Sticks and Stones……

“Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me”

We all know that rhyme from our school days don’t we? It is often told to children to encourage them not to retaliate and get upset when called names at school, the reality though of course as we all know is that names do hurt. I doubt there is anyone out there who hasn’t been called a negative name at some point in their life, usually in childhood, because of the colour of your hair, your height, your weight, wearing glasses and many other reasons. Most name calling is predominantly done by children to children however this is not always the case.

I have been overweight all my life, and as such have been called names due to my weight many times over the years. I am sure that I am not alone in this and everyone reading this post will have experienced some kind of name calling at some point. However much you hear the rhyme and think about it as just words, those words still hurt, those words stick in our minds for a long time. Not all name calling is by strangers though is it? Not all name calling is as straight forward as a teenager shouting “oi fatty” to you in the street. Some name calling is more subtle, some name calling is on-going and harder for us to recognise.

So, a stranger shouts names at you in the street, why are they doing this? I think there are a number of possible reasons for this however the most likely ones are peer pressure, and feeling insecure about themselves. If a stranger shouts at you in the street you are just a person walking past them, they do not know your story, they have not lived your life, they do not know anything about you other than what they can see, and they probably do not care! The stranger is likely to never see you again and I imagine will do the same thing to many other people and wont even think about you again or remember anything about why they singled you out. This, of course, is not the same for the person who has being name called, they remember for a long time what was said, what they were wearing at the time, where they were and other such details. I am 35 years old and still remember things I was called back when I was 8 years old. The person who shouted those names at me could be anywhere now doing anything with his life, he wont even remember me!

When we are called names regarding our weight it is likely then we start thinking to ourselves that we are inferior, that we are everything they called us, and they are better than us. Every time someone calls us a negative name regarding our weight or says something to hurt us because of our weight that little comment goes into our memory and is stored with all the other comments. However much we try to put a brave face on it, it hurts, it makes us unhappy and we could in some cases then comfort eat due to that unhappiness. Did the person put us down because they thought we didn’t know what we look like? Let’s face it we all have mirrors! Many people chose to look in the mirror as little as possible but we are all very aware of our size whether that be big, small or somewhere in between and we do not need a stranger to point this out to us!

It is not always strangers that comment on our weight is it? I have found that friends, families, and partners can be just as guilty of doing this though often, but not always, more subtly. I have been quite open in previous posts about my depression and I am not ashamed to admit I have struggled with depression for all of my adult life and some of my younger years too. As such I have often comfort eaten and often felt very low about myself and my value in society. When I feel low and depressed, as I am sure like many others, I have very little interest in my appearance and only think very negative things about it. During a depressive point in life would it be helpful for someone close to you to point out one of your failings (in your eyes!) and say you need to lose weight to feel happier? No, of course it wouldn’t but it happens! Sometimes people say things they believe are to help you, but in my opinion they don’t.

As I know I have shared before I have been in abusive relationships previously and have had partners call me names and say negative things due to my weight. They have claimed to be joking or even said they were just being honest for my own good. When you think you are in love with someone and they tell you that you look fat in things or that you wouldn’t want to break a chair so not to sit there and other such comments you believe them because you can not see that they would lie to you. The reality is of course these relationships were abusive, not just I this way but others and they wanted me to feel worthless and said anything in order to achieve that. At the same time I was being encouraged to eat take away meals and told that the cost of weight loss groups was not something he would allow me to spend. The truth of the matter was that he wanted to control me and for me to be exactly what he wanted, low in self confidence so that I would stay with him and accept his abuse. I am of course not saying all relationships like this are abusive as there are odd comments that could be said in a genuinely helpful manner. What I am saying however is this is not always the case.

If you are overweight and someone is saying to you that you are “fat”, “blubber”, “like a whale”, “wont fit through the door”, “will break the chair/bed”, and other similar phrases, can they ever be helpful? My answer, in my opinion, is very rarely! What I think we need to do is look at a few key things. The first is, does the person saying these things know you? If they do not know you either in a personal or professional capacity I would categorically say there is no way there opinions should mean anything! I know from personal experience it is easier said than done to say ignore these people but I do try to tell myself, their opinion does not matter as it is not based on all the information! The second is, do they have anything to gain by saying this to you?

So, when someone you are close to says something negative about your weight, does it matter then? Can that ever be helpful? I believe in the vast proportion of times no it is not helpful. When you hear these things from someone you have a close relationship to, be that a partner, family member or friend, does it make you think positively about losing weight? Or does it make you feel worse about yourself? In my case it is nearly always been the latter. I find it hard to not take comments personally as I am sure many others do too and I do try now, all be it a little too late as I have reached my weight loss target, to ask people not to talk about weight as everyone has different opinions. People still comment about my weight now though usually that they think I’m too slim, people like to have an opinion I’ve found! Ultimately it is up to the individual to make a decision about what size they feel happy and when, if ever, they want to do something about it.

If you go to the doctors and the doctor suggests that losing weight may help improve a medical condition you are likely to believe that aren’t you? This does not mean of course that you will make the move then to lose weight as I truly believe everyone will lose weight when it is right for them. If you were told that you would need to lose weight for a particular medical procedure, again you are likely to believe this and be aware of this but again it is down to you whether you take this on board and are ready to look into the options you have to help you lose weight. Any medical professional bringing this subject up should do it in a sensitive way and not be calling you names, they should be able to offer support and encouragement and depending on the area and how overweight you are they may offer a gym membership, a block of sessions for a weight loss group such as Slimming World medications or surgery options to help you.

My advice to you, if you wish to take it, is if you know you are overweight and have had these comments from people close to you look at what the actual meaning behind those comments is. Do they actually put you down in every way possible and could this be abuse? Do they think they are helping encourage you and if they are not maybe quietly say to them that you will do it when you are ready and do not appreciate their input and find it unhelpful. If the people who say the negative things to you do not know you try to remember just that, they do not know you and as such their opinions of you do not matter, easier said than done but worth thinking and remembering this.

Are reading this as someone who feels they try to encourage someone they know to lose weight? Are you wondering why I have said that comments such as yours are almost always not helpful? You only have their best interests at heart don’t you? We all know this, we know that most times people close to us say these things because they think they are helping and encouraging us. We own mirrors, we have more than likely had a conversation at some point with a doctor about our weight problems, and we know there is help out there for us when we are ready to do something about it. So, next time you feel yourself tempted to ask us if losing weight will be a new years resolution again or why we don’t do something about our weight please remember this is something we are probably asking ourselves. Prior to joining Slimming World I had many reasons why I had not done something about my weight before, some were excuses (I don’t have time to eat healthily), some were reality (I couldn’t live off salad – I didn’t realise that losing weight isn’t all about salad!), and some were just that I felt too much pressure to do something about it from well meaning people keep suggesting it so it was easier to put my head in the sand and do nothing! Please be there when we are ready and don’t push the issue that is the most helpful thing you can do.

Everyone can lose weight in a way that is right for them, be it Slimming World or another weight loss plan or organisation, surgery or exercise. Everyone can lose weight when the time is right for them but you need the guidance and support when the time is right for you not for anyone else. Ultimately our body is our own, sticks and stones to break our bones but names don’t help us either.

Open letter to stranger who called me a name in the street when I was obese:

Dear stranger outside the bus station in April 2005,

You looked at me and you saw fat, you saw someone who had eaten too many cakes, someone who had chosen to be overweight and was therefore not worthy of sharing the same pavement as you. You laughed at me and asked if there were any cakes left in the cake shop, you pointed and shouted whilst your friends joined in laughing. To you it was funny, something that brightened your day, something that made your friends laugh, and something you have probably long since forgotten about! What you do not know is how that made me feel, you made me feel worthless and like I wanted the ground to swallow me up. Would you have liked someone to talk to one of your friends or family like that whether it be about weight or something else? Would you have liked to think of your mum upset at home after a stranger made her feel worthless in the street? You do not know that on that morning I woke up suicidal, I woke up feeling worthless and like I wanted to end my life. Your comments could have tipped me over the edge which I am sure is not what you would have wanted. You see when you said those things you didn’t think about how it would affect me, you didn’t think about anything but yourself. That comment actually didn’t act as the last straw that made me end my life because I was pregnant, I was to become a mum in 7 months time, not that you could have seen that yet. Your comments made me realise what kind of mum I wanted to be, that I was determined I would bring my child into this world as a person who would never put a stranger down like you did to me. This story could have ended so differently, think before you speak, think before you humiliate someone, you do not know them and what they have gone through in life and what made them who they are today. Have a heart and think how you would feel if your mum was spoken to like that and keep your opinions to yourself. Everyone is different, no one knows what the future holds, you could be the subject of someone’s joke next week. Treat people as you would like to be treated it isn’t that hard. My boy is 10 now and a wonderful child, he often has people comment about his differences in a negative way but I teach him that they do not understand and not to do the same, because of you when I was 8 weeks pregnant I decided that bringing my child up like this was so important to me. So I thank you for your negativity but do the other people you have done that to feel the same? you will never know! The 22 stone “blob” you laughed at who is now a size 8 and not that size anymore, will you change your life and attitude too?

Jen

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