One of my first jobs after leaving school was working in a bookshop. I look back on those days and it reminds me of how dangerous it is to make assumptions about people. I had a fertile imagination and I noticed within the five or ten minutes of an interaction with a customer I had made all sorts of assumptions. For example a lady may have put out her hand to pay. Perhaps she was wearing a sparkly diamond on her prettily painted finger. From that brief and superficial interaction I had painted a picture of her entire life. I visualized what her husband or partner looked like, what type of car they drove, what the interior of their house looks like, the type of furniture they liked, the food they ate, how many children they had or were going to have, the type of pet dog they had, the sort of holidays they had. I had decided because she had a wedding ring on she felt loved, desirable and happy.
Now of course in reality I knew absolutely nothing about this lady. And it was of course silly of me to assume I knew anything at all about her. I sincerely hope she was happy and loved but it is possible she may have felt lonely or was abused.
When it comes to people living with obesity they are vulnerable to assumptions made by their loved ones, the professionals they see, the media, and even strangers on the street. Tragically these assumptions are not kept private. They are often articulated and leveled at the person. The assumptions made are endless. They might be that the person eats too much, that they are lazy, that all they have to do is move a bit, that they have no self-control. They are told that their obesity is the cause of all their problems and the list goes on and on. These assumptions are usually, reckless, uneducated and factually incorrect. Even when they are made with best intentions they often are hurtful and wrong.
What do we really know about someone’s life and who they are if they haven’t told us? If we do not put aside our own issues, judgments and assumptions we miss out on being able to really help our client and be there for them.
It is not for us to judge or assume anything. We have no idea if someone has suffered trauma, sexual assault, extreme abuse, childhood illness, immense loss and grief, or an illness that contributes to obesity. We don’t know about the family interactions, the thinking styles of the person, we no nothing of their internal world no matter what we see superficially by their appearance.
It is our role to keep our clients safe, hear their story, suspend all judgment and then we can work together to see how we can make things feel better for them.
Just like my customers with the pretty painted nails and sparkly diamonds. I wouldn’t have had a clue about her life.
When working with people struggling with their weight it is essential I begin by assuming absolutely nothing about them and learn from them how I can best help them.