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  This 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. Because 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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Why I may cancel my graze box subscription

Updated to include the reply from graze

Subscription boxes have been a popular trend for a while now. There are a ton of beauty ones, among other types. When I had the opportunity to try graze boxes, though, I was really excited. For one thing, the snacks looked very unique. Here’s an example of a recent box I received. The food is fresh, and the flavors are good. I haven’t liked every snack, but many of them are really tasty. Plus, you can customize your preferences even before you get your first box, which is awesome. It’s also only $5 per box, and while it’s a little pricey for the size of the snack, I live in a rural area and getting a lot of the items in these boxes would be expensive, or even impossible. Additionally, you can get a box once a month, every week or every other week, and this flexibility appealed to me. Right now I’ve been doing every other week. Getting a graze subscription currently requires an invite code from another subscriber. Each new subscriber gets one invite, and occasionally they give you a way to earn an additional invite. This makes finding a graze invite challenging, and of course, the exclusivity has increased the appeal for many.

Every graze box includes a napkin, four individually packaged snacks and a booklet. The booklets have been fairly silly overall, but they are cute. However, this was part of my most recent booklet and it deeply troubled me (click the image to see it larger).

Graze

I was so frustrated and annoyed by this that I decided to write the people at graze an email. Here is what that email said.

I wanted to bring to your attention something that has me very troubled, and even has me considering canceling my subscription. I have battled an eating disorder most of my life. It’s taken me years to see food as something fun, enjoyable and that will fuel my body.

I subscribed to graze as a way to get some unique, fun snacks. I love getting packages, and it gives me something to look forward to, in addition to being a neat way to try new foods.

However, the attached file, from my latest graze box really troubled me. It took me years to not see foods as “good” vs. “bad.” I eat what I like. If I choose to eat a healthier snack, it’s because it’s what I want. But I refuse to be made to feel as though I’m being “bad” if I choose to eat a candy bar or chips.

Calling graze snacks “heroic” is a bit of a stretch at any rate, but to classify an entire range of snack foods as “villainous” is ridiculous and upsetting. I can guarantee you that this comparison is a trigger for thousands upon thousands of people like me, who have worked hard to battle eating disorders. Worse, it feeds the idea of “bad” foods for those who don’t yet realize that they are battling an eating disorder.

Obviously, as a company you’re entitled to market your graze boxes however you see fit. Graze is hardly the first company to attempt to alleviate our “guilt” about eating, and it won’t be the last. But it would be nice if you could consider that how you word things really can have a very negative impact on the people who pay for your product.

I’ll be basing my decision to cancel on the response to this email. There are so many people like me, and many of them may not be in as strong of a place as I am in terms of how influenced by this “villainous” vs. “heroic” campaign they are. Please consider focusing on the actual health benefits of your snacks, as opposed to marketing gimmicks that feed into unhealthy emotional judgments about food.

Sincerely,
Jessica

We’ll see what their response is, but I may very well be canceling the subscription after this. I refuse to participate in a campaign of food bashing, and by paying graze for my boxes, I feel like that’s what I’d be doing. Considering how elusive invitations are to join graze, and how many people would probably pay me for one, it saddens me to cancel but I am not going to be made to feel like I’m committing a crime if I choose to eat chips. And I’m sure as hell not going to PAY a company that vilifies food. I’ve learned to avoid things marketed this way in stores, as they are big time triggers for me. I’ll be sure to post a follow up, assuming they ever reply to my email.

*Update*

I got a quick response, so I’ll give them credit for being prompt. That said, I’m underwhelmed by the substance of the reply.

Dear Jessica,

Thanks so much for sending us your sincere thoughts, and for sharing with us your story of how you’ve worked incredibly hard to overcome an eating disorder.

We’re really sorry that our Super Swaps nutrition booklet wasn’t positive or helpful towards your graze experience. It’s really good to hear that you actually enjoyed your graze snacks so far and that it has provided some fun and excitement, but we can understand how the slogan might have some uncomfortable connotations. I can assure you that we do not intend to label any of our foods as ‘good’ or ‘bad,’ but that we just try to separate ourselves from other snack foods you can find in stores which are higher in calories, fat, or sugar. We completely agree that there are no good or bad foods and that it’s important to keep an open mind about what the different dietary needs of our grazers are.

For many of our grazers, our snacks are a lot healthier than the ones you’d find in the supermarket. We always have our grazers in mind when creating new snacks, and do seek out suppliers who aim for the highest quality nibbles.

Graze is all about healthy eating, so you can see that we were simply trying to break down any barriers some folks might have about including smaller portions of some foods traditionally seen as ‘bad,’ such as chocolate, in a healthy diet. For us, it’s all about variety and balance, with the odd treat thrown in once in a while. For some of our grazers, they want to be reminded that they’re making some smart ‘swaps’ as it reinforces the idea that they’re treating their bodies and minds well. We do go into the health benefits of our snacks here but we also like to have some fun with our snacks, which is why we include booklets like the Super Swaps one.

Once again we’re really sorry and hope that grazing can continue to still be a fun and positive experience for you. I’ve made sure to share your feedback with our marketing team to see how we can improve our messages.
Let me know if there is anything else I can help you with.

All the best,

(name removed by me)

I kind of feel as though this reply says, “we know some of our members see these foods as being ‘bad’ choices, and we’re reinforcing that belief for them!'” Which is my entire point… there are people who DO see food as “bad” vs. “good.” and I am just not a fan of that mentality. I think it’s incredibly unhealthy. You can choose to focus on healthier foods, but once you begin to add emotional judgments to food, it gets complicated, and it can fuel disordered eating behaviors that no one should have to face. I’m feeling as though this reply is a mixed message, at best. I’m likely to cancel my subscription. For now, I’ve pushed back my next shipment to July and have changed to once a month, instead of every two weeks. This gives me time to consider whether or not graze is a company I want to continue to support.

~JK

Hi there.

Some years ago I blogged in my “real life,” but it’s been a while. I blogged as Maeander from The Pretty Face back in my Weight Watchers dieting days. Then later, when I first discovered Intuitive Eating I realized I needed an entirely fresh start with a more… positive blog url. Eating My Cake was born, where I blogged as Juliet. Now, with Weighing My Mind I am blogging as myself. Just me. Just Jessica. Oh, my real last name isn’t anywhere on this site, but the truth is I’m not hiding this blog. I’ll share it with people who really know me (or think they do), along with people who only know me online (and often better than those who know me in real life). Some people won’t like what I have to say. I can’t help that. I’m responsible for my feelings alone. I know I am opinionated. I’m also tired. Really, really tired… of what? Glad you asked, since it’s what this blog is all about, really.

I am tired of the feeling that being fat is some sort of crime against humanity. In 2007 I began to work with an eating disorder therapist. I’d battled my weight my entire life. I was put on my first diet at the oh-so-impressionable age of 8. My aunt, who was responsible for that diet, will tell you to this day that she never deprived me. I, as the person on the diet, have another take on that. But I’ll save that story for another time. I believe she meant well (which is progress for me, because for years and years I didn’t). She was misguided and her actions set me on a destructive path of disordered eating that would be a way of life for me for over two decades.

In 2006, I was doing Weight Watchers for probably the fourteenth time. This time, due to a recent move to a rural area, I was doing it entirely online. My body was tired. Years of yo-yo dieting had taken their toll. Add to that various medical issues that make weight gain easier and weight loss harder, and it was a recipe for disaster. I wasn’t losing much weight, even being “perfect.” And let’s face it, “perfection” in anything is fleeting, if even achievable at all. With dieting, “perfection” comes at a bitter price… you wind up crashing and burning, and in many cases – including mine – binges soon follow. Weight gain follows, often more than is lost in the first place. When I – yet again – failed at Weight Watchers I felt despondent. Why couldn’t I do it? I mean, Weight Watchers is the “non-diet” in the dieting industry. You can “eat anything” as long as you count your Points! I had WW leaders who would “tsk tsk” at me. Who didn’t believe I was truly trying, even when I was. Even when my feet ached from walking more miles than I should’ve been attempting. Even when my stomach rumbled because I denied it food when I was truly hungry. I told myself I didn’t know what “hungry” felt like. I told myself it was not true hunger. I failed to realize that my body believed itself to be starved. I failed to realize that it wasn’t my failure. Even WW, as wonderful as it declares itself to be, comes with the “results not typical” disclaimers. Even WW results in far more failures than success stories. So, really… who is failing? The dieters? Or the diet?

Frustrated, I talked to my doctor. She recommended I talk to the dietitian who worked in the same office. So, resolved to figure something new out and desperate for a new path, I went and talked to Kathleen. She put me on a diet. *facepalms* Oh, like most diets, it was masquerading as a “lifestyle choice.” In the end, however, the goal was weight loss. There were “exchanges” to track. There were “meal plans” to inspire me. It didn’t last long. Something inside of me, something deep within, was simply… broken.

In 2007, while researching symptoms my husband had, of what we’d ultimately discover were multiple sclerosis, I discovered a listing of fibromyalgia symptoms. I was stunned. I’d been living with nearly every symptom on the list since late 2001. Like most of the doctors I’d seen, I blamed my weight. I figured I was just “fat and lazy.” I’d heard it enough growing up, after all. Maybe it was true. I’d ignored the pain. The fatigue was harder to ignore, but in 2002 I’d been diagnosed with hypothyroidism (which turned out to be Hashimoto’s Disease). So, I had an explanation for the chronic exhaustion, but I was still ignoring the sleep disturbances. Why? Oh, because I’d been told by an ENT in New York City that I “likely” had sleep apnea. After all, I’m fat. I snore. Combine the two and it seems to be all many doctors require to assume it’s sleep apnea. Only a sleep study done in the summer of 2006 revealed that I had only ever-so-slightly more sleep apnea episodes than a “normal” person would have had. It wasn’t sleep apnea. They did notice some unusual activity in my sleep, though. I didn’t properly cycle in and out of the stages of sleep. This was barely mentioned, but I now believe it is alpha wave intrusion, which is quite common in patients with fibro. It explains why I dream nearly as soon as I fall asleep. It also explains why I’ve not had a single night of sleep where I don’t remember at least parts of my dreams in years. In fact, I usually remember my dreams in vivid, technicolor detail. I wake up feeling as though I’ve spent the night active. It’s a horrendous way to live. Sleep and I used to be good friends. Now we’re enemies.

I think that my diagnosis of fibromyalgia, along with my husband’s MS diagnosis, made me realize life is short and bittersweet. At the same time I was also undergoing fertility treatments in an attempt to live our dream of being parents. It would never happen. I have polycystic ovarian syndrome, which I knew when we began trying to conceive. What I wouldn’t figure out until nearly two years into the process is that I also have endometriosis. The combination pretty much damned me, and after over two years of heartbreak I couldn’t do it anymore. In the fall of 2007, desperate for some clarity and help coping with both the infertility, the fibro, my husband’s MS diagnosis and, maybe more than anything, my struggles with dieting, I found a therapist. Bonnie specialized in eating disorders. I was so nervous the day I went to meet her. I fully and completely expected her “treatment plan” to involve a weight loss program of some sort. I was wrong. She introduced me to Intuitive Eating instead.

Why am I here now? I had “retired” from my IE blogger days in 2009. I didn’t feel like I had anything more to say (ha, never trust a Jersey girl when she says that). Well, as it turns out, I do. I have a lot more to say.

This week I’ve been inspired by a telesummit hosted by Anne Cuthbert. In particular, Ragen Chastain’s talk really inspired me, as have the blog posts I’ve read from her since. It made me realize that I have more I need to work through, more to learn… and more to share.

I welcome you on my journey. I hope it helps you as you take your own journey. Just remember, each of us has to find our own path. My journey is not for you to take anymore than yours is for me to take. We can learn from each other along the way. We can share our stories and adventures. Ultimately, though, when the time comes to continue along the path… only we can take the next steps for ourselves.

~Jessica