Be Kind to Overweight People
  Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D

Consider this scenario.  A handicapped driver is blocked by an overweight lady who is standing by her disabled car in front of the parking space that is reserved for the handicapped.  He yells at her, "whaddya think you're doin,' you fat hog."  Such is the discrimination and cruel treatment that many fat people receive in public places.  The fat lady of the broken down car didn't win acceptance even from a disabled person who should know about discrimination, first hand.  

Every day, in so many ways fat people hear this message, "you don't fit in here.  Get out of our sight."  They can't go to restaurants and movie theaters or, fly in an airplane because the seats may be too small for them.  A fat woman brought her own chair in a movie theatre and tried to sit in the wheelchair section.  She was asked to leave even though she had called the manager from home and had gotten approval ahead of time.  I wonder if at that moment, she thought to herself, "I wish I was in a wheelchair."  

Fat people report that others stare at them all the time.  Onlookers make derogatory remarks about their weight and their character, and harass them.  Going to a grocery store can be an ordeal for them.  Other shoppers make comments about what they eat, pull ice cream boxes out of their grocery cart, saying some words like, 'that's the last thing you need out of this store."  When they go to a doctor for any type of physical problem, first thing they hear is, "you must lose weight."  If they have a chronic medical problem, whether it's related to excess fat or not, their problem is not taken seriously until they can shed a significant mass of fat to the satisfaction of their doctor.  

Fat kids are constantly given the message that they're not as good as thin kids.  They are not given the same opportunities and attention from adults as do non-fat kids.  Unless fat kids become class clowns and learn to laugh at themselves, they face tremendous isolation at school and in the neighborhood.  Fat kids learn that it's their fault that they are fat.  When they come home and complain about the taunts and rude remarks directed at them, they don't get emotional support there, either.  They are told something like, "if you'd only stick to your diet and lose weight, you wouldn't have this problem, would you?"  

The other day I heard the woes of a sixteen-year-old girl, quite beautiful, overweight, but not extraordinarily fat by any means.  From age six, from the time her stepfather married her mother, he constantly commented on her weight.  This girl had a genetic loading for obesity.  Her mother and biological father both were obese.  The stepfather, instead of putting his arms around her, and playing with her, chose to comment on her weight.  He wouldn't tell her, "what a pretty girl you are."  He would often tell her, "you'd look so pretty, if you would only stick to your diet and lose weight."  Now that she is sixteen and has a job, she doesn't want to live with her stepfather or have any relationship with him.   

This girl grew to believe that she was not loveable.  Let alone loveable, she believed she was not even acceptable until she was thin.  She was emotionally deprived just because she was fat.  We can't change people by shaming them or making them feel bad.  We have no right to tell people to change anything about them until we accept them as they are.  We resent anyone telling us to change even an iota about ourselves until we feel they accept us as we are.  

All human beings want total acceptance of their own self, but very few people want to give it to others.  We fear that if we accept a person's "defect," or "fault," he or she would get worse.  This fear is baseless.  Acceptance and love, on the contrary, give us the power to change.  We are able to do what we  earlier couldn't, without that encouragement and acceptance from others.    

Women more than men are the greater victims of "Sizism," and body fat discrimination.  Our society can graciously accept a fat man as a star but only grudgingly may it concede that status to a fat woman.  People magazine, a few years ago, named John Goodman as one of its "sexiest men."  It doesn't seem likely that a magazine anytime soon would rate an obese woman as one of its sexiest women.  In this regard, the society in the past was much more appreciative of the female in her "element."  For instance, at the turn of the century, the reigning sex symbol Lillian Russell weighed over two hundred pounds.

What would shaming, belittling, and rejection accomplish?  Well, in case of fat children or fat adults, it is likely to make them feel insecure, inferior, or even depressed.  Some who feel rejected try to make up for it by consuming more food.  An overweight teenager who was left alone for long hours, would often turn to her "refrigerator mama" in moments of loneliness.   She just had to open the fridge door and there was fridge mama ready to feed her.   Like her, many try to relieve their tension, fear, or sadness by turning to food.  

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