The world is not a safe place for a fat girl

Today, a friend of a friend posted this picture on facebook.

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Apparently, the woman who received this note parked next to two guys. It was a tight fit, so she had to squeeze to get out of her car. When she returned to her car from shopping, the other car was gone and this was left on her windshield.

I can only imagine how she felt. I’ve been there. I’ve witnessed people I love be there. My heart goes out to her, and how she must have felt in that moment–cheeks flushing, heart pounding, feeling like a bucket of cold water had just been thrown over her. I’m sure her weight was not what she was thinking about when she returned to her car from shopping. Maybe she was thinking about going home and getting supper for her family. Maybe she was thinking about whatever she had just bought at Ace. Maybe she was worrying about something that happened at work. I can almost guarantee you she was not thinking about her size.

But these two men had to make sure she was.

Beyond the rudeness, the cruelty, the idiocy of their actions. Beyond the fact that it just highlights how a woman’s body, to many people, is only meant to look attractive to them–and HOW DARE any woman not conform to that. Never mind the problem of a woman only having value if she is a certain size, race, able-bodiedness, etc. Never mind how unthinkable it is that anyone would leave a note this hurtful to someone a stranger who didn’t so much as speak to them. All of that aside . . . what really bothers me is that, if confronted, these two young (I assume) men would make all sorts of excuses, and undoubtedly one of those excuses would be something like, “Look, really we were helping her. She obviously needs to lose some weight.”

BULLSHIT.

I am here to tell you now that unkind words have never helped anyone make any kind of lasting change for the good of their health.

The ironic thing is, these men would probably never be satisfied. If they saw the woman who posted the picture eating a salad at McDonald’s, or working out at the gym, or huffing along the bike trail trying to jog, they would still feel the need to make a crack. And they would feel justified in it, because she deserved it for being fat.

I am here to tell you that the world does not feel like a safe place for a fat woman.

It doesn’t feel safe because you never know where the crack is going to come from. It might be from a stranger in the Ace Hardware parking lot. It might be your doctor (true story). It might be someone you were trying to let merge in front of you in traffic (also true story: they rolled their windows down and asked, “Could you tell me where the donut shop is?” and then laughed and drove away). It might be your own family members. It doesn’t matter how often it happens–you always feel blindsided. So you begin to put up walls. Walls that are hard to take down, even around the people who love you. Walls that make it hard for people to love you. Walls that make you flip out and fight or wither and hide after the slightest jab, no matter how light-hearted.

I am here to tell you it doesn’t have to be like this.

We can and must crusade to change the world, of course we must. We must teach our kids to treat every person with respect, whether they find them attractive or not. We must treat each other with love and kindness.

But–more importantly–we must learn to do this for ourselves.

The world will never completely change. People will always continue to be cruel. Learning to love yourself is the biggest, baddest armor you can give yourself. And it is only then that any kind of real change to your health or size can happen.

No one can shame someone into losing weight. It just doesn’t work. And self-loathing-induced dieting is only effective for so long. There are only two options: starve yourself to death or start gaining weight back. After a youth spent restricting and binge exercising, gaining was what my body decided to do. No matter how much hate I heaped on myself for what I was becoming, I couldn’t reverse the upward trend.

I am certainly no weight loss expert, and I have a long way to go myself–in both improving my health and in learning to love myself. It will be a long road. But you know what helped me get to the place where I could start to lose some weight? Loving myself, at least part of the time. Surrounding myself with people who loved me unconditionally. Not tolerating any kind of body shaming from people in my life–even if it meant making the difficult choice to cut people out of my life. Dating men who told me (and meant it!) that I am beautiful, sexy, desirable exactly the way I am. Knowing that if I stayed exactly the way I was I’d be just fine. That’s when things started to change.

I visited family in Southern California over Christmas, and like any thawing Midwesterner I wanted to be at and in the ocean as much as possible.  My cousin laughed and took pictures as I splashed in the Pacific on Christmas Day.

When I saw the pictures she took, I wanted to cry. “What a whale of a woman,” I thought.

I posted the picture on a facebook board I frequent, seeking relief from the mean voices in my head. The biggest thing that surprised me was how many women said, “You are so brave for wearing a swimsuit in public! I couldn’t do that!” Women smaller than me. Much smaller than me.

That reminded me of how far I had come. I wore a swimsuit in Ventura and a wetsuit in San Diego (second only to LA in terms of SoCal shallowness) and you know what? I didn’t give a fuuuuuuuug. I figured I would never see those people again. I noticed the disgusted looks I got. As a bigger woman you’re always in tune with that. But I just didn’t care. I loved myself enough to do what I wanted to do, which was to be healthy and active over the holidays.

I am not friends with the woman who posted the picture of the note on facebook. But if I were, I would say: I hope you love yourself. And if you don’t, I hope you work on that first.  I know that the world is especially cruel to an overweight woman, but people will always find something wrong with you.  Don’t worry about changing your body–worry about changing your mind.

I am here to tell you that everything else will follow.

 

 

 

23 thoughts on “The world is not a safe place for a fat girl

  1. People don’t understand what it’s like to dare to be fat in public. My cute little friends have told me it’s in my head when I say I get treated differently than when I’m with them. It’s a different world. Just letting people know it happens and it’s not okay is the first step.

  2. Thank you so much for this. This is honestly the best blog post I’ve read about fat-shaming and speaks about everything I’ve learned and wanted to share with other people for so long.

    • Thank you soo much. Please feel free to share–I certainly am not perfect by any means but life is so much better when I am loving myself. Hope others can learn to do that as well.

  3. Thank you. Well said.

    I was walking into a department store after Christmas and a family was walking out… The kid (4 yrs old or so) point and said fat lady while the father proceeded laugh…
    People don’t have respect for people therefore they don’t teach their kids to have respect for people.

    This is just one of the many stories… going back to childhood when grandparents would criticize. .. actually still do.

    I pretend to ignore but as you said it hurts anyway.

    • I am so sorry that happened to you. Similar things have happened to me, and to my mom. It is awful, enraging, and most of all, really really hurtful.

      I like to think that people in their life who say things like that have had horrible things happen to them to make them that way. But sometimes, I think they are just a-holes. :)

  4. Being overweight is unhealthy. It will shorten your life. This is scientific fact, not opinion.
    That is why the world is not safe for the obese. Getting teased, bullied or criticised for your weight does not make the world unsafe – failing to control one’s weight will make the world unsafe. The extra kilos and calories will kill you.
    The pain that comes from criticism arises from one’s own insecurities. If one is happy with one’s weight, the words are nothing but a reflection of the character of the person making the comment. The reason there is pain though is that deep down, everyone knows the extra weight is not good for them. I sayuse that as a challenge to change, not a reason to inhale a bag of chips or dive into the ice cream.
    I note this will not be a popular opinion, but it is my opinion. I don’t go judging people’s weight as I think it is unkind. But I will also not defend an overweight person from criticism to spare them from mental hurt. If you are fat, you’re fat. Deal with it.

    • Do you honestly think that telling a fat person they are fat will help though Ken? Do you think they don’t already know that? And how do you know this person hadn’t already lost 50 pounds on her way from morbid obesity to whatever her version of healthy is, regardless of whether or not it fits into society’s stipulation of what she should look like?

      Whichever way you look at it, it was an arsehole act. And can you direct me to the studies that show that overweight shortens your life? Because I can come up with lots to the contrary.

      Also, how does one person’s weight make the world “unsafe”? You, my friend, are a douche.

    • Would you say the same thing to someone who was unattractive? Use the hurtful words as impetus to put on some makeup, dress better, get botox? Would you say the same thing to someone who harmed themselves by drinking too much, or who starved themselves and under-ate? What about people that don’t get vaccines, or don’t effectively wash their hands and get sick? They are hurting themselves. How about the person who stays in an abusive relationship? There are lots of ways we as humans harm ourselves. Being heavy is just more visible, and to some rude and unkind people, undesirable. Where is it your job to use cruelty as some sort of crusade to rid the world of people you don’t like?

    • This post is not helpful. It’s hurtful. Have you ever struggled to lose weight? Have you ever been bullied on your appearance? It’s nobody else’s business how another human being looks or how they live their life. People need to teach heir kids to stop judging others and calculating self worth on appearance. Just because someone may be over weight doesn’t mean they’re not healthy. The only person who can judge that is their doctor through tests. You are entitled to your opinion, certainly, and I used to think the way you did. I have never been thin but I have always been in good health. Would you feel the same way if that article was about this person being a different religion? A different skin colour? Hopefully not. So why do you feel it’s ok for someone to openly humiliate another person based on their size? Do you have any overweight friends or family? Think of how they would feel if that happened to them? Chances are if they’re overweight something shitty like this HAS happened to them. Opinions are great, until you use them to hurt people and shame them.

    • I get your point, Ken, and I’m a fierce advocate of taking personal responsibility. I’m a psychotherapist, and it’s something I preach to every one of my clients. We need to take responsibility for ourselves and for our problems. Ultimately, whatever anyone else says or thinks only has power over us if we let it.

      With that being said, I also have a good understanding of the complexities of human nature. You are damn right that people feel badly because of insecurities. And yes, being severely overweight can be a health hazard, and it diminishes quality of life. However, despite the fact that we may know this and think everyone else should know it and accept it, too, doesn’t give anyone license to make assumptions and judge, nor does it give license to anyone to publicly humiliate anyone who they find less desirable. For crying out loud, the bullying should have ended in elementary school. Unfortunately, it lives on.

      People like you and these two young men have every right to not be attracted to overweight people. And you even have a right to say what you want about such. But just because you do doesn’t mean the words said don’t affect others. Fat shaming does nothing to help anyone become healthy. It might temporarily provide enough incentive to lose weight, but does it make that person healthy? NO. That person will spend their lifetime obsessing over the wrong numbers (weight and clothing sizes, to be specific) and will believe themselves to be inferior and worthless if those numbers EVER go up. Is that what we want to teach our youth? That their primary value lies in HOW THEY LOOK?

      We need to encourage health, NOT obsession with looks. And to do that the general public needs to develop a better understanding of what true health is. It is holistic and it encompasses the mind AND the body. The numbers are only a general guideline, but they are meaningless beyond that. The BMI does not take bone density and frame into consideration. A person may be unhealthily overweight at one weight where the next person would be perfectly healthy. The FDA guidelines to a healthy diet are more determined by special interests groups in D.C. than by actual health experts. While some things are obviously unhealthy (like eating excessive amounts of junk food or processed foods and not getting adequate raw, fresh fruits and veggies), most of it is subjective. This ‘One Size Fits All” mentality is doing nothing but further pushing people into a downward mental, and physical, health spiral.

      As other commenters have said, we cannot judge a person based by how they look — even if they are 100 pounds overweight. We DO NOT KNOW their story. Maybe they have already lost a lot of weight are regaining their health while trying to continue to accept themselves, and then two jackasses come along and leave a letter like this. What do you think that’s going to do to that individual? Do you think it’s going to further encourage him or her to seek physical or mental health? Or might it end up driving them back toward unhealthy habits? There are also numerous medical issues that affect people and prevent weight loss or contribute to weight gain. I know from years of experience (my own and those of my clients) that simply “buckling down” and eating a restrictive diet and exercising 7 days a week may still only lead to moderate, if any, fat loss. Yet those people have to go out in public and they find themselves avoiding mirrors and windows, and wishing they could shrink down into their bodies so that no body could ever see them and thus make assumptions about them. Not every overweight or obese person sits around eating a box of Twinkies in one sitting and does nothing but watch TV all day. Most have spent most of their lives trying to find their way to this societal ideal that is only making their mental (and physical) health worse.

      Finally, we come to those who actually do overeat excessively and get little to no exercise. Even in such cases, who are you or any of us to judge? What drives a person to eat so much, anyway? What drives a person to hate exercise? Maybe it’s because 1) we are all different, with different metabolisms, and 2) For some, food is comfort. I’m not saying it’s right, but it is because they are already feeling depressed, abandoned, anxious, or a host of other negative feelings and they don’t know how to cope with it. Who knows how to cope with every negative life experience in a positive way? Maybe no one ever taught them how to positively cope with those emotions! Yet the overweight are constantly derided and ridiculed. I never see anyone leave a note in a bar saying, “Stop drinking, you drunk loser!” or “Stop smoking, you cancerous waste of space!”. No, because somehow these negative coping mechanisms are more acceptable in society; perhaps because they don’t immediately affect the appearance and therefore are much easier to mask.

      No one should fool themselves to think that somehow fat shaming others is providing some kind of service to that individual and to mankind. We all have our vices, but some are more obvious. We all need help learning how to deal with our emotions and find positive, healthy coping mechanisms. No one has it all figured out. All this shaming, whether it’s fat shaming or otherwise, is incredibly hypocritical and speaks more volumes about the people engaged in such unkind acts than it does about the person they are shaming. “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” Whether you’re a Christian or a not, this is a lesson for mankind. While we may all have the right to speak cruelly and think unkindly about others, it only reflects on our own inability to look inward and find the mote in our own eye.

    • Why is it that everyone thinks that a person is fat because they “dive into a bag of chips or a gallon of ice cream?” This kind of stereotyping is hurtful. There are many factors that can make a person over weight. We aren’t all sitting around eating our feelings. And by the way Ken, unless you know this person and care about them, their health is none of your business, and I am afraid to say the ugliness you have on the inside is far more dangerous to your health and the health of others. If you’re a jerk, you’re a jerk. Deal with it.

      • Thanks for these comments, especially Michelle S whom I agree with for the most part.

        I concede that it is easy to confuse my disagreement with the opinion of the article’s author (which in my view is hyperbolised) and a rousing endorsement of the note. I want to be clear that I regard the note to be distasteful, hurtful and disrespectful. It was unnecessary. I agree people should be treated with respect, and do not believe I said anything inconsistent with that view.
        However, I disagree that a comment on another person’s weight per se should be silenced merely on the principle that it is hurtful or unkind. I do not think that the author’s opinion in this article is the answer to this complex issue.

        As for the other hypotheticals suggested, they seem to be false syllogisms and not apt. A better parallel is a drug addict, as the appearance there is also linked to an unhealthy practice. If someone was addicted to drugs, I would comment on their appearance or their attitude. This may not even be because I know their family history or want them to improve their health. It would be because I find these traits abhorrent. The result would be a stigmatisation of certain character traits. It informs the person that not only do they know they look terrible and do drugs, but that I also know this. Furthermore, it tells others around me (who do not do drugs) that I find this abhorrent. To the extent they agree, they may not be inclined to start. Peer pressure can be a stimulus for social change, provided a way to deal with it constructively can be developed.

        Silencing undesirable truths also is a means of social change. So shooting down these callow messengers (I don’t automatically assume they are boys note, unlike some sexists here) and people like them will make obesity more acceptable. But is that the direction we want our society to go?

        To my knowledge, being overweight statistically increases one’s propensity to require health services and suffer so called lifestyle illnesses. I’d be happy to change my opinion if this was not an accepted fact, though sadly I am not aware of any substantive credible evidence to the contrary.

        It is on that basis that I believe one should not be given more excuses to be overweight. Vitriolic defence of a person’s right to be overweight free from criticism, in my opinion, is a step in the wrong direction. Further, the author’s characterising such criticism as creating an UNSAFE world is hyperbole without basis or principle.

        Thanks for the comments. Reading them has refined my perspective on this matter, which is why a true discourse (absent the in personam attacks) is how solutions get reached.

    • Hi Ken,
      Thanks for your response.
      I find it interesting that you think I am defending being fat. I am not. In my post I mention that I have made weight loss attempts and that I am currently losing weight. What I meant to get across–with a varying degree of success, I guess–is that self-hatred fueled weight loss rarely works in the long term. It is only when you are happy with yourself, as you yourself said, that comments don’t hurt as much and you can do what you need/want to do. Weight loss is a very difficult road, fraught with bumps. It takes some strong balls/ovaries to get through those bumps and keep going–and I would argue that it takes a great deal of love for yourself to say “I’m going to keep trying, because this is what I want” instead of, “I’m just a fata-, I hate myself, I always fail at this, I’m a piece of crap.”
      I find it very interesting that people feel the need to tell people that a) they are fat and b) it is unhealthy. Trust me: THEY KNOW. This isn’t groundbreaking news. It’s like telling a smoker that smoking is bad for his or her health–DUH. Pretty sure they know. But quitting smoking, like losing weight, is difficult and often takes many attempts.
      Thanks for the note about not inhaling a bag of chips or diving into ice cream. I think no one should do those things, fat or skinny, because that’s not the best way to be feeding yourself. However, I think you might be surprised at how healthily some fat people eat (quantity, for me, is an issue, not necessarily quality) and how poorly some skinny people eat. You know what, thought? Their health–whether they are obese, a smoker, a chronic speeder, or a workaholic–is their business, not mine, and frankly I have no idea what their reports looks like when they go to the doctor. Eyes on your own health, that’s what I’ve been trying to live by.
      Again, thanks for your comment. I hope you will be assured that most fat people are indeed “dealing with it,” and unless you are inside their head or following them around 24-7 you really don’t know what’s going on their lives. I appreciate your commitment to health, though, and applaud you for that. If you have an overweight person in your life, I hope you are kind to them (it sound like you probably are, since you said you don’t judge people’s weight as it is unkind) and can find ways to encourage them in their health journeys.

      Amanda

  5. Sorry to hear this about your friend. I am sure she is a amazing and beautiful woman. She will one day can lose the weight in her own time. Sadly stupid is forever.

  6. I was 15 with an eating disorder that involved me throwing up and now I’m hypoglycemic have to make sure my blood sugar doesn’t drop . I was tormented because I have always had hip’s

  7. I was with the individual when this happened. It was shocking to me when she discovered the note on her windshield. These two “men” left a note in an act of bullying…and left the area in an act of cowardice. Karma will catch up with these two individuals at some point in their life.

  8. It is disgusting that anyone thinks that personal ridicule would possibly aid someone to change their lifestyle and improve their health.
    It is important that, as a society, we educate and encourage people to improve their health. This needs to be done in a positive way. Targeting an individual is not just cruel, but also doesn’t achieve anything. Not bullying people and targeting individuals it is not an acceptance or support of their unhealthy decisions, it’s just not being a bully.
    For me personally I have lost around 20kg and it has done wonders for my health and self confidence. However the decision to make a lifestyle change has to come from within. Feeling supported and loved is the only way to success, not ridicule and embarrassment.

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