Friday, March 16, 2012

Disability Rights, What Happened at My Health Class, and Being Severely Obese

The severely obese are pariahs even in some of the disability rights community or were when I had contact with it many years ago. Even though many severely obese have other health problems--I had chronic and severe lung problems even before I became severely obese, and have gone mostly deaf and for the readers of this blog I do not have to list again the other health problems, but this is something I want to talk about. Because it is happening.

Years and years ago, I contacted a owner of a disability rights magazine, I wanted to write an article regarding the severely obese and my experiences with weight gain, this was more then 10 years ago. I was turned down flat and told that being severely obese was not "real disability". I moved on, but the editor of this magazine who I got the phone number from a now deceased friend, was actually ABUSIVE to me. Why? The super-fat weren't really disabled but were at fault for their condition.

Another time, this was when my weight was higher and I was having more mobility problems years ago, I was seeking information about a wheelchair. I had not made the decision to buy one. In fact even while a friend told me I should get one to be able to go more places, I feared losing abilities so put it off. I do own a scooter but without a lift, it is useless to use even at local art fairs and flea markets. So unless its a big grocery store with a scooter, the places I go are ones where I can walk. My husband used to lift into the scooter into the van but now is too unhealthy himself to manage all that. I went onto a wheelchair forum, I talked to the people, some who were paralyzed and I considered their problems more severe then my own and when they found out why I may need a wheelchair, they became abusive, talking about how the fat butts [they used a different word] deserved what they got and shouldn't have any wheelchairs, and they could lose weight while they were trapped forever, and fat people were disgusting. They went to town. I even told a few on that message board how I gained the weight, it did not matter. Due to the sheer numbers and degree of vitriol, I left.

Well the other day in my health class, I have stayed in the class because of the information gained. They have given me new ideas to help my health, so I have stuck it out, but it has been very difficult. I have gotten the scathing know-it all looks. The subtle rejection, where no one talks to me. This is a re-run of the Weight Watchers meeting of 2008 where I was totally ignored. The women running it are very corporate and rigid types though this is a volunteer gig for them have refused much bonding within the group and have run it like clock-work. I feel like I am condemned in there and I know I am, because one day, as I was sitting there wheezing a bit, the weather had turned warm--not quite to housebound status, and annoying some lady next to me, I just happened to turn my head, and saw that she had written in her notebook, in very large letters, "I am going to tell them, they need to screen people better for this class, not just let some person in who is overweight who has no chronic health problems."

Outside of thinking, who does this pinched up, extremely thin lady think she is? I found that so absurd. Clear the weight away, and I still would not be an icon of health. Even if some is obesity co-morbs, if I and that lady wanted to do an autoimmune throw down, I'd "win" hands down.

Well at that point I got a chance, to speak for myself. I didn't tell her I saw what she wrote, and the "facilitators" told us to talk to the person next to us, to discuss a health challenge regarding communication that was troubling us, and go down this problem solving list with a partner.

I told her, my problem was fat prejudice and not being listened to because people are ignorant about obesity and that my life has even been endangered before because of this.

She turned a bit red. I got rather forceful as she tried to rapidly change the subject, this isn't a science experiment here, now listen.

She took her turn describing her health problems, some of which were serious.....

but you wonder how there is absolutely no compassion out there. I said a few things but then exited the room early.

One thing I know I've had to do over the years to survive, and a very good friend even brought this up to me, is I have learned to hide pain, suffering and vulnerability.
I have learned the hard way when you are severely obese, you are marked as at fault for everything that is wrong with you, by that way that includes even non-fat things like hearing and the world's sympathy does not exist. I am of the person who is of the mind to do for others and get what you can out of your life but I have often pondered this one and how the treatment itself impacted my health and stress levels. I feel stressed and kind of "scared" around the health class people. They seem really cold to me and without empathy. I have stayed in to gain information to be useful to myself but now I have no misgivings about how I am viewed. Seriously it's scary out there, and wonder what others may go through.

One of the facilitators, even called me last night, and said "Did you take that library book"? Semi-accusing me of stealing a library book from the room. She had handed me this book on a subject they had ended on, and said, "We are done with this, and hey you can check this out", I said Sure, but then changed my mind while out in the library and returned the book into the library bookdrop. She told me on the phone, "I told them you had taken the book without checking it out!". I said "Why didn't you ask them to see if they had it?" She doesn't know that I check out 10-15 books a week from the library, the librarians know me, I do poetry seminars there, I'd be the last person to march out of this library and rip it off. She changed tactics and said fast, "Oh you were so nice to return it!". Alrighty then.

The mind boggles.

For those who are severely obese there are so few soft places to fall. I also think to myself, people with chronic health problems, who are normal sized or even midsized and more normal, are not facing this the same way. The condemnation of the severe obese is so ingrained, so severe, that I believe it does impact people's health quite severely. I probably am a superfat woman that got lucky even finding a few medical professionals that were more understanding, but remember it's not just medical people but other support staff. How do normal people view the severely obese? Not very well.

The severely obese out in the world often do need services that range from respiratory therapy, to social workers. While nice and good people pop up everywhere, there have been some major doozies.

I tell God, "Yes I am the modern leper", and it has brought some strength of character, but sometimes the pain, is not easy. What is scary is you can brush your hair, put on a nice dress, and stand up straight and with confidence and some out there will still try and wear you down. My husband says I should stand up to the ladies running the health class, I am not sure. We all need to the help of someone. I do plan to write a few opinions in the survey. There is only two more.

Back to the disability rights, though, my experiences at the health class reminded me of those 15 year old memories. There are probably are some safe places for the severely obese in disability rights, but this is a problem that should be watched out for.

I went and ran a search for disability rights and the severely obese and could not find much. Maybe I need to reword things but would like to find out more.


  1. Later people came forward and were nice to me. Weird, I think they knew why I was upset with this woman!. Well I was glad, I was able to complete the health class in good spirits and with being able to talk with the leaders and other members in positive ways. I didn't talk to the woman who didn't like fat people. Maybe she felt sorry and said something, I don't know. All I know is things were 180 degrees different when I showed up the next class.

  2. My first 'real' (read -serious) boyfriend weighed over 500 lbs. We'd been friends since 4th grade, when we bonded over dealing with an abusive teacher and bullies.. him b/c of his weight, me because I was an undiagnosed autistic who was considered too weird by everyone else.
    Every day, as we went through school, I witnessed the horrible shit people handed him. And my heart broke for him. I loved him even back then, and it hurt to see him go through that. Even when I was 9, I loved him, though at that age it was an uncomplicated sibling-like type of love.

    We started dating the year I turned 18. When we were out together, people gave us odd looks.. I was a short. bespectacled red-headed geek-girl, about 120 pounds, and he was half-Native and, as I said, around 500 pounds. I thought he was gorgeous, with his lovely copper skin. But other people seemed to think that we were a very strange match. My parents and my friends questioned my sanity over my choosing to date him, and my parents put a lot of pressure on me to break the relationship. My mother, esp. was a real fat-phobic (something I have really had to work on her about.. since I am no longer a skinny little teenager!). Dad just followed her lead.

    I loved the way Mike's body felt when I hugged him and when we cuddled together on the sofa. His weight was just another attribute to me, it didn't define him any more than his black hair, coppery skin, or liking for role-play games like Magic: The Gathering did. Since he felt so good to hug and cuddle with, I considered it an advantage!

    Unfortunately, he'd been handed so much negative bullshit by people who hated him because of his weight that he refused to believe that I thought him attractive. He refused to consider any compliment I gave him and always talked himself down, called himself horrible things. It hurt, knowing that loving him wasn't enough to counteract the decades of belittlement and abuse he'd been through, that I wasn't strong enough to fight all of that bad shit away.
    For this, and a few other reasons (my moving away to university being one of them - long distance relationships suck), we didn't make it as a couple. I often wish we had. But it's so hard to have a good romantic relationship with someone whose self-loathing was so deeply entrenched. I have no idea what he's doing now. I just hope that he was able to get beyond the hurt and find someone who's good for him.

  3. That is good you both were friends, I am sorry your boyfriend was bullied. Did you have Aspergers? I am very familiar with that subject. I think it is great you were there for him and you two formed a bond.Some love relationships do start with friendship. yeah I can see where people questioned you. Hey my husband is in the high 200s, and has been asked why he is with the likes of me, being so huge. People can sadly be judgemental about love matches. Even if there may have been some health issues to deal with, that happens in other partnerships. I am sorry everyone gave you such a hard time. I have heard of women who are attracted to larger men, why wouldn't go that both ways...[Ie I am not talking fetish stuff, but first attraction]
    It's too bad his self esteem had been so affected, that does happen with fat people it can get kind of serious and can impact relationships negatively. You probably tried your best, and being that young, it probably made it harder. I hope too he is doing better and was able to overcome the abuse and more. I do think with us fat people who cross those supersized lines some of these things can be lifelong issues. I am in my 40s and still struggle with a degree of it. He probably learned from you at least he was able to have a girlfriend and maybe he was able to surpass some of these things.