WEIGHT ISSUES, SELF IMAGE, AND DENIAL
A distant relative of mine graduated at the top of her class, and is very good at what she does professionally. She is also extremely overweight, to the point that she is starting to have weight related health problems in her late twenties. A few years back she developed an eye infection, and the eye doctor told her to use antibiotic drops and not wear her contacts for a few weeks. She was very upset because, as she put it “I look so ugly in glasses!” The irony of this statement, from a very intelligent person, was not lost on me. How could she look in the mirror and believe that it was a small pair of wire-rimmed glasses that stood between herself and beauty? Yet, it is estimated that one half of overweight people in the United States classify themselves as being just the right size. The obvious problem with this kind of denial is all the health issues associated with excess weight, namely, diabetes, heart disease and stroke, just to name a few of the biggies. There are also skin problems, circulation disorders, hair loss, joint problems – the list goes on and on. But how about the emotional toll obesity takes on a person? You can wax eloquent about the beauty of the inner person, and loving yourself just the way you are, but deep down, everyone knows. People judge others by how they look.
When I had my first baby, I read all the parenting magazines and books I could get a hold of. Lots of good advice, which I could embrace or disregard as it pertained to our life and parenting philosophy. One article, however, has remained with me for all of these 25 years. It was written by a nurse who was now on the patient end of things, having her first baby. She had seen many babies, and marveled at the beauty of her first son. Objectively, she could see that he was a very attractive newborn, not just because he was hers, but because he had great color, lots of silky hair, and perfect symmetrical features (If you have ever had a baby who has been somewhat compressed in the birthing process, you know how that little face can look! Adorable, but not exactly proportioned and delicate for a few days!). She soon realized that her assessment had been correct, because someone in the nursery was always holding or rocking him, - she had to wait her turn!
Three years later, she was once again giving birth in the same hospital, even seeing some of the same staff members. Son #2 was born, with the red, blotchy face, wild hair and flattened features of a typical newborn. And guess what? He received no more attention than any other baby. Well taken care of, of course, but no one was drawn to him like her first son. She quickly assured her readers that both sons were now handsome children, yet her experiences when they were born were very different.
Her point in writing the article was that intentionally or unintentionally, people do judge others by how they look. As human beings we love beauty in all forms - we are drawn to things that attract us. This is true whether it be nature, animals, art, architecture, or fellow humans. There have been attractive actors and actresses who have applied for advertised jobs, been received very favorably and been given an interview date immediately. They then changed themselves with makeup and hidden props to look fat and unattractive, gone back with the same resume and qualifications under a different name, and invariably were told the position was no longer available.
Is this fair? Of course it is not. Is it the human condition? Sadly, yes it is. So for those of us who are trying to help a loved one struggling with obesity issues, it is vital to try to uproot those psychological burdens, whatever they are, that have led him/her to this point. We can only imagine the personal slights, looks, comments and stares they have received, undermining a fragile self image. Therefore, it is up to us as the go-to person, coach, safe person, cheerleader, or whatever we consider ourselves to be, to realize what our loved one faces daily, and how food has become the escape. We must partner with him or her, have daily accountability, and in some cases, tough love. Only then will learning good eating habits, portion control and exercise routines be achieved, and the goal of physical and emotional health finally be reachable.