Social Networking

#YWM2014

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.

DSSPostSig

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.

Obesity Action Coalition Second Annual Convention #YWM2013

This gallery contains 73 photos.

So I am back in Oregon after attending the Obesity Action Coalition’s second annual Your Weight Matters Convention in Phoenix, Arizona. Things have settled down a little. I had a few days with friends to unwind and now it is time to tell you about the amazing adventure that I had in Phoenix.

1150317_625009900854307_366744292_n

We arrived on Wednesday flying in with my friend Kesha from Waning Woman and enough bags to likely provide clothes for all of our friends at the event, for a day or so at least! What can I say; we’re women who like clothes and shoes! Once we negotiated all our bags into a van we headed for the Arizona Grand Resort and got checked in.

Thursday morning I was up early and having a hard time sleeping due to the stitches that were still in my chest and left arm pit after having a little nip tuck a week or so prior. Despite my sleep deprivation; I was alive and alert and enthusiastic about being there by the time Advocacy Training rolled around. Next up, it was a crunch to rush back to the room to get dressed and steal an hour to participate in a live tweet session with Chris and Heidi Powell while eating dinner. Once I had fuel it was time to head to the OAC Member Mingle and the evening discussion “Teaming up to Tackle Obesity” with NSF players Corey Louchiey and James Throton. I sat next to Nikii from Bariatric Foodie and Joy from Kosher Bariatric and we had a great evening laughing at their humor as the two men shared their story about their with battle obesity.

August 2013 270

Friday morning I got up early to go help out my friend Michelle from The World According to Eggface with the morning walk she was leading and get everyone warmed up. Notice my Bobby Whisnand “It’s All Heart T-Shirt” – in the photo to the right, ( I gotta show my mentor some love) – After getting everyone warmed up I decided to join the walk. Of course, as the walk ended I was busted by none other than my dear friend, bariatric surgery coordinator and nurse Tammy Beaumont, who quickly sent me to my room to shower and clean the glistening sheen of sweat off my stitches. I listened to a whole lot of lectures about Pandora overdoing it over breakfast that morning; and likely deserved each one. Then it was time for the Convention to begin…

I could list the sessions of the day and go through each one in detail, but I won’t, instead I will share pieces of information later as we go a little at a time with you. What I will say is that my favorite speaker of the Friday educational sessions was definitely Merrill Littleberry. Her talk on “Who’s Staring back at You in the Mirror? Improving Self-Perceptions,” hit home big time for me when she displayed a list of negative quotes some people had said about some of the worlds most famous people who turned out to do some truly amazing things. It drove home my recent revelation that I needed to change my direction a little and be more about my vision than anyone else’s vision for me.

I must say, Dr. Gary D. Foster and his Saturday talk on “Weighing Success Beyond the Scale: Identifying and Maintaining and Healthy Weight” was quite possible my favorite topic of the entire convention. I felt privileged to sit in a room as so many of my peers heard the message that Dr. Robert Kushner was able to pass to me last year and finally start to see that that last 10 lb. they might be chasing could be the difference between a “dream weight” and a “healthy weight” and that our success is categorized by more than a number on a scale or chart.

Friday evening’s party was fun and amazing and boy did Kesha and I rock those Ursula costumes … what a night.  It was so fun seeing so many people all dressed up. I think Tammy and Joy had my favorite costumes on with the Tom Hanks, Castaway character and his trusted volleyball. The Sponge Bob Squarepants costume rocked as well, and the Pirates were amazing! I spent some time on the dance floor wiggling my booty and avoiding flying volleyballs for a while, but it had been a long day for me, I was exhausted and tired and it was time for this octopus to get some sleep. (The face make up did come off first though.)

Saturday morning came earlier than I expected and the sessions seemed to zoom by and I really didn’t feel like I had nearly enough time to hit the vendor booths and really talk to folks. I was able to say hi to some of my favorite Vitamin Companies, the folks at Celebrate VitaminsAmeriWell and Bari-Life and of course my two favorite protein powder companies Chike and Bi-Pro.  I also got to meet the folks at Quest and Perky Jerky, and the two best peanut butter products on the market were there, PB2 and Better Butter.

Of course Celebrate Vitamins  is my favorite one on that list because they are “How do YOU Celebrate Success” Contest Sponsors.

Before I knew it Saturday afternoon was upon us. I had the amazing opportunity of sitting at Dr. Al Aly’s table for lunch with the experts and listen to him answer people’s questions about reconstructive surgery, skin removal, and body contouring after massive weight loss. I attended Dr. Gary D. Foster’s afternoon session “Channeling Stress: Healthy Outlets to Replace the Calories,” and Dr. Sean G. Connolly’s “Who’s In Control? The Science Behind Willpower,” before rushing off to the Saturday Afternoon General Session – “Expectations of Your Body after Weight-loss: Plastic Surgery and Other Options,” discussion where I was member of the panel. This was my first time being asked to speak at an OAC event and it was so exciting and scary at the same time. I truly felt out of my league up there amongst such esteemed professionals. But it was over before I knew it and Saturday night was upon us. The awards dinner was underway and we were all looking fabulous!

The awards dinner is actually a sad night for me. It’s the prelude to good-bye which is just around the corner the next morning. Even though I was excited to get a peek at the #YWM2013 Convention wrap-up video that they put together to show us, at the same time it brings tears to my eyes knowing there are some many people I love in this community that I won’t get to see again until next year.

 

RainbowBriteSunday morning came too early and the Walk from Obesity where I was grounded from participating because I still had stitches and wasn’t supposed to get sweaty, in Phoenix, Arizona, in August began. (Yeah Right! Like this was even possible it was 110 outside!) I was dressed up like some sort Rainbow Brite and Punky Brewster love child, and participating via loan of a little scooter thanks to the very thoughtful Kristy Kuna at the Obesity Action Coalition. I managed to snap a few quick pictures at the walk then I did a video testimonial and then rushed up to the room so Tammy could yank my stitches out before she had to leave. Our Sunday afternoon consisted of Ethiopian food and tearful goodbyes as I had to start leaving people I likely won’t see for another year or so if not longer and close friends I made in Dallas and am going to miss dearly now that I am back in Portland, OR on a regular basis.

I am so blessed to have met so many wonderful people in Phoenix, Arizona at the Second Annual Your Weight Matters National Convention, and I can’t wait to bring you more up to date news and information from the OAC and the YWM2014 Convention as it becomes available.

The Obesity Action Coalition (OAC) is the ONLY non-profit organization whose sole focus is representing individuals affected by obesity. If you are affected by obesity or care for individuals affected, I ask that you join the OAC today and help us strengthen our voice. Together we DO make a difference.

I am a proud Member, Trained Advocate and Supporter of the OAC

DSSPostSig

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Author: Pandora Williams

Author of Desperately Seeking Slender

This is #MyBariLife

BariLife has decided to send me back to Paris to represent the WLS Community as I attempt to find my love of running again.
Please take the time to visit their website and check them out!

Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 4,662 other subscribers

DSS on Twitter

Proud Member of the OAC

Grab My Button