If you're an overweight dietitian, how am I supposed to listen to you telling me how to eat ? -- Via Twitter on 9/25/13.
I've discussed it before but I will say it again, I'm an obese dietitian. Comments like the one above are not new to me. I've heard it before either directly to my face or from second-hand conversations. The comments come in many different ways, "Why should I listen to you?" "Well it doesn't look like you eat that way." "Why don't you practice what you preach?" It doesn't matter how you say it or the context you say it in...all of these comments are shaming. It fits into the old mindset that if your BMI is anything above normal, then you must not be healthy; that having a tummy is a sign of laziness, filth and sloth.
The funny thing is, being a healthcare provider, I don't only get it from my clients, I get it from colleagues. "I've noticed you've gained some weight?" "I"m going to tell on you for eating that." "Should you really be teaching that class?" Even if I don't hear the comments, I see how they look at me. I hear what they say and I read what they write.
But I'm here today, during Weight Stigma Awareness week, to stand up and say enough! Enough of you judging my body. My weight, my body, my habits are MINE and NOT YOURS. The topic of my weight is off limits. I did not ask for your archaic, backwards, close-minded comments. My body is MINE. Mind your own business and keep your comments to yourself. I have never judged you for coming in my office/class and gaining weight. I don't care if you are 320 or 120 pounds. I respect your body, now please respect mine.
For me weight stigma hits home more often than most will realize. Maybe you have to be "fat" to know what it's like but fat shaming happens more than I care to admit. When I was 300+ pounds, people stared at me. They rolled their eyes as I sat next to them on a plane. They stared as I ate my Jack 'N the Box Double Cheeseburger. They laughed as I took off my shirt at the beach. It was as if the stares, eye rolls and teasing was going to somehow help me. Well, guess what? It didn't. Like any normal person, the shaming led to self-imposed isolation. Isolation led to more eating because I really didn't want to be alone. And my weight rose higher and higher. It's a horribly helpless feeling and you don't know what it's like until you've been there.
As I lost weight, people looked at me differently. On some level I loved how their eyes and attitudes changed towards me. I loved that now I was accepted by society because my belly was gone. But even though they saw someone new, the old person was still there (and on some level, still is today). All that shaming that happened still affected my self-esteem.
So when someone asks, "If you are an overweight dietitian, how am I supposed to listen to you telling me how to eat?" my answer is simple. You should listen, because I know what the hell I'm talking about. Not just because I have a degree, completed an internship and passed a registration exam but because, despite what you think by looking at my stomach, I am a fantastic educator/motivator/coach/nutrition expert. If all of you see is my stomach, you're going to miss out, not just what I have to say but what others who are just like me have to say as well. My clients listen to me because I've been where they are. You should listen to me because my full stomach is not a sign that I don't know what I'm talking about, it's a sign that I know exactly what I'm talking about when it comes to making peace with food. I've fought the war against food and my weight. The only casualty though was me. Instead of fighting, I've made peace with food, my body, my weight and my critics.
I wish that I had a six pack, broad shoulders and rippling muscles but I don't. I've come to accept my body for what it is. Hopefully this post helps bring weight stigma to the forefront of our conversation. It's an issue that we need to discuss and that we need to be aware of.
And finally to thank the individual who posted their honest comment on Twitter thank you! Thank you for your tweet that inspired me to write this down. It has been cathartic to share my thoughts and without your tweet, they might have never made it out.
UPDATE: (9/26/13 8:45am)
I've been asked by the person who posted the original tweet to delete her name from this post. After much consideration I've agreed to do that. The reason I did: shaming someone, for any reason, is wrong. I hope you respect my decision.