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Obese and Eating in Public

At the urging of various friends, I’ve been watching back episodes of the sitcom How I Met Your Mother. I’m largely enjoying it, but one scene in a season two episode reminded me how little the writers of sitcoms know or care about the realities of being obese.

The show is set in Manhattan, and the scene was in an architecture firm. The receptionist, a woman who must have weighed around 275 pounds or so, pulled out her lunch, a huge salad topped with an entire roasted chicken. Ted, the main character, said innocently, “Oh, you brought lunch for the whole office?” The receptionist fled in tears, and Ted’s friends later told him that he had destroyed the poor woman by his thoughtless comment.

I wasn’t overly surprised by Ted’s obliviousness; I’ve experienced enough of it myself to know such remarks are quite believable. I do question the likelihood of such a heavy woman working in a public position in New York City, which, as you may remember from a previous post, is the thinnest city in the US. While some New Yorkers may be heavy, they’re few and far between and probably not quite that heavy.

But what really got me was the lunch itself. It is simply not possible in my experience that a woman that obese and sensitive about her weight would eat so much food in a public setting.

This is what people who have never been fat rarely understand. If you’re heavy, and you’re not happy about it (which is the vast majority), the last thing you want to do is draw attention to that fact. From my own experience, and what I know of most others, when I was around other people, I ate minimally and mostly made healthy choices. If I did eat more than usual, it wouldn’t be all at once. I’d put some on my plate then perhaps going back for seconds, hoping no one else was keeping track.

But the real eating, when I truly indulged, was in secret. I didn’t want anyone else to witness me adding to my condition. Admittedly, it was clearly obviously that I had a weight problem no matter what I ate, but at least sticking to small portions and salads maintained the fiction that I was trying to remedy it. Only if I was very comfortable with someone, certain that they wouldn’t judge me for what went in my mouth, did I relax on this, and even then, it was always less than what I truly wanted.

Then again, I doubt the writers of the show were particularly concerned about accuracy. They were just going for a laugh, and as often happens, the fat woman was the punchline. So much about this saddens me, but somehow especially the lack of understanding of the true impact of someone’s weight on how they interact with the rest of the world. I only hope that as time goes on, people gain a little more insight and sensitivity around those issues, and perhaps portray people who are heavy in a realistic and compassionate way.

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