I responded yesterday to a LinkedIn discussion started by William Anderson, MA, LMHC, psychotherapist and director at The Anderson Method Therapist Network, and the author of the book, “The Anderson Method: The Secret to Permanent Weight Loss” which describes his weight loss therapy program. The discussion topic was, “Do you think there is bias against obese people in the counseling professions? This is the information I shared on the topic, slightly modified:
I’m just thinking…and haven’t totally processed this. I’m thinking that one reason obese folks receive such negative scrutiny along with negative character judgments is that their addiction is very obvious…thus, the judgments come…perhaps similar to the judgments people make of others with obvious addictions…if they recognize the signs of such severe addictions. In my life, I have been slender and I have been morbidly obese and I’m very aware of the discrimination based on weight, both interpersonally and professionally…and, I was always hard on myself.
It ALWAYS amazed me when close friends would say, “I really don’t think of you as a fat person.” At that time, I was huge…and I would say, “C’mon man, I’m wide both ways!” as I gestured left to right and front to back. Their follow-up responses led me to believe that this was because they knew me as a person, the whole person including my positive personal characteristics and they did not superficially judge me to be a “fat person” as they would others they didn’t know…the nasty generalizations of the stereotypes of a very heavy person. They perceived me and responded to me based on my character and personality, not the way I looked.
Once I had lost a lot of weight, my obese sister once said…”Isn’t it nice that you are no longer invisible.” She was referring to the positive acknowledgement that better looking people receive…people show you positive regard and treat you differently. I then told her how a young man working at a grocery store stopped me in the parking lot as I was pushing my cart to the car and he actually asked me if I would like some help with my groceries. That was a first. Had I been heavy and for me, less attractive, would he have offered? I think not. Me, I make a point of being nice and acknowledging people who I perceive are not commonly acknowledged or the recipients of random acts of kindness and respect. Was just thinking….