Thursday 17 July 2014

Sticks and Stones...

It is never appropriate to comment on somebody's weight.

I know I've done it a bucket of times, without meaning to be hideous, you may have too, and we have to stop.

We live in a society where we are used to commenting. We are asked to comment all the time on social media and in all those surveys that flood our inboxes. I think that generally it is a good thing to prompt discussion, if in fact discussion is prompted. Sadly, more often an opinion is stated and then either the opinionator is celebrated with warm fuzzy comments or told to piss off and get a life.

Most of us know that it is inappropriate to comment on race or disability but it seems other aspects of appearance are still very much in the firing line.

Last week I was working in a Pharmacy when an elderly customer mistook an 18 year old staff member for one of her colleagues. Upon realising his mistake, the explanation was "Well you are chubby too".

Unfortunately I learnt about this exchange second-hand or I would have had to say something. The 18 year old in question has lost a substantial amount of weight since finishing school a few months ago (around 11 kg) through a mixture of eating well and exercising and she looks healthy and feels good. Whenever I see a young person loose a lot of weight quickly, I worry for them. Words hurt and can trigger drastic actions. On the flip side,  comments meant to be congratulatory can reinforce that she was overweight before and that it was noticed.

I was a chubby kid (see, labels come so easily). Indulgent grandparents and a predilection for reading books over playing sport meant I wasn't the fittest kid in the schoolyard. Other kids made comments from time to time- but I was used to mild bullying- I was a short kid with red hair and freckles. It was the comments from my family that I remember: my mum discussing calories and overeating with me when I was 9, my Nana mentioning to a friend that my brother can eat whatever he wants and not put on weight but "we have to watch Nicole", another kid's parent commenting on my waist measurement when measuring me for a dance costume. I was not particularly overweight, just a couple of kilos, and as Bette Midler once said in an interview with Oprah "when you are 5'1" two pounds has less room to spread".

I learned to diet very young, I had yo-yo-ed a couple of times by fourteen years old. Then sometime in year 11 I decided to go on a diet. It started well, I walked my dog every afternoon and was careful with portion sizes. After a few months people would comment on how much weight I lost and how good I looked. As the stress of approaching year 12 started and the admiration from peers was relished, I implemented stricter and stricter controls on my daily calories until I was a walking lolly pop girl (big head, skinny body- there's those labels again). Looking back at pictures from the time is difficult.

Somehow when I finished school, life got a bit easier and I no longer felt the need to control my food and my weight so extremely. But I was far from recovered. I had spent so many years not eating that I had forgotten how to eat normally. I got into a pattern of binging and starving, feast or famine, and stayed in that pattern for many years; gaining a lot of weight in the process. Exercise and maturity rescued me in the end. In my early twenties I learnt to make better food choices and exercise switched my brain into appreciating strength and feeling good rather than feeling thin.

"You have just told me the story of your weight", a friend said when I recently told her this same story. We agreed that most women (and probably most people) have such a story. This same friend was inspired to start jogging after a group of women she hadn't seen for a while tried to coerce her into revealing her pregnancy. Repeatedly. She is/was not pregnant. I applaud her for exercising, it is great for her health, but the event that triggered the exercise is bullying. Have you ever been involved in a similar situation?

I am pleased to say that I am coming to terms with my body. Partially from wealth of experience and a fairly recent shift in my thinking, to value health over size. This shift was assisted by trying the Dukan diet (posts here and here) and a couple of health scares. Oddly, since I have stopped fretting about what I ate each day, my weight has stabilised at a level which I am quite happy with. I have two days per week where I eat low carb, vegetarian food and therefore, two days per week where I don't eat any junk food (this also reduces my carbon footprint and consumption of animals). I feel really good on those days so I often make cleaner greener choices the rest of the time. I never count calories and I make sure that if I am having a treat (read as enormous wedge of cake, huge bowl of ice cream or half a chocolate fish) that I allow myself the time to enjoy it mindfully, without guilt. I still have times where I overeat, gorge myself on chocolate because I arrive home starving, or spoon Nutella and peanut butter out of the jar because I've had a bad day; but I have learned that everyone does that (OK, I think maybe the Nutella and peanut butter together may be unique to me) and the difference is in what you do next.

It is important to recognise that weight issues are rarely just a matter of eating too much or not enough accidentally. Obviously genetics plays a major part in metabolism and body shape but there is also a significant effect from our psychology. Obesity, anorexia and everything in between is very much related to how we as individuals feel or cope with things. Guilt associated with eating 'bad' food only worsens this. I am not a psychologist or nutritionist so I'm going to leave it at that. My point is however, that to judge or comment on somebody's weight is discrimination.

I love this column by Jessica Rowe on how it feels to be criticised for being thin. She highlights an excellent point, that the things that adults say about other peoples bodies and their own are picked up by children. These sort of comments made me sick for a very long time, nobody wants that for their child.

If you are unhappy with your weight then do something about it. Start exercising, talk to a dietician or find a way that you can adjust your lifestyle in an achievable and healthy way. Don't overlook the psychological component because we are a product of our society. Know that everybody has insecurities about their appearance and that your health, both mental and physical, is so much more important. And if you hear someone commenting about another's appearance, call them on it, the same way you would if you heard someone being racist or discriminatory in any other way.

Sticks and stones may break my bones but words may break my heart.

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  1. Well said! We are all so much more than our appearance and weight and being kind is always the most important thing.

    A few years ago a male acquaintance made a stupid personal comment to me and I turned around and said, "you know, making mean comments about me doesn't make you attractive". Quite lost for words he was but then he's not too bright.

    Ok and it's straight out of mean girls but that movie rules.

    1. I think you've hit the nail on the head there Emma. I think a lot of people are nasty to others to make themselves feel better. I can't see how that could possibly work.

  2. This is just too damn common and no less hurtful because of it. If we all spent a little less time worrying about what everyone else was doing and eating and looked inwardly to tackle our own insecurities and issues, there would be so much less bitching and griping.

    The really REALLY sad thing is that people don't think of weight in the same vein as other forms of discrimination or bullying behaviour and I guess the only thing we can do is keep challenging people on it again and again until they realise it's not on. Whether they're kids in the playground or little old ladies in the chemists.

    Thank you for sharing, it's a tough one to talk about I imagine.
    M x Life Outside London

  3. Oh and I didn't want to detract from the semi-serious comment I just left by focusing on the Nutella/peanut butter revelation but ooooh yes please! Is it like a spoonful of Reeses Peanut Butter Cups?? I could get on board with that!!
    M x

    1. Better than Reeses! I know, big call. I also suggest layering them with ice cream :)

  4. Totally agree with you on this! People need to keep their opinions to themselves regarding others weight - it's just very unnecessary! xx

    1. And so potentially damaging! Thanks for popping by :)


I love comments, whether you agree or disagree with me I would love to hear what you think.