I'm sick of being snubbed because I'm fat

Assistants in fashion boutiques look straight through me. (File photo)
Assistants in fashion boutiques look straight through me. (File photo)

DEAR JENNIFER: I've struggled with my weight my whole life, but in the past few years a thyroid problem saw me balloon from a size 14 to a size 20 and (even post medication) I am struggling to get it off.

My husband is the most loving, understanding man on earth and does everything to make me feel okay with my new size. But I wish I could say the same for the rest of society.

If I walk into a boutique the assistants never ask if they can help, they just look right through me. And socially I feel it too – it's OK with close friends, but at work functions etc I feel sidelined. Even at a fundraiser for my son's school, I watched his teachers (male and female) give more time to the "active-wear" mothers.

I was talking about this to my cousin and she commented that there is nothing wrong with being a "bigger girl". She meant well but even this annoyed me. Why am I now a "girl" and not a "woman"? I'm 53! Jennifer, I don't need your diet advice (I'm working on that with my GP) but how do I stand tall, stay calm and not lose my rag in these situations?

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JENNIFER SAYS: Years ago when I was living in Milan, I took a visiting female relative (who was a size 16) to my local Prada boutique. I was working as a model then and my profession, my physique (a skeleton with an eating disorder) and my credit card inspired staff to fawn greasily whenever I appeared. 

But on this occasion an unfamiliar assistant strode haughtily towards us, looked down her aquiline nose with contempt and informed my relative that "Prada doesn't carry madam's size." 

The look of crippling shame on my relative's face was heart-wrenching. In a nanosecond, my ancestral Irish blood shot from tepid to scalding and, replying in Italian, I took care not to scrimp on insults. Then we left. But the damage was done. I still struggle to understand what pleasure a young woman could derive from pointlessly humiliating a much older one. 

Fast forward 20 years to when I returned to New Zealabd and gained 30 kilos myself. Initially, it was a welcome respite from the critical/envious eyes of those who perceived my thinness a threat and assumed I saw myself as superior (I didn't). Finally my increased size allowed me to relax, to blend in.  

I've been fat and I've been thin, says Jennifer. People judge you either way.
Victoria Birkinshaw
I've been fat and I've been thin, says Jennifer. People judge you either way.

Most people trod carefully when addressing my body, also using euphemisms like "bigger girl". Some enquired about my pregnancy while still others got angry and felt compelled to scold me for "letting myself go" – like I'd abused or wasted some rare privilege. Some close relatives were mortified when I gained weight and no longer resembled the person I think they needed me to be. 

In all honesty, it amused me, I was comfortable with my size and enjoyed watching others squirm. Interestingly, when I lost those 30 kilos, the comments didn't stop, they just changed. For some, the bodies of others are open season for judgment. Apart from staying indoors, there's not much you can do to change the way others respond to your body. Now that I'm 55, I know that the flattering attention given to the "active-wear" crowd is merely an aspirin, a short-term fix for something deeper. 

My takeaway on the opinions of others is now this – if I care about them I'll tell them how their words/actions make me feel, and if I don't I ignore their comments and reactions.

Listen to your inner voice and "the most loving, understanding man on earth". Why give kudos to the unsolicited opinions of others when he's the only one sharing your body? Trust me, when you stop caring about the opinions of others, you become way more attractive. Use that newfound confidence to take some social risks – if you feel yourself being sidelined at a function, give someone you'd like to talk to a smile and introduce yourself. Your warmth will blast away their prejudice, and if it doesn't, they're not worth the conversation anyway.

Don't wait until you've lost weight to show yourself and your image some love. Engage a stylist to teach you flattering styles for your current size. Block colours, bold jewellery, bright manicures and a flattering geometric hair cut (not too short) will all bring compliments.  

You're on the right track. Listen only to your GP and keep shedding it slowly. All the best!

Jennifer Souness has had an unusual life. You can learn more about her here. To send Jennifer a question, email life.style@fairfaxmedia.co.nz with Dear Jennifer in the subject line.