Passing Judgment

gavel1Note: This post is all over the place and content-heavy, so … consider it a stream of consciousness and please bear with me.

My post last Friday about the evidently malnourished Australian Miss Universe contestant got me thinking about judgment … specifically, my unconsious (human?) tendency to pass judgment.

I called this woman out here on my blog — a disordered eating recovery blog — for being too skinny (at 5’11 and 108 lbs.) and for possibly having an eating disorder … in spite of her denial of it being true.

I called her out because in looking at her, I was concerned that this is the image our children see.

I called her out because I was both sickened and saddened — sickened that she looked so skeletal, and saddened that her figure personifies “beauty” to some … possibly even some of my own readers or followers of “thinspo” (the pro-ana movement).

The irony is, if I saw a morbidly obese person on the street, who might not be in the best health either, though I might make a superficial judgment in my head (as in, stating the fact that the person is morbidly obese) … would I devote a post about it?

No, I wouldn’t.

Why? Well, first off, I live in the U.S. where (though I take personal issue with the forms of measurement) most Americans are considered “overweight” and 30-40% are classified as “obese” … so it wouldn’t be a unique situation.

But even more than that, while perhaps being morbidly obese is frowned upon, being “overweight” isn’t necessarily shunned here in the U.S.

Let’s be real here. In our weight-obsessed culture, we can say it’s better to maintain a “healthy” weight than to be significantly overweight … but the reality is, thin people contract diseases, too.

And not everyone is made to be a size 4. Sure, most Americans could probably afford to eat less, move more, drop a few … but tons of research has shown that we’re better off being fit and a little overweight than “skinny-fat.”

So I can totally see why the urgency or desperation just isn’t there for those of us in the “overweight” category to waste time obsessing over 10-15 lbs.; hell, I’m technically in that category (again) now, myself, despite being fit … and look at how much of my time has been wasted thinking about it!

When I look at it that way, it’s ridiculous.

Anyway, if I see someone who is morbidly obese on the street … I’ll be honest, I don’t always think twice. If I happen to notice them, it often triggers a little sadness, reminding me of some insecurities I felt when I was heavier, myself.

Or maybe just the same I wonder if they are happy, regardless of their size. For all I know, maybe they subscribe to the “fat acceptance” movement and are 100% content with themselves as they are… could I begrudge anyone that level of confidence? Certainly not!

That said, in my heart, I don’t buy that anyone is truly happy on either extreme side of the equation: skin and bones or morbidly obese. People on both sides might argue their own personal truths til the sun comes up … but I just don’t know … I can’t imagine being truly happy on either extreme side, especially since I personally have had trouble in the gray areas myself.

But really, ultimately, who am I to judge? I’m just a girl who was chubby all her life, slimmed down, gained some back and is, once again, struggling for body acceptance.

So since scientifically we know being extremely obese isn’t any healthier than someone insanely skeletal … then I can’t help but wonder … why is it so easy for me (or anyone) to pass such scathing judgement on someone deemed too thin and not on someone severely overweight?

After some soul-searching, the only thing I can come up with is I’ve never been skinny, so I don’t know what it’s like to have someone (wrongfully) accuse you of having an eating disorder when genetically, you’re just thin.

But I have been chubby, and I think that’s why I empathize more/identify more with the morbidly obese cross-section of America than I do with the bony sliver of America.

In addition to that, I subscribe to the belief that weight/size –though it is not necessarily set in stone — is a genetic trait; I really think some people are simply predispositioned to be heavier.

(Note: In my family, we say, a “Jeanettic” predisposition, referring to my maternal grandma, my beloved Bubby, who never met a salami, blintz, or knish she didn’t like and came from a long lineage of Russian and Polish Jews).

Though some might work hard to change their shape, our bodies do have a natural set-point, and so even if they get there for a minute, they might never fit the government’s standards of being “normal.”

But some things are just “Jeannettic.” Personally, even at my thinnest, I still had broad hips and shoulders, big legs (everything just slimmed down) … and even at my heaviest, I had an hour-glass figure and a fairly lean mid-section.

(And truthfully, for all my moaning about wanting to re-lose this weight … I’d rather carry these extra pounds and be fit and healthy than consumed with DE thoughts or engaging in DE behaviors. Losing weight helped me fit into new jeans and boosted my stamina as well as confidence, but it certainly didn’t make my life problem-free).

So while someone could suffer serious health risks from being too heavy or too thin, I think my experience with being on the overweight side of the equation is why I passed judgment in this instance, whether it’s right or wrong.

Deep down, I know that weight struggles come in all shapes and sizes. Someone’s five pounds to lose for better health is someone else’s fifty, and some people struggle to gain weight while others struggle to lose it.

I don’t like being judgmental, and don’t like to think of myself as someone who is judgmental, but I guess as humans we’re all judgmental in one way or another.

That said, I’m realizing my commentary about Miss Australia could have had a more concerned tone, because ultimately, I am concerned, about her and the message she sends to the world.

Admitting that I’d freely post about someone too skinny and not someone too heavy is hypocritical; I realize this. But I hope you can see where I’m coming from.

I truly hope I didn’t offend anyone by calling out Miss Australia; I still stick to my assertion that she is too thin. But I do hope that if she does have an eating disorder, she is able to get the help that she needs.

And that’s not judgment; it’s concern and honesty.

I leave you today with this thought: in a perfect world, this post wouldn’t need to exist.

How about you? Do you pass judgment on other people based on their size? Or make assumptions that you’ve found to be false? How can you curb the judging voice in your head?

11 thoughts on “Passing Judgment

  1. I think I am somewhat sensitive to comments/remarks made about people who are obese, mostly because my mom has been overweight my whole life, and I remember kids teasing me about it as a child. That said, I’m ashamed to say that I do pass judgment on obese people if I see them on the street. It’s not that I look down on them, or treat them badly (in fact, I think I treat them nicer because of what my mom has experienced), but I do sometimes assume people who are obese are lazy and inactive. I know this isn’t always true, but it’s still something I struggle with.

    On the flip side, because my sister got down to 90 pounds during her battle with anorexia, I am very sensitive to comments made about very very thin people. I feel more pity when I look at disturbingly thin people, because I know how sad and empty they are on the inside.

    I think you’re right…we’re all judgmental to an extent. I guess the best we can do (or what I try to do) is remember people we’ve met who are “exceptions to the rules.”

  2. I agree that there is a big double-standard when it comes to commenting on the health over overweight vs. underweight individuals. I am just as guilty as anyone else, but I am trying to be more aware of it. In my experience people feel they can express their concern over your health if they feel you are too thin, but no one would dare discuss an issue with someone who is obese.
    I’m with you that I don’t beieve people in either extreme group are truly happy.

  3. It’s interesting that you post this blog today in reaction/response to your last post from last week because when I read it, I honestly felt you were a little too quick to judge that individual on being too thin. Yes, given her height and weight, she is gravely thin and perhaps unhealthfully so, but it seemed as though many people were very quick to criticize her while the same folks may likely refrain from criticizing a woman who is overweight. To be very frank, I think we Americans are more accepting of people who are overweight (with a bit of extra flesh) because that’s become the norm. Let’s face it: Americans are getting bigger — just look at our kids (I rarely ever saw a fat kid back when I was in school and I’m 27 but not it’s a near-daily occurrence that I see a child who is way too big for his/her age and height). And we do live in a very image-oriented and -motivated society, so many of us are near-obsessed with issues of thinness. For instance, every time I meet up with my boyfriend’s friends and this one particular guy brings his wife, she is always commenting on an actress’ weight loss, saying something along the lines of, “OMG, she got so skinny!” Mind you, that person is overweight, dare I say, obese, so I can’t help but feel she’s very concerned with weight loss/gain. Maybe it’s wrong of me to say this, given my disordered eating past and present, but I think many people are harsh on thin people and thin people like me get mixed/ambiguous feedback from others. Take for instance my own father: he says I’m very thin and that I should eat more, yet when he sees my sister who’s gained a bit of weight, he inquires to her, “Did you gain some weight recently?” I can’t help but sense he’d rather us be on the thinner side than on the meatier side, yet he indirectly criticizes me for being thin… So you’re damned if you’re thin and you’re damned if you’re fat. I guess if you’re average, then no one hates on you. But seriously, I can’t help but feel that women who are thin are targeted so readily and easily. What is so bad about being thin? What is so awful about having self control over what you eat? What is so wrong about being blessed with genes that enable your metabolism to work faster? You can call me a thinspo and what not, but I’m getting quite tired of people being so harsh on thin women. Beauty does come in ALL sizes, I believe and see this all the time…I just wonder why it’s the thin women who are hated on so much.

  4. It’s totally a double standard; the same reason why doctors hesitate to tell patients they need to lose weight; it’s such a taboo subject and such a tender one.

    Hi Stella, I read absolutely every comment I get (or email) and I felt it warranted a follow-up. I don’t necessarily think I was too quick to judge; all around the media and blogosphere people were saying similar things … but the very overweight woman wasn’t the one strutting her stuff, so she wasn’t the target of my post.

    I can’t remember a time where I’ve personally explicitly expressed judgment on someone who is simply thin … I might admire some figures, or admire someone who can eat lots and stay lean, but in no means do I hate on them. Miss Australia was unnaturally thin and she denied having an ED … but so do all the starlets these days, and then later we find out Mary Kate Olsen, Lindsay Lohan admitted to having EDs and we found out even wholesome Hillary Duff confessed to having an unhalthy relationship with food at one point. So we very well might learn the truth about her, too. Or maybe not, maybe she’s just genetically gifted; I guess that’s a possibility too. But you have to admit, she looks pretty sickly.

    I see the mixed messages you personally are getting from your father … that has to be hard…

    To close, I really don’t think thin women are hated on any more than heavy women. Ultimately, as women, we all ought to be kind to one another — that’s something I can take from this experience.

  5. Stella, you stated, “To be very frank, I think we Americans are more accepting of people who are overweight (with a bit of extra flesh) because that’s become the norm.” I don’t see that as being true. Just look at how much flak Jessica Simpson got for looking “chubby” in those high-waisted jeans a few weeks back! She is/was no where near “overweight” and people treated her like she wasn’t fit to be in view of other human beings. I think in general women’s bodies are subject to far too much criticism. One day you’re too fat, and when you start to loose weight, the refrain becomes “X just doesn’t know when to stop dieting.” Men are never held to that amount of critique.

  6. Did you listen to Jillian Michael’s radio show from Sunday? This is the first thing she talked about. I have found that I don’t pass judgment, or even notice, unless they are very far in one direction or the other. And then, I just wonder what is going on with them.

  7. I think we all judge. What you find acceptable or unacceptable depends on where you are coming from.

    Sometimes I see a really skinny person and say to myself “She’s clearly unhappy, I would rather be larger than like her”.. 1/2 of that is me just trying to remind myself I don’t want to slip back into old behaviours even though I envy her. I admit that. I don’t envy her mindset. Just her body. I have to remind myself of what I am striving for though but judgement is what we all do.

    As someone who has been underweight, overweight and everthing in between, I`ve recognized I have an unhealthy relationship with food that I am working on. There are many many people in my life who would have no idea because I`m not on one extreme or the other most of the time.

    that doesn`t mean I`ve been happy with myself the whole time though and that is something you can not tell by looking at a photo. I think the most important step is to accept ourselves no matter what our sizes (and accept eachother). Love and nurture ourselves and then our weight obsession and issue will diminish.

    There are very few people out there who have no idea that you need a certain amount of calories a day or that you can`t eat a large pizza every day and not do damage on your body. We are doing this to ourselves and judgeing eachother is not helping. Sadly, comments about weight and diets have become common talk like the weather used to be. I try to avoid all of that because it doesn`t help me.

    I also wanted to comment on celebrities. I think we use celebrities as scapegoats. We hold them to a different standard than the rest of the population. Jessica Simpson (after she `gained weight`) would be considered skinny in our society. I agree that the same people who are praised for their weight loss one week are then 3 weeks later being investigated for ED. I would never want to be scrutinized that much. Celebrities are never good enough. They are under tremendous pressure. We as a society expect celebrities to be immune to all the struggles that we have. But we forget they are just people.

    Back to the Miss Australia issue. I think to not talk about it because she might be one of the 1% of the world that is ridiculously skinny naturally is just plain silly. Yes, it is possible that she is just that way on her own. She probably is naturally skinny. But I highly doubt that her environment has not affected her. SHe is being judged on her body and that is how she is valued in her contests. It would be very difficult for a young woman in this world to be in that environment and not obsess over food. I think it`s not helping us to ignore warning signs. That would be like looking at a severely obese person and saying; well, maybe that`s just natural. It would be like looking at an irregular shaped mole with puss coming out of it and saying: well it is possible it`s not cancerous, so I`ll just leave it there. NO, you go to the doctor and get it checked because it is likely an issue based on the knowledge we have.

    I have been all over the place with this, but lissa, I don`t think there was anything wrong with your thoughts on this. ED is an issue, and if we ignore signs and don`t talk about it it will continue to be.

    I am apologizing now for how much I rambled. Point is: discussion is good!

  8. OMG Jessica got SO much flak; and she’s thin! And thanks for sharing the article, Amani. Kilax, I have never listened to her show. I will see if I can find a recording of it — would be curious as to what she had to say. And like you, I think most people don’t judge unless it’s one extreme or the other.

    Hi Susie, not judging is hard, for sure. Acceptance at any size matters. I totally agree celebs are scrutinized on a whole different level than us average people but they also are paid to look a certain way so it’s a double-edged sword.

    Thank you 🙂

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