By: Corey Van’t Haaff
I was going to start my story by saying I’ve always been fat. I was a fat baby, and one of my favourite photos is me in the yard, before I could walk, with chocolate all over my mouth and cheeks. I was a fat kid, always the heaviest in my class, despite being on the A team of almost every sport. I was a fat teen, a fat adult, a fat bride, a fat divorcee, a fat business owner.
I was going to start my story by saying that, but I changed my mind. First, many lovely people telling their stories already acknowledge that their weight issues started somewhere, at some time, after some event. The reality is it doesn’t matter at all where or when or why weight issues started. It is what it is.
My weight was not an issue for me despite being what doctors referred to as morbidly obese. It did not hold me back in my personal relationships or my work. It might have made me sweat or grow winded if I had to walk any distance, but it did not stop me. It never dulled my social tendencies. I was always the first to introduce myself at any gathering, thrusting my hand forward (pre-COVID-19) to say, ‘Hey I’m Corey, it’s nice to meet you,’ then chatter away for a while. I got involved in my community, and then when I moved to a new city, I got involved in that community. Often, I took on roles that provided me with some level of visibility.
After my divorce, I dated, and was fairly adept at sifting out those who despised me for being fat as well as those who only liked me for being fat. I learned new terms like chubby chasers, fat admirers, feeders; and those terms made me laugh at the silliness of categorizing people by some single physical characteristic, until it dawned on me that there were folks out there who only saw people as this one physical characteristic, denying them any human qualities other than being fat.
Just as common were those polar opposites who hated me because I was fat.
I knew my worth had nothing to do with my weight, and those who didn’t – or couldn’t – see that were hardly worth any effort on my part. I recall one fool I had arranged to meet at a coffee shop refusing to get out of the car as I was “that fat” and he was worried how it would look if he was seen with me. Honestly, I felt so sorry for him that he was that insecure. It didn’t occur to me to take any blame for that situation. And then there was the fellow who I connected with online, and who wanted to know if I was as big as a house. I asked him if meeting women measuring at least 12 feet by 24 feet had been such an issue in the past for him that he now needed to screen out such women. I could not let him off the hook as his question was so blatantly ignorant.
Otherwise, my career was blossoming in new avenues, and I felt I was being recognized for some expertise I had developed over the years, which in turn was due to some incredibly good luck and great timing. And it was at a point of great timing that I found myself in my car, stopped at a red light, likely singing away to anything off of Annie Lennox’s Medusa CD, when a van drove into the back of my car, injuring me.
Now, suddenly, my weight was an issue for everyone, including me.
It was an issue because of the incredible pain I was in for a few years as I worked through rehab and therapy and mobility exercises. Lifting an injured heavy body is simply harder and more painful than lifting an injured lighter body.
It was an issue because I was now working with a healthcare team. A whole bunch of people were going to look at and measure and touch and manipulate my body, and some of them were not going to be nice. I remember going for a procedure and asking the weight limit of the machine and being told it was fine, have a seat. The technician did not think I looked that heavy, she said. Of course, I exceeded the weight limit and she almost screamed at me to get off the table.
It was also an issue because now there was a lawsuit from the car accident, which meant dealing with an insurance company lawyer who was not keen to pay out a claim. At the examination for discovery, where the opposing lawyer gets to ask questions so they can figure out how they think the claim will unfold, she opened with the question “how tall are you?” I knew exactly what the second question would be, and why. And I was prepared. I knew she would ask my weight (as if my weight somehow attracted a truck to drive into my stopped vehicle) and my answer was going to be “the exact same weight as when I purchased my insurance policy,” but I never got the chance. When she asked my weight, my lawyer jumped all over her asking what on earth my weight had to do with liability for an accident.
She withdrew the question.
And in my experience, that is the crux of the issue here: other people’s perception of obesity and the fact we are often too nice or too embarrassed or too hurt to challenge them. I’ve never held myself back because of my weight but others sure have tried. And whereas before, I could dismiss the opinions of those who felt my weight was an issue, after my accident in 2012, I suddenly needed their help. Everything had changed. I couldn’t just ignore the comments or pity the person speaking them, or simply walk away.
So I started laying out my expectations as an opening volley of this new game I was playing. I’d introduce myself to physicians by saying that I understood that I was fat, but I was fat before the accident and my mobility was fine then. This was a new problem. Because of the existence of pain, I could be more explicit in stating my needs. At a restaurant, when the waitress tried to seat me at a booth where I wouldn’t fit, I could say I’m sorry but that booth won’t be comfortable for me. Getting onto an airplane, I could explain to the boarding staff that I needed to get on first as it would take me longer to get to, and then into, my seat. Because I did not want to suffer with additional pain, I could be very clear what my body would or would not tolerate. Without apology.
And I am telling you the truth, it got easier the more I did it, and the responses got more favourable. Other than a few mean-spirited people, I think most people actually did want to help. They did want me to be comfortable. They didn’t want to cause me more pain. And they did want to help me in my recovery.
Today, I’ve still got some physical reminders of that accident, like knee, hip, and back issues. And I’m still fat. And sometimes, still, I must tell people I am more than just my weight. But that’s okay, because sometimes, no pun intended, I have to be the bigger person.
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