I’ve always been puzzled by the phrase, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.” Maybe the person who came up with it was in denial or somehow truly managed not to let themselves be hurt by words. All I know is that it wasn’t true of me, nor is it of anyone I know who’s struggled with being very overweight. Because while I’ve somehow managed to avoid ever breaking a bone, I was haunted for many years by some of the things people said.
Some of the words were deliberately meant to be painful. People calling me names - cow, porky, etc. - or making fun of me because of my weight. But in some ways those hurt less than the people who thought they were giving good advice, because at least the mean ones weren’t telling themselves they were helping me in some way.
For instance, I was ten when a chiropractor told me that I was heavy for my age. I’m sure she meant well, wanting to let my mom and I know it was something to keep an eye on out of concern for my health, but it was a shock. I had never thought about my weight before, even though I was pudgy, never worried about what I ate. After that pronouncement, though, that all changed.
She was only the first of many people who tried to talk to me about my weight in what they thought was a positive, helpful way, except that never seemed to work. It left me feeling even worse about my appearance and size, and wanting to turn all the more to food for comfort. I know that more than once I deliberately overate after someone commented on my weight, in a spirit of rebellion, then hated myself all the more for that. Not very helpful.
The worst, though, was the doctor who insinuated that the reason I got a staph infection was because I was unhygienic, which must be the case for someone as heavy as me. I cannot even begin to describe how horrible and humiliating that was. Nor could I think of anything to prove him wrong. I was too battered by my pain, my self-esteem too low to think I could argue with a doctor, nor did I know that staph infections are fairly common and don’t have anything to do with weight.
I’m sure many people have painful memories of hurtful things that were said to them, but when you’re overweight, I feel like it happens more. Given all the focus on obesity these days, it may almost be expected to try to speak to someone about their weight, if they’re very heavy. I just wish that people realized how those words get carried into the future, and the negative impact they can have, no matter how well-intentioned they might be.