My mission is to love people "from the inside out" and inspire others to do the same.

L is for Love


source
Of course--L is for love! Unfortunately, the English language is woefully lacking when it comes to terms for love. Think about it: how many times have you had to explain what kind of love you're talking about? "Well, I don't love him like that." "I love her like a sister." Then there's all of the very-different things and people that we talk about loving. "I love chocolate." "I love music." "I love grace." And that most powerful one of all: "I love you."

Clearly, the kind of love in each of these scenarios is unique. But we don't have many appropriate substitutes for the word "love" to denote each kind. We could learn something about this from the ancient Greeks. They had different words for the different types of love. Incidentally, growing up, I heard about these different Greek words for love in many a church sermon. But not wanting to rely on memory, I did a little research...and encountered somewhat-varying definitions of a couple of them. But the one generally considered to be the highest form is agápe, the unconditional commitment to the loved one, putting the loved one's interests above one's own.

The definitions of agápe I saw in my research did include some measure of affection, but I've always thought of it as a commitment to treat the other person as they deserve to be treated...even when you don't feel like it. As I've said before, loving from the inside out is not always easy. We're not always gonna feel like it. Being caught up in our own lives, being locked into our own viewpoint, judging people...those things are all too easy. The question becomes whether we're gonna act out of that or out of the better angels of our nature. We won't always get it right, but we can always aspire to ever-greater levels of depth and kindness. The world certainly could stand to be a truly kinder and gentler place.

K is for Kindness

This is a horizontally flipped version of the original,
which can be found here.
Like acceptance and intention, you can't love from the inside out without kindness. And really, doesn't everyone want to be treated with kindness? I can't imagine anyone saying, "I really hope people will be mean to me today." And those who've been judged or otherwise mistreated based on their appearance may be especially craving a kind word, a gracious response, an interaction that shows that they're valued--not in spite of their appearance, but really without regard to it. Because that will be an indication that they're being treated as a person--not as a commodity.

J is for Joy


This photo has been cropped from the original, which can be found here.
One time, after Ron (see "About This Blog," left) passed away, I met a new (to me) coworker who, due to his size, reminded me of Ron. Fortunately, it's rare that I encounter people who are that large. And that's fortunate not just because it's a trigger every time I do.

I remember interacting with him, because it may have been the first time in my life (except for Ron, of course) that I treated an obese person as a person. Really, fully knowing in my mind that I was looking past the exterior. Looking into his eyes...instead of at his size.

I will never forget how good that felt.

In what ways might you be able to experience the joy of relating to others more deeply? Have you already started to do so? If so, what was your experience like? I'd love to hear your stories.

I is for Intention

Loving from the inside out is nothing without intention. Because we have to decide (intend) to love others--or  even just to treat others, depending on the situation--based on their humanity and not on their appearance. It's not always easy. As committed to this as I am, I still catch myself sometimes, reacting, even if only in my head, to others' appearance as if it represents the totality of who they are. Maybe it's all the conditioning...I mean, before I met Ron (see "About This Blog," left), I'd had 35-plus years of American culture (and independent fundamental Baptist subculture...which didn't help anything) telling me how much appearance mattered. It's not like a person overcomes that much conditioning in a day.

But...I press on. Nothing will deter me. I don't believe appearance is completely unimportant, but it's definitely not the most important thing about anyone. I have decided: I will continue to push past that conditioning, past others' exteriors...to find out who they are where it matters: in their heart.

Returning to the [No-Longer-April] A to Z Challenge

In case you haven't noticed...I didn't exactly finish the A to Z challenge within the month of April. I had intended to, but I underestimated how much of my time and energy Camp Widow would take up. And even when it was over, I just didn't have any inspiration for awhile.

But I want to finish the Loving From the Inside Out alphabet. So, while I can't predict how quickly the remaining 18 posts will come out, I can predict that they will. "I" is up next...stay tuned.

H is for Heart

H is for Heart...of course! Was there every any doubt? ;) There are many senses of the word "heart." When it comes to loving from the inside out, it naturally is about what's at the core of a person--their intellect, their emotions, their personality--their essential character...and relating to them on that basis. It does others' hearts good when you treat them that way, and, I can tell you from experience, it can do your heart good too. (More on that in a future post. Update: Here is that post.)

source: istockphoto.com
But I want to talk too about the literal sense of "heart"--the one beating inside your chest. It was a heart attack that killed Ron (see "About This Blog," left). Now, the autopsy said that was caused by his obesity, and of course, I have a hard time disputing that. In any case, Ron did not get the kind of medical help that he needed. He was trying to lose weight (for my sake), but, tragically, it was too little, too late.

So, I beg of you: Please, take care of yourself. If not for your own sake, then at least for the sake of those who love you. Granted, doing so won't guarantee you long life or even continued life at all. We could all go at any second. But if you do take care of yourself, then at least those who love you won't have that as one more reason to be angry with you when you're gone.

G is for Growth


image credit: Dani Simmonds

When we love others from the inside out, we grow as human beings; we become deeper people. It's one way we can focus on what's most important in life. We can succumb to the more shallow instincts of our nature and to the prevailing influences of our culture, or we can choose to view others as full, nuanced people and treat them with the respect they inherently deserve; it's up to us. Is it always easy? Certainly not. But we can reap many rewards when we do, and personal growth is certainly one of them.

F is for Focus

Sometimes it takes focus to love people from the inside out. Sometimes it takes focus to remember to treat even some strangers we encounter with respect regardless of how they present themselves. For example, at the grocery store recently, as I was looking for a checkout lane, I saw one with only one customer in it. But I almost didn't go into that lane, because that one customer was a man who, frankly, looked disgusting. His hair was very greasy and stringy. His teeth were very yellow. He seemed to be a little slow. I was about to turn away in disgust, when the thought popped into my head, "This is a person God loves; maybe I can at least find a way to be civil?" I don't often think that way, but the thought came, I acted on it, and I'm glad I did. The man didn't speak to me or anything; I don't think he even looked at me. I'm just glad I remembered and acted on the notion that just because a person doesn't "present" well does not mean that I shouldn't even be around them.

When it comes to people we know, we might have to really work to remember the good things about some of them--or even to find the good things in the first place. I mean, we all know people who just rub us the wrong way, who really get on our nerves. The better part of valor is to look for the good in them, because no one is just "one thing." Everyone has traits that are more positive and some that are less so. But do we focus only on the negative ones and not give the person a chance to prove that they are more than just that one thing that annoys us? By the way, I'm totally "preaching to myself" here. This is not something I'm particularly good at. I tend toward black-and-white thinking. I need to find ways to look for the good in others--even when it's hard to find.

How have you focused on the good, and how has it changed your life?

E is for Equality

Equality is one of the foundations of American society. It's in the one of the most well-known parts of our Declaration of Independence: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." Of course, the founding fathers were focused on the political aspects of liberty when they wrote that, but think about this: can people really experience liberty fully or pursue happiness fully when they aren't being treated as equal in other areas? When strangers, peers, even so-called friends are treating them as "less than" because of some external characteristic—or for any reason really? If we truly believe all people are equal, it has to extend to all aspects of how we treat others...or we're just not being honest.

D is for Destiny

When we decide to love from the inside out, we expand our horizons. We open ourselves up to interacting with those we might not have otherwise. It can lead to our lives travelling down some pretty unexpected paths.

I certainly had no idea, back in 2003, the turn my life was about to take when I signed up for the Christian singles site where Ron (see "About This Blog," left) and I met. Sometimes I wonder whether I was "meant" to travel this road--or whether it was just something that happened. But--that touches on metaphysical questions none of us can really answer with certainty while we're still here, so I'll just leave it at that. I guess I mean "destiny" less in a "grand scheme of things" way and more in a "what your life ends up being about" way.
In any case, I've also wondered if I would do it all again even if I knew (at least, once I really started to care for Ron) what would come. And the answer is always Yes. Because, if I hadn't gone down this road, Ron might never have known the kind of love we shared. And of course, I might never have either. And I might never have come to the place of depth that my experience has taken me. (D is for depth, too!)

Do I wish all of this could have come without the pain? Of course! But, for better or worse, pain is the risk you take with love. And even with everything I've been through, I have to say, I think the risk is worth it.

C is for Courage

Image credit: ilco on sxc.hu
The courage to be different. The courage to go against the grain. The courage to treat others the way they deserve to be treated, even if you're pressured to do otherwise. That's the kind of courage it can take to love from the inside out. Our culture and sometimes even people in our lives don't always make it easy. 'Cause it can mean siding with the ones everyone else is shunning. The unloved, the unchosen, the  unfabulous. And when you side with them...you can become a target too. No, this is not all sweetness and light. But for me...once I got a taste of depth, the shallow end of the pool no longer cut it.

B is for Beauty

Beauty, on Loving From the Inside Out? Yep, and I'll tell ya why. I'm on a mission to redefine what beauty means. Ask most people what they think beauty is, and they'll probably give you some version of "something that looks good, that's pleasing to the eye." And of course, our world is obsessed with physical beauty. We even have contests, euphemistically disguised as pageants, to see who the most beautiful people are. Magazines devote whole issues in some cases to show us who the most beautiful people are, not to mention the bajillion heavily-retouched, unrealistically perfect ads you have to turn past to get to the pictures of those most beautiful people. And if it's a beauty or fashion magazine, then of course all of that is surrounded by articles on how to perfect the latest beauty technique. Seems to me the message this sends, to young girls and even to still-insecure women, is: "You must change yourself to resemble as closely as possible this arbitrarily defined and impossibly narrow set of physical characteristics, or you're not beautiful." And in a culture obsessed with physical beauty, if you're not "beautiful," you're not worth anything. The havoc this wreaks on the hearts and self esteem of women breaks my heart.

But...what about Kindness, Compassion, and Selflessness? Duty, Honor, and Country? Courage, Commitment, and Sacrifice? These things are beautiful.

A mother sacrificing what she wants to do to spend time with her kids: that's beautiful. A dad spending all weekend building a treehouse for his daughter: that's beautiful. Giving back to those less fortunate. Fighting for justice in the world. The willingness to put your life on the line for your buddies and your country. These things are beautiful.

But it doesn't have to be a grand gesture to be beautiful. Being thoughtful, remembering that everyone is fighting their own battle. Looking for the beauty even when it's hard to find. Keeping a kind word at the ready. These things are also beautiful.

So...what's your favorite way to be beautiful?

A is for Acceptance

Note: This is the first in my Loving From the Inside Out Alphabet series.

Acceptance—it's really at the core of what my mission and this blog are all about: Accepting others regardless of how they appear on the outside. Accepting them instead for who they are on the inside, taking the time to get to know them before you judge them. Martin Luther King, Jr. dreamed that his children would "one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character." With all due respect to Dr. King, I would expand that to say 'not on their appearance, period, but on the content of their character.' And even with those we encounter in passing, we can keep in mind that regardless of any "presenting" characteristic, each one we meet deserves to be treated with respect, just like we would want to be treated.

How has acceptance (or lack thereof) affected your life?

A is for Alphabet—and the A to Z Challenge

Just last night I saw a tweet with the hashtag "#atozchallenge." I had no idea what that meant, but I was curious, so I searched on the hashtag and after a few clicks, found the challenge's website. It's challenge for bloggers to create one post each to correspond to the 26 letters of the alphabet and post them on each of the 26 weekdays in April, plus the first Sunday (today). What does "corresponding to each of the 26 letters" mean? That's up to the blogger.

I've never been one for "prescribed" blogging. It has always seemed so forced to me. But as I was reading up on what the challenge was, the phrase "A is for Acceptance" popped into my head...and that quickly grew into the idea to create a "Loving From the Inside Out alphabet." And the more I thought about it, the more excited I became. So...I signed up!

You'll see what I mean by a "Loving From the Inside Out alphabet" as the posts come out. So...stay tuned!

What Doctors Can Do About Weight Bias in Health Care

As you know if you've read recent posts, I've talked about weight bias (AKA "size prejudice") in health care before. For example, Size Prejudice Is Alive and Well, Part 2 is about how prevalent weight bias is among doctors and other health care professionals. What I didn't talk about was what doctors could do about it...probably because I didn't know.

Well this week I discovered this video, which was created by the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity. It lists many things that doctors--and other health care professionals--can do to reduce weight bias in their own practices and thereby improve their patients' care and quality of life. (P.S. I plan to write more about the Rudd Center very soon.) If you're in a hurry, fast forward to 9:14 for the actual action items.


Have you experienced weight bias in a health care setting? Do you know any health care professionals that might benefit from seeing this video? Share your story in the comments.

The Last 'Acceptable' Prejudice

So it turns out patients aren't the only ones that some doctors are willing to treat as "less than" due to weight. (Reference Size Prejudice is Alive and Well, Part 2.) Who else do they turn their prejudice on? Each other.

Source: philly.com
Joseph Majdan, MD, FACP, is Assistant Professor Clinician Educator and Director, Professional Development at Jefferson University Hospitals in Philadelphia, PA. He was, by his own admission, obese for most of his life, including during his medical training. After he lost a large amount of weight and kept it off for almost a year, he wrote an essay for the Annals of Internal Medicine on the cruel treatment he received at the hands of fellow students and even teachers.

Read Dr. Majdan's essay here.

The heaviness of my heart when I heard what he endured could hardly be overstated. The levels of cruelty and unprofessionalism are beyond mind boggling.

Dr. Majdan, who in a philly.com article calls obesity "the last . . . prejudice openly accepted by society," "just kept quiet [in the past] when doctors said things he found hurtful. He admired doctors so much that he took their criticism to heart." But "[h]e plans to speak up now. 'Sometimes we have to teach other people how to treat us,' he said. 'From now on, I call them on it.'"

Also, according to the article, as part of his role as director of professional development, he works with medical students who are having interpersonal problems. One hopes that through that work he is instilling greater sensitivity in the next generation of medical professionals.


Via YouTube, Young Girls Ask if They're Pretty


YouTube still used by huffingtonpost.com

This breaks my heart so much, I can barely write about it. Fortunately, the Huffington Post already has. So has jezebel.com. And SFGate.

According to these articles, it's a growing trend: Many pre-teen and teen girls (and a few boys), some as young as 11, have posted videos of themselves on YouTube, asking people whether they're pretty (or ugly).

I could only bring myself to watch one, in which the girl, after pointing out her koala hat (unwittingly demonstrating her still-little-girl-ness), says:
I just wanted to make a random video, seeing if I was, like, ugly or not? Because a lot of people call me ugly, and I think...I'm ugly and fat. But all of my friends and girls, they're just like, "Oh, you're so beautiful, oh you're so beautiful. I just wish I was you 'cause you're so beautiful." I'm just like, [adamantly] "Shut up, 'cause I'm not beautiful." And I was just going to show you pictures of me. Well, I think they're...pretty nice...uh, if that, I'm like, pretty or not.
Let me be clear about something: She is neither. Ugly nor fat.

Clearly, her self-image, while not good, is in conflict. That's natural; she's a pre-teen. But asking a world wide web of strangers to "tell" her whether she's beautiful? Not at all where she should be getting her self-image from. And why doesn't she know that?

I haven't even told you any of the comments yet. I can't bring myself to read most of them. Suffice it to say that while some people are affirming, many are not. You know the drill: people can be cruel, people can be sick, and the Internet allows a measure of anonymity, so the sick-cruel find an excuse to say what they might not otherwise.

As SFGate put it, "YouTube is the last place these kids should be going to for a confidence boost; the site is bound to make them only feel worse. A 12-year-old isn’t mature enough to deal with vicious remarks made by their mean-spirited peers and sick-minded Internet trolls.... Adolescence is dark and savage and when teenagers put themselves up on the Internet it only magnifies the experience."

YouTube, in its Terms, says, "...you affirm that you are over the age of 13, as the Service is not intended for children under 13. If you are under 13 years of age, then please do not use the Service. There are lots of other great web sites for you. Talk to your parents about what sites are appropriate for you." Newsflash, YouTube: No one reads Terms!

If you're wondering, "Where are the parents?"...yeah, so am I. What I hate the most about that is: "where are the parents" has almost become a cliché.

Maybe part of why this breaks my heart is: I don't remember being told I was beautiful by anyone at home, and I was told the opposite by my peers. I was teased cruelly and called names related to my appearance. I can still remember some of those incidents. I was convinced I was unattractive and that boys would not like me. In other words: I was once that girl. I know how much damage a ruined body image can wreak.

Only in my mid-to-late-30s and early 40s did I begin to truly believe that I was attractive. That means that for the majority of my first 40 years, I walked around consciously believing that I was un-lovely. Is it any wonder why I've struggled to relate in the world, why I've (with one grand exception) struck out with men?

Well I guess I was able to write more about this than I thought. But all I can say in closing is: Wow, are our priorities ever screwed up.

Size Prejudice Is Alive and Well, Part 2

Last time I talked about how size-based discrimination in the workplace is still a big problem in this country--as discussed in The New York Times essay For Obese People, Prejudice in Plain Sight.

This time I'll focus on the other area the essay highlights where the obese face prejudice: the doctor's office. Yes, you read that right. The doctor's office.

Source: istockphoto.com
Saying, "Some of the most blatant fat discrimination comes from medical professionals," the essay uses the following examples:
  • Over half of doctors in one study "described obese patients as 'awkward, unattractive, ugly, and unlikely to comply with treatment.'"
  • "Despite the abundance of research showing that most people are unable to make significant long-term changes in their weight, it’s clear that doctors tend to view obesity as a matter of personal responsibility. Perhaps they see shame and stigma as a health care strategy."
  • Another study found that "the higher a patient’s body mass, the less respect doctors express for that patient." 
And doctors can be pretty open about their bias:
  • "Dr. Delos M. Cosgrove, a cardiac surgeon and chief executive of the prestigious Cleveland Clinic, told a columnist for The New York Times that if he could get away with it legally, he would refuse to hire anyone who is obese. He probably could get away with it, actually, because no federal legislation protects the civil rights of fat workers, and only one state, Michigan, bans discrimination on the basis of weight."
  • Dr. Rebecca Puhl, who conducted the first study linked above, said, "If I was trying to study gender or racial bias, I couldn’t use the assessment tools I’m using, because people wouldn’t be truthful...They’d want to be more politically correct."
In response to all of this I was all set to write, "Doesn't the Hippocratic oath say, 'First, do no harm'?" (for, in ways we will see shortly, bias certainly does harm). But when I went to find the Oath online so I could link to it, I discovered that neither the classical version nor a commonly-used modern one have that phrase. But the modern one I'm linking to here does include this:
I will remember that there is art to medicine as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy, and understanding may outweigh the surgeon's knife or the chemist's drug.
So how does doctors' fat bias effect their patients? The essay gives these examples:
  • Many fat people will just avoid going to the doctor, for routine or sometimes even serious stuff. Of course this can potentially put the patient in grave danger.
  • "'Stigma and prejudice are intensely stressful,' he [Dr. Peter A. Muennig, an assistant professor of health policy at Columbia] explained. 'Stress puts the body on full alert, which gets the blood pressure up, the sugar up, everything you need to fight or flee the predator.'"
  • "Over time, such chronic stress can lead to high blood pressure, diabetes and other medical ills, many of them (surprise!) associated with obesity." So it becomes a maddening cycle.
  • "[T]he less respect a doctor has for a patient, says Dr. Mary Huizinga,...assistant professor at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, the less time the doctor spends with the patient and the less information he or she offers."
  • "[D]octors who think patients won’t follow their instructions treat and prescribe for them differently."
The bottom line is this: Like all other people, the obese deserve respectful treatment by doctors and other medical professionals. And doctors of all people should strive to provide it.

If you are a doctor or other medical professional and see yourself in any of this, I have one message for you: It's time to MAN UP! Remember that inside the body of every one in your care is a person who deserves to be treated with the same amount of respect and caring as you would hope to receive.

Your patients--and potential patients--can no longer afford your bias.

Size Prejudice Is Alive and Well, Part 1

source: istockphoto.com
In March, 2011, The New York Times published an essay called For Obese People, Prejudice in Plain Sight, which explores a couple of areas where people of size still face discrimination or at least stigma, specifically: the workplace and the doctor's office (yes, of all places, the doctor's office). I'll talk about the workplace in this post and tackle the doctor's office in Part 2.

One of the biggest revelations to me from this essay was that there is one place in this country that bans discrimination based on weight. That place is the state of Michigan. Well...Ron (see "About This Blog," left) lived his entire life in Michigan. During the time I knew him, he worked for a major airline, and I've always been grateful to that airline for not discriminating against him. Well, now I know they couldn't have done so without breaking the law. Really, it makes me wonder if that law was the only reason he had a job. Well, I don't mean that exactly. I know he had great skills and was a good employee. I just can't help but wonder whether he would have been unemployed if that law didn't exist. (And if he'd been unemployed, would we have ever met? It's not like membership in an online dating site, which is how we met, is something you spring for when you're struggling to afford gas and food.)

As the essay points out, "no federal legislation protects the civil rights of fat workers." That means that any company in America-sans-Michigan could refuse to hire a candidate or make employment decisions about an employee based on weight--with that as the stated reason, even--and it'd be perfectly legal.

One argument I hear sometimes is: Shouldn't an employer be able to refuse to hire an overweight person since they'll have to pay more for that person's health insurance? I have a few responses to that: First, one of the things I've learned is that size (whether gauged visually or in number of pounds) is not a foolproof indicator of a person's health. It'd be easy to think that if someone falls outside the parameters of a given height and weight chart or has a certain Body Mass Index that they're not only overweight but patently unhealthy. Well, I heard once that height and weight charts were originally developed by the insurance industry, who were looking for ways to exclude people from coverage. (I'll have to research that and do a post about it sometime.) Plus, it appears the experts don't even agree on where the line should be drawn for what is "obese," much less for the precise point at which a person's weight becomes a true health issue. Second, people who are or appear perfectly healthy can contract serious illnesses at any time. So it's not like a company can know that person A would be any more expensive to insure than person B, regardless of weight. And third, do we really think that a way to improve people's health is to deny them a job? I think not. Clearly...we need a better way.

I think what bothers me the most about size prejudice in the workplace is the apparent implication in the minds of many that an overweight or obese person is somehow less competent. Unless the very nature of the work requires a certain level of fitness, a person's weight has no real bearing on their ability to do the job. It's high time we realized that in this country.
© Loving From the Inside Out

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