How Society Treats Fat People

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Last week I received a comment on my birthday post asking if I noticed people treating me differently when I was overweight. I was shocked when I realized I hadn't written on this topic already given how much I think about it! When I was at my heaviest my BMI was 30.5 – morbidly obese. I grew up fairly thin, gained weight in middle school, lost it in high school and put it on again when I turned 21 (you can read my weight saga here.) During the time I was at my heaviest I was also finishing up my Bachelors in Psychology so I feel that I had a unique perspective in really paying attention to how other’s viewed or treated me. I’ll confess – when I was thin in high school I had confidence out the wazoo. I didn’t think I was perfect, but I liked how I looked and my body confidence was obvious to most people as I carried myself in a way that exuded happiness. Gaining weight as quickly as I did, 50 pounds in about 2 years, made me hyper aware of myself and the way people responded to me.

In my psychology class I lecture on a chapter on Health and I share with them my experience with losing weight. Inevitably one of my students asks how I stay motivated to keep the weight off and my answer is simple – I remember vividly how miserable I was and never want to feel that way again. The best way I can describe being overweight to someone who hasn’t been in that position is that you feel like you are wearing a fat suit, and are suddenly invisible to the world. I always felt like the ‘real’ Erica was inside of me, and that I woke up one day and all this excess fat hanging around my stomach or spilling out onto the chair when I sat down wasn’t really there. It was like some bizarre nightmare. I knew I was getting bigger but I was also in this weird denial about it. My pant sizes kept going up but it didn’t really register.

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I noticed that people stopped opening doors for me, cashiers didn’t seem as likely to engage in random conversation, and I absolutely stopped seeing guys look my way. Thankfully, I was never on the receiving end of overt criticism (although I will still remember the one time a guy called me fat after I rejected his advances at a bar) but it was like all attention – good or bad, just disappeared.

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What I realize now is that my body language at the time was dictating to others how to treat me. I felt like I wanted to be invisible, so that’s the energy I put out to others. I witness this often with other women when I’m out walking around. I see them uncomfortably pulling their shits down or their pants up, using their purses to hide their stomachs, or projecting other ‘tells’ that they are unhappy with their looks and don’t want to be looked at. A few months ago I came across this series of photo by an overweight woman who wanted to show how other's looked at her out in public. Yes, some people are looking at her oddly. Perhaps it's because she's standing extremely awkwardly in the middle of busy areas, not smiling or looking like she wants to be engaged with.

In general I think we are treated the way we expect to be treated. I value and respect myself now as an intelligent, hard-working, healthy, cat-lover and that’s typically how people perceive me. I’m not saying this to insinuate that people who are overweight deserve the treatment they receive (whatever treatment that may be) but that I wish I could go back in time and tell myself to hold my head up high, and others will love me as much as I love myself.

Do you feel like you act differently when you are insecure about something?

If you could go back in time and give yourself advice - what would it be?