When I was in the thick of treatment for my eating disorder, she was shouldering her own share of burdens – ones that were completely out of her control.
Out of the blue one day, I burst into tears and said something like, “Why do you have this cross to bear when the only cross I’m bearing is one I’ve made for myself?”
She gave me a hug and told me to never, never compare crosses, that what may not be a cross for one person at all might be a heavy burden for someone else.
Her wisdom has been monopolizing my thoughts a lot lately ever since I read what I felt was a thoughtful, encouraging post by Danielle Bean over Faith & Family Live about the things she hates about diets and her follow-up post entitled Weighty Matters where she attempted to explain that she wasn’t suggesting that diets are inherently bad, but that they do have a tendency to promote self-loathing and/or poor body image for many women who would be considered thin, overweight or somewhere in between.
What’s been bothering me, or making me sad, really, after I read the ensuing comments and reactions from other bloggers to both posts has very little to do with weight. It has to do with assuming too much based on someone’s appearance or what a person writes about dieting or their own challenges with weight loss and/or body image. It has to do with undermining others’ inner struggles – whether they’re thin, overweight, been on 17 diets, never been on a diet in their life, have had to lose or gain weight for the sake of their health, etc.
In the comments section, I left my own personal observations on diets and alluded to my eating disordered past. Frankly, it has taken me a long time to openly discuss my body angst. But in recent years I’ve come to a place where I’m no longer so secretive or ashamed about my struggles with my body image and disordered eating. If someone doesn’t seem to understand the psychology of an eating disorder, I try to not take it personally.
It’s my hope that maybe, just maybe, talking about my own personal cross will help someone else either by making theirs lighter or preventing them from ever having to carry this same cross.
So it’s disheartening when others are quick to discount what I or anyone else deals with when it comes to their weight and body image or any other aspect of life. Or to take someone’s words completely out of context (and I’m not referring to my own comments but again to Danielle’s original post and some of the other comments by women who described themselves as both thin or overweight).
It’s very tempting to simply “size people up” based on their weight, appearance, or on whether the word “diet” makes them think of healthy triumph, an enduring struggle, mindful eating, deprivation, or an unhealthy preoccupation with weight.
But again, this isn’t really about weight.
We make assumptions about people all of the time that have nothing to do with their body weight. In the “real world,” we’re better at keeping the judgments we make at face value to ourselves either on the basis of just being tactful or because we try to give people the benefit of the doubt and aim to get to know people first before assigning labels to them.
However, I’ve found that in the Blogosphere we often jump to unfair conclusions with regrettable alacrity. When we drop a comment in combox, there’s little room for impulse control. We have no time to bite our tongues. We click “submit” or “send” and our words are out there.
It’s far easier to attack, criticize people, and/or undermine their personal battles when you don’t have to look them in the eye. That’s one of the reasons why people gossip and back-stab; it’s also why, I suspect, people get overly defensive, personal, or hurtful in their blog commentary. We don’t really “know” the person we’re disparaging, so it’s not personal for us anyway. But I’ve been the target of barbed remarks (I’m not referring to the post at Faith & Family Live) from cyber “strangers,” and as much as I try to let it go, it can still hurt.
Whether we meet someone in-person or in Cyberspace, we really have no insight into their interior life, the inner demons they battle, what they’ve been through, what haunts them at night, what conversations they have with God. We’re oftentimes not even aware of the innermost struggles of our closest loved ones, so how can we begin to think we know someone from reading her blog post or comments?
Take my mom again. She’s beautiful. She’s happy. She’s a dedicated wife, mom, and volunteer. She lives on the lake and goes on frequent beach vacations. She’s been married for almost 38 years to her high school sweetheart.
She’s got it all, right?
It certainly would be easy to think her life is perfect and she’s the first one to say she’s very, very blessed. But things haven’t always been easy-peasy for her. For one thing, she’s a lifelong, die-hard Cubs’ fan. Talk about constant letdowns, disappointment and angst.
No, seriously. She lost her biological dad when she was 3, her mom when she 16, and the man she considered a father when she was 26.
She was diagnosed with what doctors thought was a form of arthritis in her twenties and was unable to pick up her baby (my younger brother) for weeks at a time.
Since then, she’s been diagnosed with a rare neuromuscular disorder with no cure or real treatment protocol (or support group).
She rarely talks about her health woes and never complains. Doctors, even her own family (me!) forget or overlook that she lives with chronic pain because she’s not depressed, because she loves life, because she looks healthy.
But as her daughter, I’ve caught a glimpse into her interior life, and what you see isn’t always what you get. Just because she doesn’t look burdened doesn’t mean she’s not carrying a cumbersome cross.
I don’t share this to glean sympathy. I asked my mom’s permission to share her health history because she’s very private about it and the last thing she wants is pity. As a Eucharistic Minister to the homebound and a former hospice volunteer, she’s always quick to point out that her cross is nothing more than a sliver compared to others’ and that so many people are much worse off than she is. But, then, she’s not taking her own advice.
Let’s be careful not to compare crosses. (I need to work on this as much as the next person.) Let’s not give meaning to overweight and thin people or anyone who seems different from us. Let’s not assume that all rich or beautiful or successful people have it easy and are happy. On the same token, we shouldn’t presume someone who appears to have a hard life isn’t happy.
We’re here to help lighten the burden for others, not scoff at their crosses or conversely, treat them with pity like that toothpick on their back is an oak tree.
We must work to “see” beyond others’ appearance, what they write on a blog, or how happy (or unhappy) they appear to us. We must strive to recognize the dignity of every human person and acknowledge that we all have our own personal crosses to carry. As Christians, we’re called to crucify our temptation to judge with Christ and to instead, look at all people through God’s eyes, a lens of love.