November 9, 2014
Something happened on Friday which caused me to post the following to my Facebook page:
It happened out of the blue between classes. I was the recipient of this sage advice from someone with whom I have worked for many, many years, but with whom I am not close—someone I see on campus in passing only a few times a month. She approached me out in front of my class as I was greeting my students. Yes, it might have been more productive to actually tell her my reaction, but to be honest I was dumbfounded that she said, “I want you to lose weight for me,” so I didn’t exactly formulate a response to her, other than to say, defensively, “I have been trying!” It felt akin to cajoling a young toddler to try peas ‘for me’. I, as you know, am not a young toddler, and so suffice it to say it felt quite patronizing and condescending.
The response from my Facebook (and real-life) friends was immediate and overwhelmingly positive and supportive. Well, it was supportive of me. Of her, not so much. She was attacked and called names, which then made me post this:
And I really do believe it. I don’t think she was mean-spirited. I actually do believe that she means well.
But the thing is, her words, seemingly gift-wrapped in praise and kindness, have stayed with me all weekend, ever-present in my mind. They have continued to plague me, despite all of the positive things my friends said about me in response. Why do we do that to ourselves—allow one negative voice to rise above the many that cheer us on? We do though, don’t we? We allow those to linger and grow louder and more pervasive, and we can forget about the wealth of positive attributes we have. I am intelligent, articulate, loving, sometimes sexy, sometimes funny, and usually positive and generous-spirited. I am a good mother, wife, and friend. But instead of all of those things, I spent a great deal of my weekend fixated on how one person saw me from the outside.
The reality is, my co-worker, that you don’t know me well enough to comment on my weight. We know each other, but you don’t know me.
You don’t know that I’ve struggled with esteem surrounding my weight since I was a young kid.
You don’t know that I have faced ridicule and even bullying because of my size or shape—long before I was in the particular size and shape I currently inhabit.
You don’t know that a handful of years ago, I started infertility treatments that entailed a long process of daily self-injections of hormones that left me, heart-breakingly, with no baby. What did it leave me with was a metabolism out of whack and a bonus stubborn weight gain.
You don’t know that looking in the mirror is often a risky proposition, as my worst critic is the one looking back at me. Luckily, I have an amazing husband who sees me with different eyes.
You don’t know that whenever someone takes a picture of me, I strategically place myself where I am partially hidden. I do, however, allow myself to be in pictures now, because I want my kids to have those memories with me in them in their later years.
You don’t know how desperately I try to shield my children from inheriting my body image issues. I don’t always succeed.
You don’t know how often I hear my friends talk about their own issues and negativity surrounding their own figures—women who are beautiful and amazing and healthy.
You don’t know that I have tried—and continue to try—to become more healthy.
You don’t know that I have been walking five miles a day for the past ten months and have been more conscious than ever of healthy eating choices. You don't know that because of that I have lost 15 pounds so far in the gradual, healthy way that doctors recommend.
You don’t know how proud I am of my progress—and how easy it is to negate it with an unthinking comment.
I know many people reading this will think, “Well, why don’t you do something about it if you are unhappy with yourself?” And the answer is, you don’t know that I’m not. Because you don’t know me.
Just because you know me doesn’t mean you know all there is to know of me, which means you don’t know me well enough to tell me to lose weight. You especially don’t get to tell me to lose weight for you.
I take that back, actually. The reality is, even if you do know me, you don’t get to tell me I should lose weight. I know. We all know, all of us who struggle with weight at times. You are not letting me in on some grand epiphany. Even if you do know me, unless you have M.D. behind your name and I’m your patient, you don’t get a say. I can’t afford to have your negative voice in my head because it’s far too loud.
Now, can we put this conversation to rest and talk about something that’s really important? Funding for education, for example? The state of the economy? The homeless? We have much bigger fish to fry, friends, than figuring out what dress size I should wear.