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 !!

On Fatness… By Lisa Bullock

About four years ago, I got off a train and walked past a smart looking man, who leaned toward me and whispered in my ear:

“God, you are fat”

Now, reader, be under no illusion, I am fat. He was merely reporting fact. My usual suite of excellent witty ripostes deserted me in that second. I stood and stared at his departing back letting the venom seep right into my heart. Then I cried. 

I cried all the way back to Glasgow, and I was still crying when I got back to my cold little flat, miles from my family and partner, at 12.10am.

As a fat woman, I’m used to having insults hurled at me, usually from cars inhabited by late teenage boys, of seemingly both sub -par intelligence and taste in tracksuits. I take this on the chin, with a cheerful flick of the fingers – there isn’t actually much malice in what they are saying – Its just something else to yell, something to pass the time for them – they’ve forgotten me by the time they pass an attractive woman, or old person, or anyone that isn’t them.

But the guy in St Pancras really meant it. He wanted to hurt me.

He didn’t say it to make himself look funny, or clever. He wanted to hurt me, a stranger, someone who hadn’t taken up any of his space, or interacted with him in any way, for being bigger that he deemed acceptable.

I sometimes wonder if he thinks he was trying to help. Perhaps he thought that his brave intervention might shock me into action, and that in a year or two’s time, I’d be strolling through St Pancras, slim and lithe, see him, and thank him for saving my life. Instead, I did what I always do in times of deep sadness: I went back to my flat in Glasgow and ate my feelings in cake form.

I’m engaged in a constant battle with my body. It is able and willing and does all the things I ask it to do, almost without complaint, yet still I treat it with contempt.

Recently, I noted the new Nike mannequin launched in London, showcasing their plus size range. They had dared to display the clothes, designed for fat bodies, on a fat body.

The reaction was baffling. This piece from Tanya Gold, for the Telegraph, was particularly myopic:

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/life/obese-mannequins-selling-women-dangerous-lie/

The idea that fat people can barely stir their stumps to movement is laughable. I am fat – really fat – and I have witnesses over 30 in number who can personally attest that I have stood In front/behind/beside them every Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday wobbling energetically away, shedding sweat and hair ties and  mostly looking like a chunky Animal from the Muppets. I love exercise. I’m still not slim, because I still eat too much. 

I consider myself incredibly lucky. I am blessed with a supportive family network and friends. Some of these friends have supported me in my quest to become fitter.

From Sam, who puts up with my bitching every Saturday morning, and she helps me to become stronger and stronger to Chantal and Chloe, who came with me to my first ever Clubbercise class, when I was too embarrassed to look anyone, even the instructor, in the eye.

3 years later, I was at that instructors baby shower, now able to count her as a friend (thank you Hannah!). Sharon, who I smiled at nervously through the dark, and who I am now planning a weekend away with.

Sara, Clare, Alison, Denise, Sam, Maxine, Julie, Judi, Sarah,Kim, Sabrina, Louise, Natasha, Rachel and Chrissy…just some of the women I have met at classes who have given me confidence and enriched my life.

I’m fortunate really.

I don’t face concern trolling on a daily basis, and I have never been turned down for a job for being too fat. I’ve never faced fatphobia in a professional environment.

My white, solvent privilege allows me to more easily navigate the difficulties of being fat. It won’t come as a surprise to learn that there is overwhelming evidence that obesity is a symptom of poverty, both in the UK and US. The cheapest foods, which keep well, tending to be higher in fats and sugars, with little to no nutritional density, have to be staple diets for many simply to exist.

Anyone who has tried to lose weight will know how expensive it is to buy fresh, unprocessed foods – usually prohibitively so for families on low incomes. In turn, their obesity is weaponised against them, denied opportunities on the basis of size, often conflated with health concerns, even if they are not actually present. 

When fat people politely ask for the right to exist, dress themselves and not be verbally abused in the street, through the fat acceptance movement, pearls are clutched, and we are accused of ‘glamorising’ obesity.

I do not believe that anyone sees a fat person on the cover of a magazine and says “Yes! I must immediately take steps to become fatter!”; inclusion of fat bodies in main stream media is just that: Inclusion.

We aren’t asking you to be us, just that you treat us with the same human kindness you would show a slim person.

My quest to lose fat continues.

I won’t deny that I’d like to move through the world as a smaller entity. I try my best everyday, to be a good daughter, a good friend, a kind stranger, yet still I am fat.

Is that really so bad? 

 

Me (right) being fat and sort of fit.