Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Feet of clay.

"I'm just saying, you could do better."

~ Drake

I was a few steps behind her as she climbed up the three or four stairs leading into Grady Hospital. In her hand I saw that she was carrying one of those venti sized coffee milkshake drinks complete with whipped cream and what looked like chocolate syrup on top. She wrapped her lips around the unusually large-diametered straw and slurped hard. My pace was faster than hers. It didn't take very long for me to catch up with her.

"G'morning," I said in what was likely the most mundane way ever. She pulled the straw from her mouth, nodded at me and returned the gesture.

By my estimation, she was definitely younger than me. That said, her face lacked the mischief or innocence of youth so I'd say that she was definitely "grown" and maybe even somebody's mother. Her skin was of a deep pecan color with eyes peeking from above her ample cheeks like two tiny slits. The sides of her face looked to be almost painted with this darker brown hyper pigmentation and, in that moment, the doctor in me sifted through my brain for the mechanism behind when such a thing happens when people carry lots of extra weight.

Hmmm. Acanthosis nigricans, maybe? Or even kind of like melasma or "the mask of pregnancy," I thought to myself. Except this she didn't appear to be pregnant at all. Just obese.

Very, very obese, to be clear.

example of facial acanthosis, from this source (not the person)

Even without trying I could hear her laborious breaths as I walked along side her. She was mouth breathing, yet balancing it with savoring deep swallows of what was surely a beverage well over her daily allowance of calories. Without even stopping myself, I made an unfair inventory of what I imagined to be her morning diet--some unrestricted three thousand calories, most likely. She pulled back on the straw once more, her cheeks hollowing at the sides followed by more panting.


Confession: I could already feel my insides cringing, my nose metaphorically wrinkling with disdain. With each slurp, I noticed more things about her. The ill-fitting stretch pants that did little to hide the amorphous lumps that made up her buttocks and thighs, the wide feet folding over her distressed flip flops, the rippled upper arms that easily exceeded the size of my thighs--or likely even both of them.

Now she knows that she doesn't need to be drinking that. Words I mostly thought, but that I probably would have uttered to Harry under my breath had he been beside me at the time.

Just then, I caught a glimpse of the crumpled McDonald's bag in her other hand and immediately formed more unsolicited opinions about that choice as well. Judging. Disapproving. And almost--dare I say it? Disgusted to some degree. And you know? I'd be lying if I said that wasn't  true of what went on in my head. I'm also ashamed to say that such thoughts have probably entered my mind countless times before. Even though they were fleeting--seconds at most--they were there. They were.


It was in the morning at Grady Hospital so there were many other passersby with me. They cast their glances in her direction as she shuffled up through the lobby. I could tell that many of them had those same thoughts yet the vast majority did little if anything to mask them. And so I let myself see what was happening--around me, in me--as it related to this innocent woman. The more I watched, the more I could see them; adjectives swirling all around her, pasting themselves to her swarthy cheekbones, her gelatinous arms, her abundant abdominal folds.

Fat. Lazy. Shiftless. Disgusting. Morbid. Invisible.

Her eyes kept shifting downward and away from those she encountered. It was automatic, a part of a shield of armor that immediately formed around her in such situations. The more I watched the more I saw. Person after person grimacing their faces or even shaking their heads--right out in the open where she could see, feel, and be stung by it all.


Of course, many of those who tsk-tsked her could stand to shed a few of their own pounds. But now she was in a different realm. She had the kind of body habitus that had crossed over into the kind that drew stares and widened eyes from little children who don't know any better and adults who should. The kind that made single seats on commercial airplanes out of the question and even seatbelt restraints in a car a gamble. So yes, she'd moved into that public spectacle kind of obesity, making her a target for all of the stares, yes. But none of the pity.


Just that morning, I'd turned the radio station away from NPR because I was just too tired of hearing about all of these unfortunate examples of discrimination against black people making the headlines. Black boys gunned down in Missouri, the President of the free world who gets openly dissed day after day, and yet another NBA franchise owner spitting out venomous words about the fans who look like me or even having those same ideas discovered via email. Ugggh. Too much. Next my mind wandered to the op-ed pieces I've read on these same subjects, my eyes scrolling down to those nasty, racial slurs in the comment section from those internet trolls, all crouching tigers and hidden dragons in their anonymous virtual worlds.

But this? This, that I was not only seeing but even participating in, was as messed up and discriminatory as anything. And worse--none of it was even hidden from sight. Blatant, open, egregious prejudices not because of race or sexual orientation or identity. . . . but because of something universally affecting someone in every one of every group you can think of: weight.

Yep. And here I was, no less guilty than the rest of making her a pariah. Yes. That. A pariah.


Movies have won awards for complex tales of interracial loves fighting for familial acceptance. And, it seems, that the world has gotten or at least is getting the memo that it isn't cool to just outwardly let the world know that NO your child can't marry some black person or HELL NO you aren't interested in meeting the man your boy has fallen in love with and now calls his "soul mate." I mean, not publicly it isn't. Your job is to bury it under concerns like "cultural difficulties" or "religious beliefs" -- because everybody knows that you can't just come right on out and say, "I just don't approve because I think black people are gross and have tails" or "I'm glad to watch them, the gays, on TV but beyond that I want them no where near me and my family" And sure, okay, people still do it but when they do, the backlash is swift and mighty. Those are the ones that lead to "closed comments" on the NYTimes from all of the folks marching on Washington in those free-text boxes.


Yet somehow with obesity it's different. Socially acceptable to shudder where others can see you or text some hurtful observation to a friend. No one is super pissed, or rather, as pissed off as they would be about such open discrimination in any other group. And even worse, with obesity, the good guys are often in cahoots with the bad guys making it all exponentially worse.

So here's what I am trying to work through: I'm trying to rage against my own machine--the imperfect human being with not nice thoughts. I am thinking of the hurt I have felt when watching the news or listening to news radio about my own people being mistreated and how important it is for me to push myself to see my own shortcomings toward others. My hope is that it will give me more empathy toward those who think negatively of me just from looking in my direction.

Whew. I just sort of need to unpack on this today. This idea that Michael Jackson had about starting with the man--or rather woman--in the mirror.

Oh. And let me be clear: I get it. Obese people were not brought here against their will on slave ships, oppressed for hundreds of years and horrifically disadvantaged historically. But I guess my point is that I don't think there needs to be a pissing contest to see who has been treated the worst. Instead, as we all fight for equality for the groups closest to our hearts, families and identities, that can't ever happen if we aren't willing to self reflect on what we are doing, feeling and thinking about the ones that aren't.

Does that even make sense?

Here's the truth:

I didn't even know that woman. I don't know her life story, her trials, her upbringing, her resources, her support, or any such thing about her. I don't. And while I think it is perfectly okay for me to want a healthier life for her (and myself, too) I know it's not okay for me to make up my mind that all of this represents laziness and self-loathing. I know as well as anyone that obesity isn't that simple and can't just be chalked up to being unmotivated. And you know? Even if it were, is it kind of me to focus just on that part without considering all of the things that may have led to that point? Hell no it isn't.

In my opinion, society graduates discrimination, you know? Like . . . for example. . . . .the most obese people have it the worst but even still those who are still heavy but haven't quite reached a pariah-status body mass index still have it tough. Surely the most effeminate gay man or the most masculine lesbian woman or the transgender individual has a harder row to hoe than the queer-ish person with a  phenotypically vanilla identity. And last, I am keenly aware that the darkest of my brothers and sisters with the most afrocentric features, particularly when combined with the most limitations on socioeconomic status, struggle more than perhaps I do with my smattering of freckles and more delicate facial features. It's just the truth. But even still, the discrimination is there and it hurts that it is.

Try compounding a few of these things together--particularly with obesity or even some mental or physical disability. Very, very obese and black. BMI over 40 and transgender. Or all of these things plus a cerebral palsy or a cognitive disability? Better yet, don't. It will only depress you.

I guess a big part of me always embracing members of, for example,  the LGBTQ community has been about this shared understanding of how it feels to be prejudged and mistreated as a group and how vital it is to us all to just be seen, man. But I wonder sometimes if part of it is just because it is socially acceptable for me to do so? I mean, I hope not. Either way, today I am working to expand my views to include more than just what is "sexy."

You know what? I'm a work in progress, man. And I'm going to work as hard as I can to "see" even more people than I ever have before. . . .but to especially keep self reflecting enough to see--and deal with--my own feet of clay in the process.


31 “Your Majesty looked, and there before you stood a large statue—an enormous, dazzling statue, awesome in appearance. 32 The head of the statue was made of pure gold, its chest and arms of silver, its belly and thighs of bronze, 33 its legs of iron, its feet partly of iron and partly of baked clay. 34 While you were watching, a rock was cut out, but not by human hands. It struck the statue on its feet of iron and clay and smashed them."

- Daniel 2:31-34 

Happy Wednesday. And I'm just saying, we can do better. Me included.

 Oh, and if you haven't seen this? Watch it and be intrigued. It's complicated, man.



  1. Replies
    1. I love that you have so many blogs you read and so many people who follow your own blog and grandkids and a life but yet you still take the time to read what I write. Thank you, Sister Moon.

  2. Such a profound and sensitive piece that describes most of us if we critically examined our own prejudices, whether unconscious or conscious. We are all works in progress by the grace of God. On a lighter note: I love your glass frames. Have a good day. LN

  3. Thank you for understanding that. Truth be told, beyond bariatric surgery or strange injections and meal replacement shakes, there aren't many resources for the very obese. Doctors and nutritionist hand out place mats with the plate method on them and recommend exercise, start slow, walk around the block without understanding how many times that has already failed the person. Counselors who deal with eating disorders treat anorexia and bulimia, but not obesity. Even if someone does get help, there is still society all around them. Small things that others don't even think about undermine their efforts. They don't want to be obese, just normal. So when they go into the cafeteria and see everyone eating plates filled with fried chicken and pizza with a rice krispy treat on the side, they feel even more like a freak when they pull out the salad they made at home. You know, the fat girl munching on rabbit food again.

    Thanks for speaking up. It's nice to have someone acknowledge it.

    1. Thanks for your wisdom, Lisa. It gives me good insight and even more to think about.

  4. You just want what is best for be happy, healthy and loved. And that is a burden in itself...don't be hard on lead through example.

    1. I think I'm actually one of the good guys. I guess I just keep thinking about how wide open that sort of discrimination is and how nobody says anything. Hopefully it didn't sound too self-deprecating. That wasn't my intention. I just want to keep fighting to be a better person, you know?

  5. What Lisa said. And yes, just as you said, the prejudice against obesity is the only "socially acceptable" one. Would we like to go for a walk around the block? Sure. But then we remember those snickers, those looks, those "hushed" comments that we DO hear -- why should we put ourselves out there for that kind of treatment? We know we're panting as we walk. We know we have 2, 3, more chins. We know that our weight, like our skin color, is right there in front of you. We don't need those looks, those side glances, those giggles-turning-into-coughs (or worse, just plain laughter), even those thoughts to "wake" us up to do better. Some of us may even have the means and the knowledge to make better choices, but for many reasons, we do not. ("When you know better, you do better" doesn't apply to everyone in every case.) Please don't assume anything about us. We're ALL individuals, leading our own lives. Our choices may not be yours, but that doesn't give anyone the right to judge us. That said, Doc, I do appreciate your thoughts and recognition of this issue. Discussing it is the only way to get it out in the open. Thank you!

    1. I love the transparency here and take zero offense. Again, I think with most things that aren't right, we see it differently when someone brings it to our attention. I agree that weight is very, very complicated. And yes, we need to get a lot of things out in the open so that we can see one another better.

  6. "And while I think it is perfectly okay for me to want a healthier life for her (and myself, too) I know it's not okay for me to make up my mind that all of this represents laziness and self-loathing."

    I guarantee you that woman loathes herself. How could she not? This is the reflection she gets from the world in every moment of every day. As someone who has struggled with weight since arriving on the planet, I can tell you, if it were just a matter of willpower and motivation, of "just doing it" I would have already done it. No one, no one chooses to walk around with extra weight in a world that judges extra weight as a moral failing rather than a health condition. I have struggled for three years now, in a rather consistent manner to lose weight, attending weight watchers, focusing on whole foods, the whole nine, and after three years my trend is still downward, I have lost 52 pounds so far, but honestly, it took me four months to lose the last two, and it wasn't because I wasn't paying trying. My body maybe had to get used to a new set point? I don't know. I only know this is the body I have and it holds on to weight. It gains more easily than other people (and I know you're a doctor but I also do know that some bodies are just more prone to weight gain and resistant to weight loss). I am trying to treat this body of mine lovingly no matter what the world may look on and think of me, and really, accepting myself as I am has been essential to even trying to get on the path. My heart aches for that woman. And I am not immune either from the judgments. Yesterday in the gym, there was an extremely obese man on the treadmill and he smelled. He was seating profusely and his odor permeated the entire room, and I felt...disgusted. And then I felt ashamed. This man was in the gym doing his darndest to do something about his health. Who was I to judge him and make him feel ashamed and unwelcome. Lord knows I have my own issues going into a gym and being judged for, among other things, how slow I walk on the treadmill because I have to concentrate on strengthening the muscles surrounding hip and knee, and not further injure the joints by too much impact, according to my PT. I hear the thoughts: Is she serious, walking that slow? What on earth does she think she's accomplishing? She's so lazy. But as my son says, "It's your workout, mom. Forget them." (And then I go lift weights because that? That I'm good at.) That woman needs a serious and loving intervention. She needs consistent attention from someone who actually SEES her, the soul she is within the prison of her body. I know beyond a shadow of doubt that she feels completely hopeless. My heart aches for her so hard. And I am grateful to you for pulling back the curtain on this sort of discrimination. Fat is not a moral issue. It's a health crisis. It's a food industry crisis. It's a cultural crisis. But it is not a moral failing. Until we get that, most fat people will hide out in their homes and try not to interact with the world at large. Because it's just too freakin painful to see the reflection of yourself you get in other people's eyes. Thank you for this amazingly honest and searing post. And sorry to write so much in your comments. Clearly, this post struck a very alive nerve.

    1. The first thing I want to say is PLEASE do not delete this comment. I know you might feel like it was too candid but this is how we unpack and understand things better. You have created more empathy just through this testimony.

      I appreciate you so much, Angella. You know how much I do. And I don't want you to hold people back from what you are teaching because it's a good word.

      Much love,


  7. Years ago I heard a woman speak about how being fat was one of the few things comedians/sitcoms could still pick on in and wouldn't get called out on. It was amazing to me how much I saw it after that, Monica in the 'fat' suit on Friends, the stand-up that I loved and laughed at having to point out someone was 'fat' before telling the joke, the nerdy kid having to have a 'fat' friend. How often society will still make fun of the large person. Its amazing once you are paying attention to it. and sad at the same time. I appreciate your piece as I think about my own struggle with weight everyday and try toward greater kindness as well. Thank you!

  8. Label this one JoLai would like. Thanks for tackling the tough topics!


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