Lauren Hutchinson, 36, lives in Manchester and is a company director of therockfairy.co.uk
"Browsing through my social media last week, I spotted a video on Tik Tok that stopped me in my tracks.
Someone had shared a story from a national newspaper in which one of their ‘star columnists’ had donned an enormous fat-suit and gone out into the world to ‘see how people reacted’.
Forcing myself to read, I despaired at the descriptions she used - ‘the waddle’ of her fat suit, how people stared at her in disgust and how one taxi driver questioned her when she wanted to go to Harrods and he thought Primark might be more suitable.
After I finished reading the story, I burst into floods of tears. I’ve struggled with my weight all my life and the feelings of inadequacy and low-self-esteem came flooding back as I wondered what this so-called ‘social experiment’ was trying to achieve?
As a child, I was on the chubby side but my father was a chef so I always ate healthily. My parents never discussed weight or calories but I was very aware from a young age that when my mother stepped on the scales in the morning, the little number that appeared would make her happy – or sad.
I developed bulimia around the age of 12, while at a girls’ school. Eating disorders were rife but so common that I never thought it was unusual to stick a toothbrush down my throat to make myself sick. You could eat anything you fancied if you vomited and it was only when my dentist noticed the cavities in my teeth and asked me if I was vomiting a lot that we realised there might be a problem.
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My weight increased as I reached university and suddenly I was buying food and cooking for myself. I can’t recall any mean comments or bullying but often, as I watched my slim housemates go out to nightclubs, I felt left out and unhappy.
It was the same with shopping, I constantly felt that society thought I should be hidden away. That I was disgusting. On one particular occasion, I went shopping with friends in a store that seemed only to cater up to size 12. At the entrance, the assistant smiled and immediately directed me to the back of the store for ‘shoes and jewellery’.
I felt crushed. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve sat in changing rooms and wept. Even today, people come up to me in the street, in shops and supermarkets to tell me I’m fat.
How I react often depends on my mental state. Sometimes I’ll snap back at them, other times I’ll go quietly away and sit in the car and cry.
Most recently a group of children spotted me in a supermarket chocolate aisle and were taking the mick. It’s never-ending.
I’ve tried to end my life on two occasions and nearly did so again in 2018, not long after my father died. The only reason I’m alive today is that I was able to afford private treatment which has helped me enormously. I was diagnosed with ADHD at the relatively late age of 34, which has hugely helped me understand some of the issues around my weight.
So why don’t I lose the weight that makes me so unhappy? I’m 36 now and still over 18 stone, which at 5ft 4in puts me in the obese category. Believe me, I’ve tried everything, from Slimming World to juice diets.
But I firmly believe that the obesity crisis is a mental health crisis and it’s something I’m only just beginning to understand myself.
I’ve seen first-hand the difference between NHS and private treatments and while none of this is the NHS’s fault – they are chronically underfunded – there are too many people struggling with their mental health and this reflects in our eating and exercise habits.
I’ve lost over a stone since February, slow but steady, and want to lose more, purely for my health. I’m fed up of being breathless when I go upstairs or having aching joints.
Yet newspaper articles like the one last week reinforce the fact that society looks down on people like me.
I’m a 36-year-old company director with an education and a loving partner, yet articles like the one this week reinforce the preconception that fat people are ugly, lazy and stupid.
Reading it jolted me back to all the horrible memories where people have made me feel inadequate.I have no problem with the word ‘fat’.
But rather than asking thin people to ‘fat-up’, why not interview obese people, asking for their opinions and their experiences. Ask them if they’re happy at their size or if they’re struggling with issues. Maybe use a hidden camera on a genuinely fat person to discover the truth about how others react to people like me.
This would have at least shown true empathy and maybe helped us feel more accepted rather than simply reinforcing the message that we’re worthless."
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