Saturday, November 28, 2009

The weight of weight

The other day I had one of the oddest conversations of my life. An acquaintance was telling me about a relative of hers who was underweight and having a hard time gaining. This individual had nothing but sympathy for the skinny young woman as she told how she ate all the right foods for gaining, yet couldn't put on a pound. Yet, when the conversation turned to someone who is overweight, the tone changed. No more sympathy. The overweight person didn't try hard enough, she said. She could lose that weight! She saw no disconnect between her reactions to the two people.

Underweight = good and deserving of sympathy; overweight = bad and deserving of scorn. I guess that's the way most people think.

I thought it was kind of funny that she went on that way with me, as I am definitely not an underweight person. I can only remember one time in my life when I was close to being slim. It was during a period of my life when I was working full time and carrying a full load of classes at night. I lived on happy hour food and white wine spritzers; microwave popcorn and diet coke. I wasn't very healthy. But I was somewhat happy with my clothing size. It was a short period of my life.

My first date-like event with my husband was at a brewpub. We had a beer and then decided to eat dinner. This was a meat sort of place, and I agonized. A sausage dish looked good, but did I dare? What if he was afraid of food, like so many others I knew? Throwing caution to the wind, I ordered what I wanted.

At the next day's debriefing with my girlfriends at work, they were horrified: "Sausage? You ate sausage? You will never see him again." And yet, I continued to see him, often, and now see him every single day. We still eat sausage, sometimes. I didn't know till much later that he had his own agonizing moments that evening. "What if she's a vegetarian? Oh please, let her not be a vegetarian." Ordering sausage over salad turned out to be the right move.

But, still. I have known what it's like to have every bite scrutinized, to feel self-conscious eating a particular food, to have disapproving eyes calculating the size of that slice of pizza. It's not pleasant. It must be worse for truly obese people. I remember a woman telling me about going out for ice cream after losing 50 pounds. She had more weight to lose; she was still pretty big. But she hadn't had ice cream in a year and felt like she could finally have it, just the one time. But she heard the tut-tutting of people around her and wished she'd stayed home. Of course they didn't know her story. It was none of their business. But they made it their business to judge her.

How much worse will that be with ObamaPelosiReidCare? Once everyone is on the financial hook for everyone else's healthcare, how much more tut-tutting will we hear? Will restaurant employees become mandatory reporters, snitching on fat people who order cheeseburgers? Will people in line at WalMart feel entitled to comment on the ice cream in the cart ahead? "Hey, you should take that back and get some fruit. I don't want to pay for your bypass."

Most overweight people I know work, to some degree, at losing weight. (Oh, of course there are people who do not. I don't know anyone who is happy to be overweight, though, whether that person is actively trying to lose weight, or has never tried, or has given up.) For some it's easy; for some it's not, even to the point of impossibility for some percentage. Just as it's not easy for some people to gain. Odd that one person gets sympathy and the other doesn't.

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