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The Elephant in the Room

You know how when someone or a group of people are ignoring an obvious problem, people will say “You’re ignoring the elephant in the room”?  Well, in this case, I’m using it intentionally with a double meaning.

Let me explain…I’m a big guy, i.e., the “elephant in the room”.  When I say “big”, that’s politically-correct terminology for “fat”.  I’ve been overweight since my junior high days.  In my late teens to early twenties, I was still overweight but really didn’t look too terribly bad, in my opinion (please don’t correct me if I’m wrong…).  However, I started putting a lot of weight on toward the end of college and into my mid twenties.  Of course, I also stereotypically put on a lot of weight after getting married…OK, bring forth the marriage jokes, if you will.  Anyway, at this point I have a LOT of weight to lose, with “heavy” emphasis on “LOT”.

Personally, I haven’t been the direct target of fat jokes, snickering behind my back, etc., as far as I know.  True, I am a fat guy but it’s also true that I can handle myself pretty well.  I’ve managed to maintain at least a small bit of athleticism, despite my weight, though even that is rapidly exiting stage left.  However, I hear the comments about others, or even fat people in general, all the time in public, on the airwaves, etc.  Heck, I used to be part of it in my high school days, making fun of fat classmates, something I now regret since it’s come back to bite me in the proverbial ass.  It’s kind of funny, in a way, because many of those making fun of overweight people are themselves overweight.  Does anyone else see the hypocrisy in that?

Looking at this from a Christian perspective, I’ve noticed something that distresses me sometimes.  Why is it that Christians feel so sorry for alcoholics, for instance, yet neglect to extend that same courtesy to others?  We all know it’s wrong to abuse alcohol but we all, myself included, believe that it’s a noble thing for an alcoholic to admit their problem, repent, and allow God to work in their lives on that particular area.  I think it’s awesome when someone is willing to do that.  However, when it comes to fat people, and perhaps it’s just my own inclination in sensing this, why is it that many people have the attitude of “Well, they’ve just done this to themselves and they should quit being lazy and push away from the table”.  Wow, great thinking there, Einstein!  Push away from the table?    Yeah, that’s probably literally true, however, that’s not always the underlying issue.  Many overweight people, just like with alcoholism, have something else that causes them to want to overeat.  Many times, it is a serious bout with depression.  Other times, it’s something that happened to them as a child, teen, or young adult that has caused them to have a really low opinion of themselves and so they stuff it all down with lots and lots of food.  Yet with the alcoholic, we have sympathy and come alongside them to support them…and that’s a good thing.  Don’t get me wrong.  We SHOULD support them, have sympathy for them, etc.  That’s what we’re supposed to do as a Christian community.  However, don’t we owe the same thing to others who are struggling with their own addictions?

I don’t write this with a boohoo, woe is me, attitude.  I have an addiction.  To quote Led Zeppelin, it’s “Nobody’s Fault But Mine”.  I and I alone bear the responsibility for what I’ve done and am doing to my own body.  However, I just want to point out that the other “elephant in the room” is the double standard that overweight people are subjected to in this way.

OK…Now I know some of you are thinking “Give me a break!  You’re only saying these things because you’re a fatso!”  Yeah, maybe, but  is my logic wrong?  If noy, you’re the kind of person I’m writing about here.  I know it’s cliche but ask yourself “What would Jesus do?”.

I don’t want any sympathy.  I just want to point out what looks to me like the “elephant in the room”.


12 Responses

  1. Dave, what a great post. Thanks for being willing to talk about this. I’ll also add this… that as a culture we glorify – even celebrate – people who starve themselves (due to the same root issues that can also play out as food or alcohol addiction). Why look down our noses at those who wear their pain as extra weight?

    What a different world it would be if we could all see the “inside out” view of one another… It might be really comforting and it might be equally disturbing to see that EVERYONE deals with crap. Some cover it up and others bear it externally. But we’re all basically the same. We all develop coping mechanisms that “work” at some level, and then later we learn that they really don’t exactly work long-term like we had hoped. That’s when we need a network of support that realizes one person’s pain/addiction/coping mechanism isn’t better or worse than the next.

    Here’s hoping that you find grace as you battle your stuff. Please know that we’re all in the same battle, it’s just different stuff.

  2. Emily,

    Thanks…Don’t know why I haven’t written about this before because I’ve had it in my head fairly often. Just now got it out of the head and onto paper…Well, cyber-paper.

  3. So your main gripe is the hypocrisy you see in the church with regard to the treatment of overweight individuals? Am I getting this right?

    Let me share with you my personal issue. First, I too carry more weight on me than the medical graphs indicate is “normal” for someone my height and age. I have “a belly”. 🙂 If I eat like a rabbit, which I have done in the past, I can get my weight down to a healthy 170 (which is STILL 20lbs more than the body mass graphs indicate are optimum for me!). Now, I have never heard anyone say anything rude to me about my weight though I have been in the presence of people who have cracked fat jokes and, quite frankly, I’ve never been offended. A fat person KNOWS they are fat and if they can’t laugh at themselves, then they’re in for a long, unhappy life.

    I know this because it is the lesson I had to learn through my struggle with discolored teeth. When I was a baby, I was born with a pretty bad case of pneumonia. Back in the early 60s, tetracycline was the standard treatment for pediatric pneumonia (as well as many other medical issues). They didn’t know then the effects of the medication on teeth. Ultimately, they discovered that it really did a job on the coloration.

    I have gone through my entire life dealing with people’s rude comments about my teeth. I used to get hurt by them when I was younger. Then, as I matured, I learned to just accept the ignorance of others and even laugh at myself. And that, I found, was the key. The ability to not take myself too seriously…to laugh at myself if you will.

    Can people be rude and insensitive? Absolutely. But the only thing we have control over is OUR RESPONSE. If we allow ourselves to always be offended by the words of others, then we will lead a miserable life. But if we learn to laugh at ourselves…to not take what others say too seriously, then we will live happy, content lives.

    The way to deal with the elephant in the room, IMO, is to acknowledge it’s presence and accept it for what it is.

    • Dean, as I’ve said occasionally “He who is offended by nothing cares little about anything”. Let me clue you in…Purposely making fun of or putting down a fat person is like someone else making fun of or putting down your country. It’s okay if YOU put down or make fun of your own country but when an outsider does it, well, it just isn’t that funny and often offensive.

      Same goes for fat people…I make fun of myself and my weight quite often and I have a good sense of humor about it and it’s okay when other people do it, to some degree. However, there’s a line that often gets crossed that shouldn’t get crossed. I think most people know when that’s happened.

      • I think we need to choose carefully what we become offended by.

        I remember the old cooler where anything anyone said someone would be offended. It was like throwing a brick into a pack of dogs. You were bound to hear a yelp no matter what. LOL!!

        I don’t want to be misunderstood here. I am not in any way in favor of “making fun” of ANYBODY. What I am saying is this: there is no cure for stupid. And there will always be stupid people who say stupid, inconsiderate things.

        What we DO have control over is how we respond to them. And it’s in how we respond that will, in large part, determine our quality of life- whether we’re fat, skinny, have discolored teeth, a physical disfigurement, a speech impediment, or whatever cross you bear.

  4. Good post…

    To be honest with you I used to be repulsed by heavier people, but not because of them but because of me. You know up till 10th grade I was very heavy and was brutilized by kids because of it. Since I find it extceremely hard to relate to people to begin with I would subconsciously avoid heavier people for that reason. Didn’t know till a couple years ago why I did this.

    I also found myself getting angry with my son for his social awkwardness. Then I realized that I was getting angry with him because I hated that part of myself. Many times the hardest person to accept is yourself. Love others like you love yourself. Well if you don’t love yourself good luck with that. God help us to be full of grace not only towards others but toward ourselves. Grace does not equal license, and that is what I try and remind myself of daily.

  5. Really enjoyed this post. I am an overweight female. This is like the biggest no no in our society. I have been called the names and yes, it hurt. I am overweight because of medication and a medical condition. It is so hard because I would like to stand up on a platform and yell to the world, “IT IS NOT ALL MY FAULT.” Yes, I do know that I could make some better choices within my limits and maybe not be AS heavy as I am, but unless you live my life and no my limitations, you have no right to judge. It seems that women are hit more harshly by being the ones that are overweight. It is as if people think that we don’t notice it. When in fact, at least for me, I think about it 100 times a day. Emily is right, how much easier would it be if we could look at people from the inside out. On the inside, I am thin and happy. On the outside I am fat and hurting(physically and emotionally). I did not make myself the elephant in the room, but others make me feel like it way too much!

  6. I enjoyed this post and all the comments. The comic in me wants to say “Lighten up.” However, the fat girl is with the elephant. There is, pardon me, a ton of fat prejudice out there. It is something we’ve learned to swallow. Sorry, I can’t help it. I have written extensively about this subject, and I believe I just can’t get enough. Seriously, though, when a fat person loses a lot of weight, suddenly they are like ex-smokers around cigarettes. They are the worst offenders of making a mountain out of a mountain. I personally am too tired of “their” opinions to give them any creedence. I am going to be like Popeye and God from now on…I am what I am. Deal with it.

    • Hey, nothing wrong with having a sense of humor about your own problems. That isn’t the issue and I don’t even have a problem with others joking about it, to some degree.

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