Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Size bias

An interesting study by the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University showed that:

Nearly half the respondents of their online survey on obesity said they'd rather give up a year of their life than be fat. Many of them also said they'd rather walk away from their marriage, give up the possibility of having children, be depressed or become alcoholic rather than be obese.

Five percent said they'd rather lose a limb than get fat, while 4 percent said they'd rather be blind than be overweight.

I have battled a terrible self-image for most of my life. At some point in my childhood it occurred to me that although I was extremely bright and talented, I was a disappointment to everyone in my life because I was fat. This warped view of myself has, to some degree, clouded literally every adult relationship I have ever had. No matter how well-adjusted I have become, I can't make that little voice go away, the one that tells me to be as inconspicuous as possible, to hide, to enter a room quietly with my gaze averted because the first thing anyone will think of me is, Wow, she's fat.

It matters not that I've become a very accomplished musician. My IQ score is irrelevant if I'm ugly.

I love the magazine InStyle; fashion and design are fun and I like to see what's out there. I can never wear anything in there, however, because I'm four-foot-eleven (yes, that's what they measured me at when I was in the hospital last week) and I weigh somewhere in the vicinity of 200 pounds. They don't make pretty stuff that I can wear and feel comfortable in... hence, I wear t-shirts and stretchy jeans.

My best friend works in the fashion industry and tries to help me find pretty things to wear, but she has also come to see that the scales are far-and-away tipped away from me. The plus-size section of the store (why do we merit a separate section? nobody else has to creep in shame to the back corner of the store to buy clothes) is full of styles that are totally different from those cute things in the "better" sections of the store... totally different, and totally ugly.

The thing is, I know that many of those cuter lines of clothing actually do now run into larger sizes, but stores won't stock them. Why, I haven't a clue. They'd certainly get a lot more of my business.

Any-hoo, back to the size-bias issue.

I think it's a sad thing indeed that people of girth aren't people of worth. I am also a little distressed that we're somehow "classifying" imperfections; people who are fat are worse off than blind people, etc. It's ridiculous. When are we going to stop this and start just seeing people as people, regardless of their differences?

YOU AND I are valuable people; did you realize that? I haven't. Not always. Oh, you've been valuable, but not me.

Not anymore.

After my stomach surgery, I got to know lots and lots and lots of girthsome folks and my heart wrenches with compassion knowing their stories of ridicule and shame. A few years later, I met and made friends with someone who was thin (prior to this, I avoided thin people because I felt intimidated by them) and got to know her... and realized that she herself had as many or more self-image hangups than I did. In fact, she gets a lot MORE hateful comments than I ever did. What polite person would come up to me and say, "Wow, you're looking fat these days!" But nobody thinks it's a problem to come up to her and say, "Wow, you're looking thin." And it hurts her the same way the other comment might hurt me, because it implies you're noticeably different and that you're somehow not right.

And the light in my head clicked on.

You see, it's a crime that so many of us have our self-worth so deeply wrapped up in our appearance. It's wrong. I wish there were more I could do about it.

I can't change the world, but I can be determined to make my little corner of it brighter. The people that God brings across my path are there for a reason, and I can give them a smile and give them unconditional love -- since that's the way God loves us, and I'm sure He wants me to do that for them.

And at the same time, I need it from you. I need to be hugged, to be smiled at, to be accepted... and if you're not where you can do that for me, do it for those around you instead. In some cases, it could be life or death for the recipient; you may never know.

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