I’m 59 years old, a wife, mother, grandmother, sister, aunt and friend. I’ve retired from a career in public service. I consider myself to be a relatively outgoing and positive person with many good friends and long term relationships. I’ve been obese from early childhood, starting around age 2.
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?
I am very grateful to my body for being so strong in hauling around this weight for so many years. I absolutely believe I see my body differently than today’s society. I believe a person should never be judged by their exterior. My value is not determined by how I look on the outside. The last thing I would expect people to remember about me is my size. I’m always surprised though that the person I see in the mirror is not the person I see in photographs. It’s strange how my mirror image is much smaller than the image in photos. Yet I have a friend who weighs about 100 pounds less than me and several inches taller who thinks we’re the same size. Obviously obesity plays with your mind and we all see ourselves differently.
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?
In my family obesity is the norm and my weight never really affected me negatively until my mobility became an issue. I expected and considered myself to have had a normal life. I never thought that I should be any different that what I am. I have always been active, loved, laughed, worked with the public, travelled, had a family, volunteered, have many friends and enjoyed life overall. I know that many obese individuals suffered greatly being ridiculed and outcasts in their families and communities. I feel bad for those people and am grateful this was never an issue in my family, extended family and community. I was an honour student and even being obese in phys ed classes I was fortunate to have wonderful teachers who believed so long as you showed up and made an effort to participate you got an A. I believe the media and fashion industry are largely responsible for the unrealistic expectations of body image. The heart and soul of a person comes from the inside not the outside. I try to stay as fashionable and current as I can with the limited options available to me, but I know my body’s size is no secret to anyone.
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?
Even though my weight was a non issue in my family, I can recall every single instance where my weight became part of the conversation. I can’t even imagine how difficult it would be to be ostracized continuously when someone like myself who never suffered that has experiences that stand out in their mind even 40+ years later.
i)The first and only time I ever felt ridiculed in public was when I was pregnant. I was in a department store checkout and 2 teen boys were laughing and making rude comments about my size. My younger sister was with me and just blasted them saying they should stop being rude and mean because I can’t help how I am. I told her not to worry as those boys were ignorant and didn’t know anything about me.
ii) another incident was when I was 17 and a surgeon told me I needed to lose weight or the next surgery would kill me. I expect it was meant to be a scared straight strategy. It didn’t help.
iii) the cutest comment was a young cousin of my husband. The child was about 4 and asked me why my head was so small. Bless his heart. I told him we’re all born different. He has blue eyes, I have brown eyes. He is little and I’m big. He was quite satisfied with that matter of fact explanation and said he loved me.
iv) there was one teenage boy in high school who said I was so pretty but I would be really beautiful if I lost some weight. I think it irritated me more than hurt me. Kind of a WTF does that have to do with anything moment!
v) the most devastating incident was about 2 years ago. I have severe osteoarthritis and have needed a knee replacement for almost 10 years. Five years ago I was referred to the hip and knee clinic. At that time I was likely at my highest weight. The doctor told me I was too young and too heavy and to come back when I couldn’t stand it anymore. Two years ago I went back to the clinic and the doctor said my bmi needed to be under 35 for surgery. Even with bariatric surgery my chances of going from super morbidly obese to bmi 35 is unrealistic. The doctor said too bad, nothing we can do, take more painkillers. I was devastated. I sat and cried in my car for about an hour before I could drive home. It was winter and I drove into the garage feeling so hopeless and for a split second thought of shutting the garage door and leaving the car running. It was just a flash of a thought …maybe a second …it terrified me that this doctor could affect me so much that suicide entered my consciousness. I then got really angry at this callous and uncaring doctor who I’ve since heard has done the same to other obese patients. I had lost about 50 lbs by the second visit and 5 yrs previous there was no mention of you’re too young and too heavy and come back to see me when you’ve lost 150 pounds. I feel the medical system did a real disservice to me by leaving out that qualifier. The wait to get into the bariatric clinic in Edmonton is almost 2 years from referral and it can be another couple years of working with the clinic team before you have surgery. Had I known this was my only hope for a knee replacement I would have pursued the option before my mobility and quality of life were so compromised.
I recently spoke to a friend about these incidents and she commented whenever we are out she sees people looking at me and she’d like to slap the looks off of their faces. Its funny how I don’t even recognize this when it’s happening around me. I guess I should consider myself lucky.
If the fear of weight discrimination were eliminated, what would your life look like?
I don’t know that my life would be significantly different with the exception of not feeling so bad for those who have suffered major emotional trauma because of their obesity. If society put more thought into challenges of obese persons I would likely travel more and not be so anxious about not having access to bariatric seating on airplanes/airplane bathrooms, in restaurants, and theatres. Even in doctors offices and imaging diagnostic clinics. Hospital equipment like MRI’s are a nightmare. I once went to a wedding at a church where the pews were too close together and I couldn’t get into the row and had to leave. There was absolutely no alternate seating. Another time my hotel room had a toilet positioned in an alcove between 2 walls. I didn’t fit and ended up going to a restaurant to use the ladies room. I barely managed to get into the shower stall. I worked in the Legislature for 27 years and attended Question Period twice in all of that time because the only seating I would fit in was designated for security. Thankfully there was a live feed to my office.
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?
Certainly my weight has created some barriers. Not so much when I was younger but definitely when I reached my highest weight around age 50. I now struggle with debilitating mobility issues and extreme physical pain. A long flight is out of the question. Even with purchasing 2 seats, not being able to use the bathroom and easily get up and walk around the cabin eliminates long flights. I have cancelled events where bariatric friendly seating was not available. Events using folding chairs, lifelong learning classes, sporting events, concerts and theater productions. I’ve also cancelled events where the walk from the parking lot is unmanageable. I am unable to take long cross country road trips as my knee gets too stiff and painful travelling any distance. This meant missing a cross Canada trip with a large group of friends for Canada’s 150 year anniversary. It has affected my ability to volunteer as I need to be ever mindful of my physical limitations and their ability to accommodate my need for bariatric friendly seating. It has also affected me financially. My obesity has cost me a significant amount of out of pocket expenses. Thousands of dollars on various weight loss programs. Renting a scooter at large venues. Paying for regular massage and physio over and above what the best health care plan I can buy provides. Paying out of pocket for anti obesity drugs (contrave), medical cannabis for pain management and mobility aids. The cost of medical forms for applications for federal and provincial programs (ie disability tax credit, handicap parking placard etc) and airline one person one fare programs (necessary every single year). The cost of a second airplane seat for non domestic flights and for an extra seat for flights prior to when the one person one fare program was implemented. Needing to book a special shuttle bus or van to ensure adequate seating. Two years ago I had to sell my house because I could no longer manage the stairs. Even buying a car is challenging, not only being able to get into it but hoping the seat belts fit. In my career I passed on opportunities that would require travel and attending meetings in unknown facilities. Did this affect my advancement? I’ll never know.
How have your opinions and beliefs about weight influenced the way you see other people? Why do you think this is?
I think obesity has fostered my empathy for all people in general. Visible and non-visible afflictions. Daily life can often be very challenging for me and I know I’m not the only one experiencing this.
What do you think are some of the most common misconceptions regarding obesity? How do you think stigma contributes to these misconceptions?
Most common misconceptions … that obese people are less than “normal” size people. Obese people are still the brunt of jokes on television, on you tube, comedy routines and in movies. I believe obesity is the only affliction where society, the media and government bodies think it is still acceptable to discriminate against.
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?
My weight became an issue when I was at my highest. I knew I was only about 10 lbs away from never walking again. The pain in my knee is excruciating even with pain medications, regular aquasize, massage and physio therapy. I’ve lost 100’s of pounds over the years only to gain more back time and time again. I see bariatric surgery as the only option available to me for any hope of being approved for a knee replacement to enhance my quality of life. I’ll soon be too old to have weight loss surgery and the long wait is frustrating. Constant pain is very wearing on a person and every month that passes I notice my mobility is more and more compromised. I hope to have weight loss surgery this year and pray a knee replacement and relief from pain will follow soon after. In the meantime I live the best life I can with the promise of a more active and joyful future.