One morning last week I went to the gym and sat down on a bike next to my friend Amy, a retired human resources director for a jewelry company. Now in her early sixties, Amy is stronger and fitter than she was before she retired. “I could hardly walk a lap when I first started working out here,” she said.

Amy is a tall, leggy blonde who had always been as thin as a runway model. But she was not always healthy. Almost as soon as she retired, her doctor discovered a blockage in her heart. After surgery to repair the blockage, she gave up smoking and stepped up her exercise routine. Naturally, she gained a little weight. Which was just enough to make her trim, but definitely not skinny. “I don’t care about that,” she said. “I just want to be healthy.”

As two formerly skinny people, we both began to lament the various trials of being skinny: How we were skinny, but not fit. How it hurt to sit for long periods of time. How our hipbones jutted out unattractively in our clothes. And how other women hated us for being skinny. Through no fault or credit of our own, we were despised.

On the other side of us, another woman chimed in. “Well, I’ve been fat and I’ve been skinny, and I can definitely tell you that people treat you differently when you’re thin,” she said. “I’ve fought my weight all of my life, but people seem to think it’s a problem that could easily be cured if only I had the discipline to push myself away from the table.”

How heartbreaking it is to think that our national obsession with weight has divided the world into camps where everyone, regardless of weight, feels unfairly judged. It’s absurd. Pointless. Sad. No different than other practiced forms of discrimination like age, race, religion, political persuasion, or the new bias du jour, technology. What a great wad of suffering weight discrimination causes.

Not my Mama

I learned that when I was just a kid. On the handful of times my mom dressed up for a date with Dad, she’d let me come in and help her choose accessories. I studied her anguish as she poured herself into control top pantyhose and girdles. She hated being fat. And I hated seeing her unhappy over it. Loving her as I do, I thought she was beautiful just the way she was–which was pleasingly plump for most of her life.

When she trimmed down during my college years, I was startled to see how it changed her looks. I was happy for her, but she looked gaunt and drawn. This was not my Mom. Now in her 70s with several health battles under her belt, weight is hardly on her radar. Mostly, she seems to applaud my weight, as though I deserve credit for something that comes naturally. That’s unfortunate. Just as unfortunate as the fact that sometimes, other women loathe me almost instantly for being thin. Or so I have thought when no other explanation was apparent. We all know how difficult it is to turn the tide when we get off to a bad start.

Weight’s unwelcome role in female friendships

Perhaps it is some other trait of mine that has inspired dislike. Either way, I have occasionally sensed an unexplainable antipathy from other women that may be linked to differences in weight. That’s been especially hurtful when I really admired someone and had hopes of being friends. In some cases, I’ll admit that I’ve been persuaded to yield my hopes of friendship or mutual respect. If someone is willing to believe the worst about me with so little information, how is friendship possible? How can we estimate the degree to which weight alters our relationships with each other? Whether you’re the discriminator, the perceived discriminator, or the victim of discrimination, it all seems tragic.

Well, I’ve wrestled this topic long enough to touch some very tender spots for all of us. And yet, I haven’t said the half of all there is to say about our sad preoccupation with ideal weights. (“Whose ideal weight?” I want to ask.) The whole subject makes me weary.

Here are ten affirmations I believe with all my heart. They are the only principles I know that offset the unfairness of weight discrimination.

  • I am not my body. And neither are you.
  • Our bodies are shells for our spirits. We use them to live out our lives here on earth. Other than that, they have no significance at all.
  • I respect my body as a created work that I had nothing to do with. Occasionally, I may loathe some aspect of it and wish to improve it. That’s common to all people.
  • I am not superior/inferior to anyone for any reason, but especially not because of a body type that’s currently deemed socially acceptable/unacceptable.
  • I can achieve happiness, healthiness, and better character regardless of my weight.
  • I accept others for who they are inside and out. When I accept them, I learn to love them, despite all differences.
  • I perform better and with greater ease when I am accepted, but I can be happy whether I am accepted or not.
  • Whether I have benefitted unfairly or been penalized unfairly, I strive to bridge any gap that divides me from other people.
  • I assume the best in other people.
  • I take responsibility for the intentional and the unintentional aspects of my deeds. When I realize my errors, I try to correct them.