(Names have been changed)
A well spouse, Sheila, came to a simcha. She spent an inordinate amount of time making all the arrangements for her sick husband so she could attend. The simcha was made by her only extended family that always had come to share in all of her past happy occasions, so she felt obligated. Besides, she wanted to attend, even though the simcha was during tax season and she was an accountant. She flew in for the extended weekend and had a wonderful time.
She knew she would “pay for it” when she got home and had to make up the work missed and cope with the unhappiness caused by putting her husband in respite in order for her to attend. But she knew her presence added to the simcha. It was family, after all. They kept telling her how grateful they were that she had made the effort to come all that way. She was chatting with her cousin, a fellow that looked like he played football for a living, when the bar mitzvah mom came up to her. “Gee,” she said, “you two are almost the same size.”
Sheila was devastated. It didn’t make her feel any better that the person making the comment came up to her later and asked her if she had hurt her feelings. It didn’t matter that when Sheila replied that indeed she had, the woman apologized and even said she had no idea why she had made the hurtful comment. It had just come out of her mouth and she had meant no harm.
Eliza rented a vacation property and invited a friend to join her for a week of relaxation and warm weather in December. At the end of the week, as part of her profuse “thank you” speech, Eliza’s friend decided to remind Eliza how much she needed to lose weight, for the sake of her health.
While participating in a book club discussion about the Holocaust, Carol was noting how heroic the characters in the book had been and expressed doubts about her own ability to act similarly, had she been faced with the same situation. “Well, if you had gone through it, at least you wouldn’t have a weight problem,” was the response she heard from a group participant.
Sarah was waiting for her car at the body shop. She had just paid her bill and they were washing her car before returning it to her. She was chatting with the owner sharing grandparent stories when he suddenly turned to her and said, “You know, you really should take off that extra weight you’re carrying around. Maybe start exercising and eat less.”
What makes people feel they have the right to make these hurtful comments to those who are overweight? If asked, chances are they will say the comments are made to help the person, because they care about them. Yet many with a weight problem will tell you these comments are not only hurtful, but also counterproductive. The pain caused by the negative statement will often do just the opposite and cause people to find comfort food, to soothe the hurt feelings caused by the comments.
Everyone who has a weight problem knows they are overweight. They see it every time they look in a mirror. The comments are not telling them something they are unaware of. Knowing that weight can cause health problems is not a new revelation for them either. If we stop to think about it, wouldn’t those of us making these comments realize our words are not helping, no matter how we try and convince ourselves that they are?
So why do we continue to harass, single out, hound, maltreat, torment and discriminate against (all synonyms for bullying) the very people we say we care about? Is it, perhaps, a socially acceptable way to give vent to the desire to bully or to feel better about ourselves by denigrating someone else? According to the dictionary, bullying is defined as the process of intimidating or mistreating somebody weaker or in a vulnerable situation. To my mind, this definition seems to apply to those of us making these unsolicited, and often unhelpful, detrimental comments. But perhaps I am wrong.
I would like to hear your point of view. If you have ever made such comments to someone, I would be grateful if you could share with me, and my readers what you felt motivated your comments, if your comments helped and what motivated you to utter them. If you have been the recipient of these comments, can you let us know if they were helpful or hurtful? I would greatly appreciate hearing from you.
You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org