How do you perceive your body? Do you feel like your perspective differs from that of society’s? How does it influence you and how you feel about yourself today?
I would say I perceive my body as – I don’t know if normal is the way to describe it – but I would say that there’s nothing wrong. There’s nothing bad about it, it’s me, it’s who I am. It’s who I’ve pretty much always been as long as I can remember and so far it hasn’t done anything to hold me back in life.
How were the topics of self-image, weight and health discussed when you were growing up? How does this influence the way you think and talk about bodies and weight now?
Weight has always been a problem for the Goodman family. My parents are overweight, aunts, uncles, cousins are overweight, and so it’s always been a part of the family… conversations about weight and weight loss and trying to be healthier, [were] never the focus of our life and it was never seen as an impediment to being able to succeed as a family. My parents always pushed me and encouraged me to do more and do well in life and always encouraged me to never let the weight keep me down.
Can you tell me about a time when you experienced or observed discrimination or judgment because of your (or someone else’s) weight or size? Why does this particular experience stand out in your mind?
I would definitely say that the thing that pops up in my mind the most is when I would go to the doctor’s office. It’s an experience I’ve heard from other people [too]. For me, what would happen is every doctor’s appointment would, no matter the cause, become about weight. If I had a cold, it was because of weight. If I had an arm that was hurting, it was due to weight. And I don’t think necessarily that a doctor would peg every illness or problem on any other thing. If I was a smoker and I came in with a sore knee I don’t think the doctor would say it’s because of my smoking habits.
There was definitely also strong discrimination at school. But I think it’s that kids can sometimes be very mean and kids aren’t the nicest people. There was heavy discrimination at school, especially at gym class, because you’re perceived by the class as the slow or the dumb one (and I was a miscreant at school so that also didn’t help).
Do you feel that your weight has created barriers for you? For example, have you ever given up an activity you really loved because of your weight? Or are there other ways that your weight has hindered you?
I mean, my weight has definitely held me back a bit in the fact that I enjoy shopping, I enjoy walking around, and I enjoy exploring. Here in Toronto, I like going downtown and seeing the shops and the downtown core, and the weight definitely is a problem in terms of that – In terms of being able to walk and move around. But I still always try and do the shopping and try and get around. I always try to make sure that I’m living my life the way I want to live it and try to not let the weight keep me down.
How have your opinions and beliefs about weight influenced the way you see other people? Why do you think this is?
Well I very much sympathize when I see other people living with obesity and know the struggles they’re going through (everyone’s story is different though so I can’t maybe sympathize or fully know everyone). But when I see an overweight person on the street I sympathize with them.
On the other hand, though, I would be lying if I said I didn’t have discrimination against the other weight. I used to go from dietician to dietician [..] I would walk in to see they’re thin, and I would pre-judge them and have prejudice against them. And so immediately, I starting thinking that we’re going down a bad path here.
Also, my sister lived with anorexia and so because of that I also see the signs of anorexia in society. And I also know from that experience that anorexia and obesity have very similar states in terms of mental well-being. And so when I see people who are overweight I sympathize with them and when I see people who are anorexic I sympathize with them. But I also make sure to be careful not to be discriminatory. If I see someone in the health care system and they’re any sort of size I make sure to try and not be discriminatory anymore.
If you had the chance to tell people who hold weight prejudices one thing, what would that be?
I would like them to know that people who live with obesity are normal people. They live normal lives and enjoy life. I try not to let [my weight] get me down. I also want to say that living with obesity is not all doom and gloom and terrible or depressing or life is miserable. Many of us live happy lives. There might be some weight that needs to be shed, but we don’t let that stop us. And I certainly don’t let it stop me in life or get me down or keep me from living life to the fullest.
Did you learn the positive mindset you hold towards life and Obesity early on or did it take more time to develop?
I would definitely say that when a big part of that mindset came in was with my parents who always encouraged me to live life. And they also would go to bat for me if I had any problems at school. They were always there to help me and support me and were always looking out for me. And they helped build up that base of self-esteem that has helped me to shed off any stigma of obesity and be able to look beyond and continue to be able to live life to the fullest. I think that’s where the foundation starts because many cases of obesity starts in childhood. I think having a strong foundation as a child to build up your self-esteem is how you can succeed and live life well with obesity.
If the fear of weight discrimination were eliminated, what would your life look like?
If it was [eliminated] years ago, I probably would have gone to see the doctor more and had more regular check-ups because I did eventually stop going in my teenage years because of that. I also think that you’d see more overweight people in gyms or pools or exercising. I think there’s that stigma. I’ve been into a gym and you feel like you don’t belong, I think it’s counter-intuitive to trying to fight obesity. Creating those hostile environments in exercise spaces or in medical professional areas. So I think if you got rid of the stigma you’d see a more healthy relationship with people working on dealing with their obesity through the medical system, through exercise, through dieting, whatever. Versus where it’s sort of in the closet and not something you talk about right now. And also I think that’s why it’s important that the stigma goes away. Because once you get rid of the stigma it can really help fix the problem.
I’ve always held [that] you can’t chain people into losing weight. You can’t bludgeon weight loss, you can’t force it because that’s not how humans think or work and I think that working with people with obesity will create a better environment. Unfortunately obesity is growing into a big epidemic and I think if more people in society deal with obesity we have to find better ways to help them and better treatments and approaches.
Do you have any advice for people who are living with Obesity?
I would want them to think that your whole life is not what you eat or how big you are or what you can or can’t do. I always say to think bigger than just obesity. Obesity is not the whole encompassing of your life. That’s what helped me when I was younger when I was told over and over again that I’m overweight and going down a bad path and you’ll be dead very early. It encompasses your whole way of thought. And I would say that it is not just how you think that’s only one facet of your life, there are many facets of your life […] as you get older, especially in school, it does get better. You get older, the kids mature and learn to deal with it. And I think in schools are also getting better at dealing with bullying. And as you get older you learn to cope with it and you get better. As you get older living with obesity is not all “downhill from here,” as some people try to tell you. There is a vibrant life ahead of you.
Who are you aside from your condition or the number on the scale?
I would say that I’m an aspiring student. I’m at York University studying Political Science and I would like to go into a career of politics. I don’t ever let the weight keep me down in my studies. It’s a secondary thing. Being a student at York and working towards a career and working towards something I enjoy is my number one thing. That is my rock in life is being successful and to have a prosperous career ahead of me.