I remember reading a piece of advice years ago about things we should or shouldn’t mention to the people around us. It advised that unless a person can change something easily, like food in their teeth or their skirt tucked into their undies, then don’t mention it. Weight doesn’t fit into that category and yet people feel it’s their right to comment on a person’s size.
‘But they just care about their health!’ I hear you cry. I say bullshit to that. A number on a scale isn’t an indicator of poor health, it’s a measure of weight. A high number on the scales doesn’t automatically mean poor health, just like a low number doesn’t automatically mean good health. Yet still the general public, medical professionals and media like to beat that tired old drum.
Ask any fat person, they all have at least one story about how their medical concerns were ignored and down played because of their weight. Broken leg? Wouldn’t have broken if you were thinner. Depressed? Maybe if you lose weight you’ll be happier. Allergic reaction? Have you tried losing weight? Abusive relationship? Maybe you should be glad that someone even wants to be with you. On and on it goes.
I’ve got my own stories of medical care that was subpar because of my weight. A psychiatrist who told me I would be happier if I just lost weight while ignoring the fact that I was thinner in high school and just as unhappy. A GP who berated me for being unhealthy and told me I needed to exercise more when I’d gained 500gm in 3 months despite knowing I regularly attended the gym and walked everywhere. A nurse who told me I would be pretty if I lost weight and asking male patients if they agreed. Another nurse who told me I should be thankful for anyone who chose to be in a relationship with someone like me.
People comment on others weight like they don’t know they’re fat, like they think you don’t own a mirror. What exactly do they expect you to do about it right that moment anyway? Do they expect you to just cut off a layer of fat while you’re standing in the middle of coles? Do they expect a thank you for pointing out the obvious?
I’ve had my fair share of comments from strangers and people I knew. A teacher who told me I was jealous of her because she was thin. Strangers who attempted to take photos of me while I was going about my business. Comments which fueled years of disordered eating and hating the body I was in.
I’ve worked hard to not pass on my body hang ups to my son. I’ve worked hard to let my son know that his body is perfect at any size, that it is never something to be ashamed of. Yet I can’t protect him from those who make comments. Doctors who express concern because he’s the weight of a man, while seeming to forget that he’s also the height of a man. I worry that eventually those comments will start to penetrate the armour of confidence I have lovingly instilled. I worry that it won’t be enough.
Shame is rarely a good motivator for real, long term change. People rarely make good choices when they hate themselves. If you truely care for someone who is fat, don’t point out the obvious, don’t make them feel guilty for simply existing. Allow them space to be themselves. Love them for who they are, not what their body looks like.