I’ve been going through some new medical problems and as a result, I gained some weight and am bloated. So one night I went to the mall with my husband to get properly fitting dress pants for work so I could be comfortable. I found several pairs I liked (which is great because, really, who likes pants shopping?!). While I was paying for my purchases the cashier noted how I had two different sizes. She looked me up and down and said, “you know, you should stop having soda for a week so you can fit in a smaller size.” I just looked at her, processing this unsolicited (and extremely poor and ill-mannered) advice. I froze. The doctor in me froze. I left feeling stunned and sad all at once. I consistently advocate for people with body image issues and eating disorders. Why didn’t I say anything to her? Why didn’t I take the time to educate this person on why what she said could be harmful? Why didn’t anything come out of my mouth?! Surely if I had overheard her say that to someone else, I would have commented. But when the comment was made to me, not a peep. I exited the store with a solemn look and told my husband what happened. He was ready to go to the store and give the cashier a piece of his mind, but I told him I just wanted to leave.
I realized that I had already felt vulnerable at that moment due to my medical problems, but I knew my silence wasn’t solely about what I am going through. I truly understand weight and size do not equate worth, that’s not what my silence was about. My silence reflected all the stories I hear daily from my patients with eating disorders. What if one of my patients who was early into their eating disorder recovery had been in my place? What if someone was within their weight range and received a comment like that? What if a young girl or boy was told this and before that moment hadn’t even thought much about their size?
All of this flooded me that night as I thought about our society’s weight culture: the norm of talking about dieting during lunch, the New Year’s resolutions to work out, the college students getting ready to go out on the town and all of them making negative comments about their bodies. It’s distressing that this is the norm. What about discussions on books, and culture, and passions, and pets? In a perfect world, these values would replace the endless comments about diets, body image, and over-exercise. I challenge all of you that when the not so helpful discussions come up, shift to meaningful conversations. We can spread change, one conversation at a time.
I am formulating a letter to the store’s corporate office and I plan on attaching this blog to it. I may not have used my voice when this incident happened, but I sure am going to now. My hope is that we collectively continue to use our voice so that we can begin to shift cultural norms, even if it’s just a little bit.