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Stop Staring At Me Just Because I’m Overweight!

English bulldog

Obesity is a problem in North America, particularly in the United States. It is a growing problem without an end in sight. Not helping the situation is the attitude people have towards those who are overweight. To rephrase Kermit the Frog: “It isn’t easy being fat.” The average day can be difficult.

Obstacles facing Overweight People

Being overweight is not a jolly affair. It creates all sorts of difficulties.[i] These are of the kinds that never face the average or thinner American. Imagine the following:

  • You get on a bus, subway or a train. The seats are too small to make sitting comfortable. Sometimes, you can’t even sit properly; other times, you have to use two seats. Imagine what everybody is thinking.
  • Traveling by airplane is a challenge all its own. It goes beyond the airplane seating. There are the overall cramped quarters – if the average person is complaining about being packed in like sardines, imagine how a large person feels. If you take up two seats, an airplane may charge you for the extra seating. Then there are the washroom facilities – you do not want to go there.
  • Having a quiet meal in a restaurant or café is impossible. The seating, the washrooms and tables do not provide enough room on the best of days. Booths can be impossible and embarrassing
  • Hotels and motels may also present their own versions of difficult situations. All you have to do is consider the standards of bed, bathroom and other furniture sized for normal weight persons. Unless you arrange for something special, you are stuck – sometimes in more ways than one.
  • Public buildings may also have doors and entryways that are too narrow.

Yet, these are the obvious issues. They are not the only ones facing someone who is, to use politically correct jargon, weight-challenged. The biggest and most hurtful problem is attitude.

Lose the Attitude

It is considered inappropriate to talk loudly about some one’s disability, yet it is not uncommon for people to say what they think about those who are overweight, let alone obese. On an average day, people will

  • Stare at you
  • Point at you
  • Laugh at you
  • Make loud disparaging comments concerning how you look
  • Offer you advice

The attitude extends beyond these actions, however. In fact, it permeates the various sectors of society. This affects more than a sense of self-esteem. It causes more than emotional suffering.

The Spread of Attitudes

Modern society is a pernicious thing. Culture stresses the thin look while providing its members with the chance to overeat at every corner. The scorn or disgust of overweight individuals is not restricted to the average Joe or Jane. Unfortunately prejudice and discrimination based on weight extends into other facets of life. Consider these:

  • Employment – Research indicates that individuals who are overweight may be unable to advance in their current job or find other employment where appearance or other factors are perceived as being part of the job. Studies indicate the perception is present that even at the application level judgment is passed due to their weight. These employers perceive the overweight as being not as agreeable, extraverted, conscientiousness and/or emotionally stable as those who weight the average or normal weight.[ii]
  • Medicine – Doctors are there to help, but in some cases they treat overweight patients differently than normal weight patients
  • School – Bullies abound who will pick on children who are different. Even many teachers have certain biases.

Is it Legal?

This behavior is legal in all states but one. In Michigan, the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act prohibits any weight-based behavior in addition to other forms of discriminatory practices.[iii] Other states are in the process of considering such legislation, but the closest they come to preventing weight discrimination is referring to appearance.

Effects of Staring at and Discriminating Against Overweight Individuals

Staring at, talking about and even directly addressing overweight people about their “problem” does not result in positive change. Derision and constantly addressing weight issues does not translate into weight loss for the person who is being bullied or embarrassed. In fact, as anyone who has studied basic psychology knows, it may have the direct opposite. Someone has to want to lose weight in order to work towards it. They need motivation and support and not attacks and criticism.

People who are overweight are well aware of the health issues that are facing them. Obese and overweight individuals are at risk for any number of diseases. So-called normal individuals are talking about them while those who are overweight are living with them. Overweight and obese individuals may already be experiencing such things as:

  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Various kinds of cancer
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Gout – once considered a wealthy person’s disease but caused by the build-up of uric acid in the leg joints
  • Diseases of the gallbladder
  • Sleep apnea
  • Osteoarthritis – a painful form of bone arthritis in which the joints erode

For Americans to be more accepting or tolerant would help prevent the self-esteem issues resulting from such things as blatant staring. It does not mean family, friends and others cannot care enough to want overweight people to lose weight. Yet, the methods and the reason for the change should not be based on a societal decision that everyone needs to conform to a specific weight.

Losing weight should not be about acceptance of obesity by others. Losing weight needs to be implemented as a result of recognition of the issues leading to excess weight. You must address the personal and specific issues of why someone weighs more than normal. You must consider healthy ways to lose weight. Friends and family should recognize the role of motivation in helping you adopt a weight loss program and exercise plan. If someone is overweight, they do not need sympathy or derision; they need support to lose weight.

References  

[i] Bacon, Linda (2008). Health At Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight. Dallas, TX Benbella.

[ii] Roehling, MV; Roehling, PV;and Odland, ML (2008).  Investigating the Validity of Stereotypes about Overweight Employees: The Relationship Between Body Weight and Normal Personality Traits. Group & Organization Management. 33: 392-424.

[iii] Michigan Government (passed 1976). Elliot-Larsen Civil Rights Act. www.legislature.mi.gov/mileg.aspx?page=getObject&objectname=mcl-act-453-of-1976.

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