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Mandy Witteveen

Can you tell us about yourself?

I am Mandy. I’m 40 years old, I’m a registered nurse, and I work shift work, so I work straight nights, for 12-hour night shifts.  I have two children that I gave birth to, and I also have 2 kids from kinship foster care that live in my house and I am a trustee to another child that is 20 years old.  So yeah, I have a household of children ranging from 6 years of age to 12.  

 

How do you perceive your body, and how does society influence your perception?

Body image is something that I struggle with, and society definitely doesn’t help that. My body perception is sometimes better than other days, and it also reflects my mood.  Society, I find, puts a very hard number on it, and what you see women should look like, and men, and what you see for sizing varies from store to store, which also affects your self-esteem.  When you think you’re one size, and you go into it and it’s too small, and you go to a different store and it’s too big.  And just how people see, I struggle with it, it’s something I think every woman, even men struggle with is how I perceive myself, when I’m feeling great and I’m out having fun, I don’t even think about what I look like, If I’m in a group with other women, I feel like I’m getting compared, if I’m in line or people are looking at you.  If I go for something that’s interview, I wonder if my body size factors in on whether I get a job.  

 

How were topics of weight and body image discussed growing up?

As I was growing up, my parents were very open, they never made me feel like I was overweight, but at the same time they kind of enabled, at the same time because dessert was always offered, you couldn’t leave the table unless your plate was empty, things that when you look at them now, does it have to be that way? Maybe not, so we were told we had to clean up our food, and it’s probably given how they were raised with war and stuff like that, so if you had food, you had to eat it all, because food was rationed.   So they were taught to eat that way, so therefore I was taught to eat that way.  So know, to relearn portions, my parents never made me feel overweight or underweight; I was always active and involved in activities my whole entire life, I’ve ran half marathons, so my parents have always encouraged.  My family when I look at them, technically if you were to do numbers are all overweight, although I have a sister that runs marathons, so the number game factors hugely in.  

 

Can you tell us about a time you or someone you know experienced size or weight discrimination?

My dad’s side of the family is quite large, tall and bigger boned/bigger structured. My mom’s side is a little smaller, so with that, I have never felt out of place.  But when you go out into the public, I find it worse. The first time I was called fat was in public at a swimming pool when I was about 4 years old, and I never even knew what “fat” was, because in our home we don’t judge people on anything [physical], we judge as good people or bad people, we either like you or we don’t.  Size or nothing else matters, it’s the quality of the person, I was never made to believe I had to judge people based on their looks, or be judged by that, so it’s very different.

 

In my head, when you’re really overweight, you’re always judging the line up, you’re judging whether you will fit in something. When you go on a ride, or if you take your kids somewhere, you want to participate with your kids, but you’re like ‘will the ride hold me? Will I be able to sit in the seat? Can the seat belt do up?’  So in your head you’re already struggling with those things. When you’re heavier, you’re wondering are people looking at me negatively? Because I see myself negatively, I don’t see myself in a very good place. After losing some weight, I find myself happier so I probably smile more and I look happier, so other people see that and they are automatically smiling back at me- so it’s a hard perception, but do I think other people are judging me?  I feel that everybody gets that 5 second glimpse of someone and you take in what you see. When you’re smiling I think a lot of people radiate their inner beauty and people see that as warm and welcoming. I don’t know, but I find when I am smaller, and therefore happier, people are more willing to come say hi to me, and I feel that I get approached more versus when I was overweight, so I don’t know if it’s weight or how I presented myself, it’s a very tough line.  

 

Can you talk a little bit more about how your weight has created barriers for you?

It may be how people perceive me; I find weight could be a barrier if you’re not happy, but I have seen some women when they are bubbly and smiling like their weight doesn’t matter, I don’t see their weight. It’s a hard perception, and do I think that people get judged on that, absolutely, when you’re a kid and you’re getting picked for a sports game, all they see is that outer shell. So when you are participating in something, they don’t know your strength, if you’re a stronger person, you’ve just got a little bit of insulation on the outside- you’ve still got more muscle mass than someone who is tiny and doesn’t run. So fit and flabby or skinny and not fit- they are going to see the outer shell. I think [weight] always factors in, depending on what the activity is and how you perceive yourself.       

 

What do you think are some of the common misconceptions regarding Obesity?

When people think of individuals living with obesity, I find they think of us as people that overeat a lot, are lazy, and just generally don’t care. And it wasn’t until I realized how much I was under eating and actually started eating calories that I was able to start losing weight myself.  As someone who works straight nights, has 4 kids in my home- kids who are all in sports- at times I was barely eating 200-300 calories a day, and my weight kept escalating, because I was barely sleeping, barely functioning, and go-go-going on nothing. So whatever I did take in was minimal and it was just getting stored, so I was just gaining weight. My body didn’t know when it’s next meal was coming so anything that I could put into myself was not being utilized properly and my body was essentially holding on to everything. I was active; at 230 pounds I completed 2 half marathons and do a lot of activities, but people see and think “lazy”, and that’s not necessarily true. I was active and doing things, but I just didn’t know, I didn’t have all the tools in my toolbox to know how to properly lose weight, gain weight and how it all fits together.  And I think it's a knowledge deficit, it’s not laziness.  I mean, when you see somebody out there walking and they are 300 pounds or 400 pounds, imagine carrying that much extra weight. Good on them, because that’s a lot of extra weight to carry on a frame, and they are out there doing it, on their own, they are out there. So when you’re 100 pounds and you try to carry 80 extra pounds, that’s a lot of weight to carry, so if this person is carrying an extra 200-300 pounds, kudos to them because they are doing it- they are not lazy. And I think a lot of times people are being judged and they have never walked a mile in that persons shoes, you don't know what is going on behind closed doors, you don't know that the reason why they could be getting these high calorie foods is because they don't have the money to spend on the groceries that it costs, they don't have the money for the medications that could curb their appetite if it’s an appetite thing, there are so many things going on and there are not enough resources or help out there for people to get.

So I think when it comes to society and what people perceive, it’s a disease. So I think there is a lot of research and a lot of things that need to be done, and help that needs to be provided for people that struggle with obesity. There is not enough knowledge made aware and not enough resources available to help people.  The waitlist to get in to a clinic and see an obesity specialist is years long. People want help and they can't get it, and when they get out there they don’t have the finances, or they don't have the resources to sustain a diet of fruits and vegetables in today’s market.

 

If you feel your weight is or was an issue, when did you realize?

I’ve always struggled with weight. In 2013, I was running my half marathons and dancing and I suffered an injury, I completely severed my entire Achilles, spent 13 weeks in a cast and went from being this active person to somebody that couldn't walk. My leg deteriorated quite a bit, I had no muscle strength and my weight- I gained about 60 pounds not being active. I was depressed, I just didn't necessarily realize how bad off I was.  And I knew I was turning 40 the next year, and I just wanted more- I had taken my kids to Disneyworld and on the rides in my head I’m like “what if I can’t go on”, my son loved roller coasters, and “what if I exceed the weight capacity”, “what if I can’t get the seatbelt on”, and that feeling of being so tied to these things... Going to Disneyworld, and not being able to go on the rides, and not being able to give my kids the experience and all the joys they wanted, it was tearing me apart. I didn't want to be this person; I could barely walk it was so hard. I went from this person who was so active and doing all these activities on the side to somebody that was in physio forever, and gained so much weight, and I was so unhappy with how I looked—and the thought of not being around for my kids, and the high blood pressure with pregnancy came back when I had gained weight.  So know I’m looking at- I’m living with obesity, I have high blood pressure, I’m inactive, I’m at a high risk now for all these other cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and all these other things- I have two beautiful children and all I want to do is give them the world, and all the experiences and joys they deserve- I want to be fit, I want to be fabulous for my babies, and I want to give them everything they deserve.  So I had been on a waiting list forever to get in to the obesity clinic, and one day I just realized that the only way I am ever going to make this happen is if I make it happen, there’s nothing magical out there that is going to get me on the right track, no magic pill- the biggest barrier is me.  

 

I was looking in mirror going, “I’m not happy”. And I worried about my kids and what kind of example I was setting for them. I didn't realize how bad I was until I started getting better and feeling more like how I used to be- more vibrant, more alive, more active, and I felt better about my self-esteem and how I was presenting myself.  I worried about when I was a mom helper at school, “what are my kid’s friends thinking about me?”, which is stupid to think, because I’m there for my child. I didn’t want to cause any problems or be a burden to them, but I didn’t want them to miss out, nor do I want to miss out, life is amazing, and I don’t want to miss out on anything. I never want my size to be a hindrance, or a reason to why I can’t be an active member of their lives, because they deserve it and I deserve it .  

 

If the fear of weight discrimination were eliminated, how would your life be different?

I think if weight discrimination was never there- I think people should just always be judged on who they are, not what they are.  People should never be determined by a number, size, religion, faith- by anything, I think people should always be determined by whether you’re a good person or a bad person. If you do good things, you should be treated well, people should like you for who you are, not what society or anyone else determines you should be. I don’t think life should ever be contained to one element of who or what you are.

 

What would you say to the public about the misconceptions regarding Obesity?

I think that if people didn’t have to worry about or perceive what people thought of them, and discriminated against them- children wouldn’t worry about it, adults wouldn’t worry about it.  When we were really little and kids were all playing, they only liked you because you were nice to them, and you were a friend, this is how we should be as adults.  We shouldn’t be looking for people to fit into a model that just isn't meant to be.  Like people are good, people are bad, we like them or we don’t, it shouldn’t be based on a number or what they weigh, whether they can wear this brand of clothes because they are skinny enough or this brand because they are this size. I think that if [weight discrimination] wasn’t there, it would be a huge weight off of men and women’s shoulders, because we would just like them for who they are.  So you know if it wasn’t there, the world would probably be a happier place.  The medications that people need and are prescribed, the bariatric doctors, they would be available because now it’s not a market or a gimmick for it, people would want to do it because they like the joy of doing it, not because they feel they have to, they’d want to do it just because they want to.