“You Have Such a Pretty Face” and Other Backhanded Compliments

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I’ve put a lot of thought into this blog post. I haven’t blogged in ages so I wanted to get this one just right.

So, here it goes.

In December 2014 I got on the scale and saw a number I’d never seen before. I wish I could say it was the lowest I’d ever been, but it wasn’t. It was the highest: 260 lbs. I’ve been overweight since I was a kid. And as I grew up I found my place as the funny, fat friend. The one with “such a pretty face” but apparently nothing else going for me looks wise based on what people had to say. I had no boyfriends and could never swap clothes with friends before we went out on a Friday night.

So, I had a conversation with my husband and I saw a doctor at the end of January 2015. That’s when I found out that a condition I was diagnosed with 18 years earlier (poly cystic ovarian syndrome) also came with a metabolic disorder that mimicked diabetes in that I had a level of insulin resistance. I followed doctor’s orders, made some pretty life-changing decisions, and over a year later I’ve lost 80 pounds and am just 15 pounds away from my goal weight.

It’s great and amazing and I’m over-the-moon happy. But I’m also trying to be aware. I understand that from now on I’ll meet people and they’ll have no idea I used to be 80 pounds heavier. They’ll see me as I am now. But what about those women who are still fighting and trying to figure out why they’re doing everything they can but are still overweight? How will they see me?

See, as anyone who is morbidly obese does, we look at those who are not and wish with everything in us that we could be that small. True, we have no idea what’s going on with that person, but it’s not about that. It’s about living in a body that doesn’t make people stare or judge.

Be honest. When you see a really big person at a restaurant, especially a buffet, what rolls through your mind? What about when a big girl wears a t-shirt that says something cute like, “I’m sorry for what I said when I was hungry,” or “I’m just here for the food”? Do you look at them with pity and mumble something like “what a shame”? Do you think she shouldn’t wear a shirt that has something to do with eating? These are just a few of the endless examples of how we as a society view obese people.

Don’t worry. I don’t think you’re a horrible person if these thoughts have ever crossed your mind, because I’ve thought them about myself many times. When making choices of where to go out to dinner, I refused to go to buffets because I didn’t want to be the fat girl in the line. And I would have loved to wear one of those cute shirts about being hangry, but I didn’t want to draw more attention to the connection between me and food.

So, now here I am, not skinny by any means, but at a healthy weight and getting more fit everyday. But I realize that the real question at hand for me is this: How I will look at others who are in the state I used to be in? Yeah, that was a difficult pill to swallow. See, I know that it’s possible to overcome obesity. But what I have to always keep in mind is where they are RIGHT NOW.

So I thought about how I would have wanted someone who had beaten their demon to to look at me.

Empathy. Yes, I DO know exactly how you feel. NO ONE wants to be fat. And most people who are overweight spend their entire day thinking about food. Either they’re on a diet and trying to stick to it, or they’re not on a diet and thinking that they should be. Every piece of food they put in their mouth is associated with a feeling. Then every lazy moment they have can be consumed with “I should get up and do something” but they’re too tired to do anything. All that’s left is a feeling of defeat.

Sadness. I don’t assume that obese people are unhappy with their lives as a whole. I never was. I have an awesome husband and two amazing kids. I have an incredible career and I’m surrounded by people who think I’m great! It’s the small percentage of people who give you the side eye because you’re fat that makes you sad. You can tell by the expression on their face that they’re likely thinking (and some actually say), “Why don’t they just lose the weight?” Oh! Is that what we should do? Thank you so much for your helpful advice! It’s existing in a world where I even feel compelled to write this post that makes me sad.

We live in such a contradictory society. We’re all so focused on making sure people of different races and sexual orientations feel included, that there are still groups of people who are wildly excluded. This is because we look at obesity purely as a choice. I won’t deny that there are plenty of obese people in the world who are so solely due to the choices they’ve made. But when you look at an obese person, you have NO IDEA what’s going on with them. There are a litany of medical reasons why people are overweight or obese. So, instead of assuming they just can’t put the fork down, show some human kindness and treat them like you would anyone else (unless you’re a jerk to everyone, in which case you should just keep walkin’).

 

So as I move forward in my quest to be healthy, my body, mind, and soul changing for the better everyday, I decided that I wanted to be super aware of how I interacted with those who may still be struggling the way I did. I never want to make anyone feel the way I was made to feel. And I never want to assume that because I am where I am in my journey that I know everything, because I SO don’t.

After three decades of being obese, I found that there were really only two things that were the most hurtful to me.

1. Telling me I have a pretty face, or that I’d be even prettier if I lost weight. STOP IT! No one, and I mean NO ONE wants to hear that there is only one part of them that is attractive, especially fat girls. We’re already bombarded with images in the media that remind us of what we DON’T, and will never, look like. And before you say, “Oh, but you could lose the weight and be a Victoria’s Secret model!” just STOP! Those girls come from some kind of Orphan Black cloning gene pool that only makes one type. THEN, they live completely unhealthy lives wondering if they should bother to eat at all because their runway weigh-in is in two days. So, NO. Your efforts to point out how pretty we are in the face only highlights the fact that you think the rest of me is completely unattractive. If you can’t compliment someone as a whole person, don’t compliment them at all.

I promise to never compartmentalize your beauty. You are fearfully and wonderfully made. You have a purpose in life and your exterior appearance has nothing to do with that. Your attractiveness comes from the joy and light you bring into the world and THAT is what I will mean when I speak of your beauty.

2. If you have never, ever been overweight, stop giving advice on how to lose weight. It’s a bad idea to give unsolicited advice on pretty much any topic, but weight loss tops the list of no-nos just after parenting. I once had a well-meaning, thin friend (completely unsolicited) tell me that the way she stays trim and fit is by never wearing pants with an elastic waist. Oh really? Is that where I’ve gone wrong all these years? I’ve been wearing pants designed for 3-year-olds. If only I had known!

Unsolicited advice on how to lose weight only makes us feel worse. We walk around everyday knowing that we’re fat. We don’t need someone telling us what we already know. It also points out the fact that our weight is something you think about, which tells us that it’s an issue for you. And DON’T play the “I’m just concerned” card. If you were truly concerned about me as a whole person, you’d show interest in things other than my weight.

I promise not to give you unsolicited advice on weight loss. I made decisions for ME that were based on the condition of MY health. Everyone is different and I won’t assume that what worked for me will work for you. I promise to be encouraging if you express your personal weight loss concerns. And outside of encouraging you see a nutritionist and a weight loss doctor so you can find out what YOUR body’s needs are, I will never tell you what to do.

 

All anyone wants is to be loved and accepted for who they are. If you’re truly concerned for a friend’s weight, ask them how THEY feel about it. If they’re concerned, ask how you can come along side them and help. If they’re not concerned, you don’t need to be concerned. Their weight impacts your life just as much as the brand of shampoo they use.

Whew! Well, there you have it. Believe it or not, this is the abridged version of how my 30 years of obesity made me feel. I am truly blessed to be among friends who see me for who I am. Friends who, when they tell me I’m beautiful, are speaking of the joy and light I bring into the world. And God gave me an incredible husband who fell in love with who I AM 18 years ago. He’s always thought I was beautiful and sexy, and I’ve never felt otherwise when he’s by my side.

If you are concerned about your weight, consult a weight loss doctor. They will know better how to help you with your weight than you’re general practitioner. I was shocked to find out from mine that there is NO education on weight and nutrition in medical school. She had to go back to medical school for special classes and certifications in order to do what she does. And if you’d like to hear more of my story, I’m happy to share that.

Be happy and stay healthy.

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