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A Personal Story About Weight Discrimination

A Personal Story About Weight Discrimination (1)

Managing my weight has always been a struggle. As a kid, I was referred to as “chubby” or “pudgy.” Of course, those words had a lasting impact on my body image, just as disparaging remarks can deeply affect any child or adolescent. My self-image and mental health suffered as I approached and entered my teenage years. Then something happened that triggered weight loss.  

I remember the day in junior high school when everything changed. I was looking around at all the cute summer clothes other girls were wearing, fully and painfully aware that I would not be comfortable wearing those same things. That was when I decided to do something about it. I put myself on a strict 1,000-calorie-a-day diet. My motivation was strong, and I lost about 35 pounds. It was like getting a new lease on life.  

That was a hard-won personal achievement and while I had the desire, determination, and inner strength to make it happen, I soon learned that it was also fragile and temporary.  

Life brought curveballs and turning points  

Between graduating high school and meeting my fiancé, my body weight fluctuated. At one point, I was actually fired from a server job at a fine dining restaurant after the owner said to the general manager, “I don’t want to see that fat girl in my restaurant again.” I weighed 150 pounds at the time, 20 pounds overweight, according to my doctor.  

After that experience, I adopted a healthy lifestyle and maintained a healthy weight for many years – until my fiancé passed away. While I was struggling with grief, I gained about 100 pounds. I didn’t even realize it was happening until one day I looked in the mirror and didn’t recognize myself. Again, I made the decision to change my life.  

Over the past couple of years, I have lost more than 100 pounds and am now what people consider healthy, thin, normal weight, or whatever you want to call it. Honestly, it has been a battle to not just overcome bad habits, but to also improve my mental and emotional health.  

In the process, I’ve observed a prevalence in how people who are targets of weight stigma and weight discrimination receive unfair treatment. When a person is struggling with another type of problem, disability, or illness and someone makes an inappropriate remark, others are likely to step in and correct the person who made the comment. But obesity is different. With obesity, there are typically no such interventions. Instead, hurtful words, shaming, and other stigmatizing of people with weight-related challenges usually result in chuckles and uncomfortable looks. It can be humiliating.  

Thankfully, I have not fought this battle alone. I’ve had help in turning the page on negative attitudes and thoughtlessness.  

Positivity has a deep and lasting impact, too  

Since losing body weight and improving my physical health and well-being, there has been a huge difference in the way I am treated, in both professional and social settings. People go out of their way to talk to me, ask questions, ask for help, and partner with me. These welcome interactions never happened before, and I’ve thought about this a lot.  

Could some of this positivity be due to my increased self-confidence? Absolutely. But not all of it. The sense of normalcy and acceptance is also due in part to the decency and positive traits of others, a common ground that we share. I gravitate toward like-minded people, which is important to staying healthy and grounded. It also helps to deflect negativity, and I’ve thought about this a lot, too.  

It seems many people don’t understand that obesity is often a symptom of another struggle that someone is going through. Some think it’s okay to make comments that are best kept to themselves. For example, some people might approach an overweight person and say, “I am worried about you – you don’t look healthy,” or make some other insensitive or rude remark.  

Awareness is lacking in our workplaces and in society. This needs to change. We need to work on addressing weight stigma. 

In life and in work, let’s be our better selves  

My life journey in struggling with – and conquering – the battle of being overweight has taught me to look beneath the surface of someone’s appearance, to see their intrinsic value and ability to make a difference in the world or in someone else’s quality of life.  

I hope that in sharing my story, others will recognize how weight bias and weight discrimination can be devastating to people who are carrying not just extra pounds but also the burden of what caused it. It could be health-related, due to an eating disorder, or a genetic predisposition to body size. For me, it was the imprint of words like chubby and pudgy that were assigned to me when I was a kid and the gradual erosion of my self-esteem. 

We’re human. We all struggle with personal challenges from time to time. Let’s cast aside stereotypes around weight-based discrimination. We need to support and encourage each other no matter what, so that we can enjoy the personal and professional rewards that come from simply being kind to others.