The woman in front of me in line shifted uncomfortably. Her shirt was a bit too short to cover her hanging belly and her pants a bit too tight across the dimpled seat, drawing even more unintentional attention to it.
She placed her clothing selections on the counter and rummaged through her purse to find her wallet. With her eyes averted, the two young, well dressed sales clerks, a man and a woman, made eye contact with each other and pulled out a repetoire of comical faces, blowing out and distending their cheeks, with the man holding his arms a ways out from his sides and moving ponderously from side to side. The customer looked up once and said, "I'm sorry, I know it's in here somewhere." They snapped back to feigned attentiveness as soon as she spoke, but once her gaze was back in her purse, the mocking continued until they were in silent hysterics at each other. She fished out her wallet and completed her purchase, no doubt adding a tidy sum to those clerks' sales tallies for the day. She completed her transaction by softly telling them both, "Thank you- I really do appreciate your help."
I burned inside- with embarrassment for her, with anger at the rudeness of the clerks, and at the memories of what it was like for me when I was morbidly obese.
I wasn't always morbidly obese. In fact, I was slender, fit, and considered pretty through my twenties. A tragedy and the resulting well camouflaged depression that draped itself over me obliterated the fastidiousness with which I usually cared for myself. A back injury and a couple of knee injuries cemented my slide downwards into a weight that was over twice my original size. My sweet husband loved me just the same and never, not once, spoke one negative word to me about my appearance or my weight, but that didn't negate the trash others threw covertly my way.
I noticed many people refused eye contact with me, even though speaking politely, as if my obesity was contagious. Then there were those to whom somehow, despite the fact that I had multiple degrees and held state offices in professional associations and was a school teacher and a lecturer at a university, my intelligence was also diminished by my obesity.
In restaurants, there was always at least one patron or server who would look to see what I was eating, as if I was not a human but an animal in the zoo on display. I remember hearing one person laughing in a group of people, "They should just slaughter all those fat slobs. The food saved could go to feed those starving kids!" People guffawed as if it was the best joke they'd ever heard.
While some sales clerks were gracious, others were downright hostile. I learned to approach the sales clerk first in a clothing store that was not a plus sized store to let them know I was looking for clothing for one of my children or someone else, so they wouldn't come up to me to tell me they had nothing in my size.
People who held the assumption that overweight people are also lazy hung it on me like a medal at the Olympics. I found myself working much harder than others to prove to them that not only was I capable, but that I was successful. I saw folks with much limper work ethics but with model-worthy good looks getting huge promotions.
Even in church, there were some who felt that because my physical body was in bad shape, my spiritual body must be likewise.
No one else in my original family, present family, or extended family struggles with obesity, and it was hard for some of them to understand why I couldn't just "fix it". Quit eating, exercise, and it will come off. Well, of course, that's correct, but it's much easier said than done, especially when you have just about given up, as I had.
With a miraculous epiphany I had several years ago, I started the hard climb out of obesity and back into health, with amazing support from my husband, kids, and friends. Now at my goal weight, I can say it has been one of the most difficult things I've ever done. I exercise like a mad woman, count calories as if my life depends on it (and it does) and am now known as a fitness nut. I believe with all my heart no one is beyond redemption.
And when that woman in front of me turned around after paying for her items, I looked her in the eye and said, "I saw some of the things you picked out- you have a great eye for color. In fact, you've given me some ideas of things I want to look for."
Her eyes widened and she looked at me carefully for a moment, as if to judge the genuineness of my compliment. Then, her face relaxed and she replied, "Thank you so much," and punctuated it with a soft nod and gentle smile.
After she exited, I placed my selections on the counter. The two clerks both had compliments about my choices and the female clerk remarked, "I wish I had your waist!"
I thanked her, and then watched the smiles sink from their faces when I launched in, "I saw what you were doing to the woman in front of me..."
This is another post I did about my weight loss, and it has then and now pictures in it: Losing 167 Pounds But Finding More of Me. If you are obese or want to change something else in your life, it can be done. Really, really, it CAN be done. It may not be easy, and it may not be quick, but it can be done. Believing in yourself is the very first step. You are worth it.