Friday, October 16, 2009

Good Intentions

While a lot of people think it's their prerogative to mock, shame, and abuse fat people, there are some people who think it's their duty to try and help people who are overweight. A lot of those people are acting from a sense of needing to control other people's lives or a need to elevate themselves above the fat person. Mothers who rag on their daughters about their weight or husband's who make comments to their wives suggesting they don't really need another piece of pizza.

While my mother used to harass me about my weight (while being obese herself), I'm pleased to say that my husband has never done so. Except for one incident, he has never said anything that could be construed as critical of my weight during our entire long marriage and he regrets having said that one thing. That one incident, just for the record, came about when I had some problems with my knees and difficulty walking. He said something to the effect that I wouldn't be hobbling around if I did something about my problem.

I'm a very sensitive person, so I was crushed by what he said and started to push myself hard to lose weight. In fact, I pushed myself so hard that I seriously damaged my back and hurt my knees even more. After this period of time, my husband realized that I'd deal with my weight when (and if) I was ready and that there was nothing that anyone could do to speed the process along. He also realized that there were some things that he had done early on in our marriage that had unintentionally contributed to my regaining weight after losing so much. This is a longer story than I'm ready to tell at this time, but suffice it to say that I didn't find myself putting on extra padding until I needed protection from something.

Besides my husband, whose intentions I'm sure were good, but who was ignorant of the damage that could be caused by what he was doing, I have come across other people who had no business talking about my body who had good intentions in doing so. One of the weirdest ones for me occurred while I was walking home from work one night.

At that time, my back pain was so bad that I couldn't walk very far without stopping to rest my back. I had to walk about 10 minutes to get home and had to stop twice because of pain. A tall, thin, blond man who looked about 28 years old said hello to me just after I got up and started walking again. I smiled and said hello back, thinking he was just being friendly. He said, "you don't remember me, do you?" I said that I did not and left open the possibility that I had met him before and didn't recall him. I've met a lot of different people in my line of work and it wasn't inconceivable that we met some time ago and I forgot him.

I told him that I did not remember him and continued to try and be friendly. He then went on to say that he and I had met at a gym that he was a member of and that I had been trying to lose weight at that time and that I should "keep trying" and that he knew "I could do it." At this point, my face probably turned very dark because I have never been a member of any fitness club in my life, let alone in the area he mentioned. I told him that he had mistaken me for someone else and that we had not met before and I tried to disengage myself from talking to him further.

Of course, I was visibly upset and he knew it. A perfect stranger had walked up to another perfect stranger and offered words about her weight. I'm used to perfect strangers making fun of me, but not having this type of conversation. I felt as though my privacy had been violated in some way. I guess that's because I had been openly friendly toward him whereas I'd never be friendly to strangers who commented on my weight before.

He walked away ahead of me, something which was easy to do given my difficulties moving well, but then turned back and tried to apologize. At first, he tried again to be encouraging about my losing weight in addition to apologizing and I asked him to please leave me alone and started to cry. He went to walk away again but then came back and apologized again and all he did was make the whole unbearable and humiliating experience longer for me. I became more and more upset and he suggested that I take it out on him by hitting him with the umbrella I was carrying. I told him that I didn't want to hit him and I just wanted him to go away and leave me alone.

He dogged me nearly all of the way home (and I was in terrible pain trying to walk with my bad back as quickly as possible to escape him), but not because he wanted to help me. He felt incredibly guilty for upsetting me and wanted somehow to balance the scales by apologizing or insisting that I hurt him back. By the time I got home, I was nearly hysterical and told him that I was going to call my husband out to meet me if he didn't leave me alone. He then said I should call my husband so that he could hit him.

In the end, I came home completely out of control and emotionally wrecked. The embarrassment over about a span of 7 minutes of painful walking was unbearable and it was all the worse because he meant well. I wish he hadn't been so selfish when he had realized that he'd messed up. If he'd have just left me alone when I told him we didn't know each other, it wouldn't have been anywhere near as bad, but his need to assuage his guilt came before my need to be spared any further humiliation.

The bottom line is that even well-meaning people can hurt you. When it comes to matters of weight, everyone would be best off just leaving fat people alone to deal with their problems as they choose.