Space and Your Place in It


You build on failure. You use it as a stepping stone. Close the door on the past. You don't try to forget the mistakes, but you don't dwell on it. You don't let it have any of your energy, or any of your time, or any of your space.
--Johnny Cash
Imagine this:
You are a normal-weight earthling who finds herself transported permanently to Planet Skinny where everything is half the normal earthly size.

The average chair is wide enough for a very slim earth person and able to hold a maximum of 110 pounds, which is considered obese on Planet Skinny. The space between table and seat in restaurant booths can comfortably accommodate someone with a 36" chest, so if you are any larger, you are resting your boobs on the table.

Flying is a nightmare; you must book your flights carefully, often paying for First Class or buying two seats.

In short, everywhere you go poses a hassle, so eventually you give up going out in public. Not only is the too-small infrastructure all wrong for your physical self, but the size discrimination, the finger pointing, nasty stares, and outright rude comments are just too much for you.

So you find yourself isolating yourself from other people.
Welcome to the world of the morbidly obese.

To a lesser extent, I can identify with this world. While I was in Macedonia, I noticed that chairs in restaurants were smaller, the space in booths tighter. In the U.S., the mildly obese might not notice infrastructure too much, but it's different in Europe. For example, the narrow chairs in one of my favorite restaurants (an Italian place) had arms, and my butt most definitely filled my chair.

I felt uncomfortable in those not-too-stable chairs, well aware that I was overweight, the arms digging into my sides.

I have to say, though, I never felt hostility over my weight, surprising given that overweight people are still somewhat uncommon in Eastern Europe, although this is slowly changing, now that the U.S. has exported McDonald's to Macedonia. I know of at least 4 McD stores in Skopje alone.
True side story: Last year, I was walking through the Center of Skopje, on my way to the University, when I overheard this conversation (in English):
American man: "So, you think we should bring Dunkin' Donuts to Skopje?"

Macedonian man: "That would be possible."
I wanted to jump in and say, "No, no, and no!" But, of course, I refrained, given that I wasn't supposed to be eavesdropping on a business conversation.
For an obese person, one's place in space is especially important because lack of adequate space is all around; thus, very obese people must always think ahead before going out into public and incorporate strategies for minimizing their impact on others' space as much as possible. Our culture is not very accommodating or kind to 300-1,000 pound people.

Most of us don't worry about ordinary activities, such as fitting in chairs, restaurant booths, airline seats (well, maybe airline seats), and walking just a few blocks.

Moreover, even if we are overweight or even slightly obese, we don't worry about breaking things if we walk or sit on them. We do these activities organically, without conscious thought.

It would be so easy to judge obese people, but unless you have walked in their shoes, you really cannot understand, and like Dr. Phil says,
You can't judge what you don't know.
I am convinced that we can best help the very obese by using positive (as opposed to negative) strategies to help them lose weight and live healthy lives.

For example,
--Offering comprehensive coverage for diet and exercise programs and (and, perhaps, vouchers for healthy foods), NOT raising insurance premiums for obese people.

--Praising for successes instead of belittling for failures.

--Start encouraging physical activity for all children via fun, organic activities, not enforced gym classes in stinky gyms. If nothing else, we can save the next generation from a life of obesity and obesity-related diseases.
Meanwhile, we all need understand that obese people need more space and definitely more understanding, even when we're sitting next to them on an airplane.

Believe me, most large people will do everything they can to minimize their impact on your space.

I know; I have been there, on that plane, next to an uncomfortable thin person, and I wasn't even encroaching on that person's personal space.

In closing, I am convinced that 99.9% of us don't want to be fat. We may have made poor food choices that got us there, and we may have allowed the situation to get out of control, but most of us would like to live long, healthy lives and weigh within normal weight ranges, or, at the very least, not to be obese.

I'm convinced that both government and private industry can help people to achieve these modest goals.

Ciao!

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