As a therapist, I see people at their best and worst. I've seen people display the drama of outrageous courage one moment and succumb to the most mundane of fears the next. My work is a reality show in microcosm, vignettes of human drama played out for an audience of one. Through all of this, I become privy to some of the most significant moments in a person's life, for which I am overwhelmingly grateful.
Today, I watched a video of the kind of private drama most often seen behind closed doors. On Sunday, a columnist for the Des Moines (Iowa) Register, Daniel Finney, spoke out publically about his battle with weight. In a matter-of-fact presentation, he declared a truth obvious to others, "I'm morbidly obese" at 563 pounds. In his video, he talked about the reasons for making his quest to lose weight public, noting that one-third of Iowans were obese, along with 78 million Americans. He's right. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the figure is 78.6 million or 34.9% of Americans. Daniel Finney, as he acknowledged, is not alone.
Yet a terrible sense of loneliness often accompanies the obese people I've worked with, especially those who fall into the morbidly obese range. Their weight, and the emotional, relational and physical consequences, can present barriers to social interaction and engagement. At 563 pounds, Daniel Finney spoke about not being able to walk more than 150 feet without difficulty, about the ongoing pain of moving from one place to another -- realities that naturally create barriers of separation between him and others. He gave a glimpse into his life when he said the pain interrupted one of his daily activities -- going to the grocery store. He spoke about the children of friends calling him "fatty" and strangers yelling at him while he walked along the street because he is fat. In one sense, Daniel Finney is not alone; yet, in another, he's probably very much felt that way.
Now, he is bringing his battle to the readers of the Register and others, through the Internet. On Monday, he commented, "I am overwhelmed with the kindness" from people reacting to his announcement and sending in encouragement, telling about their own struggles with weight. He noted: "In all that correspondence, even the ones with a small dig, there wasn't one fat joke." He was encouraged by that; so am I.
Obesity is no laughing matter. As Daniel Finney admitted, obesity is humiliating and embarrassing. On Sunday, he said the embarrassment he felt didn't come from being bullied by others but because "I know that I could do better." For Daniel Finney, obesity is his private failure put on public display. I've heard that shame expressed by others. As a culture, we have learned to be sympathetic to people struggling with so many difficult conditions. Still, for some reason, a person who will run to open the door for someone using crutches feels no twinge of regret for making a snide comment, while watching an obese person maneuver through that same door. For some reason, and for some people, it's still open-season on fat people.
Daniel Finney has a journey to take, a journey he's invited others to share and one he realizes will span the next several years. During that time, he's promised to journal his journey to lose weight and become a healthier person. I hope many people join him in that journey, some as spectators and some as participants in their own goals. As a society, I think we collectively have a journey to take -- a journey away from ridicule, mockery and condemnation and a journey toward compassion, understanding and support. The season on fat people needs to close and stay that way. Daniel Finney wants to become a healthier person; we need to become a healthier nation.