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Obesity Manners

Posted: 10/12/10 02:26 PM ET

Obesity affects all of us in some way or the other. And just like in other areas of our lives, etiquette is mandatory. And we all know how rude people can be when it comes to physical appearances.

"He broke the leg of an antique chair because of his weight and also didn't sit on it properly. Then he knocked a table over that sent a very expensive lamp crashing to the floor," a friend recounted about a guest. What did he do? I just smiled and made a joke and asked, "What else are you considering for extinction?" His way of handling the situation was with humor. Even his guest laughed. Whatever you do, don't start sulking and talking about how valuable something was. Maybe the chair was delicate to begin with and anyone could've caused the chair's leg to break.

"I've broken a few chairs," says and good friend, Standish Benton, who weighs 361 pounds. "I once broke a chair in Mexico and everyone laughed."

Should a person offer to pay for a repair? Our friend with the broken chair said he wouldn't ask. "If a person breaks a piece of furniture because of their weight, they should at least offer to pay for the repair," said an aunt of an overweight niece. "They should know better before sitting down." Standish has replaced chairs and offered to pay for the repair. "I think one person accepted the money."

If you think a piece of furniture can't handle but so much weight, you should show your guest to a seat where you'll know they'll be safe. But it cuts both ways, if you think that a chair may not be sturdy enough for your weight, there's nothing wrong with saying, "I think I'll sit on the sofa, if you don't mind." Make your host feel comfortable by letting them know what makes you more comfortable. "I know that I'm not going to sit in a folding chair. It has to be sturdy made of wood or steel," Standish said.

"I have a friend who's obese and when she comes to town, I make sure I have a few restaurants for her to choose from where I'll know she'll be comfortable," explained a New Yorker. "I worry when we go to the movies, but so far, it hasn't been a problem. And I never say anything, the last thing I want to do is hurt her feelings. That's not right."

As far as conversation goes, we all have to learn to live in a world where slips of the tongue and poor choices of words happen and can be hurtful. Be sensitive to who's sitting at the table, don't bring up Weight Watchers if there's a person at the table who could use some weight watching. If that person brings up the subject of weight you can listen, but don't make it the hot topic of the evening. We find this kind of conversation on the dull side and it goes nowhere fast. If something is said that can be construed as a dig to a person's weight, let it go, no kicking under the table. The reaction of the kicked could create an embarrassing mess.

Standish isn't bothered when the subject of weight comes up. "It's like talking about real estate in New York. What else do we talk about besides weight and real estate?" he laughs. Interestingly, he doesn't see himself as fat. "I like to dress well, I have swagger, I'm confidant and shower three times a day, so no one can say I'm fat and smelly." He finds that people have no compunction about dissing heavy people. "People say things about us and to us that they would never say to another person considered different or a minority." When one of his doctors made a hostile comment about his weight, he couldn't find a new one fast enough.

"People make all kinds of assumptions," he points out. "Just because I had knee surgery they think it's because of my weight.

Keep compliments honest and earnest. They shouldn't have the tone of surprise that says, "For a fat person you look terrific. One of the most elegant men we know is a big guy and like Standish he has a great sense of style. His social graces outweigh his weight. When people pay him a compliment on his impeccable appearance, it has nothing to do with his big he is.

If you're having a dinner party, no need to go buy a whole side of a cow because you've decided, and most likely, wrongly, that one person is going to eat a huge quantity of food. Sure there should be enough, but as a host, it's more important for you to know if your guests have any food allergies or if there are foods they absolutely won't eat. And don't take it upon yourself to put an overweight guest on a diet, cook as you usually do. If you're known for your baking, don't become the food police and serve a fruit salad.

At the end of the day or dinner, when it comes to exhibiting manners with respect to obesity, we suggest that you aim to be the biggest in the room.

 

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