TV producer Jennifer Rumple was chatting with a friend recently. When the conversation went on longer than expected, she decided to grab a seat. As she zeroed-in on a chair with side arms, she balked. “‘I can’t fit my body into that,’” she thought. Then she remembered: In the past year, she’d shed 180 pounds and could easily fit in any chair she wanted.
When someone loses a significant amount of weight, his or her appearance is completely transformed. But oftentimes they still carry plenty of excess emotional baggage. Like Rumple, many “former fatties” have trouble squaring their newfound svelteness with reality.
A Big Problem
“When I was obese, I often felt as though people minimized me or overlooked me because of my weight,” notes Candy Gambichler, a medical office administrator who’s lost 50 pounds in the past 18 months. “There’s a definite difference in how people treat me now.”
Gambichler finds that everyone from salesclerks to food servers are notably more cordial towards her since she’s slimmed down. It’s probably not her imagination either. As research shows, “obesity stigma” is a very real phenomenon.
One extensive review by Yale University researchers in New Haven, Connecticut, found that 28 percent of teachers believe that becoming obese is the worst thing that can happen to someone, while 24 percent of nurses said that they are repulsed by someone who is obese. The Yale team also documented ways that weight bias translates into inequities across broad areas of life, from employment to health care to education. The researchers found that overweight people are pervasively stereotyped by others as lazy, unmotivated, lacking in self-discipline, less competent, noncompliant and sloppy. Ouch.
But just because someone has lost the weight, doesn’t mean they suddenly forget the sort of hostility that was directed at them during all the years they were heavy. All of that negativity definitely takes a toll. Research suggests that feelings of depression, anxiety, poor self-image and being stigmatized persist long after the excess weight has vanished.
Reactions from loved ones and co-workers can further complicate matters. Rumple says men who wouldn’t give her the time of day when she tipped the scales at over 350 pounds started coming out of the woodwork once she dropped the weight. While flattering, it also makes her a little bit angry. “They always told me how great I was when I was fat, but they didn’t want to date me,” she says. “In my experience it seems most men would rather date someone thin with a so-so personality than the fat girl with lots of personality.”
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