My name is Ron, and I’m here to try and share a little bit of my story.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
I guess as far as my weight goes, when I was a child, I always was a little bit on the heavier side. I ended up getting more [sedentary] jobs when I was about 28 or 29. And through the jobs and poor habits, I ended up gaining a whole lot of weight. The last weigh-in that I had before going on this round of lifestyle change was 456 pounds. And I’m happy to say that in the last 150 days, I’m down to about 396 [pounds]. So it’s been going really, really well and I’m just really focused on doing the long haul and not being so rigid with staying on a set diet, but just changing my relationship with food and exercise. The one thing that’s got me really motivated right now has been my ability to move around, function a lot better within society and do more stuff with my family and friends. I’m not so limited and its basically been a lot more freeing.
How do you perceive your body? Do you feel like your perception differs from that of society’s?
I’ve always known that I’ve been a fairly large fellow. I’ve done a fair bit of work with psychologists in my life- because of other things I’ve been through. And one of the things they talked about being healthy was your own self-image compared to the world self-image, and trying to get them to be fairly equal, so that you’re not living in a fantasy world where you’re not in touch with reality. So I do see the perception that maybe I’m larger than what some people think I am, and some people maybe think I’m larger than what I think I am. But overall, I like to think I’m pretty realistic on my size.
How were topics of self-image, weight and health discusses when you were growing up? How does this influence the way you think and talk about bodies and weight now?
As far as self-image growing up, I was always with my family, with my mom and dad. My dad was primarily, a lot of the time growing up, in Leduc, working in the oil patch, so he was away for two to three months at a time, so my mother was the main influence in self-image and in everything. We were taught that what’s inside is what counts and to get away from the whole image-oriented society, so I never really gave a whole lot of thought to my image. Of course, when you’re in school there’s the peer pressure to fit into certain groups and this and that, but I think I brought [my mindset] into my adulthood, and I’ve always had a really good self-esteem, regardless of my weight.
The only thing that really changed for me was that as I got older, there were a lot of challenges, physically. Things began to get harder; all of a sudden I wasn’t able to go to concerts as much as I wanted to, and I could be limited on my mobility as far as going outdoors and doing stuff that I used to love to do, so now I’m being able to do that again. But I’ve been pretty lucky [with self-image].
Can you talk a little bit more about how your weight has created barriers for you?
Without a doubt, barriers have been created; the older I’ve got, the more weight I’ve put on, and it’s started to create health issues, as far as my knees and my joints. So obviously, with the weight loss, my knees are partying more than me. I used to do a lot more things outdoors; I used to play softball in the summers, and throw around a football at the beach. It’s been really difficult to do some of that… some water sports, like water skiing and that kind of stuff. I would need a small tug boat to get me up a water ski now, but it’s baby steps, and I will eventually get back there and I know that. To me, even the 60 pounds that I’ve lost so far is a great thing, and there’s a long way left to go, but just that little bit of freedom it’s given me has inspired me to try to stay on track with it.
Can you tell us about a time you experienced or observed weight or size discrimination?
I’ve seen it in the workplace, with certain bosses not knowing, they automatically assume that because you’re large, you’re lazy and you’re not able to do some tasks and you’re going to have some health issues. A lot of the employment that I’ve had in the past 15 years has been through unions and the hiring halls of the union, so you’re not getting interviewed, and that’s saved me that kind of discrimination. But I know that it’s out there, and sometimes, in public areas, you go swimming and you get the snide remarks and the looks, and stuff like that. I’m a pretty thick-skinned guy, I work in a union, I’m a job steward and I represent members, so I don’t really let it bother me much.
Sometimes when I go out, I have a really close friend, that I call my sister, but she’s really just a surrogate family. And I go out with her family a lot, and we go out swimming, and she’s like a Pitbull. If she sees someone looking at me funny, she’ll ask “Do you have a problem?” or “What are you staring at?”. And it’s good to have that kind of support in my family, but as far as my feelings go, I’ve definitely experienced it and seen it, I just don’t let it affect me in a negative manner. But it’s definitely there, for sure.
How have your opinions and beliefs about weight influenced the way you see other people?
I don’t know if it really has influenced the way I see other people. I’ve been raised in a way where we never judge a book by its cover. If I encounter people, I’m going to make my own judgement and my own decision on that. So I generally try to look at what’s on the inside of people and I’ve always done that, so I don’t know if it’s really influenced me at all.
What do you think are some of the common misconceptions regarding Obesity? And how do you think stigma contributes to these misconceptions?
As far as misconceptions about obesity go, it’s pretty easy to see; you meet and talk to people and they automatically assume that you have diabetes, or they assume, because you’re obese, that you have health issues or health concerns. The only other health concern that I’ve ever had, and only just recently, aside from the arthritis, is high blood pressure, and not to the point where it’s extreme or I’m on medication. Just because you’re heavy, it doesn’t mean you’re going to have serious health issues. I think longevity- with the joints and your bones, and the pressure you’re putting on them- that’s going to be a concern when you get to a certain age, definitely. But assumptions exist about being diabetic, having physical limitations, and not being able to work properly or do things a lot of other people do. I’m pretty agile for someone my size. Some people, they see me move when I’m in the water and they say “holy cow, moves pretty good for a big guy”. There’s a lot of misconceptions, and that’s just a stigma that’s out there. And I think what we’re doing here, with this interview, is a good start for trying to get the information to people and trying to educate the general public. Because, I think knowledge is power, and anything that I can to do help empower anybody is why I’m here.
If the fear of weight discrimination were eliminated, how would your life be different?
I think it would be more freeing. But I don’t really fear discrimination. I went through some stuff, where for the last 13 years of my life, I found a connection with God and a higher power. My choices are based on, “no matter what I do, it’s already kind of preordained”.
What would you say to the public about the misconceptions regarding Obesity?
I would [say] first and foremost, that [living with obesity], it’s not really a decision that we made or that we wanted. It doesn’t happen overnight and it doesn’t take a week or a day; with me I think it was a combination of genetics and some bad lifestyle choices, over a long period of time. And once you get to the point where you are [living with obesity], it’s extremely difficult to try to fit in or to be more normal, so to speak. So I think you should be judging people for who they are, and not how they look.
In my opinion, a lot of [obesity] is genetics, and a lot of it is like a form of addiction with food. You get to a point where your power of choice is not there anymore, and you get into some really bad habits, and sometimes, it’s a combination of the bad habits and the genetics. So, try to take it with a grain of salt that these people didn’t choose [it], it’s where they’re at in life, and really what they need is the compassion that you give every other person.
The other thing is, try to eliminate the idea that because were obese, we’re limited to certain things that we can do. I mean, we have the power to do everything that every normal person can do.