My name is Lesley Scherer. I am a 36 year old married mother of two living in Ontario, Canada. I grew up in a small rural town, married my high school sweetheart during University, left school so he could pursue his career and have been raising our two autistic children for the last twelve years.
How do you perceive your body? Do you feel like your perspective differs from that of society’s? How does it influence you and how you feel about yourself today?
This is a really loaded question for me. I have days where I hate my body, I hate that it doesn’t move the way I want it to, that it wiggles and jiggles in ways that others find upsetting or gross. I hate that I worry about sitting on furniture because I wonder if I will fit or worse, break it. I hate shopping for anything (clothes especially) but even for groceries because people judge you based on what’s in your cart. Then there are days where I love my body (these are really few and far between). I love that it carried my babies and that underneath all that fat, it is strong! (It has to be in order to carry the weight). I love that it contains a kind person who is giving and loves strongly. But like I said, these days are very rare. More often than not I feel ugly and ashamed of how I look.
I feel society sees me as gross and incompetent, and as a burden. I’ve been treated that way my whole life and it has shaped the person I am. I lack confidence and am constantly trying to please people because I don’t feel worthy of their appreciation or attention. My self-worth is tied directly to the way I look.
So, do I think that society agrees with me, I’m not 100% sure how to answer because despite the way I feel, I know that society is wrong to treat me this way, so I try really hard to not let it get to me (if that makes sense).
How were the topics of self-image, weight and health discussed when you were growing up? How does this influence the way you think and talk about bodies and weight now?
I have always been the fat child in my home. My mother was larger in her youth and it directly impacted the way weight was handled in our home. I would hear stories of how she would make a snack out of a whole box of KD when she got home from school, or how her mother would put her on this diet, or that diet, and how this one worked better than that one. I was encouraged to join weight loss groups and taken to dieticians. I won a provincial title for weight loss when I was about 12 years old for losing 110 pounds. I remember my mom weighing me and trying to trick the scale so she would think I had lost a pound, and how excited she would be. I also remember going back to school shopping and not being able to find anything but stretch pants and how disappointed she was. She would watch my plate to see how much food I put on it, and how much I ate, and she still does. My self-image was tied directly to the number on the scale. If I went up, I was guilt tripped and the diet was revised. If I went down I was celebrated. Health wasn’t really discussed in terms of my weight or body size. It was mostly tied to fear, “If you get much bigger you’re going to have a heart attack”, “your father and I are worried about your heart”, “I just don’t want you to die young”. I learned to equate my weight with my health. The bigger I got the faster I was going to die. Every twinge, every ache I equated to imminent death.
Today, I am much more conscious about how I talk about bodies. Having two boys with special needs I am even more careful about how I talk about my body and if the subject of other people’s bodies comes up I am very quick to discuss with them that every person is deserving of respect and care, no matter how big or small they are. We are all different and that is awesome!
In terms of my body, in our home we are very open about it. I am trying so hard to not take them down the same path I went. If I notice that they are putting on weight I dial up the veggie intake and I purchase healthier snacks for a while, but I do not point it out or make a big deal about it. Our bodies fluctuate naturally and they are still growing. It is most definitely not a daily conversation in our home though, and having young boys I have found that they are not as concerned with their physical appearance (yet). It’s my job to ensure they have the tools they need to love themselves and to take care of themselves through good choices and I think that my relationship with my own body has helped me see what not to do when it comes to them.
Can you tell me about a time when you experienced or observed discrimination or judgment because of your (or someone else’s) weight or size? Why does this particular experience stand out in your mind?
This one is easy! I actually have several that I would like to share and I hope that is okay.
As a child I was on a field trip to the zoo, another student pointed at the hippo’s and said “Hey look! There’s Lesley”
My father in law once said to me “I know why you like to swim…..because fat floats”.
When I was pregnant with my oldest son. I was scheduled for a routine ultrasound and followed all the protocols necessary to prepare for it. I was on the table and the technician kept trying to look for the baby under the part of my stomach that hangs down. I was really confused because the baby would be in my upper stomach (you know where they are in every other woman). All my dignity was lost when they insisted on having another tech come over and in front of me discussed that they couldn’t see anything because of my stomach and they lifted it up and held it like I wasn’t even a person, like I was just a thing to be dealt with.
The second happened when I delivered my second son. During the C-section they strapped my stomach up and out of the way. Somewhere along the lines something went wrong and I was left with a huge lump at the bottom of my stomach that wouldn’t go away. A few weeks after his birth I went to the hospital to get it checked out, it was palpated and I was told it was an infection. So they put me on antibiotics. They ran their course and nothing changed. They did an ultrasound and determined that I should go on a round of I.V antibiotics at home. I had a new born baby and had to carry around an I.V for two weeks. When that ran its course the lump still wasn’t gone. They did another ultrasound and determined “Because of your weight, It’s just a lump of fat from your stomach that didn’t disperse from when you had the c-section, it will go away.”
I’ve been chastised by anesthesiologists because they felt they wouldn’t be able to find a vein, do my epidural or even tell me that “I nearly was the biggest patient they had ever worked on, not the biggest, but nearly”.
I’ve had a doctor look at a leg x-ray after a fall and tell me that, “when bigger people fall, they tend to brace themselves”.
Chairs in the office are too small, scales don’t go high enough, gowns don’t fit, surgical tables don’t fit, blood pressure cuffs don’t fit and nurses walk off in a huff having to go find the bigger cuff, then the cuff still doesn’t fit properly and it leaves bruises. There are too many to list.
People stare, they whisper, they point and laugh.
ALL of these have molded me into the person I am. They have created a person who is afraid to seek help or support from professionals. Who is too nervous about being judged to try new things, and who would rather stay at home than go out in public for fear of ridicule.
If the fear of weight discrimination were eliminated, what would your life look like?
I honestly don’t even know what that would be like! If I could magically make the world accept me for who I am and treat me with the same respect as someone half my size? I would certainly be more inclined to seek medical help! I often avoid doctors because a simple check-up becomes about my weight (although that being said my new family doctor is amazing and does treat me like a human being and not just a number on a scale most of the time) previous doctors were a whole other kettle of fish. I can’t even imagine a world where I could just BE, to exist and not feel like I was being judged based on my size. Where I could be treated with respect and dignity and not have every aspect of my body be boiled down to a number on a scale!
Do you feel that your weight has created barriers for you? For example, have you ever given up an activity you really loved because of your weight? Or are there other ways that your weight has hindered you?
Oh my, yes and double yes! I used to love skiing and rollerblading. I was on the track team and the swim team in public school! Most things I could probably still attempt to do but there are certain things like camping and sleeping on the ground that are next to impossible. Or going to an amusement park! I can’t think of anything more embarrassing recently than attempting to get on a ride with my son last month and not being able to secure the door of the ride. He was amazing about it and rode the ride alone, but my heart broke! I want to go out and try new things, like going on my sisters boat or go tubing but there is no way I will be able to get into the tube and that means I will just sit on the shore and smile and wave while they all have fun this summer.
How have your opinions and beliefs about weight influenced the way you see other people? Why do you think this is?
When I see another person who looks like me I will smile at them. I will give them a huge grin because I know what it’s like to be them! When I see someone struggle, it doesn’t matter if it’s a mom or an older individual I will stop and I will help them. I am taking the time to teach my children to see people as people and not the body they are in. I make a point of treating everyone with kindness and respect because I hope that my example will spark something in them and maybe the next time they see someone like me, they will think a kind thought instead of judge. I do it, because in this world I know we should leave a bigger impression from the size of our heart than the size of our body and it only takes a second to start the change. I can take that second out of my life.
What do you think are some of the most common misconceptions regarding obesity? How do you think stigma contributes to these misconceptions?
Oh my, this is a pretty big question. I’m going to focus on one big misconception, and that would be that we are all funny! I have literally had someone tell me that all fat people are funny! I was completely blown away. I mean, yes I can crack a good joke every now and again and sometimes I can whip out a good pun, but I am no quicker than the next guy in line! I’ve been told we are always happy and smiling. But people don’t ever stop to think about the reason we are always smiling….it is because we are trying to be strong! We are trying to keep the world out! Frowning invites questions and questions invite judgement and judgement leads to being sad. So we smile.
If you feel that your weight is a problem for you, can you talk about the moment you realized it was an issue? What triggered this response?
There is no specific moment. My weight has been an issue since public school. It probably became noticeable when I wanted to start buying my own clothes and couldn’t fit into any at the store. And it just grew from there. Not being about to buy a uniform for work, getting a breast reduction at sixteen so I wouldn’t be teased about the size of my chest and my back wouldn’t suffer, not being about to buy proper sanitary products because they didn’t fit in the underwear I had to buy. Not being able to sit in the back seats of cars because the seatbelt wouldn’t fit or going to a restaurant and trying to fit in a booth but being too afraid to say anything so the meal was spent in pain. Squeezing into a Halloween costume or winter coat, or spirit wear for school. Buying clothes that made you look like an old woman because that is what would fit you. Wearing the same clothes until they literally wore out in the thighs because they were the only thing comfortable that fit you.
Too many moments and too many bad memories.
Obesity Canada is a very new organization to me but I already love the message that I’m hearing! I think that the greatest impact that Obesity Canada can have is on the medical community, is starting with medical practitioners! Start with interns, nurses, & family doctors. With the help of real patients and doctors who want to understand and change their perception we can change the way the world sees people like me. More training (especially sensitivity training in my opinion) is needed in the field of medicine regarding obesity. Not ALL obese patients have diabetes, or heart problems, or blood sugar problems. Some are actually pretty healthy underneath their extra weight. Scare tactics from doctors obviously don’t work so how can the disease be treated differently. Not everyone fits into the same box that medicine has created so a new approach needs to be created. I think this is where Obesity Canada comes in. If we can get doctors to stop treating patients living with obesity as a burden and lessen that stigma that is attached to the diagnoses then perhaps society will follow (eventually). It’s not a change that will happen over night, but it’s definitely a change that has been needed for a long time. I’ve been trying to be more body positive for the past year and I keep hearing the same thing, “you can’t be fat and healthy”. Actually you can. I don’t have diabetes, I don’t have high blood pressure (unless I’m stressed out like an average sized person and I have extra stressors in my life that impact me on a daily basis) and I can do many of the same things that others can do. Does my weight limit me, absolutely, but should it define my health or who I am. Absolutely not.