I finished with paid employment 12 months ago and have been celebrating the anniversary this week by starting a couple of volunteering opportunities. Up to now I’ve avoided the idea of volunteering – mainly because people kept asking me what I was going to do with my time and the rebel in me decided that I was just going ‘to do’ nothing for a while, simply live my life whilst resisting the pressure to be productive and contribute.
At the beginning of August, bored by the school holidays, during which my yoga classes stop, and feeling at a loose end once I’d done my bit of child-minding, my thoughts turned to other activities. To get me out of the house, to offer some structure and framework around which I could organise my dissolute existence. Since I don’t have any hobbies or interests that can readily be turned into volunteering I used my years of experience and turned to the internet. And bingo! I found a site which had a database of current volunteering opportunities. It was great, I could customise my search and therefore avoid wading through lists of retail opportunities with Oxfam or AgeUK.
To cut a long story short I started volunteering this week. I’m trying two different things. Both involve office work – which I’m good at – but in very different environments. So far so good. However it got me thinking, as new things often do. Mainly about what do people think when they see me for the first time.
I’d spoken on the phone, sent an application form and been in email correspondence. But when I walked through the door what did they think? You see I am fat. I know I am fat. I have been fat a long time. I don’t think you can tell from my voice, or handwriting or email style. But once you see me, there is no denying it.
Maybe I worry too much about these things. But who can blame me. I am part of the obesity epidemic which is threatening our society and blighting the future of our children. I am a drain on the National Health Service and, if not eradicated, will use up vast amounts of taxpayers’ money on hip replacement operations and medication to address diabetes, heart failure and high cholesterol. With no money left over to treat the deserving sick or unfairly infertile.
Constant media repetition of fear of fat and fat hatred has got me to a point that when I meet people for the first time I expect to see shock on their faces – shock that anyone so fat dares to go out in public, glorifying obesity and generally living a life. I don’t worry about whether they will like me, my personality, my sense of humour, my intelligence. No. I worry that I am being judged as an abomination, that my fat body is seen as a problem for society, that my state of health is being questioned. Every new encounter has this layer of uncertainty. Not because that is what my experience has shown me will happen but rather because I cannot imagine how it won’t.
I don’t think this is about confidence. I don’t often admit this but I know that I am an accomplished person and, in the case of the volunteering, I have the skills required to make a valuable contribution – and will do it well. What it is about is me feeling wary and vulnerable in a society that increasingly vilifies me and questions my right to exist.
Okay not me personally – but me nonetheless.