The People of Walmart

I’m not going to link to the site here, but I’m sure most of you are familiar with the meme The People Of Walmart. Basically, strangers take pictures of other strangers that they find, for some reason, odd or hilarious or whatever… and they post them online and make fun of them. TPOW is hardly the only such site that does this… there are many out there that do it. It happens on reddit, it happens in forums all over the net.

At first glance, it’s pretty easy (in most cases) to tilt your head and go WTF? to some of these pics. Like the infamous one of the woman wearing her nightgown, fur coat and vacuuming her front yard. It’s easy to judge that pic and go… well clearly she’s high. And maybe she was high.

Or maybe she’s mentally ill. Or maybe she has Alzheimer’s. We don’t know because we don’t her. We have no idea what led to her being outside, on what looks like a rainy day, wearing that fur coat and nightgown and vacuuming her yard (or trying to). But whatever the story is, it’s hers.

My grandfather has dementia. We don’t know what the cause of it is, but he often forgets to shave and his hair will be a mess. He used to be the sort of man who never, ever went outside unkempt. He was very neat and put great care into his appearance, at least outside of the house.

When my grandmother needed emergency surgery in November, and the doctors really didn’t know if she’d survive, he had to rush with my mom to the hospital. All he kept saying, while they were waiting in the family room for news, was that he hadn’t shaved. This upset him so much that when she wanted to say goodbye a few weeks down the road, he didn’t want to go because he hadn’t shaved. My mother, as gently as she could, told him it was going to be his last chance to see his wife.

So he went out, unkempt, disheveled…

A friend of mine went to the Walmart pharmacy late at night because her 2 month old had a fever. She was wearing pajamas, flip flops and realized after the fact that her top was inside out (and had spit up on it). Her hair hadn’t been washed in two days because, as a new mom, she just hadn’t gotten the chance to wash it. She told me later she worried about someone taking pics of her while she was in Walmart, since her pajamas were hot pink and had animal print. And it was December in New Jersey and rather cold for flip flops.

As a fat person in a digital age that so greatly enjoys mocking people for no reason other than they’re out in public and dare to look somehow different than other people think they should, I never shop without fear of winding up on some fat shaming site. It’s always in the back of my head. It doesn’t stop me from living my life, but the fact that I have to think about it at all is pretty fucked up, really.

I’m fortunate to live in a place where the majority of people aren’t assholes. No, really… I regularly have teenage boys hold the door for me. That doesn’t happen where I come from, not unless said teenage boy thinks the woman he’s holding the door open for is hot, anyway. And maybe not even then. But certainly no one ever held the door open for me where I grew up on the east coast.

But then hell, I saw a little old woman with a walker struggle to get into a bank in Manhattan that didn’t have automatic doors for 5 fucking minutes. I was prepared to help, but stuck on the other side of the street. People went into the bank, came out of the bank. No one helped her. It broke my heart. When I went and helped her, the look of gratitude in her eyes was just… overwhelming. It literally made me tear up because I could not imagine how anyone could be so oblivious, self-absorbed or cruel as to let this poor woman struggle that way.

So certainly, it wasn’t limited to fat people… which is the point. People here are, in general, just much kinder and nicer than the people where I used to live. So given that, I worry a LITTLE less. But I still worry.

I’ve had strangers (again, back east) come up to me in a store, look at me and give me their diet business cards. This is when I was dieting, btw, and nothing in my cart was even remotely “questionable.” I was once walking home from the deli, where I’d gone to get my husband and myself some ice cream on a hot summer day, after he’d had a rough day at work. The bag I was carrying was a brown paper bag… some asshole stopped at the red light where I was crossing shouted out, “hey fatty… what’s in the bag? Ice cream?”

Yes, because being fat means you can’t have ice cream. Or it means ice cream is all you eat. I’m never sure which one, tbh. But at the time, that comment destroyed me inside. It made me feel so much guilt and shame that I didn’t even eat the ice cream, despite the fact that, again I was dieting and had worked the ice cream into my daily diet allowance.

I was eating a fat free frozen fudge bar before class started on a warm May Saturday, when a classmate I barely knew came over and asked “should you be eating that?” I looked at her and said, “well since it’s 2 Points and I’m on Weight Watchers, yes, I should.” But I wish I’d said, “how the fuck is it any of your business what I’m eating?” Because that’s EXACTLY the sort of reply that question deserved. And today, after years of eating disorder therapy and time to learn to accept myself, that’s more or less the response I’d give. But I only was able to start this therapy after leaving the toxic fat bashing environment I grew up in and moved to Colorado, which ironically despite being repeatedly reported to have the lowest obesity rates also happens to be far more fat friendly. I’m sure people think things, but I’ve only once in almost 10 years of living here had anyone say something, and it was the second week after we moved here. And, not that it excuses it, because it doesn’t, the person in question thought I was out of earshot when he made the snarky comment. It was at the Wendy’s drive through, and the kid who took our payment said, “that dude’s wife was BIG.” But it was after we’d driven up… he just happened to have said it before the other kid had closed the window. Or I’d never have known.

This sort of shit was bad enough when it was limited to what happens in a store with one person coming up to you or shouting shit from a car at you or making the odd rude comment to you at a restaurant or anywhere else. But now? Now we’ve moved into an entire other realm, one where strangers can take your photos while you’re eating, and you never know it. And then they post said photos and judge you for daring to eat while fat. Sometimes the person in the question probably doesn’t even meet the BMI chart standard for “overweight (not that that’s anything other than money-making BS anyway),” but the photographer thinks she does…

Or the person is wearing a tank top in public, and she’s fat so of course she shouldn’t be daring to show her arms. Or he has chocolate in his cart, and he’s fat, so he deserves it, right? Uhm, no. Actually, he doesn’t.

You might think, “oh, this is ridiculous, she’s being dramatic or overly sensitive.” And perhaps I am, to some degree. My rant about this is inspired by two friends that I know love me and wouldn’t want to hurt me sharing pics from The People Of Walmart. But my grandmother just died, I’m in a fibro flare from hell, and every time I see pics like these I imagine how easily it could happen to me… because I’m both fat and disabled, but my disability is one that is an invisible illness. It’s fibromyalgia, and I have a handicapped placard so I can park closer to stores, and in doing so save myself some spoons. I won’t even use a scooter… because I know people will make snap judgments (another thing that does happen to thin people or young people) about why I’m in a scooter. That and, well… I’m kind of afraid I’d drive one into the display at the end of the aisle. But my husband (who is also fat) has multiple sclerosis and he’s had to use one before, too. Once when I was in Walmart, there was a young kid in a scooter… a teenage boy. With his mother and sisters. He was checking out at the aisle behind ours. My husband had his cane. The – also young – cashier we had went on a loud rant about how much it annoys him to see people using scooters who don’t need them. Well, guess what? When we got out to the parking lot that kid was handed his crutches by his mother to get from the scooter to the passenger door, and she then took the scooter back. So this doesn’t happen just to fat people, but having a fat body in a fat phobic, fat hating society certainly puts an extra target on your back to be the butt of someone’s joke.

When it comes to the internet, I think because they’re strangers in a picture we’re seeing it’s so easy to become desensitized to the fact that The People of Walmart are, in fact, PEOPLE. Real people. People who have jobs, feelings, families, children… etc, etc. People for whom your two minute laugh have to live, in some cases, a lifetime of ridicule and shame over something that you really, when it comes right down to it, don’t know anything about.

The man whose ass crack is out of his pants… maybe he’s undergoing chemo and has lost weight. The woman who has on jeans that are too tight (in your opinion). Maybe she’s gained weight and can’t afford to buy new clothes. The woman in the crazy platform shoes who gets a comment about being a stripper running errands might be a single mom who really IS a stripper, and that’s how she supports her kids. Or maybe she’s just a stripper because she wants to be. And guess what? She fucking allowed to be a stripper, and she’s allowed to wear those shoes to Walmart or anywhere else she wants.

Our bodies don’t belong to strangers in stores or online. They belong to us. We get to do with them whatever makes us happy, whether that means dyeing your hair fuchsia, shaving it all off, having 22 tattoos or 32 piercings. Or just something as simple as wearing shorts ┬áThis is true whether we’re a random unknown person or even a celebrity, although at least celebrities go into it knowing the cost. It is still fucked up, but it’s an unfortunate part of the job, and in many cases the publicity turns into profit, even if it’s unfair or undesired. For us just doing our regular grocery shopping, there’s no “perk”to being photographed by a stranger and turned into a joke.

This world we live in where it’s become not only okay, but often encouraged, to take photos of strangers for the sole purpose of mockery is shit. I think that any one of us could, for any number of reasons we can’t necessarily conceive of, wind up on one of these sites. Whether it’s because we’re shopping in our pajamas because we’re sick and don’t give a fuck and just wanna get what we need and get out, or because we want chocolate and don’t buy into the BS that a fat person isn’t allowed to eat chocolate, or we have crazy colored hair that someone thinks is “weird” or we have a lot of piercings or we have a tattoo that someone thinks is dumb or we’re mentally ill and have no idea where we are, let alone what we’re wearing… it could happen to any one of us.

You could very easily someday be the person being laughed at. So next time you mock someone try – just try – to put yourself in said person’s shoes.┬áBecause while some people manage to take their unintended internet fame (though these cases usually involve people who put themselves or a family member online in the first place, like David After Dentist or Charlie Bit Me) and turn it into something positive, others contemplate suicide or experience serious mental health struggles.

~JK

 

 

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The one where I try to find a bathing suit

As I work up the courage to wear something vaguely bathing suit like for the first time in oh… over 2 decades, I appreciate this post from the fabulous Ragen Chastain, which she recently reposted via facebook. I’m also grateful for her follow up post, which can be read here.

It’s not easy for me to admit being intimidated by the idea of putting my fat body into a bathing suit of some sort. Body acceptance isn’t, at least for me, something that just magically happens overnight. It’s a process, and I still have issues to work through. Wearing a swimsuit of some kind in public happens to be one of those issues… and that’s something hard to explain, and a lot of the “concern trolls” or outright haters would point to it as proof that I’m not really happy with myself. But the truth is, I’ve always been my own worst hater. The people out there who think they can offend me by calling me ridiculous names like “hamplanet,” or who try to hurt me by claiming my husband must be gay, repulsed by me or otherwise somehow, in their viewpoint, “broken,” to want to be with me, have no idea that I’ve called myself far, far worse things over the years (they also, incidentally, have no idea how laughable it is to me when they try to attack my marriage… because I’ve never been more sure of anything than I am of my husband’s love for me). I’ve spent plenty of time beating myself down; engaging in an endless cycle of emotional (and sometimes physical) violence towards my body. As sure as I was of the love my husband and I shared, it didn’t mean there weren’t times when I wondered why he loved me, especially in the early days. A lot of therapy and hard work helped me get through that, but I still hated my body. Passionately.

And for what? For how it fucking LOOKED. It did all these unbelievable, amazing things for me. I could walk all over Manhattan. I could take care of a classroom with 14 toddlers, a job where you literally were not allowed to sit unless the children also were sitting (and anyone who’s spent time with a toddler knows “sitting” isn’t one of their favorite past times). and win the praise of parents and fellow staff members. I worked with infants, with constant up and down, lifting, diaper changes, etc, etc. I did all of this while “morbidly obese,” and I did it fabulously. My body allowed me to do it… and I was never grateful. I was never appreciative.

In no small part, my road to body acceptance was paved with an eight-years-in-the-making diagnosis of fibromyalgia (and yes, more therapy). In other words, I didn’t really begin to appreciate what my body had done for me until my body could no longer do those things. And at first, like the doctors and plenty of “concerned” friends and family members, I bought into the idea that my illness was just a symptom of my fat. It took eight incredibly frustrating years, a sleep study that proved I wasn’t suffering from sleep apnea (I wish I could’ve wiped the smirk off the face of the ENT back in Manhattan who assured me I did, because fat + snores has to = sleep apnea, despite a deviated septum), but rather a sleep disorder known to plague fibromyalgia patients, along with a lot of various tests (11 vials of blood in one session and an MRI) to finally realize what was actually wrong.

I don’t hate my body now. And I regret all the wasted years when I could’ve been doing more with it, when I was healthy enough to do more, but too fearful or too certain I had to wait until I was X number of pounds thinner before I dared try that particular thing. Now, even if something happened like some fairy godmother waved a wand and made me magically thin, it wouldn’t matter. I still have fibromyalgia. I still live with the fatigue, the brain fog, the constant feeling of battling a low grade flu… and those are the good days. On the bad days? Taking a shower makes me cry. Hating my body for how it looks? Seems pretty stupid to me now, considering what it’s going through every day. Considering the endless battles it faces. Considering I hated it for that one vain reason for so many damn years before I got sick, and what did that all that self hatred ever do for me? I can assure you, not one damn positive thing.

So, yes… I disagree with those who see my reticence to put on a swimsuit in public as “proof” I hate myself. I point to it as proof that I, like millions upon millions of others, have been brainwashed by a $60 billion dollar a year diet industry (not to mention the entertainment industry, the media in general, the beauty industry…etc), into thinking my body type isn’t attractive and, even worse, is downright repulsive. I’ve come a very, very long way in appreciating it as it is, right now, today. I’ve become far more comfortable in my skin than I ever imagined possible while still *gasp* fat. Part of that is because I realized that if I didn’t learn how to love myself right now, I’d always find something to hate. I could be that dream size (whatever it was at the particular period in my life) and find reasons to be unhappy… like so many women do, even women who perfectly fit into the stereotypical beauty paradigm.

I was tired of hating myself, and I don’t now. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy to battle all those years of “I’m too fat to wear a bathing suit in public,” either. Beyond that, there’s a certain degree of personal comfort with exposing so much skin… it’s been so long, after all. It makes me feel raw, naked and unbelievably vulnerable.

So why do it? Why even bother, right? For years, I wouldn’t have dreamed of going public in a swimsuit. For years I couldn’t see a reason to endure the emotional angst that I’d heap upon myself, nevermind what others might think. And even when I got to a point where I could fairly honestly say, “fuck what others think, Jessica… this ain’t about their opinions,” I still had my own personal demons to battle. So why now?

Circle back to one evil, vicious word. Fibromyalgia. I have fibromyalgia. I have pain every.single.fucking.day. And anyone who lives with this illness knows damn well that it doesn’t tend to get better. One of the biggest challenges we face is trying to not lose the ability to move entirely… because when you’re left exhausted, shaking and in tears simply from showering, it’s pretty damn hard to even begin to consider anymore advanced exercise. When something as simple as using a treadmill leads to a major injury because your muscles are so tight they pull your knee cap out of place and cause a tear in your meniscus, it’s pretty hard to imagine wasting money on a gym membership, let alone doing something more advanced.

Over and over I’ve been told “water therapy.” I loved swimming as a kid. In fact, I lived in the pool in my grandparents’ yard for about 8 hours of every summer day that wasn’t rainy (and even some that were) when I was growing up. Yet, despite loving the water, I’ve avoided the “water therapy” idea for a few years now, partly because my local pool is known for being kept rather cold and because I have concerns over whether that will make my already tight muscles even tighter… but also, if I’m honest, because that meant putting on a swimsuit in a public place. Worse, the pool is located in the same complex as the local high school. I’d been working towards being a teacher, with the hopes of teaching at said high school. It shouldn’t matter how I look, but it does. I had legit concerns that putting on a swimsuit at that pool would risk my ability to be hired there in the future. Perhaps ironically, my illness progressed to the point where I realized I’m not going to be able to work full-time outside of the house, so that reason was eliminated. Which left me forced to accept my real, biggest fear about the entire thing.

Wearing a bathing suit – of some sort – in public. Not because I give a rat’s ass what anyone else thinks. But because I’m still battling my own inner demons. And that realization sucks.

But I’m human. I’m allowed to have these feelings, and these doubts or anxieties. If I choose to not do it, I’m allowed that choice, too. But then I let all those messages about not being worthy of wearing something revealing win. I let the diet industry win. I let the haters win. When it was a matter of swimming for pleasure, well… that was bad enough. But this is different. This is about my health, about my future. This is about wanting to be able to go on trips and walk around without hurting myself from my muscles being so damn tight.

This is about not letting fibromyalgia gain anymore ground.

So, I have to fight my own fears. I have to face them. I have to figure out what I can find to wear to be as comfortable as possible while doing this. I have the support of an amazing husband, who will go with me for moral support, even though he has no desire to swim (he was never a big fan of the water). I have a physical therapist that, despite some… differences of opinion… is willing to go to the public pool with me to show me the exercises I should do. I have a pool that, admittedly might prove to be too cold, but it’s only 30 min away (that’s close in my part of the world), and it’s really inexpensive to go to. I have everything I need, except the swimwear.

I think I finally even have the guts to find that swimwear… and to go, and give it a try. Because while it would suck to lose the $150 bucks or so it will cost me to buy said swimwear if that pool is too cold, what’s at stake here is far greater. What I’m risking losing instead is too big to ignore.

This is about my health, my body and my needs. And if my fat, wet, swimsuit body offends someone? Oh, well. They have the right to avert their eyes. And as for my own personal fears? Well, as Captain Janeway said, “you know as well as I do that fear only exists for one purpose: to be conquered.”

~JK

Fat shamed by medical professionals

(sadly, the service I recorded this with has a limited lifespan for files, so the audio blog is no longer available.)

 

I have an experience this week, and it took me back to the first time I remember being fat shamed by a “medical professional.” Maybe it had happened before, but if so I don’t recall it. I did this as a voice blog, and you can listen to the recording using the link below.

WARNING: I curse some and I talk about uhm… feminine stuff at the very end. So this is really NSFW and likely contains TMI.

TRIGGER WARNINGS: I talk very bluntly, openly and candidly about a variety of eating disorders, and of course, obviously fat shaming.

Listen here.

~JK

Oh, Special K…

So, the people at Special K think you’re stupid. Or at least, they are hoping you are. They are running multiple campaigns to imply that they believe in body acceptance and not body shaming. I had wanted to believe, at first, that maybe they were changing their ways. But… they aren’t.

Here’s the first in a series of campaigns they’re doing.

Red flag in the video? “We believe it’s a barrier to managing their weight.” Ah. Okay. So, right off the bat, though they are saying “fat talk” is harmful, they are also clearly still stating we need to “manage” our weight.

Then there is this one.

“Not seeing the number is so freeing,” says one woman in that video. I agree with her, to be honest. But the problem is… Special K is very, very much still using these campaigns to promote weight loss and dieting. So, I guess it’s okay to not see the number on the scale or your pants, just so long as that number is also shrinking? Or being “managed?” What does “managed” even mean to Special K?

Then they, disappointingly, managed to recruit Tyra Banks. Tyra has admitted she doesn’t “believe in diets,” and has been very body positive. So, I’m not sure why she’s signing up with a campaign so full of shameless mixed messages and manipulation.

The final nail in the proverbial coffin is this New Year’s resolution inspired print ad, which I scanned after finding it in the January/February edition of Cooking Light (a magazine I will not be renewing my subscription to, but that’s a story for another post).

Scan0013

At first glance, I was like… whoa! That’s actually not a bad ad for them. But, then I began to digest the mixed messages, and realized. Not only is this the same old dieting BS I’ve come to expect from Special K, it’s manipulative, dishonest and probably more harmful than their usual run-of-the-mill ads for it. The concept that you can focus on a “word” and not a “number” seems great! The word “JOY” on the scale seems positive, but then I saw the lower left corner, and the “What will you gain when you lose?” tagline.

“Most anything is possible when you focus on the positive.” That sounds good, right? But here’s the problem. This entire campaign, while very cleverly conceived, is insidiously manipulative. You’re telling women to accept their bodies and not shame them but also clearly saying they need to “manage” them, and making it obvious that the goal here is still weight loss. It’s disappointing, but hardly surprising to me, given the history of this brand.

You are, of course, allowed to diet. If that’s what you want to do, if that’s what you feel is best for your body… by all means go for it. We get to make our own choices. I am personally anti-dieting because there is nothing to support that long term weight loss of any statistical significance is possible for the vast majority of people. I prefer to follow the Health At Every Size and Intuitive Eating approaches. I worked with an eating disorder therapist for over 18 months on IE specifically, and in the past few months I have been working to incorporate a more focused HAES approach, too.

I feel that even if everything the media and $60 billion dollar a year dieting industry want me to believe about the “dangers” of being fat are true, there’s nothing to suggest I can be anything other than fat. That includes over 20 years of dieting vigorously, during which I repeatedly lost and gained weight (always gaining more than I lost). For more information, check out Ragen Chastain’s excellent post on this subject. Scroll to the bottom if you’re only interested in links to various studies and articles that support these claims.

Special K wants you to believe they have your best interests at heart, but the reality is they have their best interests (and bank accounts) at heart. I personally find it disappointing because I actually love (some of) their products, but I just can’t support a company that is sending such horribly mixed messages to consumers. The ultimate goal with these campaigns is to get you to sign up for a “Special K plan” which recommends replacing two meals a day with 2 of their products a day to “lose up to 6 pounds in two weeks!” While the plans appear to be free to sign up for, obviously they still profit because you’re buying their cereals, snack bars, water, protein shakes, etc.

However, all of this is my perspective. Yours may differ, and that’s cool. If you want to do a Special K diet plan, I’ll respect your right to do just that (or any diet), as long as you grant me that same courtesy. FYI: Saying you’re “just concerned” about my “health” is not respecting my my right to not diet. I’m fully aware I am fat and that various medical professionals who don’t know me (and have never examined me), the dieting industry and the mass media would have me believe I am a ticking time bomb. I’m very much aware of the fact that I’m “morbidly obese” on the (ridiculously used) BMI charts (and I have been since I was probably 13). I likely know more about nutrition than most so-called “normal” people. For one thing, I spent seven weeks in an eating disorder hospital when I was 15, and worked extensively with dietitians, not only during that time, but later in my life. My personal physician – who has worked with me for 7+ years now – supports fully my efforts at IE and HAES. So, you’re just going to have to trust me to make my own decisions about my health, based on what I feel is best for me, not only physically but emotionally. There are a multitude of reasons why my weight loss attempts failed repeatedly, aside from the most obvious one of long-term weight loss fails for the vast majority of people. I have two medical conditions that make weight loss even harder for me than it is for the average person. On top of that, I have fibromyalgia and live with chronic, daily, constant pain. Exercise is not only excruciating, it’s actually harmed me. I’m currently working on finding a form of exercise I can do, because I miss being more active.

The bottom line is this… you get to decide how you want to pursue health, or IF you want to. You don’t have to, and neither do I. I actually do want to be healthier. But trying to force my body to be what it isn’t has never made it healthier, and it creates emotional unhealthiness for me. Regardless of whether or not you are pro-dieting, if the mixed messages in the Special K ads irritate you, let them know about it here.

~JK

Stop Weighting…

I’ve been thinking about this post for a long time now. I’ve wanted to write it for a few weeks. Ironically, it hasn’t been written because I’ve been feeling too damn awful to focus on much of anything lately.

When I was 15, I had this idea about my 10 year high school reunion. Mind you, I was a freshman in high school at the time. I was going to be skinny. I was going to dye my hair blonde and let it grow really long. I was going to look so not like my 15 year-old self that people went “who is that!?!” I was going to enjoy the hell out of watching them all have their jaws drop.

Once I was thin, I’d find true love. I’d get married, have a couple of babies (without gaining any weight, of course). I’d be a famous Broadway actress. When I watch Glee, I can so relate to Rachel because that was my dream. Living in NYC, going to a performing arts college, and working towards getting on Broadway. Of course, I had to be thin, first.

“Once I lose the weight, I’ll do…” was my mantra. I spent so much time fantasizing about losing weight. I tried all the diets, though at 15, I was in the throes of my eating disorder. In fact, I’d spend over seven weeks hospitalized for it that year. The therapy at the eating disorder hospital was helpful, but only to a point… partly because I spent so much time envying the anorexic girls. Yep. You heard right… the most deadly mental illness to have, and I envied them. It’s funny in a very sad way, actually. Everyone looked at my weight and acted like, at 15, I was a ticking time bomb. But I know at least two of the girls I was in that hospital with died before they were 40, and it wasn’t because they were overweight. It was the anoerxia’s toll on their hearts. But I digress. Unfortunately, there were really no other girls like me in that program. Even the girls who were bulimic to start, and maybe 20 – 30 pounds “overweight (as defined by BMI charts, not me)” to start had tilted towards the “too thin to be healthy” side of things. The entire time I was there, there were two older women who battled bulimia and were what would be deemed “overweight,” but not one person was even close to my size. It made all my self-conscious issues a lot worse. There was also a heavy emphasis on me losing weight. My one friend, who was anorexic and at 5’6″ weighed 86 pounds, joked with me. We wished we could swap bodies for a while. I gained weight just looking at it, and she could lose weight easily. If only we could swap…

Fast forward a decade. I had found my true love, and GASP… I didn’t have to get skinny to do it. I wasn’t a Broadway actress, but I was living in NYC, on the Upper East Side, nonetheless. I was going to school, had chosen a major I loved. Life was good. We went to museums, we’d walk around the city. We did street fairs in the summer, and spent a long weekend in the Adirondacks each fall. We had a great dog, a beautiful apartment. Hell, we had a doorman. I grew up in poverty, the child of an addict… my life had changed so much, and it was so sweet and good. Except… I was still fat. And I was still trying desperately not to be fat. I tried all the trendy diets, and always wound up going back to Weight Watchers. I’d lose 25 pounds, and then it was like I hit a brick wall. I spent so much time thinking about what I didn’t have (a thin, socially acceptable body) I didn’t ever completely appreciate all that I did have.

At 26, I joined a gym. It took an enormous amount of guts for me to join a gym in my neighborhood where a size 8 was “fat.” But I did it. I went 3 – 4 times a week on average. Some weeks I went even more. It felt good. I didn’t know it yet, but I already had fibromyalgia. The symptoms were mild, and the main issue at that time was sleep disturbances. I associated it with the thyroid condition I discovered I had that year (and that, my friends, is why my weight loss journeys were so fraught). I followed WW’s plan. In the beginning, the gym was an awesome thing for me. I’d end it with a small drink from Jamba Juice… it was a ritual I enjoyed, even though it was hard. I couldn’t do anything but some weight training and the treadmill because everything else caused me pain. Which, of course, I blamed on being too fat. Turns out, that was the fibro. At any rate, the exercise boosted my mood, and in the first few weeks I loved it. Then I stopped losing weight. Again. The weighers and leaders at the WW meetings clearly didn’t believe me. I was cheating somehow, or not really working out. I tried all the “tricks.” I ate my extra workout earned Points. I didn’t eat them. I tried the Wendie Plan, where you eat under your Points some days and over on others (still balancing out to the actual total number for those days). I did everything right. Why wasn’t I losing weight? Didn’t my body know I had things to do??? Things I couldn’t do until I was thin???

I began to hate the gym. Oh, I still went. But instead of it being fun, instead of feeling exhilarated after the exercise, it became one more way I was a failure. Clearly, I wasn’t doing it “right.” I didn’t give up, though. I just hated every single minute of it. Even my post-workout Jamba Juice lost its sweetness. I became obsessive about the gym, but it didn’t matter. I wasn’t losing weight. Yet again, I barely managed to hit 25 pounds lost (I remember this so well because the 25 pound mark earns a special “award” at WW). Then I hit the wall. I’d gain weight doing “everything right.” Or I just wouldn’t lose. It would go on for a few weeks, and then my resolve would crack and I’d wind up bingeing. Ironically, I often lost a tiny bit of weight the weeks I binged. But I hated myself. I felt weak, and like a failure. I remembered my 15 year-old self when I was in the hospital envying the “willpower” of my anorexic friends (that “willpower,” btw, was a topic the bulimic girls and I used to discuss frequently). I felt like I just lacked willpower. The WW weighers and leaders must be right. Clearly, I was doing something wrong.

Meanwhile, I kept putting off things I wanted to do because they’d be easier, or because I wouldn’t look stupid (aka fat) doing them once I lost weight. After about 6 or 7 months of regular gym visits, I hurt my knee. I blamed it, of course, on my weight. So did my doctor, who, by NYC standards was fairly fat friendly (and that’s why I saw her). The physical therapist, however, who was not American (and I suspect therefore less predisposed to the “it’s your fat” argument), told me the problem was that the muscle in my thigh was so tight, it actually pulled the knee cap, causing an injury. I didn’t know it yet, and wouldn’t for five more years, but I’d just had my first fibromyalgia related injury. To this day, there are times when my thigh muscles (particularly the left one) get so tight they pull the knee cap. This meant no more gym. I could only do the treadmill, and suddenly that was taken away from me, too.

Fast forward another decade. I’m now 37. I dieted repeatedly until 2007, when, after having moved away from NYC (and away from so much fat hating), something in me finally “broke,” and I just knew I couldn’t do it anymore. I spent 18 months working with an eating disorder therapist on Intuitive Eating. It made so much sense. I stopped getting weighed. My weight stabilized. I didn’t really lose much weight, but I stopped the endless cycle of “lose 25, gain 35.” I felt so much better emotionally. I discovered I hated half the foods I binged on. I also hated half the foods I’d forced myself to eat when on Weight Watchers.

I stopped waiting to do things, but… unfortunately, I stopped waiting too late. The fibromyalgia had taken a strong hold on my body, and so many of the dreams I had were crushed. Not by being too fat, but by being too sick. When we first moved to Colorado, I had a dream of climbing a 14er (that’s a mountain over 14,000 feet). It turns out my body doesn’t do well over an elevation of 11k, so that dream would likely never have been realized anyway (and elevation sickness is irrelevant of physical fitness, for those uninitiated with life at high elevations). But I had the dream, and I tried to “train” for it, and realized… it would be too damn painful. I couldn’t do it. It’s not a matter of “suck it up.” It would mean risking injuries.

Today I am in the worst shape of my life. It has little to do with being fat, and much to do with being sick. It is endlessly frustrating to want to do things, to try to do things and to have it hurt so much I shake, and wind up near (or actually in) tears. I think back to the 26 year-old me… to the 15 year-old me… and I want to shake myself. I want to scream…

STOP WEIGHTING.

My body was strong. It did amazing things, and I beat it up over the ONE thing it didn’t want to do… lose weight. I wasted years of health on a fantasy of being thin.

So here is my message to all of you. Regardless of whether or not you still want to actively pursue weight loss, something that is a very personal choice, STOP WAITING TO LIVE. If you have a dream, go for it. Start trying today. You might lose the weight and find you can’t do it for some other reason. You might not lose the weight, and miss your chances… like me. I could’ve done so many things I was waiting to do, and now I’ll never get to do them because of the fibromyalgia. Even if I were to somehow magically lose weight today, my pain is not related to my weight. It wouldn’t make much, if any, difference.

I lost my chance. Don’t make my mistake. Stop weighting. Stop thinking of the things your body can’t do, or the things you think it shouldn’t do (like wearing a bathing suit). Go out there and celebrate all the things your body CAN do!

There are other dreams I have now, ones unrelated to my weight. I just hope the fibromyalgia will let me realize those dreams. I won’t stop fighting, though. I know all too well what happens when you don’t fight to make a dream reality. So, I keep trying. Whether or not I ever get there is irrelevant, really. At least I’ve stopped waiting to try. Finally.

~Jessica

The Hippocratic Oath

Yesterday I wrote about my disgust over a former White House doctor’s comments regarding NJ governor, Chris Christie’s weight and health. I wanted to give Governor Christie major credit for taking Ms. Mariano to task on this story. Christie said, ” that a doctor in Arizona w has never met me, never examined me, never reviewed my medical history or records, knows nothing about my family history , could make a diagnosis from 2,400 miles away is completely irresponsible. my children saw that last night. and she sat there on tv and said i’m afraid he’s going to die in office. my 12-year-old son comes up to me last night and says, “dad, are you going to die?”

Ms. Mariano replied, “it doesn’t take a physician to look at him to observe he’s overweight.”

Really? Gee, thanks for that enlightening tidbit, and also thank you for reaffirming my belief that the way you practice medicine is to diagnose based on looks. Well done, Ms. Mariano.

Mariano has also said she has no regrets over her comments, and that they were meant to be “constructive” Yeah, because fat people all over the world don’t already know that the majority of people – and doctors – see them as walking heart attacks.

I want to take a few minutes to look at the oath that doctors swear. It’s the Hippocratic Oath, and while there are many versions of it, both modern re-writes and multiple translations of the original, the take away is the same no matter which variant is spoken upon graduation from medical school. And nearly 100% of medical schools in the US have some form of this oath.

Let’s see how many different ways Ms. – oops, sorry – DOCTOR – Mariano broke her profession’s supposedly sacred oath, shall we? For the sake of this post, I’m using the modern translation found here.

“I will respect the hard-won scientific gains of those physicians in whose steps I walk, and gladly share such knowledge as is mine with those who are to follow.”

Despite plenty of scientific research to support the claim that diets not only don’t work, but often result in increased body mass, Dr. Mariano still promotes weight loss. That doesn’t sound like “respect” of “scientific gains” to me.

“I will remember that there is art to medicine as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy, and understanding may outweigh the surgeon’s knife or the chemist’s drug.”

I don’t really think there’s any question whatsoever about Mariano’s lack of warmth, sympathy and understanding. She demonstrated that clearly in her original comments about a man she’s never even met, let alone treated, and she only solidified that when she didn’t even have the decency to apologize for upsetting Governor Christie’s children, who saw her ridiculous report on the news.

“Most especially must I tread with care in matters of life and death.”

Very cavalierly stating that you’re very worried that a man you’ve never met or treated (I cannot reiterate that point enough) will die in office pretty much breaks that oath. To do so publicly and in a forum that will garner worldwide attention only makes it even more disrespectful. I think we can say Dr. Mariano trampled all over this bit of the oath.

“I will remember that I do not treat a fever chart, a cancerous growth, but a sick human being, whose illness may affect the person’s family and economic stability.”

Well, maybe Ms. Mariano feels exempt from this, seeing as how she NEVER TREATED THE MAN… but since she decided to weigh in on the absurd situation, let’s consider the fact that she isn’t seeing Governor Christie like as a person. She doesn’t see the man, she only sees the fat. She showed no remorse or regret for the fact that she upset his family, and I doubt she gives a rat’s ass over the fact that her comments, as a former White House physician, have the potential to affect his future political career – and therefore his future economic stability.

“I will prevent disease whenever I can, for prevention is preferable to cure.”

So, instead of trying to “cure” one man of what you consider an illness, Dr. Mariano, why aren’t you doing legitimate research that results in the end of the so-called obesity epidemic? Right, because you’ve bought the party line on fat and health, and your narrow mind can’t think outside the paradigm you hide behind. Moving on.

“I will remember that I remain a member of society, with special obligations to all my fellow human beings, those sound of mind and body as well as the infirm.”

While I’m sure you think that your snarky attitude and casual comments about a man’s life and death and career are helpful, let me assure you, they are not. As you so eloquently pointed out, it doesn’t take a physician to see that Governor Christie is overweight. The man has made plenty of references to his struggles with his weight, as well as jokes. So you can’t claim that he’s unaware of what you consider to be his problem, can you? Your little performance wasn’t about enlightenment. If you truly were concerned for him, you’d have reached out to him directly and privately, instead of taking your “normal” sized body on tv and spewing risks for his health without having ever met the man. I’m not sure what your agenda is, but I’m quite sure you have one, and Mr. Christie’s health is not even slightly at the forefront of it. The only obligation you seem to be paying mind to is that of your own career goals.

Dr. Connie Mariano is hardly the only doctor to break these supposedly sacred vows. Millions of doctors do it every time a fat patient walks into their office with a health issue and they tell said fat patient that the problem is their fault for being fat. Plenty of doctors get in front of cameras and make false claims, or throw out scary statistics that are skewed to this idea that being fat equals certain and imminent death. Doctors who perform barbaric surgeries on people who are not healthy enough – mentally or physically – to have said surgeries break this oath. Psychiatrists who approve those patients for surgery when they know full well the patient is not mentally prepared for the realities of life post-op break those oaths.

Dr. Mariano is simply the most recent and most public of medical professionals to open her mouth without thinking about the ramifications of what she is saying. Doctors like Ms. Mariano have no business practicing medicine. They are irresponsible, arrogant and presumptuous, not to mention bigoted and biased. We will never “solve” the so-called obesity epidemic as long as we continue to empower people like Dr. Mariano. Instead, we will see exactly what we’ve seen the last 20 years… a steady increase in weight gain despite all the so-called “lifestyle” changes or diets that people try. We’ll see the continued rise in bullying that happens when the media decides to seize on a perceived epidemic. We’ll see people waste their lives hating themselves, hating their bodies and living in shame over something that should be irrelevant.

How I look has nothing to do with the kind of medical care I deserve. It has nothing to do with whether or not I am qualified for a job. And it should have absolutely nothing to do with how happy I am in my life. I am lucky enough to have a husband and friends who love me for who I am, not how I look. Not everyone gets that opportunity, but part of that is that we need to empower ourselves. We need to realize we are worthy of love, of respect and of quality healthcare regardless of our size or looks. Only then can we find true happiness.

~Jessica