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

 

 

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

It’s not a “lifestyle” choice

So today, I saw this:

Blah

It’s possible, though probably unlikely, that it was directed at me. I say possible because a lot of people misunderstand what it means to promote fat acceptance, or Health At Every Size or Intuitive Eating. I say unlikely because anyone who thinks this about me has a fundamental misunderstanding of who I am and what I stand for, yet I know that my message is one that is easily misunderstood or misconstrued, too. Some people assume that promoting “fat acceptance” means I am anti-thin people. That couldn’t be further from the truth. I’m for body acceptance in general. That being said, there is a reality in our society that thin bodies are considered healthy, desirable bodies and that fat bodies are considered ugly, unhealthy bodies. This is just a simple fact. So, it is absolutely true that I tend to be more proactive about promoting images, articles, websites, etc. that focus on viewing fat bodies in a more positive light.

I am the proud owner of a body that happens to be fat. I’m not proud of my body because its fat. I’m proud of my body because it’s my body. It’s the only one I have. It’s broken, in many ways that have nothing to do with it being fat, but it’s still the only body I have. Like your body, or anyone else’s body, my body is amazing. It does all the remarkable, incredible things bodies do. Admittedly, mine has some… quirks (like an autoimmune disease). But, still. I’m here because of my body. Like your body, my body is beautiful.

But I’ve been told my entire life my body is ugly. I’ve been force fed the message repeatedly that my fat body isn’t good enough, isn’t worthy of love, isn’t amazing and isn’t sexy. I’ve been given the same message millions of girls all over the world have been given. Thin bodies are the only acceptable bodies. Thin bodies are the only healthy bodies. Thin bodies are the only attractive bodies. For years and years, like so many other girls, teens and women, I fed into that myth. I believed my body to be ugly and unacceptable. I did everything in my power to try to make it not be what it was… to make it not be a fat body. Each attempt at being thinner made me a bit thinner, for a little while. Ultimately, though, even when I did everything “right,” the weight would come back. Sometimes it would bring friends with it, which was just salt poured into the wound that was failure. Except this is actually a studied phenomenon and it doesn’t even relate to genetics. Dieting is probably partly to blame for the so-called obesity epidemic. Worse, dieting contributes to the development of eating disorders, and that was very much the case for me. I was put on my first diet at the age of 8. I spent the next 2+ decades yo-yo dieting.

My fat body is not a lifestyle choice. I didn’t choose to be fat anymore than the thin person chooses to be thin. Some of us are able to manipulate our bodies into being what they aren’t, from a weight perspective. If not long term, at least short term, many of us can either lose or gain weight to try to be the size we want to be, or the size we’re told we should be, but for the vast majority of us, this change is not permanent. Have you ever wondered why celebrities who gain weight for movie roles are able to lose it so easily? Or if they lose weight (and muscle mass), they’re back to their more typical weight/body type quickly? It’s because these are generally people who are starting from somewhere near their body’s set point.

I couldn’t even begin to guess what my body’s set point actually is, and I’m not even sure my body knows at this time. I spent way too many years yo-yo dieting, losing 25 pounds, gaining 30… overexercising, restricting food intake, binge eating. On top of that, I have Hashimoto’s Disease, PCOS and fibromyalgia. I’ve had 3 surgeries in just over 3 years. My body has been through hell and back, and my ability to exercise was impacted by that. It’s sad, really. When I was able to exercise, and did so regularly, I hated it passionately. I hated it despite the fact that it made me feel good mentally, that it helped me sleep better, that I was proud of myself for being brave enough to exercise in a gym in notoriously fat-phobic NYC (in a very pretentious area, nonetheless). Why? I hated it because I was doing it to lose weight. It was supposed to make me thinner. It never did, but I kept doing it right up until the fibromyalgia caused my first exercise related injury and I was forced to stop. I wish I hadn’t wasted time making it about weight loss. I wish I’d realized then that, even without losing a single pound, exercise would make me healthier. I wish my focus had actually been on health, but despite what I’d have insisted to be the case at the time, it had little to nothing to do with being healthier, and nearly everything to do with being more socially acceptable. Which is sort of odd for me because I’ve always been a rebel and I’ve never much cared what people thought about me. However, where my weight was concerned, a lot of my issues came from my family. I know this is true for a lot of people who have struggled with their weight, or even with just their perceived body image. It’s sad that families don’t recognize the critical role they play in the building of our confidence, or that, even worse, in some cases, they simply don’t give a damn.

The point is this… my body size isn’t a “lifestyle choice.” Not dieting, and trying to adopt a Health At Every Size approach? Now, that IS a lifestyle choice. It’s one that has revolutionized my life, and one I don’t regret for even a minute. And if that message was directed at me, I have to laugh at the “get help,” because I did get help. I worked with an eating disorder therapist on adopting an Intuitive Eating based approach to life for eighteen months. I did a phone session with one of the co-authors of the book. Help is how I got here, and I am so incredibly grateful for it because to think of what I’d still be doing to myself otherwise? That’s horrible. It was hell. That endless roller coaster of dieting. The emotional turmoil. The self-hatred it so frequently inspired. The competition amongst other dieting friends, or for a while, even my husband. Not for me. No thanks.

Does that mean you shouldn’t diet? Of course not. You get to make your own choices, just as I have. You have to find your own path to happiness and inner peace.

As for thin-shaming, it’s never okay. It’s not anymore okay than fat-shaming. I do want to make a point, though. This may not be something easily understood, and I’m sure it will be controversial, but as a fat person who once bought into the whole “real women have curves” mentality, I want to try to explain why. When you grow up being told over and over your body type is ugly, you can become desperate to latch onto any seemingly positive message that is directed at your body type. When I used to like such things on facebook, or wherever, I didn’t realize the flip side of that message. I honestly didn’t realize that the message was one that put down a different body type. I only saw it from the “holy shit, that’s a fat chick in a bikini and she looks happy and awesome” perspective. It didn’t dawn on me, ironically until I began my IE journey with the eating disorder specialist, that by liking images like that I was actually implying women who didn’t look like me were somehow less than. I never meant to do that, and I ultimately realized I was guilty of doing what had been done to me. Someone who is new to the process of accepting their body may be in that same boat. They may not realize that something they think is body positive is really only promoting a positive message for one type of body, not an inclusive message. Of course, the alternative is also possible. It may be that the person actually feels that way. I’m not one to dictate how anyone should feel, or what another person should find appealing or attractive. We’re all entitled to our own feelings and opinions. However, we’re not entitled to be assholes about them. That’s when it crosses the line from a feeling, belief or opinion and becomes bullying, oppression or bigotry. That’s not okay.

So many of us have our own battles with how we look, or how we feel we are perceived by others. I have naturally petite relatives who are given stupid advice like “oh, you’re so thin… maybe you should eat more.” And of course, most of my life I’ve been asked, even by complete strangers, “do you really need to eat that?” My body is not yours to police, just as yours is not mine to police. You get to eat what you want. I get to eat what I want. End of story. But please, to those of you reading this who are thin, ask yourselves this question… have you ever heard a little girl say she wants to grow up to be fat? My guess is you haven’t. People have said they’d rather lose limbs than be fat, or give up their marriages or a year of their lives. The vast majority would rather give up $1,000 than gain 20 pounds. In fact, there have been studies to demonstrate that little girls as young as 3 years-old prefer thin over fat. So what is my point? My point is this… no one has the right to shame you for being thin. Ever. It’s wrong, it sucks and it’s just as bad as shaming a fat person. However, it’s very likely that the person thin-shaming is envious – maybe not even consciously – of a body she can’t have herself. Whereas, I am pretty damn sure that not one person who has every body shamed me wanted to be my size. This is part of why my focus tends to be on promoting body positive things related to fat people… but it doesn’t mean, for even one minute, that I think it’s okay to thin shame. It doesn’t mean I won’t call thin shaming out if I see it. I have and I will.

Why is this worth mentioning? Well, because I’d like to live in a world where no body is shamed, because we don’t look at each other and think, gee, I wish I looked like that instead of like this. I wish we lived in a world where it was as okay to have a thigh gap as it is not have one. Or vice versa. I want to live in a world where people wouldn’t dream, for even one minute, of giving up a marriage rather than being fat, or of choosing to be blind or lose limbs over having a body type that is that vilified and hated by so many. I’d like to live in a world where someone who loses weight isn’t automatically presumed to be sick, or a drug addict… or dieting. I’d like our world to be one where we don’t feel the need to say to someone, “oh hey, you look great… you’ve lost weight,” implying that the person didn’t look great to begin with, or assuming that the weight loss was intentional, and not the result of emotional trauma (like the death of a loved one, or a divorce) or a horrible illness (like cancer). We don’t live in that world, and I am not idealistic enough to believe it will ever be quite that perfect or simple, but I am a fighter and I will do all that I can to help make that world a reality. Some things, no matter how unlikely, are worth fighting for… and to me, this is one of those things.

~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