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Saturday, April 01, 2006

Who you callin' skinny?

Originally published April 1, 2006, in Our Town for the Tracy Press

Lately, a few well-meaning friends and acquaintances have taken it upon themselves to tell me that I should be done losing weight. Take the janitor at my office. About a month or so ago, she exclaimed that I was too skinny.

“You have no legs,” she cried when she saw me, and then she asked if I was going to lose any more weight. I told her that I would, that I was still considered overweight. “Your doctor can say what he wants, but doctors don’t know everything,” she said. “To me, you are too skinny and you need to stop losing weight.”

This is funny, because according to the body-mass index, I’m at the high end of being overweight. I would have to lose more than 30 more pounds to be at the high end of normal. I mentioned this to my doctor when I was trying to pin her down on a goal weight for me last week at my one-year follow-up.

Aside from refusing to give me a magic number — “I’d rather you settle into a healthy permanent lifestyle and let your weight stabilize from there” — she pondered what makes people feel they can butt into the business of others.

“You know, nobody ever goes up to an obese person and says, ‘Whoa, you’re too fat; you must lose weight.’”

She’s right. What is it that makes the average, polite, tactful person say rude, insensitive things to those who are nearing their weight-loss goals? Or is the person doing the losing just too thin-skinned? I think there are a variety of answers to the questions, but what I think isn’t always correct, so I posed the question in an e-mail to some people I know in the surgical weight-loss community to see what they thought on the subject.

Theresa White of West Virginia had Roux-En-Y gastric bypass in 2003, and she remembers getting the same type of comments when she was about 30 pounds from goal.

“It was usually people who weighed about 120, and sometimes, I wondered if they were just jealous or afraid I would get smaller than they were,” she wrote back. “I just tried not to let it bother me. But it did bother me. It made me wonder how they could think I was so small, yet I still had several pounds to go.”

But Theresa was quick to point out that these hurtful comments didn’t deter her from her goal. Instead, they just made her think a little differently about it.

“Goal for me was no longer a number; it was to be healthy and look healthy.”

Rhonda Velasquez of Tennessee is waiting for weight-loss surgery, but she wrote that she’s experienced the same attitudes from people when she’s lost weight in the past.

“Men never told me I was too skinny, but I noticed women had no trouble discussing my size or weight.”

I have to admit that, like Rhonda, I’m not getting “too skinny” comments from men. Only other women say such things. But I wonder if they are really malicious.

The more I think about it, the more I realize that nobody in my life has ever seen me as thin as I am today. I have always been obese. If I had lost 167 pounds over the course of two or three years, those around me would have had more time to adjust to the new me. And for those who don’t see me every day, the new me can be truly shocking compared to the me of a year ago or more.

To be honest, being called skinny is something I could get used to. It’s a novelty to me, and I believe most people who say it know that and do it to make me feel good. But it also reminds me to pay attention. I don’t want to get so enamored of being thin that I go into dangerous territory and risk my health.

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