A friend of mine who had the gastric by-pass surgery a couple of years ago said something that I found to be surprising. She told me that it took her a long time to deal with no longer being invisible. Up until she said that, I had never really actively thought about being invisible.
Obviously, I do not mean to imply that fat people are difficult to see. Clearly that is not the case. I know that I am not difficult to miss in a crowd. I am talking about social invisibility. I think this is a phenomenon that many different people experience, not just fat people. It can happen to anyone for any number of reasons at any time.
Social invisibility is a pretty complex concept. The obvious form of social invisibility is when people refuse to recognize you are present, exclude you from social functions, and don’t recognize your participation in a group conversation. Here are some examples of what I mean:
- In the movie Some Kind of Wonderful, the lead female character after having dumped her rich boyfriend walks up to a couple of her friends who are engaged in conversation. She greets them and they continue talking amongst themselves ignoring her as if she isn’t there.
- If you’re with a group of your girlfriends and you meet a couple of guys at a social function, the guys talk only to the pretty, thin girls in the group. (and vice-verca for guys)
- If you’re at a dinner party with a group of friends and everyone is talking and it seems that nobody let’s you talk. You’re either talked over, interrupted, or flat out ignored when you try to speak.
- You find yourself uninvited from parties or group events to which you had been invited in the past.
Like I said, social invisibility does not just happen to fat people. I think in certain situations, nearly everyone has experienced some form of it.
There is also another side to social invisibility. I like to think of it as social harassment or bullying. When people do notice you because of your fat, they make sure you know how much they disapprove. If you can recall over the past two weeks the internet has been all-a-flutter over the bullying of Karen Klein, an elderly bus monitor, by a handful of 12 year old boys. This is an example of what I mean. Here are some examples of what I’ve experienced.
- One time I went to Denny’s for breakfast with my sister. Many Denny’s restaurants do not have tables and chairs, only booths. Well, because of my size, I do not fit comfortably in their booths. The one we went to was this kind. I very uncomfortably sat in one of their booths and ate my breakfast. A group of teenage boys sitting nearby very loudly laughed about it. It became so bad, my sister was nearly in tears. She finally complained to the management of the restaurant who moved the boys to another part of the restaurant and gave me a free meal.
- I was walking to the metro one night after work when a woman walking towards me looked me up and down and as she passed me, she said, “disgusting pig” under her breath loud enough for me to hear.
- I’ve had doctors refuse to treat me or even examine me. Any complaint I had was chalked up to my weight. Example: I went to urgent care with what I thought was a kidney infection. When they took my blood pressure, it was dangerously high. They gave me an ekg and I had an irregular heartbeat. Now that doctor was very worried and sent me directly to the emergency room. The ER doc ignored me from an hour and when I complained, he was very rude and mean. He basically said, “Well, you’re obese and probably have an enlarged heart. We can’t do much for you here but give you a couple of pills to bring down your bp. You really should go to your doctor and lose weight if you’re so concerned.” While it may be true that I need to go to my doctor and lose weight, that is no excuse for denying me care in a hospital. Is it too much strain for your golf hand to write an order for an x-ray or any kind of a test? Make sure I’m not having a silent heart attack? Too much to ask? Hmmmm?
I could go on. I have many, many more examples, but this blog post would probably fill up the entire internet. And do not mistake me. I am not looking for sympathy. I am simply trying to provide examples of why it is easy to feel invisible, unimportant, less than human, and unworthy of even basic human kindness or consideration.
I talked about this with a friend of mine recently. She had the surgery and actually recommended her doctor to me when I told her I was considering the gastric by-pass surgery. She told me that my entire circle of friends will change after I’ve lost the weight. She said that people she was friends with before she lost the weight did not know how to think of her anymore and many of them just stopped being her friend. Also, being thinner, healthier, more attractive opened up a whole new world of people who now wanted to get to know her and be her friend.
I am not too sure what to make of all of this. I am not overly worried, nonetheless, I do have a tendency to over-think things, so bear with me here.
I feel that I am very lucky for many reasons. I do have family and friends that I know care about me and respect me. I know who they are and I cherish every single one of them. It would break my heart to think that my losing weight would cause any one of them to “unfriend” me so to speak. Furthermore, I am a person that is kind of slow to forgive. Not one of my best qualities, I know, but that’s me. I cannot imagine that I would give the time of day to people who mocked me or were otherwise unkind to me while I was fat. Kind of the, if you cannot be there for me when I’m at my worst, you don’t deserve me when I’m at my best, mentality. Yet, that does not mean that I will not be open to being friends with all sorts of new people. I actually look forward to it. I mean, who doesn’t want to be liked?
I do wonder though, what will change and what no longer being invisible because of my weight will feel like. What sort of opportunities will open up for me? Will I date more? Will I have different friends? More friends? Could it affect future job opportunities? Or how much I make? Or will I long for the anonymity that invisibility provides?
On a larger scale, I think about other people. I know that I am not alone in feeling alone, invisible, and even sometimes unworthy. I know that many people experience these feelings for many different reasons. Will talking about what I am experiencing and how I am working to change it help someone else realize that they can do the same? That they can change whatever it is they want to fix about themselves?
I do not know. But I do know this: You can never change other people. You can only change yourself. This is what I am trying to do. Take stock of the people in your life who love you, because someone out there does. Let go of the people who do not, they are not worth your time. Know who you are and what you want. Then take the step to make a change.
Sounds good huh? Like I’m really healthy and put together mentally? Well, sometimes. Other times, I still struggle. I’ve gotten stronger over the years and am more confident in myself than I ever have been. And I look forward to the challenges and changes losing weight will bring. Mostly though, I look forward to no longer being invisible.