Appearances do matter? The weighty question.

I don't know why I click on these things, but this morning my Yahoo mail offered this insightful and important piece of news to the world. Jonah Hill (of Superbad, Funny People etc.) who has a successful comedy career, has shed a lot of weight and appeared in Mexico with his new form. Very important news, particularly when famine is hitting East Africa.
Having been a rather petite child, since hitting puberty I have always had to fight against my weight. I attended weight watchers before I was Bat Mitzvah, was bullied at school, tried appetite suppressants and despite being in the gym 3 times a week and eating healthily, I never seemed to lose much. At one point my (not Jewish) GP, in desperation, pointed out 'no one was fat in the camps you know?'. Helpful. Thanks.
3 years ago I was, with medical assistance, able to overcome a hormone imbalance and shed over a third of my body weight. I will never be slim, and I'd still like to lose a few more pounds, and have to always focus on eating healthily, but what has been most remarkable is the difference this has made to people around me.
I don't feel any different. I have more stamina, and more shopping options, but otherwise, my world looks the same. But to those looking at me, it seems to have made a huge difference. I was never aware that people were rude or unkind to me, but I am now aware of how much nicer the world is to me. Particularly in café's and restaurants and shops. I've had some hilarious encounters with individuals, particularly in communities I served in as a student, blurting out some comment about my former weight, and ex-school teachers informing me I have now 'found myself' after the weight loss. I haven't found myself. I was always here, but for some reason the weight around me stopped people seeing me as fully.
Me in 2007

Weight seems to be one of the last PC prejudices. Of course there are good health reasons for people to lose weight. But why should this affect day to day interactions and relationships? I was, I suspect, seen as someone with no self control. Losing weight or being slimmer means I have will power and control over my impulses (which in my case it really didn't!) It is possible I now do hold myself with more confidence (although I'm not aware of this, classmates from Rabbinical school have said it is so). If this is the case, I suspect it comes from a deep sense of this body being more acceptable to others, not me, or indeed G who married me almost at my biggest.

Having control over our appetites and impulses is an important spiritual idea in Judaism, and saying blessings over each thing I eat helps me to stay conscious of what and how much I am eating. But seeing each person for who they are is also important. We are often unaware of the instant judgements we make on meeting a person (according to a workshop with NCBI I attended the first things we see about a person are colour and gender) not to mention the prejudices we all carry with us. We can't pretend appearances don't matter - we all make snap judgements on what and who we see in front of us. But this shouldn't affect how we approach others in life, and perhaps if we are more aware of our prejudices, we can consciously change how we allow them to affect our responses to others.


  1. I know exactly what you mean here. I think "sizeism", or whatever you want to call it, is the last acceptable prejudice. The red-tops, especially, are obsessed with weight lost and gained, and mix it up with approval and disapproval of the celebrities involved. Having been fat for forty years, I learned early on to always try and look beneath the surface of each person, even if it was only because I hoped that they would do the same for me. Thanks for putting this out there!

  2. Difficult one. As a society we obsessively educate young people about healthy eating, scare parents silly about 'obesity epidemics' and continue to afford incredibly high ratings to TV shoes like embarassing fat bodies, supersize vs superskinny etc. I think built into this is a culture that in order to take yourself 'seriously',to 'care about yourself', you have to internalize these messages and the natural consequence will of course be a giselle-like physique (which of course we all well know is simply absurd). Aside from being incredibly patronizing and having an embedded disrespect for individuals who don't meet that ideal, that's an insane amount of pressure to bring up young people inside!

    I think there is a very poorly understood piece of communication here, that we as a society cleary haven't got right. One that allows us to communicate on a public health and social level the importance of healthy eating and taking responsibility for our lifestyles etc and not pair that with an instant social snobbery or downright lack of respect for others.

    I remember seeing this piece a few years back and being really shocked at how acceptable others found pages like those, and at facebook's inaction in removing pages like that that which are discriminatory under its terms of service. Its very clear that in terms of -isms, sizeism is still in vogue (even as vogue magazine declares it out of fashion

    I do think there is a backlash though, and in a surprising place perhaps seeing as social media and blogging sites have been portrayed as breeding grounds for communities based around negative self image and bitchiness. Projects like operation beautiful, 'stophatingyourbody' and the self esteem movement on sites such as tumblr ( the simple viral success of the dove real beauty campaigns give me a little bit of hope that amongst the snide comments and misinformed ideas of what contributes to someone's physical appearance there are real communities of individuals who are angry at the perpetuation of a 'fat/skinny' stereotype.


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