The Lady on the Scooter: Think Twice Before You Judge

Last weekend, I went to one of the gigantic wholesale warehouses with a friend to pick up items for a party. My friend had twisted her ankle earlier in week, and it was still difficult to walk long distances in her aircast. When we passed by about 20 available motorized scooters at the entrance, my friend decided that riding in one might save her some discomfort, so she hopped on. We split up to retrieve our respective items.

Posted on | Katie Rickel, PhD | Comments ()

Last weekend, I went to one of the gigantic wholesale warehouses with a friend to pick up items for a party. My friend had twisted her ankle earlier in week, and it was still difficult to walk long distances in her aircast. When we passed by about 20 available motorized scooters at the entrance, my friend decided that riding in one might save her some discomfort, so she hopped on. We split up to retrieve our respective items.

Almost as soon as we separated, someone approached her and offered her assistance. She thanked her but was able to hobble out of the scooter and grab what she needed off the shelf. A few minutes later, as I turned the corner and saw her again, I witnessed yet another patron offer help. This person even went into the next aisle to help my friend with some items on her list. 

When we met in the checkout line, it happened again. A man in line offered to put my friend’s items on the belt, even when she graciously insisted that she could do it herself. As we walked out, I whispered to her, “Boy, people were bending over backwards to help you in there!” When I looked up, I saw there was a tear in her eye: “I don’t believe what just happened. That makes me so angry,” she said.

Even though she now weighs a healthy 150 pounds, my friend had spent most of her 30s struggling with morbid obesity. At 320 pounds, she regularly used motorized scooters in stores like these, and she would dread those shopping trips. Other patrons would at best ignore her – and at worst ridicule and scorn her. No one offered assistance, even though she was clearly struggling. And today, help was coming from all directions. She concluded sadly, “People didn’t want to lend a hand before because they saw my weight as my fault. They felt sympathetic toward the normal-weight person with a sprained ankle, but disapproving and disgusted by the fat lady who should be able to help herself.”

This incident highlighted a sad truth: Even though the majority of Americans are either overweight or obese, the morbidly obese are still viewed as pariahs in our society. The next time that you find yourself judging someone who struggles with their weight, consider the following:

We all engage in unhealthy coping behaviors sometimes. We might text while driving. We might smoke cigarettes. We might “forget” to put on sunscreen at the beach. Overeating just happens to be one unhealthy behavior that has visible consequences. Overweight individuals have a whole array of strengths and weaknesses just like the rest of us; their bodies do not connote anything about who they are as a whole and complete person.

Many overweight people are desperately trying to improve their health. Changing long-standing nutrition and physical activity patterns is no easy task. For many obese individuals, punishing diet programs are all too familiar. Most could write their own books on diet and exercise because they have tried virtually everything on the market. That lady on the scooter may very well be fully engaged in the weight-loss process. For all you know, she may have already lost 60 pounds and is only just now able to even fit into the scooter. Weight loss is a slow and effortful process. You cannot make assumptions about efforts in self-care just by looking at someone.

The majority of obese individuals experience some level of physical and emotional pain every day of their lives. Imagine not being able to stand up from a chair without shooting pains through your legs. Picture yourself sitting through a movie with the arms of the chair digging into your sides. Envision yourself being pointed at by small children who ask their mothers, saying “Why is that man so fat?” Being an overweight person in our culture presents physical and emotional challenges on a daily basis. Don’t be yet another source of pain.

Blog written by Katie Rickel, PhD
Dr. Katie Rickel is a licensed clinical psychologist specializing in weight management and health behavior modification. She...