I got a call from my 73 year old cousin last night. He lives in Boston and had just been to visit my mom in her nursing home. He wanted to tell me they’d had a good visit. He’s a lovely man and visits her regularly, every three weeks, for which I am very, very grateful. (I live in Ohio. My Mom is in Boston.)
During the conversation, out of the blue, he mentioned the wife of a cousin of ours. I think I met her once, maybe 25 years ago. He started out by saying, “I saw Karen at a party last week and you wouldn’t believe how much weight she has gained. She’s probably twice her size. I bet she’s at least 200 lbs.”
Immediately, when someone starts telling me about someone who has gained weight (or lost weight), I get this rush of feelings. The first wave…I feel angry that the person talking to me felt this was information worthy of public discussion. To me, a comment about a person’s body feels like a violation of that person’s personal boundaries. Then, I feel disappointment about the person who made the comment, especially if he or she is someone I like and care about. This person has just shown me that he or she judges people by what they happen to weigh. This person has revealed a prejudice and he doesn’t think there is a thing wrong with his comments. And, my third wave of feeling, even after all the recovery work I have done, is hurt. My body weight has certainly gone up and down over my decades of struggle with a binge eating disorder. If he is commenting about that other person’s weight, I’m suddenly sure that he did the same about me, behind my back, as well.
In the past, I just would have changed the subject, quickly. But now I feel compelled to “advocate” for every single one of us who walks around feeling insecure, and conspicuous, and unsafe in our weight/diet obsessed culture. Personally, and professionally, I know the unrelenting impact and the toll weight-ism has on our sense of comfort in the world.
So I took a deep breath and told my cousin how I felt. His first response was, “I didn’t mean anything by it.” I said, “I know. But you felt Karen’s weight gain worth noting and it sounded judgmental. And you have absolutely no idea why she has gained weight, so what assumptions are you making that would lead you to comment on her body?” He was quiet for a few seconds and then said, “You’re right.” Either he heard me… or just wanted to end the conversation. Either way, I was glad I found and used my voice.
I hope I had some impact.
What do you do when you hear someone comment on someone else’s weight? Is it hard for you to speak up? What price do you pay when you silence your voice?