Because being overweight is associated in our culture with failure—moral failure, failure of will, failure to comply with social norms—it’s a matter of some shame for many. Me, too.
I don’t want to exaggerate, though. For me, shame has been only a minor note, in part (probably) because I haven’t been that overweight, in part because I get lots of positive reinforcement in work and family life. For me, it’s been a matter of periodic blasts of irritation and frustration rather than a persistent, terrible burn. It would pop up, but I had ways of stamping it down, moving on.
The frequency of shame related to the number of mirrors I encountered during the day.
First and irreducibly, there was the morning bathroom mirror confrontation. After that, clothes on, the number of confrontations depended on the number of mirrors, and usually that wasn’t many. There’s a wall of mirrors in the office bathroom. But in the normal course of a workday that was about it, because our office building simply doesn’t have many mirrors.
It’s been shockingly different on a business trip to New York. My beloved Manhattan is a fantastic hall of mirrors and mirrored surfaces. You can see yourself 50 times just walking from point A to point B in midtown. (For example, in the mirrored surfaces of the Abercrombie & Fitch store, at whose entrance a shirtless, beautiful boy often stands, beckoning people 30 years younger and 50 pounds lighter than I am to come in and shop; everyone else: stay out!) You see yourself reflected back dozens of times per hour, along with the images of legions of thinner people who are racing along the sidewalks like a herd of gazelles, charging around the stunned tourists. I have never been able to avert my gaze from these mirrors; I have always been compelled to look. What I saw on this trip was a guy—the editor of a healthy-cooking magazine!—who needed to lose 20 pounds, and I felt a little bit of shame each time.