I am in love with Lake Merritt in Oakland. I have been walking around this lake almost daily for years and cherish the sights, sounds, smells, and quixotic events that I encounter with each outing. Occasionally (as Pooh would say) some Not Very Nice things happen on my rambles but, overall, a large part of my quality of life is a direct result of walking The Lake.
The Lake is home for many Canadian Geese. Not everyone loves the geese. They can be noisy, intrusive and function as living movable speed bumps for the humans trying to make good time in their runs. There is also the issue of copious amounts of Goose guano which provides an organic obstacle course for those trying to maintain the pristine condition of their footwear. I tend to enjoy the geese, along with the pelicans, cormorants and grebes, but even I have been known to occasionally mutter frustrated warnings of fois gras and pate when they block my way or hiss at me as I trudge up one of the few steep grades in the three-mile walk. More typically, however, no offense to the geese, I take them in as part of the milieu and don’t pay much attention to them. Yesterday was different.
The delighted squeal of a child screamed out and pierced through my reverie forcing me to take a gander to see who was so excited about something so common place to the jaded joggers and weary walkers. I looked around and spotted the source. There was a little munchkin with itsy bitsy corn rows, maybe 3 or 4 years old, pointing at a gaggle of geese and enthusiastically screaming, “Look Mom, Look at that goose!”
Mom: “Uh huh.”
“That goose is so fat!”
Mom: “Uh Huh”
“It’s a Big Fat Goose Mom!”
Mom: “Uh Huh, yes it is.”
“It’s the fattest goose in the yard!”
Mom: “Yes, it is a very fat goose.”
And then something shinier must have caught his attention and the goose was forgotten and the moment was over, for him.
It lingered for me.
As I resumed walking, I realized that I had been holding my breath and had stopped in my tracks to eavesdrop on the conversation. I noticed that my hands were clenched; in fact my whole body was tense. As my hands and stomach began to relax and my breathing returned to normal, it dawned on me that I had shifted into a defensive state of mind, waiting for what I thought would be the inevitable additional adjectives that would most certainly follow.
“Big, fat, ugly, goose. Big, fat, stupid, goose. Big, fat, yucky, goose.”
But it never happened.
Here was someone who, despite his age, properly used the word fat as an adjective; just an adjective. And it was a beautiful thing.
As I walked on, I wondered what his mom had been thinking during the exchange. I was curious if she had specifically role modeled any non-judgmental language usage or if he was just too young to have been exposed to the countless media messages telling him that fat was bad and that fat people were stupid, lazy, ugly etc.? I pondered over whether it would have been different if he was commenting on a person instead of a goose?
I have lived a lifetime of being called fat and NEVER has it been used to simply describe the parts of my body that were fat. And like any stereotyping, the labeling is always accompanied by an attitude of disgust, pity, judgment, and coupled with assumptions about my personality and character. I laughed at myself as I realized that I was actually jealous of the goose for not having been attacked for the size of its body. I envied the fact that the goose was actually being admired for its size!
I am not sure how long this wee imp of a kid will be able to hold on to his non-judgmental perception of fat or whether it will always be okay for geese to be fat but not so for people; but in that one moment around The Lake, I got a peek of what it could be like. What it should be like. What it would be like if negative messages about fat people were not accepted and common place everywhere we go. The deleterious effects of weight stigma are indisputable and quite frankly, avoidable. But it takes a willingness to walk the walk and change the talk.
September 23-28 is Weight Stigma Awareness Week. There are many ways to get involved with this call to action and help raise awareness of the negative impact of stigmatizing people based on their weight and size. If you are interested in finding out more about participating you can follow this link: http://www.bedaonline.com/WSAW/index.html
As for me, my focus for the week will be trying to show people that what is good for the goose is good”¦