I have been overweight most of my life, with periodic bouts of relative thinness. The unfairness of being overweight, for me at least, is that there is no way to hide the excess — it’s out there for everyone to see. Most people’s over indulgences, or “issues,” can be hidden or masked, not so when you are overweight.
Many people who have never struggled with weight do not understand the problem and may even feel superior, having neatly camouflaged and hidden away their own sins. They may have no qualms about commenting about you as though you are not in the room, or even directly to you.
I am still amazed at the people who will come up to me and say, “You do know that you are overweight, don’t you?” I had a woman I barely knew do that to me at a grocery store. I looked down at my stomach, and looked at her as though it was the first time this fact had ever registered with me, and then in horror and surprise I screamed, “No! Get it off, help me!” She was not amused…
As a teenager I remember being desperate to lose weight. I was dieting to a ridiculous degree because I wanted immediate results. I would stand in front of my mirror every day to see if I could notice a difference. I became obsessed with how I looked.
My father decided this was developing into an unhealthy form of narcissism. So he took down the full length mirror that was attached to the inside of the closet in my bedroom, and replaced it with a funhouse/circus/carnival type mirror that distorts one’s image. I came home from school, feeling particularly thin and attractive, and immediately went to my room, opened the closet door to see myself, and saw to my horror a short, little, very fat, man — with a tiny head! I took a step back in shock and saw an extremely tall, thin, person, with a big head. it took a moment to compose myself. But as usual dad made his point.
What had also disturbed my father was that I had jettisoned some long time friends and started to hang around only with the people who fed my ego and made me look good.
My father held a mirror up for me to see myself — figuratively as well as in reality. My shock at seeing the distortion in the funhouse mirror was immediate, and within seconds I knew I was seeing a more truthful image of me than in the mirror my father had replaced. Though I was in my teens, I could break through the shallow borders of my understanding to see with depth and deeper meaning. This funny little tease of my father struck me hard by pricking my ego and deflating it, while at the same time awakening my conscious and conscience.
So often we allow ourselves to be the center of our own universe. We chase after worldly approval, losing sight of who it is that God created us to be — in love. We lose a sense of proportion, and sometimes even reality — as to our own importance in relation to others, or even God. We become freaks of our own making, who need the approbation of others in the same sad situation. “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” Periodically it is a good thing to see ourselves not as others see us, but as God sees us through His eyes of love, and to make that vision our goal.
” Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves,” (Philippians 2:3 NIV).
The Rev. Walter Van Zandt Windsor is rector at Trinity Episcopal Church.
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