Michelle commented on a progress photo that I posted on Facebook not long ago with a question whose answer warrants more than a simple “yes” or “no.” Michelle said, “Look at you!!!! Bravo! I’ve been wanting to ask you this, but I keep forgetting. I’m not sure if you’ve mentioned this in your blogs or not but… Do you feel like people treat you differently since you’ve lost weight? Do you think people discriminate towards overweight people? Just wanted to know your thoughts on the matter.”
To respond to Michelle’s first question, “Do you feel like people treat you differently since you’ve lost weight?” the answer is, “Yes and no” Some people who have always known and loved me continue to know and love me regardless of my size. I can’t think of a single friend I’ve lost because of weight loss, but I can say with certainty that meeting new people is different.
I find myself with a lot more “friends” and “interested parties” as “thin Daniel,” and that makes me inherently cautions and suspicious of peoples’ motives. I certainly get more attention. My answer to Michelle’s second question may shock you. Not only do I think people discriminate against overweight people, I find myself doing it! Let me explain…
The other night at our Dining with the Dietitian field trip, I asked the question to the group, “Do y’all see big people differently now that you’re no longer big?” There was a resounding response around the table to the affirmative. I asked this question, because I’ve been quietly seeing large people differently myself now that I’m on the other side of the mountain, so to speak. While it wasn’t a matter of full-on “discrimination,” those who responded to the question in our group said that they certainly saw something “the matter with” people who were large. There was a consensus that obesity is a problem which needs to be addressed. The logical extension of that is that people who are obese, therefore, need “fixing.”
Some referred to the fiscal impact on the health care system which faces very high costs to address so many secondary problems that people experience as a result of obesity. Being overweight can lead to heart disease, diabetes, and stroke, for example. It can also cause people to become prematurely disabled, all of which place a burden on the systems providing care for folks suffering from these conditions. Addressing the obesity epidemic would go a long way to preventing much of this burden.
One person brought up a recent news piece about airlines which plan to start charging heavier passengers more to fly. As “heavy Daniel,” I used to pay Southwest Airlines for two tickets in order to fly on their airline under their Passenger of Size policy. I know first-hand how humiliating it is to be called aside in an airport and told that you’re different from the rest of the passengers. I hated flying not only because it was physically uncomfortable to fit into the narrow seats, a hassle to get a belt extension, and exhausting to shuffle up and down the aisle, but also because it was socially awkward to be seated so near a stranger. As “heavy Daniel,” I had my own idea of the thoughts that were going through my seatmates’ minds.
Grocery store scooters was another topic that was brought up. One person said, “I think they shouldn’t be allowed to offer them. People need to be made to walk!” My response was, “I see it as a service that’s available to customers as a courtesy. If Store ABC offers scooters and Store XYZ does not, customers can choose for themselves which store to support.” I completely understand how crippling being obese can be, and that walking around the grocery store is a physical impossibility for some people. I also see able-bodied people draped across their grocery carts in Wal-Mart and shake my head. It’s a double-edged issue.
Do people treat me differently now that I’m thin? Some do, some don’t. Do I feel that overweight people are “discriminated against”? I feel that overweight people are perceived as problematic by thin people. As a “thin people,” I catch myself doing it, too. I’m not sure if I’d go as far as to say discriminated against. As “old Daniel,” I saw airline seats as too small. As “new Daniel,” I see “old Daniel” as too big.”