of “political correctness,” weight bias seems to be one of the only issues left where people still find it acceptable to make fun of other people and put them down. Weight bias has damaging physical and psychological effects. Quite simply, the things that are said in disgust and cruelty to those of us who are struggling with weight issues are one of the highest forms of bullying.