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Excess Baggage

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I work part time in a department store. In an effort to protect the innocent (and my job), I’ll call that store XYZ instead of its real name. In some ways, that job demands more of me than any of the high-powered, fancy-schmancy jobs I’ve had in the past 30 years. Diplomacy is a major challenge in a setting that involves helping women find clothing that both fits and flatters. You’d think that I, formerly a devotee of Lane Giant, would be expert in that area, but you’d be wrong. It’s still a learn-as-you-go process, with as many permutations as there are unique female humans on this planet.

One day, I was happily straightening the XYZ lingerie department, restoring it to neatness in the way only I can (and only I care about), when an obese, middle-aged female customer stomped up to me and demanded, “Show me your fat girl bras.”

Fat girl? I thought. FAT girl?

Those two little words pressed my own fat girl button, and a storm cloud of unhappy memories instantly appeared in my overcrowded brain. Memories of being a fat girl, out in places where my humiliation played out on an all too public stage. Children pointing at me and giggling. Elevator occupants looking at me in dismay as I tried to squeeze myself into the crowded space. Walking sideways down the aisle of a jumbo jet airplane while my body brushed against the shoulders of other passengers.

My inner fatty didn’t care that this customer was describing herself, not me, as a fat girl. She didn’t care that I used to be 100+ pounds heavier. She couldn’t seem to remember my success at losing those excess pounds. All she could focus on was the term “fat girl” and how hurtful it was, years and years past my days as a fat girl.

So I’ll blame Fat Jean for what I said to that customer. I said huffily, “We don’t use the term fat girl in this store.”

Her look of astonishment clued me to the fact that I might have sounded a bit condescending. Or even…very condescending. For a moment I wondered if I’d somehow gone over to the other side – to the land of skinny people who have no clue what obesity is like, and don’t even care to understand. Then I recovered enough to say, “If you tell me what size and features….”

I didn’t get to finish the sentence. The customer said angrily, “You don’t have any fat girl bras, do you? I don’t know what’s happened to XYZ. I used to be able to get good bras here. Not any more. Now you’ve lost a customer.” And she stomped off towards the exit.

I told myself that she had an attitude problem and I’d done my best to help her, but inside I knew that wasn’t true. Part of the reason I hadn’t helped her was that my own emotional baggage had gotten in the way, and XYZ had lost a customer because I’d let my hurt and defensive fat girl take over the conversation.

I had frustrated and angered someone for whom I actually did feel compassion…someone dealing with a weight problem that probably wasn’t a whole lot different from my own. Despite my size 4 clothing, I really did understand her frustration in searching for clothing for an obese body. I wished I could run after her and say, “I wasn’t always skinny!” but that was my baggage to carry, not hers.

That unhappy encounter reminded me of how far I’ve come, and how far I have to go. Even now, over seven years after reaching my goal weight, I’m carrying baggage that’s stuffed to overflowing with the lessons I still must learn in order to spend the rest of my life as a skinny person. It reminded me that losing excess weight is only part of the work now. Learning to live without it is another.



I can understand how you feel. Kind of like reading a forum post that mocks a store by calling it "Lane Giant" in a place that's designed to be understanding, compassionate and supportive. (unless I'm terribly misunderstanding what was meant). Even at my absolute heaviest, I never once considered myself "giant"...but reading that makes me wonder how many people (like me) cringed. :mellow:

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Cringed because I used the term "Lane Giant"? I'm sorry if that offended you. I can only speak from my personal experience. I DID feel like a giant when I was morbidly obese. I often felt like the elephant in the living room, this huge creature that everybody knew was there but no one dared mention. When I went to the mall and ducked into Lane Bryant, I felt ashamed. Perhaps poking fun at Lane Bryant is one way that Fat Jean tries to balance out that old humiliation.

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I remember when my girls were growing up and Jordache jeans were so popular. Some comedian thought it was funny to make fun of 'fat girls' and said there were plus size jeans called Lard Ass. I am 4'11" and feel like the BIGGEST giant whenever I go out of the house. It's a crappy feeling, to say the least. I plan to have sleeve surgery this summer and I pray my mindset changes along with my weight and body size. Great post. Thanks.

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Cringed because I used the term "Lane Giant"? I'm sorry if that offended you. I can only speak from my personal experience. I DID feel like a giant when I was morbidly obese. I often felt like the elephant in the living room, this huge creature that everybody knew was there but no one dared mention. When I went to the mall and ducked into Lane Bryant, I felt ashamed. Perhaps poking fun at Lane Bryant is one way that Fat Jean tries to balance out that old humiliation.

Oh my... you didn't offend me, hon. It takes WAY more than that to "offend" me. Personally, I think the word "offend" is one that's tossed around way too frequently in today's hypersensitive society, but that's a diatribe I'm sure no one wants to hear. Your apology is sweet, but no harm was done to me. :)

You see, I suppose I've always been a bit of a different thinker. Sure, as an overweight teenager, there were times that were difficult as I wasn't one of those perky friends of mine who trotted around in short shorts & halter tops. But truth be told, for my entire life, I've always had the attitude that if someone wasn't willing to look past my physical appearance, they'd mentally (and sometimes physically) get the finger from me, and I'd move on. Maybe that came from a life of being on stage & performing, but it taught me quickly that everyone is beautiful, and our body is just a shell to hold our soul and what's on the inside. Is that shell what we'd wanted it to be? Maybe not, but being severely overweight for so long myself helped me realize the worth in everyone in my life.

I had always loved Lane Bryant as being one of the very few stores that made clothing for larger size women that didn't look like couch upholstery or tablecloths. I proudly dressed myself well from that store, and what might be really odd was my difficulty in letting go of my clothing "home". I can no longer wear things from Lane Bryant, and it's still hard for me now to go into store sections that aren't labeled "Women's". For years I dreamed of wearing a size that didn't have an "X" in it...I'm there now, and it can be really intimidating to have to actually try things on before I can buy them.

I think maybe the root of my cringe from the initial post is how many folks that are either just starting their journey, or contemplating that start could have been hurt by the "Lane Giant" reference. It is hard to be obese in a skinny-obsessed, air-brushed world, especially if your weight keeps you from enjoying your everyday life. I'm very fortunate that even at my heaviest about 7 years ago (rounding the corner to 300 pounds), I never let it stop me from playing with my kids, running up & down stairs for stuff, going to the pool, you name it. I had no pain, no exhaustion, no ill effects at all that I knew of, and I wasn't even really aware of my size unless I saw a photo of myself. Many, many overweight folks aren't so lucky and it's for those who have had so many proverbial knives twisted in them about their weight that the comment could have hurt. Just my opinion- I respect everyone's here :)

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"...that didn't look like couch upholstery or tablecloths" made me laugh. My mom (who also struggled with obesity) used to say her clothes were made by Omar the Tentmaker.

I hope that no WLS newcomers were hurt by the "Lane Giant" reference. If a WLS outsider had said something like that, I'd have been hurt, but I'm not an outsider, and I have the emotional and surgical scars to prove it.

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I remember when my girls were growing up and Jordache jeans were so popular. Some comedian thought it was funny to make fun of 'fat girls' and said there were plus size jeans called Lard Ass. I am 4'11" and feel like the BIGGEST giant whenever I go out of the house. It's a crappy feeling, to say the least. I plan to have sleeve surgery this summer and I pray my mindset changes along with my weight and body size. Great post. Thanks.

When I was maybe 6 months post-op, a WLS veteran mentioned that the mental journey takes longer than the physical one. At the time I thought, "Oh, don't tell me that! I've already had more than enough of this recovery stuff." Turns out she was right. But I have to say that it has all been so worthwhile.

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Jean, thanks for this story and lesson. I think you have taught us a few things. One is that we all still have personal baggage – like it or not, and recognize it or not. Even if we think we’re “over” being obese, we all still have those insecurities somewhere in us, and they can be brought out at any time.



I have to admire you for being so self-aware. Someone else in your shoes might have come away from the incident feeling like the customer had a chip on her shoulder, but you managed to look within yourself.



It’s also a good lesson to carry every day that ewe don’t always have time to explain ourselves to others. Even though we may have the best of intentions, we can come off as sounding uncaring, just the way your customer unfortunately found you, even though you knew exactly how she felt and wanted to help her think of herself as a person and not as a “fat girl.” Thanks for the lesson in the importance of not getting carried away in the moment and saying something that may come off as insensitive.


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