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The Teeter-Totter of Weight Bias

DssButton2FB2-150x150As a Weight Loss and Wellness Coach, I often use the illustration of a teeter-totter when sitting down with a new client to go over the theory of “calories in, calories out” and to explain the importance of putting good fuel in our bodies to support vigorous activity.

As I lay in bed restless tonight, I am thinking about an article I read about people who sit on both sides of the spectrum of weight bias. That is, those who know what it’s like to be overweight and struggle with obesity but are not anymore and now live as people of so-called normal size.

In thinking about this strange predicament, that image of a teeter-totter resurfaced.


Being the Chubby Kid

As a victim of emotional, physical, verbal and sexual abuse in my childhood, my mind is my playground. My imagination was my escape mechanism from the time I was very small child. As I grew older, food became my friend, confidant and lover. Before I even realized it, my escape into food had pushed me into the furthest reaches of the weight spectrum.

From as young as five years old, I recall being the chubby kid that nobody wanted to pick for dodge-ball and the target of weight biased jokes. “Fatty Fatty two by four she can’t fit through the kitchen door” is one of the first childhood rhymes I remember the “mean kids” chanting at me.

I remained the largest child in my class long into high school. That fact affected my relationships with both girls and boys alike. I was an unpopular outcast who got teased and ridiculed. In the sixth grade, I became the target of a school bully – shocking, considering that the bully was a boy very much in the same predicament as me.

He was heaviest boy in our class, endless teased himself, and in reaction he started punching me as his way of lashing out. One day, after he shoved me out of the lunch line and into a wall, I asked him one day with tear-filled eyes, “Why do you pick on me?” His answer was to punch me in the stomach. Confused and bewildered, that night I asked my father “Why do they hate me so much?”

His reply: “Because you’re different and unique and sometimes that scares people or makes them jealous and people do some really mean things when they are scared or jealous. They make fun of the thing that makes you different because it’s the only thing they have to justify their feelings.”


A Traumatic Adolescence

As I got older, this life lesson followed me as I grew in age and, unfortunately, also in size. As the bullying continued, I continued to question why people seemed to hate me so much. I also developed coping mechanisms to deal with it with what I felt was an inevitable fact. I was overweight, actually now I was plagued with obeisty.

So I became sexually active. I dressed in all black. The other kids called me “goth” and considered me uncool for it. I began to cut myself and the other kids accused me of doing it simply for attention. I cried myself to sleep at night, wondering why nobody understood me. I wasn’t doing any of these things for attention, but to try to feel better.

Sleeping with boys made me think someone loved and cared for me. Dressing in black, I thought, was figure flattering. I cut myself because when I got to a point where I was emotionally numb, the pain reminded me that I was still alive. But no matter what I did, I couldn’t seem to win. The more I tried to survive, the more the bullies tried to push me underwater.

I did have a few brave moments when I stuck up for myself. One time a girl in my class took a note I had written to a boy we both liked and she photocopied it, passing it around for lots of other kids to see. I confronted her, asking why she hated me so much. Her answer was sharp and simple: “Because you are fat and ugly.” With nothing to lose I challenged her, demanding to know, “Why do you care that I’m fat?” She had no response.

I was fifteen at the time and I had spent nearly a decade – most of my life at that time – being  of the victim of weight bias, bullying and fat shaming.


Coming of Age

When I finally decided to take my life back from obesity, I was shocked that my true battle was to stop seeing myself as a victim and learning to see myself as a survivor. From there I learned to live, to thrive and strive. I’m proud to say I lost my weight, I have won that round in my fight against obesity. In this victory I told myself, “I will never again be defined or disliked by the number that shows up on the scale or the way my body looks.”

But oh how wrong I was. Because I hadn’t learned yet that in the world of weight bias, there was a teeter-totter – and a whole different end of the spectrum.

I’m new to the world of being slender. It’s ironic how hard I fought to get here – thinking if I did I’d win my battle – only to find new battles to fight and new demons to face! Body image issues took their toll on me, and I found myself associating the extra skin that hung from my body with my former abusers and the emotional addiction that perpetuated my obesity for so long.

To help free myself of the remnants of that past, I turned to reconstructive plastic surgery. I fought with body dysmorphia – that is, not being able to see the true image of myself in the mirror. I also felt haunted by “ghosts of the past,” the people whose behavior drove me to inflict so much harm on myself.

I beat myself up emotionally when the number on the scale, along with the Body Mass Index, told me that despite the fact that I’d lost more than 250 lbs, I was still “overweight.” I allowed that emotional self-abuse to hinder where I wanted to go in life and who I wanted to be. I put off my career in the weight loss, wellness and fitness industry because I thought I needed to be perfect before I could help others fight obesity.

Thankfully around this time of my life I found an organization called the Obesity Action Coalition, an organization that fights weight bias through education and empowerment. I got the amazing opportunity to attending their inaugural “Your Weight Matters Convention” in 2012. There I was able to sit at a “Lunch with the Experts” table with Dr. Robert Kushner, M.D. who helped me realize that neither the BMI nor an extra 5-10 pounds of weight loss was going to change how effective I could be or how inspirational my story would be to those that employed me seeking help in their weight loss journey.

Over the past three years, my membership to the OAC has taught me more than I can ever write in one article. It has also given me the courage to stand up against weight bias, weight stigma and weight discrimination whenever I see them.

You’ll understand the irony, then, when I tell you that it was at the third “Your Weight Matters” Convention this month in Orlando, Fl. that I discovered for the first time that I would battle weight bias no matter where I fall in the weight spectrum.


A New Day, A New Battle

Without going into the details (and perpetuating a lot of drama), I found out that someone had made a very harsh and superficial judgment about me based on this new body I’m working so hard to love.

I have to say I was shocked when I first found that out. Part of me thought it was a joke. But over the past three years of being in the weight loss community there seems to be a recurring cycle of drama and bullying. I’ve seen individuals targeted and shut out. I’ve seen others discouraged from associating with those so-called outcasts and I’ve heard from people who felt pressured to alter themselves and their friend lists just to fit in – or at least to prevent themselves from being the next victim. I’ve heard stories and recounts of this sort of behavior that predate my own presence with this community.

It puzzled me at first, how a group of people who have fought such similar battles – and have had such similar experiences with bullying, weight bias and stereotyping – could behave that way. You would think our common experiences would bond us together in a united front, make us join arms and rally for the same cause and empower us to support one another. After all, we’re all fighting the same fight against a disease that impacts more than 93 million people in our country.

But there I was facing a situation I had been through so many times. The fact that I was on the other side of the spectrum didn’t make it any less hurtful. I found myself once again asking that question, “Why do they hate me so much?” Apparently, now it’s because I’m skinny and my breasts are too big.

The shock I felt at that moment is about the same as the shock I felt when plastic surgeon told me that there wasn’t enough fat left on my body to perform the procedure I was asking him to do. My jaw hit the floor.

Never in my whole life did I think people would dislike me for being “too thin.” I won’t even touch the ridiculousness of the comments about my breasts.  After taking a moment to recover from that information, I asked, “Don’t you find it a little hypocritical that we’re sitting here at a convention that fights weight bias and weight stigma and that we protest judging and shaming people for the size of their body, the number on scale and their outward appearance and yet, that is exactly what I am apparently being judged for?”


Balancing Your Core

The answer to that question made me angry. Yes, it is ironic. It’s stupid really. And it needs to stop. I’ve sat on this experience for a few weeks now. I’ve dissected it to figure out what lesson it was supposed to teach me. Now, as I lay in bed tonight with that image that teeter-totter in my head, I’ve finally sorted out what I want to say.

While I was in Orlando, I met with a remarkable woman named Melinda Watman, the chair of the Weight Bias committee of the Obesity Action Coalition. I explained to her why I’m so passionate about fighting weight bias, why I wanted to be a part of OAC’s Weight Bias Committee and why the OAC’s Bias Busters programs calls to me.

Every year that I attend the OAC’s convention something absolutely life changing happens to me and I learn something I would never have had the chance to learn otherwise. This year, I learned that there is two very different sides to weight bias and that each of them are equally stigmatizing. I also learned that stigma, in general, is a lot less traumatizing when you have a solid foundation and a strong perception of your core strengths and beliefs.

Because when I was told that some people didn’t like me because they thought I was too thin or they thought my breasts were too big, I didn’t react the way I did so many years ago. I didn’t crawl into the solitude of my room and weep. Instead, I stood firm in my convictions and called it for what it was: weight bias.

The truth is, neither the size of my body nor the size of my breasts define who I am. When I am gone and the winds have called my name for the last time, neither of them are what the world is going to remember me for. In fact, I rather hope that the only numbers in my eulogy are the years I existed in the world. Instead, I hope to be remembered for the person that I am and the way I lived my life.

As an exercise instructor, my class and I stand in front of the mirror constantly moving our bodies in an effort to improve them. There are days I like what I see, and there are some days I don’t. But at the end of each day, the only person that has to like my reflection is me.

So if you ask me what I took away from the OAC “Your Weight Matters” 2014 Convention this year, my answer is very simple, I took away not only the education, but also the realization that if I want to truly stand up against weight bias, weight stigma and bullying I have to be prepared to do it from all sides and angles.

In the gym my clients often quote my tips on maintaining good posture while exercising and to build their core strength: “Shoulders back, girls out, core engaged.” Finally tonight, I understand why that teeter-totter was so prevalent in my mind. Because no matter what side of the battle of obesity you are on, if you can stand in the middle of that proverbial teeter-totter and engage your core, retain you balance and posture, you’ll be much stronger in your stance and your fight.


Pandora Williams author of Desperately Seeking Slender is a  Cooper Approved Wellness Coach Trained in Weight Management Strategies and Motivational Speaker studying to become a Certified Personal Trainer.

Ten Things to Do When You’ve Got the Body Image Blues

20140511_172453B“I wish you could see yourself through my eyes.”

That’s what someone said to me the other night while I was out and comparing myself to each and every woman in the room and felt like I didn’t measure up. Did you know that often times those mirror shot selfies you see me take are because it helps me see myself a little thinner when I look at a picture of my reflection instead of my reflection itself? Tricks of the body image trade right there folks.  There is a ton of them you don’t see me post, like the ones featured in this article, because I saw some flaw in myself I didn’t want to share with the world.

When I was a teenager I used to babysit for a couple that for one reason or another in my mind were the paradigm of what life should be like. When I imagined myself in my forties they were what I envisioned life would be like. She was beautiful, not exceptionally thin; she had curves and long curly blond hair which is what to this day I still find most attractive when looking at other women.

In their home above their bed there was a photo of her that was taken on her thirty-eighth birthday. Her husband Chris had it taken by a friend of theirs that was a photographer because he knew that she was struggling with the fact that she was getting close to forty and he wanted her to see how beautiful she was and let her know that no matter where they went in life, that time of their lives was a moment he felt she was more beautiful than ever and was how he would always see her.

She was nude in the photo, positioned just right to cover anything that would be crass and allow for the portrait to be artistic, and when the print had come in, he had it framed and hung it above their bed. The first time I babysat for them and saw the photo Diane had told me the story behind and Chris, the type of guy that makes a joke out of everything said “When the print came in I framed it and hung it right away, that way every day when she gets ready she knows how beautiful she is and that way, every day when I get ready, I get to see her naked.”

20140511_172453I’ve always wanted someone to love me like that.  I’ve always wanted someone to want me like that. I always thought when I lost weight that sort of thing would come easy. I always thought that if I lost weight people would be hitting on me constantly, flirting with me all the time, and that someone would want me with sort that kind of sexual hunger.

I’ve struggled with body image issues a lot after my weight loss. I’ve gone through four rounds of serious reconstructive plastic surgery as well as one small procedure and two not so evasive procedures in an effort to get my body to a place where I’m happy with it. After all of that, to this day, setbacks in this area are an easy pitfall for me. I have to tread very carefully.

Let me share a little secret with you Slender Seekers, not feeling loved, and always feeling like I wasn’t good enough were the very issues that drove me to wanting someone to want me. Then when that didn’t work, and those I wanted to want me like that threw me away, those emotions lead me to relationships with food instead of human beings.

We all have demons that we deal with. We all have a past that we cope with. Very few of us are free from “issues” some of us just deal with them in healthier ways than others.  That is one of key’s to keeping the weight off. You have to recognize the real issues and address them before they lead you to unhealthy behaviors.

I own my body image issues every day. I know they are there, and almost every day I have to chase off that little voice inside me that taunts me with negative thoughts. I have to remind myself that I am loved, that I do good things, that I am a good person, that I help people, that I have accomplished some amazing goals. I have to stand in front of the mirror and combat those negative thoughts with positive affirmations so that I don’t let myself drag me down into those dark crevices of insecurity.

For those of you who have days like me; Day where my body image issues start to really wear on me, I have an arsenal of things I do to make myself feel better and I’m going to share some of them with you.


  1. Do something for yourself that makes you feel pretty. – Whether it’s a manicure and pedicure, a haircut, getting your eyebrows shaped or even a spa day at home with a mud mask and some cucumbers or that recipe for an all-natural hair conditioner, take them time to do something that makes you feel pretty.

  2. Step away from the pain. – Whatever the source, whether it’s the mirror or the scale or someone who tends to fuel your emotions; walk away.  If you’re having one of those days where you’re spending time standing in front of the mirror analyzing every little thing wrong with your body, go spend that time doing something else rather than fueling the negative emotions that you’re experiencing. Spending more time in front of the mirror or the scale isn’t going to help, nothing is going to suddenly change and make you feel better, so go find something to do that might.

  3. Recall where you came from. – Sometimes this means going back and looking at a picture of myself before I lost the weight, sometimes it’s going back and looking at photos of before my reconstructive surgeries. Sometimes it’s going back and looking at my old run times. But it helps me appreciate where I am and what I have a lot more when I go back and remind myself where I was. Sometimes I’ll snap a new photo and put together a new before and after photo to really send that message home.

  4. Think about who you are. – What do you do? What are you passionate about? What do you love? What motivates you? Think about these things and give yourself self some credit for who you are. When we think about it, most of us want to be loved for who we are, not what we look like.

  5. Work on a project. – Surely there is something you’ve wanted to do? Refocus on something you’ve been wanting, Clean off the patio to make room for some summer sunbathing, put together a scrapbook, bust out the knitting needles and get started on a new scarf with your favorite colors in it. Work on something that you’ve wanted to do for yourself and haven’t gotten around too yet.

  6. Get Moving – Whether you walk, jog, run, swim, bike, movement and momentum motivates us. Do something that moves your body and just enjoy the motion of going forward. It’s amazing how just moving in a forward direction instead of standing still and wallowing in an unpleasant place can help get you back on track.

  7. Do that thing you want someone else to do for you. – If you’re anything like me you’ve got a list of things you wish a certain someone would think about doing for you. Whether you wish they’d bring home a dozen roses or you wish they’d find a photographer to take a half-naked picture of you to hang in the bedroom, stop waiting on them and do it for yourself.

  8. Make a Bucket List, Wish List or To Do List – Don’t stand in front of the mirror making a mental list of everything you wish you could fix about yourself. Instead, go make a real list of all the things you want to do now that you’ve lost weight. Make a wish list of things you’d buy for yourself today if you had an extra $50-$100 lying around.  Make a “to do” list of things you really want to get done around the house. If you’re going to make lists, make them ones that are going to be fun and productive not depressing and self-sabotaging.  You’ll have a go to list of things that just might help improve your mood next time you end up in a bad emotional space as a bonus.

  9. Get Outdoors – I’m not sure what it is about being outside, but whenever I am having a rough day being outdoors helps. Even if I’m stuck at home waiting on the repair man to come fix the air conditioner. Making a cup of hot tea or a glass of lemonade and spending some time sitting on the deck just seems to make things better. Even a quick drive to the market for some fresh lemons with the windows down seems to help improve my state of mind.

  10. Pay it Forward – Guess what, you’re probably not the only one you know that struggles with body image issues or gets self-conscious.  If you’re having a rough day someone else might be too, so why not spend a little time helping someone else get through their rough day. Find a song that lifts you up that you can post on Facebook, pick a flower and give it to someone to remind them that they are beautiful. The things I do for others always helps me feel better.


Of course I wouldn’t be a very good Weight Loss or Wellness Coach if I didn’t remind you that exercise is a great stress relief, very rarely do I still feel out of shape and overweight after a good workout and even  if I do, the workout has made me feel like I am working on my goals about it.

So many women suffer from body image issues. It’s not just those of us that are effective by obesity or lost massive amounts of weight or had huge weight loss transformations, its women in general; you’d be shocked at some of the beautiful women you know who have struggled with their body image from years. I think it’s important to know that you are not alone in this struggle.

For those of you that have friends like I do, that care about what you are going through and really wish that you could see yourself through their eyes, do yourself a favor, give them a package of post it notes and a pen and ask them to write down some things about how they see you. Stick those notes on the sides of your mirror and remind yourself when you are looking into it to not to be your own worst enemy or your own worst critic. Use them as a reminder to be kind to yourself and to treat yourself the way you want others to treat you. You deserve it.


Pandora Williams author of Desperately Seeking Slender is a  Cooper Approved Wellness Coach Trained in Weight Management Strategies and Motivational Speaker studying to become a Certified Personal Trainer.
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About (Pandora) The Author

Author of Desperately Seeking Slender
Jaime "Pandora" Williams

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