There’s something interesting I‘ve noticed – it relates to how we as a society think about health and weight.
I mostly work with women. Most of them outwardly look very healthy and as they go about their day to day life, no one would think anything was wrong. They are normally slim and often have the look that most women aspire to. Some are actresses and grace the cover of magazines.
But when we chat, things aren’t as you would think. Their digestion is a mess and they are suffering with constipation that leaves them going once or twice a week. Their cycle is a pain filled horror show or it has stopped altogether. Sleep is erratic and they’re waking through the night. They suffer with horrible hay fever and seem to go from one cold to the next.
Even though these women have the outward appearance of health, underneath it’s a very different story.
Now I want you to imagine a scenario where instead of this person being slim, they are obese. They are suffering with the exact same set of symptoms, they just look different.
When you think about this person and why this is happening, does their weight now become a factor? Is there a part of you that thinks, “If they just lost some weight, I bet their health problems would get better”.
When someone is slim we are more likely to look at why something may be happening, but when someone is carrying weight we instantly think their issues are because of the weight.
To add insult to injury, is the judgment that comes along with this. When someone is slim and gets sick or has symptoms, we chalk it up to being a normal human being and that people just get ill. Sure, we’ll look for the how to remedy it but we don’t make that person feel bad about it.
But when someone who is overweight or obese, it’s always because of something they’ve done. Their weight is obviously a reflection of their personal habits and not looking after themselves. Their symptoms are a result of this weight and therefore what they’re suffering with, is their fault.
Let’s also imagine a scenario where both these women, the slim one and the heavier one, go out to lunch at a buffet.
The slim one is hungry and eats four plates over lunch. No on bats an eye lid or takes any notice. Or if anyone does notice her going up for the fourth time, the natural thought is “it’s good to see a woman with a decent appetite instead of just eating salad all the time”.
The heavier woman isn’t so hungry and over lunch get just three plates. Her experience is different. The whole time eating lunch she notices herself being watched. In her head she runs through the things she knows people are saying.
“No wonder she is so big, maybe she should stop eating a buffet so often”
“How about you try a salad instead of coming to something where it’s all you can eat”
“I know who’s going to get their money’s worth”
“Some people just don’t care about their health”
“That’s what’s wrong with this country…now my taxes are going to have to pay for her gastric band.”
“It’s so sad that people do that to themselves, a little self control would go a long way”
These women went out for the same lunch, but because of their outward appearance, they had very different experiences. While internally they are suffering with the same symptoms, they aren’t judged on this because you can’t see it.
Or imagine that both these women are entrepreneurs. They are working long days and weekends to get their company off the ground. This stress is probably partly responsible for the symptoms that they are suffering with.
You meet the slim one at a party and she tells you about everything she is doing with her company. She is super excited and passionate. She tells you that it’s a lot of hard work, her health has suffered a little, but it’s worth it. You walk away from the conversation thinking, “wow, really impressive, it sounds amazing what she is doing”.
You meet the heavier one at a party and she tells you the same thing. She passionate, things are going well, the hard work has impacted on her health but it’s worth it. While you may walk away impressed, part of you is thinking “maybe she should take better care of her health. I can see how the hard work has impacted on her and it’s going to catch up with her”.
Weight has become such an easy thing to blame and to judge people on. We’ve been told for so long of the dangers of being overweight that everything else pales in comparison. When this is then mixed with our societies obsession with thinness and appearance, someone’s weight is the simple explanation behind whatever is going on.
We value the appearance of health, not health itself. I see way too many outwardly healthy and inwardly unhealthy people; fortunately from them, they get a free pass from judgement and shaming because they’re lucky enough to meet our narrow societal norms.
This is wrong. And if we want to truly improve the health of all, we need to get away from this biased thinking.