Shown Actual Size

I witnessed a conversation between two people I’ll call Ben and Angie.  In the context of the conversation,  Ben guessed that Angie weighed 150lbs.  She immediately said “No way, add 50 pounds to that”.  He said “I know, I was trying to be nice”.  She said “It’s ok, it’s a compliment”.

This is not the first time I’ve heard this conversation, it’s happened to me.  I think that it’s pretty common when weight is involved. I see some issues here:

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that purposely misrepresenting someone should maybe not constitute  “being nice”, since what that really seems to  indicate is that you think that what they actually are is not ok – that it is something to be ashamed of and lied about.

It’s fine for Angie to feel that it’s a “compliment” that someone purposely misrepresented her to be nice.  Angie is the boss of her underpants and allowed to choose whatever life experience she wants.

However, I think that in the meta-analysis, someone purposely misrepresenting who you are as a way to be “nice”  probably only works in this situation because we live in a culture that thinks that thin is the most valuable thing, and we choose to buy into that point of view.  Even if someone thinks it’s a compliment in the moment, I wonder what the effects are of  hoping that, and being happy when, someone is “trying to be nice” by guessing your weight at 50 pounds under what is true, considering that you’re living in a body that’s shown actual size.

Imagine if the conversation had been about something else – race, ethnicity, religion…even hair:

Ben:  “Angie, you have beautiful straight hair.”

Angie:  “No actually my hair is really curly, look,  you can see it curling”

Ben:  “I know, I was just trying to be nice”

Angie:  “Thanks, that’s totally a compliment”

Not so much.

When I identify as “fat” and people freak out – as they often do- they honest-to-god will say “You’re not fat”.

Instead of asking them “how many fingers am I holding up” I’ll sometimes say “No, I’m definitely fat – I weigh 284 pounds”.  They most often respond  “No way , I thought that you were no more than 150 or 175.”

Ok, that’s crazy talk.  I do not look more than 100 pounds lighter than I am.  But I don’t know if people really think that I am what 150 pounds looks like, or if they are just “trying to be nice”.  If it’s the latter then let me just be clear that I don’t think it’s a compliment to lie to me. Of course another option is that what they are saying is “You don’t fit my stereotypes of fat people”  – but that’ a whole ‘nother blog.

Just for the record:

This is what 284 pounds looks like (c’mon, you’ve got to admire all the ways I’m finding to work these pictures into this blog…)

Photo by Richard Sabel

I am 284 pounds of healthy athlete and I am proud my body and every single thing that it can do. You lying about my weight is not “being nice”, you’re either telling me that I should be ashamed of my weight, or you’re trying to shove your weight insecurities on me.  Either way, I’ll pass.

If you want to be nice to me then show some respect for who I am, what I look like, and what I can do.

Published in: on January 28, 2011 at 7:45 am  Comments (16)  

16 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Good heaven’s, you rock! I’ve always hated the “guess my weight” game, or even the “I’m going to tell you an arbitrary number, because that’s what I think you should be” game. Guess what? I’m 280! Ok, don’t guess, because I just told you, but you get the point. Giving me a lower number just makes me cock my eyebrow and think that you’ve lost your ever lovin’ mind. Giving me a higher number makes me cock my eyebrow and think that you’ve lost your ever lovin’ mind. That is unless your “guess” is within 10 lbs. Then I think, perhaps, it is a matter of how I am presenting myself that day. Tell you what, though. Don’t bother guessing. It’s just gonna end up making you look like a complete dunce. Unless you need to know my weight because of some sort of actual weight limit to something, then it really doesn’t matter. I am what I am, and you know what, that’s ok. If you want to compliment me, try saying something actually nice about something I’ve been doing, like my crazy drive to make scarves, or my love of music that I let flow through my life. Don’t try to throw an arbitrary number at me because you think it will make me “feel good” about myself, because it’s not going to matter.

    • Hey Karen,

      Glad that I’m still rocking your socks. I completely agree that the guess my weight game is a quick trip to No Win Proposition Land. And I want to compliment you right now on your scarf-making ability! I dare say I’m feeling a bit of scarf envy!

      ~Ragen

  2. This is also not always simple misrepresentation, but kind of a problem with perception… people have this idea that 300 POUNDS is someone who shakes the ground when they walk, someone who you don’t fit in a room with, and the elevator screeches and strains… more fat gags… you get the picture. They certainly don’t think of me, the tall braless nordic looking woman bicycling unnoticed down the road, even though I do weigh 300 pounds. And any ACTUAL human being has got to have a smaller number attached to their person.

    We got into a discussion about this in one of my creative writing classes – using weight as a number as shorthand description DOES NOT WORK because no one has a conception of what 230 pounds or whatever ACTUALLY looks like, even in the context of other descriptors (fat muscular etc). I also put in my two cents about how lazy it is to use physical description as a shorthand for character development, and that is related – just as people think that a 300 pound person couldn’t POSSIBLY be healthy, happy, attractive, or functional, they also think that an ACTUAL person who they LIKE couldn’t POSSIBLY be 300 pounds. Often they’re fooling themselves as much as you. It’s part of a structure of belief that is very hard to break into, and the end result of which is that we are all doomed to die early because none of us are healthy or attractive or THIN enough.

    • I agree that it absolutely could have been a matter of perception – except the guy in question is fat and had a reasonable chance of knowing how much she weighed. In general though I agree that pretty often people just don’t have a clue. I remember going to the doctor once (before I found out that you can refuse to be weighed) and a very petite nurse put me on the scale. When she slid it up to 150 and it wasn’t enough she got confused and then moved it DOWN. When I moved it up for her she said “Oh, I wasn’t expecting that”. I had never thought of it from a writing perspective, that’s really interesting.

      ~Ragen

  3. Better question, why was he trying to guess Angie’s weight? What possible conversation could they be having where that would be appropriate?
    This gives me flashbacks to my mother trying to find sneaky ways to find out how much I weigh; presumably to ensure I haven’t gained an inappropriate amount. I don’t play any more; I’m not ashamed, its just irrelevant.

    • This was in a dance situation and there was a move where he had to support part of her weight so it really did make sense. I’m lucky that my mom never says anything about my size but I know a lot of people who went through what you did with your mom. Good for you for opting out.

      ~Ragen

      • Ok, since it was a dance situation I can see how that would fit into my call for giving weight when needed. Good for her for being honest (at least I hope she was), and wow for him if he does this frequently (dancing) and hasn’t been able to at least somewhat judge the weight of the person he’s lifting or whatnot. Maybe he simply knows what he can handle without knowing exactly what weight it is. *shrug*

      • Glad to hear that!

  4. The “you’re not fat” thing drives me nuts. I have a sweet friend who has given me pajamas several times as a gift and they are always too small by at least a size. This year I finally just said, “Honey, I’m fat. I need a large.” She’s a really nice person (she really is, she would never want to hurt someone’s feelings) but like the rest of society, for her fat=bad, so she said, “Nooooo. You’re not fat.” I told her my real size in the hopes that if she decided to buy me clothes again, it would be in the right size. I do find it an insult that people won’t acknowledge my actual size and shape, which I’m not ashamed of. And I do want some comfy, roomie jammies damnit! I would never play the weight game, and I never play the guess-my-age game (in which “old” is as dirty a word as “fat”). I’m so out there with all that stuff it’s obnoxious. How are these games supposed to be fun??

    • Hi Glenys,

      The age game is a whole ‘nother blog but I totally agree. The pajama thing is crazy – I find it weird when people buy me clothes at all but if you’re going to buy them then for the love of pete let’s get the right size!

      ~Ragen

  5. I just found your blog and I love it. I am so happy to find someone who is fat but healthy and not worried about it. I am 270 lbs and exercise with a trainer and on my own, try to eat healthy, and feel great! I have gotten off of a lot of meds, in spite of my weight, probably due to increased exercise and improved fitness. I know I am in better shape now than I was when I weighed 140, since I never exercised then. I wouldn’t mind loosing 30-lbs. But that is so I can fit into some lovely clothes I made myself, back when I was that weight, because I really love a particular wool skirt (coutour details and all, plus the fabric is fabulous). But, I focus on being healthy and maintaining peace balance in my life.
    Any way, you have Made My Day! :) I will definately follow your blog.

    • Hi Eleanor,

      Welcome to the blog, I’m glad that you like it :) It’s awesome that you are finding your own path to be healthy. I’m also jealous of your clothing making prowess – I’m pretty much a home ec dropout!

      ~Ragen

  6. I think this every time I see that particular picture of you: I wish I could hold my foot like that and not fall over and kill myself.

  7. I suspect that a lot of people really do not know how a certain weight looks, and that the reason for this is systematic disinformation.

    When I read something about OMG obesity crisis in a magazine, you can bet that in a classy magazine, the story of the woman weighing 220 lbs at 6’1″ and failing to lose weight will be illustrated by the nude image of a model weighing 280 lbs at 5’8″. (I *know* how that looks. 90% of my friends are fat.) In a less classy magazin there will be a picture of a headless fatty and the story of a woman weighing 170 lbs. People read “obese” and think of a hippopotamus and not of George Clooney.

    Digging out my tinfoil hat, making people stupid about size is good business for the magazines and their advertisers.

  8. I get this all the time when people say, “you’re not short” or “you don’t have small breats.” Uh, yeah, I’m 5”, and I wear an A cup. That’s short and small, and I’m okay with that. When they try to be nice by saying otherwise, I always feel like then I know their true feeling about my size. Because admitting that I’m short and small-breasted would be so cruel, right? I wish people were more accepting of different body types, and didn’t feel like they have to pity me and “flatter” me.

    • I totally agree with you, there’s nothing flattering about it!

      ~Ragen


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