When Judging Someone’s Appearance, Think Before You Speak By Lisa Mulholland

Something happened to me this week that I just feel I need to share.

After a tumultuous few months of my health spiralling out of control, hospital admissions, and all manner of tests, as well as launching a complaint against my former GP for negligence (that’s a long story for another blog): I decided to move GPs. I quickly got diagnosed with diabetes and have been trying to come to terms with that, amongst a long list of other health conditions and chronic illnesses; but at least I finally started to feel like I was being taken seriously.

My diabetic specialist was really supportive this week and has finally started me in some medication. She even said “you should have been treated a long time ago, and the medication will not only help the diabetes but help you lose weight”. I was relieved and feeling very positive.

I’m determined to beat diabetes.

Just one final hurdle to this sorry saga and that was having to have a telephone conversation with one of my new GPs before starting the medication.

She called me up and discussed it all and then… ‘fat shamed’ me.

She’s not met me in person, doesn’t yet know my medical history or anything but she took one look at my BMI and made assumptions about me. I instantly felt awful, responsible for all these issues and like the diabetes is all my fault. I felt deflated.

This is how the conversation went:

Doctor: “I see you’re diabetic and we should start you on some medication. But I am looking at your BMI, (and then she tutted) well what are YOU going to do about this”

I said “ well I’m going to try and lose weight, but I don’t actually eat that badly : and I’ve been trying to follow diabetic recipes and lost…” she interrupted and sniggered at me, and made a noise that sounded like “Pah” . Before I could tell her that I’d lost 5lbs since being diagnosed two weeks ago.

So then I tried to explain again and she spoke over me and said ” I want to know what are YOU going to do” and I said “I just explained” and she said “ I don’t like this BMI AT ALL, this is terrible” so I said “no neither do I, I’ve been trying…” again she interrupted me ” OK I’ll put you on this medication but YOU need to do SOMETHING” . Again I tried to explain what I had been doing and the endless doctors visits and blood tests that had been ignored by my previous GP. Not to mention my pleads for referrals to dieticians, but she wouldn’t let me speak despite asking me what I was going to do! And on it went. Me justifying myself about my weight like I have done all my life…. The thing is I’ve been justifying myself since being medically underweight too.

Yes, I am overweight, obese in fact, but she has made assumptions about me without talking to me properly. Perhaps she assumes that I sit around eating cake all day, or that I over eat? Perhaps she assumes that I like being like this? Or that it is my fault?

What she doesn’t know is that there has been a long and winding journey in getting to this point. She also doesn’t know that before I first encountered diabetes when I got diabetes in pregnancy 15 years ago, then in subsequent pregnancies, was that I was actually medically underweight and battled then for answers too. Only to be rubbished then.

And I promise you, I haven’t changed a single thing about my lifestyle from that point until now, except acquire diagnoses for long standing health conditions such as EDS and an EDS related heart condition (from birth , not from being overweight I might add) and pernicious anaemia to name a few.

I got quite upset after the phone call and started to think about everything I’d done or not done and felt a lot of guilt about being diabetic.

I started to think about where it all started to go ‘wrong’ for me in the weight department. I had gestational diabetes in each of my 3 pregnancies which made me gain almost 5 stone very quickly despite being on insulin injections. Each pregnancy has made it harder to shift the weight. And over time the weight just started piling on. Without me literally changing one thing about my lifestyle.

Hard to believe but it’s true.

So a dramatic weight gain of this proportion, in my opinion, was odd.

Yes I know that we tend to gain a bit of weight as we get older . But we are talking a dramatic weight gain.

I now weigh more than double what I weighed before I was pregnant for the first time!

When I’ve tried to explain this to doctors and other people that didn’t know me before my weight gain, you see in their eyes the lack of belief that someone could change weight that dramatically with no known cause.

But the photos prove it.

From underweight :

To morbidly obese :

Without changing anything in eating habits or exercise...

Then I got thinking about my ‘skinny days’. And the memories came flooding back. People used to make assumptions about me then too. Friends and family used to be shocked that I could eat a fair amount of food and not exercise much yet look like this:

Then I remembered the abuse I used to get. See the thing is I may get fat shamed now, but it’s not nearly as vicious or frequent as the ‘skinny shame’ I used to receive.

Yes. Not a subject we hear of very often. Is it even a thing? Skinny shaming…

I’d be walking down the road minding my own business and a car would drive past. People would shout out cruel things like “Anorexic” or “ Eat a burger for fucks sake”.

I once had someone approach me in the street. She crossed the road and came up to me and said “Are you anorexic” I said “No” and she said “well you look like you are and you look like you’re dying”. I was left standing there in total shock and really ashamed. So I started to wear bigger clothing to hide my body. I got a real complex about my looks and my self esteem took a nose dive. When discussing this problem with friends or family they would just roll their eyes.

There is no sympathy for people that are too skinny.

I tried going to dieticians and had some tests done to find out why I could not put on weight. All the tests came back inconclusive, but with a diagnosis of an inflammatory bowel condition.

So I got on with life. But as my weight went up and up, I started to feel the same embarrassment creep over me as when I was underweight.

Even when I was a normal weight people that knew me would be shocked how I’d changed and feel the need to comment on my weight.

“Oh look at you , you’re finally putting on weight” … “It’s really funny seeing you with a bit of weight on you, it’s about time” etc etc blah blah blah BLAH

Then I went back to covering my body, worrying about what people would think. And this was before I entered the official ‘overweight’ category. On top of having to deal with underlying conditions, it can be really damaging to one’s self esteem.

So when the doctor called me and ‘fat shamed’ me, after all the hell I’ve been through after the last few months. I felt I had to put pen to proverbial paper.

The point of this rant is that it didn’t matter what weight I was. People felt compelled to comment.

Whether I was underweight, gaining weight, overweight or obese (and I have been in all 4 categories) the fact remained; people make assumptions about you and your appearance.

They feel the need to comment, ask intrusive questions, make jokes and judge you.

They have no idea the story behind your appearance.

They have no idea about the person behind the BMI score.

But the effect is the same. It leads you to have low self esteem and make excuses about my eating habits or the content of my wardrobe. Things that are personal.

The bottom line is people don’t have the right to judge others by the way they look. Ok I guess the doctors’ job is to be concerned about my weight, but did she have to patronise me, interrupt me and make me feel like shit?

Did she have to make assumptions? Couldn’t she have asked me about my BMI and let me explain instead?

Does it really matter to anyone (who is not my doctor) if I am obese or underweight? Why does it bother other people?

Surely the questions people should be asking themselves about me are am I a good person?

Am I a good friend?

Am I a good mum? Wife? Citizen? I certainly try to be.

So to the next person who thinks about judging someone’s weight or appearance, maybe it’s a good idea to remember that everyone has their own personal story.

And to the next person that wants to be rude enough to actually ask, I have 5 words for you:

Mind your own damn business !!

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