OPINION

Country Roads - Fat like me

Arvid Huisman - huismaniowa@gmail.com

Twenty-some years ago, a Des Moines TV station featured a news series entitled “Fat Like Me.” The series, which addressed the discrimination faced by overweight people, drew media criticism for being shallow and sensationalistic. Though the critics had a point, I applauded the station for attempting to address an important issue.

In the series, a petite female reporter donned a specially designed body molding which made her appear quite obese. She then went out in public to see how people reacted to her as an overweight person.

The reporter discovered what real overweight people have learned all too well: it isn’t fun to be fat.

For those who have never struggled with extra pounds, it may be difficult to imagine the rudeness overweight people face. Have you ever been asked point blank by a stranger, “My god, how much do you weigh?” I have.

I have been overweight for nearly as long as I can remember. On four occasions in my lifetime, I have lost large amounts of weight only to regain much of it over a period of time. In one attempt, I got down to within 15 pounds of what the height/weight charts say I should weigh but appeared gaunt and sickly.

Because of my height and large frame I can carry more pounds than some folks, but there’s no getting around the fact that I’m overweight.

As an adult, I have learned to accept the fact that no one will ever call me “Slim” with a straight face. As a child, however, being overweight was difficult.

Good friends, of course, didn’t care about my size, but there was always a playground smart aleck who couldn’t resist the old taunt, “Fatty, fatty, two-by-four...”

The deepest hurts, though, came from adults.

A junior high physical education instructor required that we run laps at the end of the class. To “encourage” this fat boy to run faster, he made up a game: every time one of my classmates passed me I had to run another lap. By the end of the exercise, my classmates would had to have walked to avoid passing me. The instructor stood on the sidelines and laughed as I lumbered around the gym alone long after the other guys had completed their laps.

Also in junior high, a math teacher ̶ a large person herself ̶ scolded me in front of the class for returning to my chair after completing a math problem on the chalkboard without showing all the calculations. “Maybe you’re backside wouldn’t be so wide if you didn’t sit on it so much,” she barked. This occurred less than a year after I had quite proudly lost more than 30 pounds.

I’m grateful for many other great teachers and other adults who were blind to my size during those years. As an adult, I have learned to write off as insensitive clods those who find it necessary to make rude remarks about my and others’ weight.

Back in junior high, I learned to mask my hurt with humor (Introducing the class smart butt). Nowadays I accept my genetic inheritance and if I make a wisecrack about my size I’m telling friends and acquaintances that I’m comfortable with who I am.

Speaking for myself and other large folks, I resent a rude comment or tactless stare from someone who doesn’t seem to understand that overweight folks didn’t ask to be that way. Most overweight people are fully aware of their weight’s relationship to health and appearance. Many diet and exercise but find their weight problem to be a lifelong struggle.

Our society’s concern with weight has gone beyond health and appearance, however, and has become an obsession which too frequently results in discrimination and rudeness, even toward overweight children with whom anorexia and bulimia can result.

Trust me, the last thing an overweight child or teenager needs is an insensitive adult punching holes in an already delicate, if not poor, self-image.

Those who feel inclined to comment or gawk disapprovingly at an overweight individual should pause and thank God that they don’t have a weight problem. Yet.