Growing up, I was slim. After I married at 20 and it turned into an abusive situation I retreated into myself and comforted myself with food, instead of taking up jogging (oh, how I wish I had, but it wasn’t a “thing” back then). The marriage ended and I battled bouts of depression and had a series of deaths in the family. I’d try every new diet with some success, but the weight never stayed off and I would gain more than I lost. My weight stabilized and I remarried and had a baby. I didn’t lose the baby weight, and it continued to creep up. By the time the second rocky marriage was over and several more deaths and bouts of depression passed, I was at my highest of 375 lbs. I tried yet another diet, lost over 80 lbs, and thought I was on my way. Why would I ever want to be that heavy again? I was focusing on healthy eating and started walking a lot. Then there came a series of severe health problems over the years and I gained almost all the weight back. I started living life in fear that I was going to have a heart attack at any moment due to my extra weight. Recently, at age 66, I had to have some tests done on my heart due to a condition not related to size and discovered that my arteries are just fine and I don’t need any kind of arterial bypass when they do the valve replacement surgery. The knowledge that my arteries aren’t all clogged up has helped to significantly brighten my doomsday attitude, although I’m still anxious about the surgery. Aside from that, I love my life, especially since last year I moved into the “granny” suite of my daughter’s house and now have family around including a granddaughter to make me laugh.
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?
Because I was a slim child, I have the distorted notion that my “normal” self is slim and this extra weight is just temporary – 45 years temporary. The upside of this magical thinking is that I have good self esteem. I’ve worn my bathing suit to the beach, I’ve been able to get work, I’ve had romances, and my family loves and supports me. I rarely concern myself with what other people think.
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?
Regarding health, our family often had health problems to the point that we would joke about taking bets on who would be in the hospital at Thanksgiving. My mother carried some extra weight and was self-conscious enough about it that she would wear a coat when out in public, even in the summer. She never commented about my weight as a child since I was slim, but when I was 20, she took me to her weight loss group because she thought I “was getting fat” – I was 5’6″ and weighed 140 lbs.
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?
I remember dropping off a resume at the front desk of a business. The receptionist, much younger than I, asked which job it was for, and when I replied, she laughed, then tossed the papers on the desk with disdain instead of putting them in the folder as she had done with those of the person before me. I assumed she would just put them in the garbage once I left, thinking that someone who looked like me couldn’t possibly do the job regardless of my years of experience in that line of work. I felt so humiliated.
If the fear of weight discrimination were eliminated, what would your life look like?
If I wasn’t retired and was looking for a job, I would be very concerned. Whenever I do start to berate myself about my size and how I should be invisible and not a burden and I shouldn’t expect the world to treat me with respect about my size, I remind myself that I have every right to be here, and if I was Dwayne (The Rock) Johnson or a celebrity football player, people would be quick to find a way to make me comfortable.
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?
Recently I was trying to get off the couch as my granddaughter crawled over to the door her mother had gone through to go to another part of the house. The baby stopped, sat up and started to cry. When I got to her, she looked up at me with tears streaming down her little face and put her arms out to be picked up. I looked down at this tiny being and my heart just broke because I am too fat to be able to reach down and get her. This was just one more of those moments when the devastation of this disease hits full force. I am always hesitant to go to a new place, for fear that the furniture will be unsuitable. I miss camping, sleeping in a tent, sitting on a log beside the campfire. I miss being able to travel, be comfortable on a plane and sleep in a hotel bed rather than the adjustable bed I have at home. I recently heard that the bathrooms on airplanes are being made even smaller which makes me furious. It’s blatantly discriminatory.
How have your opinions and beliefs about weight influenced the way you see other people? Why do you think this is?
Over the years I’ve realized how much courage and determination it takes just to keep going especially when your body and/or mind are not functioning well for whatever reason.
What do you think are some of the most common misconceptions regarding obesity? How do you think stigma contributes to these misconceptions?
One of the many things people don’t understand is that someone who carries extra weight now, may not be eating the huge quantities of food that some people criticize them for. Weight took a while to put on, and once stabilized, doesn’t need a whole lot of calories to maintain itself. It needs even fewer to lose weight in the first place. Another is that all people with obesity have deep emotional problems. Yes, many of us do, and many comfort eat, but when I look at a young child who carries extra weight, I doubt that they have severe emotional problems. In fact, neither did my large cat whose brother was very sleek.
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?
I didn’t have a dramatic incident that happened. I did feel shame and disappointment in myself when I had to start buying my clothes at specialty stores.
Where do you see a need for Obesity Canada and what do you hope we can achieve together?
Three words come to mind: community, stigma, medical. Most of us have times when we feel alone, isolated and misunderstood. I want to feel part of a community who faces the same difficulties as I do, a place where I can hear from others and share my experiences. Second, the stigma is seen everywhere, especially in this age of social media and the inevitable nasty comments. There’s a desperate need to educate the public, let them know it’s not about gluttony, laziness, and not caring about our health and we should just use our willpower to “eat less and move more”. Lastly, the medical community needs to be educated too. To realize that we are here, deserve respect and our health needs as well as spatial needs (seating, examining tables, blood pressure cuffs etc.) should be accommodated.