I have not blogged here in awhile, but this morning a story aired on the Today Show that struck me. The link above details the story of an experienced Emmy winning TV news anchor who was sent a particularly scathing email concerning her physical appearance. I felt compelled to add my two cents.
First let me say that I grew up in a very health conscious family. I was the tall thin girl and very active. After I had children I struggled a little, but I manged to reclaim my fit body. I walked and jogged every day, and I remember that in March of 2006 I weighed 128 at 5’9″ tall. Shopping was fun. Not only did clothing fit well, but salespeople loved me. Even strangers who passed by as I was trying on a dress or jeans would remark. I struck up conversations with strangers with very little effort. I looked forward to my 20 year class reunion knowing how good I looked. And though I was married, I cannot count the number of times I was approached with friendliness by the opposite gender, even given phone numbers. I remember the morning I was jogging, and a 22 year old college student asked me for coffee at a red light – he was jogging as well. I laughed and told him I was 38. He just raised an eyebrow and said, “who cares?”
In July of that year I was diagnosed with an illness requiring medication, and in July of that year I began working through a personal crisis. My medication dosage was increased and I was asked by a family member to stop exercising. The details are not that important……what is important is that I stopped my regular activity, and I took medication that was known for changing metabolism, body chemistry, inhibiting that mental cue our brains give us that say, “I’m full,” and trashes the thyroid.
In July of 2006 I weighed 130 pounds and a size 8 was a bit loose. In 2008…..I wore a size 16. We tried different medications, but they left me in an almost zombie-like state. I had no choice, it seemed, but to continue the original medications. The choice sucked, to be blunt. To be ill or to be obese. By 2009 I was no longer able to shop in the “regular” clothing department.
It wasn’t just the number on the scale that changed, however. No more did salesladies acknowledge me. When I did stray to the regular sized clothing to buy things for my daughter, shoppers would look me up and down and raise an eyebrow. It goes without saying that I did not get any coffee offers or phone numbers (which didn’t bother me, but it was a change). I began to see things that I had dismissed when I was thin. It was objectively undeniable that I was treated differently. Had I become confined to a wheelchair or blind or had a limb amputated, this kind of almost open disdain at times would not have been tolerated. But because obesity is….”disgusting,” “lazy,” “a character flaw,” it was not only acceptable, but at times encouraged.
Of course, the harshest critic I encountered was the one in the mirror. My IQ was the same, my talents were the same, my skills were the same. But this too large body eclipsed everything. I hates myself. I hated my body. I bought the blandest clothing possible hoping to disappear. I avoided cameras and stopped having my school/teacher picture made. When our church decided to have family portraits for a new church directory, I fell apart before we got our picture made. I asked the photographer to hide me behind the rest of my family.
Thankfully, I have found a better medication. I have been working, and slowly I am seeing differences. It has been a very long time since I have had to shop in the “woman” section. My view about the things that make me valuable has changed and broadened. I am still getting into shape….but I love what I see in the mirror. I love the body that is healthy enough for me to do and be who I want to be. And I feel that going through that experience has made me more compassionate. My thyroid will never be normal thanks to the old meds and I will likely always take thyroid meds. It is harder to lose the weight than it used to be.
When I saw that segment on the Today Show, I was reminded of two things.
First, we have become such a shallow society. The things we value in a person make me sad sometimes. I was still a good teacher, a creative writer, a loyal friend, a talented singer, and an intelligent person at a size 18…..but it did not matter. It truly didn’t. Numerous studies have indicated that less qualified job applicants who are thinner consistently land the job, get the promotion. That people will enter into relationships with other who may or may not have good character or be good partners who are thin over a person who would teat them well and love them loyally who are not thin. Everyone with facebook undoubtedly saw the video of Susan Boyle, the woman with the beautiful voice who was looked upon with amusement and disdain when she walked out onto the stage. And the audience and judges were shocked by her voice, as if someone with that body could not possibly have control of her vocal chords.
I believe in being healthy. I believe in taking care of one’s body. I am not happy that I went through a time of obesity. If I had a time machine, I would have fought for better meds and I would not have caved to anyone’s suggestion that I cease exercise, no matter what the personal crisis. And yes, I did feel the negative physical affects of the extra weight.
The second thing that struck me was how easy it has become for us to say whatever we want however we want and rudely invade the life of another person when we hide behind a screen. I have heard countless tactless and rude people type the statement, “I would say this is you were standing right in front of me. I am the same in person as I am online.” Forgive my unusual language….but I call bullshit. Either that or this person’s circle of friends must be extremely small. We no longer have to see the hurt in the eyes of the person we think we have the right to belittle, so we let our fingers fly. I have been guilty of it as well. The saddest things about this news story……the man who sent the initial email to this Emmy winning news anchor came out with another statement continuing to attack the character (not just the appearance) of the anchor, becoming even more…arrogant and offering to give her advice should she decide to take this opportunity to “better herself.”
So yes, my soapbox is getting tired of me standing on it now, I am sure. But sometimes I wonder….what kind of society are we giving our children when the size of one’s jeans is more valued and more important than the size of their character. When the amount of weight someone carries is more important than the amount of compassion and civility they have.