This is not just another blog pointing out how insensitive people can be. In fact, you will likely discover that you may be able to do something about the sort of behavior I am going to describe. On the downside though, you may realize an ugly truth about yourself and may be forced to confront your own bias and bullying when I ask you the same questions I asked myself a few years ago.
Please consider the following:
- Have you ever brought up diet to a person who is overweight while they are eating?
Indeed, "doing something about it" in this case will start with a close and honest look at yourself. Like me, I am sure you work at being a good person and like me, when I hear about bullying and discrimination, automatically I feel it must apply to others, because I am simply "not like that."
Realize that we live in a time where fat jokes are still okay. Who could forget the hilarious character "Fat Bastard" famously portrayed by Mike Myers in his Austin Powers films? Our tolerance of this sort of ridicule does not seem to reflect the other values many of us aspire to hold. Yet we tolerate it. Maybe we tolerate it because deep down we feel like obese people deserve being humiliated and made fun of?
I know what you might be thinking. Laughing at a joke does not mean we intend to humiliate anyone, right? It's all in fun, it does not make you a bully any more than laughing at a racist joke makes you a racist... or... wait... We had that debate, and people more or less agreed that it did in fact make you a racist.
Is it possible we are a little less sensitive to obesity because in the end, it is self-inflicted? It was a choice, something they got themselves into and now need help to get out of. Maybe people should feel down and depressed, and struggle as if instilling some sort of punishment during the correction process is warranted and deserved.
We need to realize that in many cases, obesity is the result of a food addiction and when we decide we want to step up to "help," we have an obligation to make sure we are truly helping and not just projecting our frustration at them.
We can achieve that by trying to put ourselves into a comparable scenario that we can relate to.
What is it like to be told that the thing that gives you the most pleasure is actually killing you and it has to stop? How do we approach it? Well, how would you tell a marathon runner, "You can no longer run"? Would you bring it up as they prepare for a jog? Of course not! You would take time to create a situation that makes the news easier to receive before just delivering the cold, hard truth. Then why confront someone about their obesity over dinner, without warning or care if the circumstances created an atmosphere where the message became lost in the delivery?
When the runner is crying and depressed as he struggles with his new reality, do we offer him tough love or a tender understanding shoulder to cry on? Why not the same disdain for the runner that we show obese people? He did it to himself with his excessive running, yet even people who do not run can empathize with his sense of loss. We find a way to relate to how he must feel and then show genuine compassion. Yet, we do not extend the same courtesy and compassion to people struggling with obesity due to overeating. Why?
As we glance at plates, analyze diets from afar and quietly condemn the obese people in the next booth because of their lack of discipline, we fail to realize that the lady whose plate we are judging is on medication where weight gain is a side effect. Her overweight friend has polycystic ovary syndrome, one of many medical conditions that cause obesity.
Are we so quick to judge that we are often guilty of being so ignorant? Please realize I am not condemning anyone. What I hope to help reveal is that there is improvement at the most basic levels that can start once we confront some ugly truths about ourselves.
Obese people are bullied and often treated with disrespect, even by people who are otherwise kind, considerate individuals. People like us. Their families struggle, knowing that society rushes to protect others from discrimination but neglects to protect those who are visibly overweight.
I am here to tell you that most of us can do something about this issue right now and we need look no further than our own mirror.
I did my part, and it started by confronting myself and demanding better.
For more by Chris Reid, click here.
For more on mindfulness, click here.