The Perception That Overweight People Are Lazy

Before I gained 150 pounds in my 20’s, I honestly thought that people who were morbidly obese were probably lazy and spent a lot of their time sitting or laying on the couch. I feel bad that I assumed that and have learned a lot about making assumptions about people as I have gotten older.

The truth is, we as a society often make assumptions about people based solely on their appearance. When I was morbidly obese I feel like a lot of people assumed I was lazy. In fact, I know they did. There is a stigma associated with weight that is not associated with other types of health problems. In all fairness, that stigma could be because being overweight is usually due to overeating and not as a result of a disease. (Although there are definitely some health problems and medications that cause weight gain.) Add to it the fact that being overweight is a very public, very visible problem that no amount of makeup or “big hair” can hide, and you have an equation for negative assumptions and sometimes rude comments.

My two girls were very young when I was 300 pounds, and I belonged to a mom’s group at our church. Over and over again I was passed by for heading up committees, taking on responsibilities, and of course I was never asked to be the greeter at the door. I often felt bad when I could see my “friend’s” eyes search the room for someone to ask to take on a task and their eyes barely acknowledged that I was there.

Perhaps part of their reluctance to ask me to take part was due to the assumption that obese people were lazy and part could be due to my own poor self image. After all, weighing about 300 pounds did nothing good to my self-esteem.

Every time I tried to volunteer for a task, but was pushed out of the way, I felt demoralized. And each time people made side comments about my energy level, I shrank further inside myself. I remember one time when we were organizing a field day for the children, that a friend said, “Diane, you probably don’t want to handle any of the games, so why don’t you just bake 3 dozen cookies?” I looked at her, smiled and said, “Sure, that sounds great.” But inside I was thinking, “I can handle ”drop the clothespin in a bucket.” I know I can.” But instead I baked 3 dozen cookies, ate 18 of them, and had to bake 3 dozen more in order to have enough to bring to the children’s field day.

I don’t think I was lazy. I worked hard at home taking care of my house and my children. I was successful at selling Pampered Chef, and I worked at keeping my few friendships healthy.

I even knew what types of clothing were in style at the time, even though I certainly could not wear any of them. No one could see what I got done during the day. Instead many of them likely assumed I sat down all day long eating chips and ice cream. In fairness to them, they often saw my 300 pound self trying to catch her breath after climbing up the gymnasium stairs or walking to the far reaches of a parking lot.

I guess I can’t completely blame them for their likely assumptions. I wasn’t lazy, I just wasn’t energetic. I was often tired, but I did work hard.

Once I finally was successful at losing weight I was astonished at the difference in how people reacted to me. Sometimes I just could not believe the difference. I was previously regulated to the “backroom” jobs, all of a sudden I was being asked to lead committees, be on the advisory council, introduce the speaker, and make announcements.

What changed? Only my appearance. I was the same person I had always been, just smaller. Undoubtedly, my self confidence level improved, but I would have probably done most of those things even as a heavy person, it was just that no one asked.

I learned something through all this. I learned never to judge people based on their outward appearance. It’s something I just don’t do anymore because I know how it feels to be on the judged side.

Do you think that there is a perception that overweight people are lazy? Diane

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  1. I do.
    and I think it comes from the same people who cast …uh….thoughts my way about jews being cheap.
    all all all ignorance.

  2. Hmmmm. I agree with you! But, I have to admit that when I weighed over 200 lbs I was pretty lazy. I would sit and sew for hours, I would take an hour (atleast) and sit and eat my breakfast and lunch (and Im a stay at home Mom) and I spent plenty of time laying around on the couch. I’m sure not every overweight person is lazy but I know that I was.

  3. I think the key to your post is this, “I wasn’t lazy. I just wasn’t energetic.” Most people who’ve never been obese cannot distinguish between the two. I know – I live with one. My husband is a total type A with boundless energy who knows only two speeds – full-ahead and asleep! Even with me maintaining at goal weight, he can’t comprehend that while he is spending a Saturday afternoon burning thousands of calories doing yard work (his stress reliever), I would CHOOSE to be inside on the sofa with a good book. Now mind you, we’ve already been to the farmer’s market and I have 13,000 steps recorded on my pedometer.

    So yes, I agree that there is sometimes a perception that overweight people are lazy. But I also tend to think those who are overweight tend to become very defensive and assume things that might not always be true.
    Sharon recently posted…Conflict ResolutionMy Profile

  4. I do think there’s a perception that overweight people are lazy. I’ve heard it numerous times from people, who said that I am too lazy to take care of myself, too lazy to make an effort in living healthy. Too lazy to train. Perhaps some times I was too lazy to get my butt off the couch and go for a walk but most of the times it was just because I had no interest in exercising.
    I’m glad that now exercise is all I think about :)
    blackhuff recently posted…I view it like thisMy Profile

  5. Darlin’ I was lazy.

    I do love your line about energy level. That is true.

    Part of it was my knees were under so much stress that I was in constant pain, I thought I only had so many steps of use left in them, for life, and stayed out as much as possible. I had no I idea they could be fine with the weight off and good physical therapy. Luckily I took action before there was permanent damage. If I had REALLY understood, I would have taken action sooner. I thought they were a permanent problem. I did not truly understand my weight issue (and lack of PT) was causing problem.

    Part of it was my lung capacity was greatly restricted. I gained a LITER of lung capacity when the fat was all off of me (I was an apple shape and that seriously impacted my breathing and my asthma).

    I did not understand cardio conditioning. I did not understand it sucks (big time) for everyone when first starting. And one just has to START and keep working.

    I was like a Buddha staying put as much as possible.

    Quilting was a great reinforcer of this. I sewed and I ate.

    I stopped recreational sewing all together when I lost my weight. I still do mending and hemming, but not the vicious circle.

    • Vickie, I just had to agrre with you! I started quilting in 2004 and gained over 80 lbs. I have lost 75 lbs and have had to stop most of my sewing. As much as I enjoyed it, I could not find a balance between quilting and health. It may not be like this for everyone..I’m sure people are able to manage both but I can not and as soon as I learned that I have been doing so much better. I do still enjoy some handwork at night but I dont sit for hours and hours day after day sewing anymore. I realize after reading your comment just how much I used food (comfort fattening food) while I quilted.

      • I had to take a hard look at almost everything I did. I have changed my life and my habits to support myself instead of sabotaging myself daily.

  6. “stayed PUT as much as possible”

    The autocorrect on my iPad is annoying at times.

  7. I am not sure I ever felt that way Diane but there are so many false perceptions out there… from weight to looks to any little thing people want to find to judge people by… I find myself doing this sometimes & have to stop myself. We never know what is behind that face we see….
    Jody – Fit at 54 recently posted…Gratitude Monday & the HubbyMy Profile

  8. As I’m going through the weight loss journey, I’ve been paying more attention to the people around me. It hit me the other day that people probably still look at me and think lazy (not that I’m not ;) ) but I’ve lost 20 pounds and am doing something to change my life. Now as I look at other overweight people, I think more that I don’t know their story than “ugh, they are lazy and need to do something”. Perhaps that person sitting there is on a similar journey and should be celebrated rather than looked down on. Perhaps that sweet that that other overweight person is eating is the one sweet they allow themselves each week or month.

    I know there are a mix of lazy overweight people out there and people like me who are trying whatever they think is best to drop some pounds. I don’t know which are which, so I try not to judge by appearance.

    Even as I was overweight and lazy, I found myself judging those who were heavier than myself. That perception of overweight = lazy is definitely out there. I remember hearing those remarks about myself (not that they weren’t true) as I was growing up. They definitely didn’t make me feel like doing anything.
    Michelle recently posted…Goal for the week…get to 241.0My Profile

  9. I used to weight 320 pounds. Was I lazy? yeah – sure. At times. But carrying around an extra 150 pounds makes you tougher than most – in my opinion. I walked, I cleaned my house, I took care of my son, and homeschooled him. I played with my nieces and nephews. It hurt a lot more to do that than, say – someone who weighs 130 pounds, like most other women in my family. But thinking that someone is lazy ONLY because they are overweight, that’s just another stereotype in our world. It’s actually harder to deal with because I don’t have anyone jumping to my defense and suing the pants off a company because they don’t make plus size chairs at the movie theater. It’s being taught to our children, supported by the media. Fat is ugly and fat is lazy, and sometimes even dirty and unclean. I know plenty of “skinny” people that can’t handle what I do in a day, much less do it with 100 pounds strapped their bodies. And that’s the thought that gets me through. :)
    Lorikate recently posted…Random WhinesMy Profile

  10. I do think that stigma exists, yes, and I’m grateful I can’t remember encountering it too much. That doesn’t mean I didn’t, but ignorance is bliss and I maintained a high degree of it.

  11. I know gaining weight has shown me who my real friends are. My husband kept saying, “This woman is NOT your friend” (someone I’ve known for years). He was able to point out how she constantly undermined me with little verbal jabs I wasn’t noticing. He did. Later when she gained weight she had trouble getting off, she told me, ‘You know, I just thought your were lazy but now I understand.” Huh.
    nan @ LBDDiaries recently posted…Lovers That Play TogetherMy Profile

  12. I think there is a big difference between “lazy in physical activity” and being a lazy person. I am most definitely not a lazy person–even when I was 250. I was a hard worker, I excelled in school and at work. I was always willing to do projects and I finished what I started. I was a very motivated, driven person. BUT when I was 250 I hated exercise (or so I thought). I was lazy in that I’d rather spend my weekends on the couch watching TV and eating than going for a walk. Of course that has changed drastically since then!
    Lisa recently posted…Soap Box DerbyMy Profile

  13. When I was bigger, standing for long periods was difficult, I’d look for a chair. Now I prefer to stand. I wouldn’t say I was lazier, but normal life wore me out more.
    julie recently posted…And we hate you!My Profile

  14. My personal sense is that people who don’t struggle with their weight think of obese people as less motivated, less gifted and less able to achieve what they set out to do, and yes, lazier. It couldn’t be further from the truth in my case. When I was at 315 lbs I was busy, just not with physically demanding jobs. Still, I cleaned my house every day and took care of my children–sometimes to a greater degree than did my normal sized counterparts. Losing the weight (the shrinking process being so visually stimulating), seems to signal success for those who have never been large. It’s almost as if the smaller we get, the more confident they become that we can finish what you start. Wish it were different though, because I know more than a few plus-sized people who are creative innovators and masterful artists, teachers, clergy members and writers.
    Lori recently posted…A Pocket Full of ChangeMy Profile

  15. I’m not sure what “lazy” means at that point, though. If one is overweight or obese, one’s energy levels will often be down, just because it takes a lot to move around. I’ve heard people talk about how exhausted they were all the time … but then people will notice that you are often sedentary and tired, and they won’t ask you to do things as much. The same people who didn’t want you to handle the field day games were probably the same ones who saw how out of breath you may have been while carrying out another responsibility.

    For example, I’ve driven someplace with a friend and done my standard thing in the parking lot which is to “drop anchor in open water.” I always park at the outside of the lot and walk the whole way. It’s nice to get up and do a bit of walking after having sat in the car, especially if the weather is nice.

    I learned quickly NOT to do that if I was going to the mall or shopping with an overweight friend. Should I have? Whatever word one may use to describe it, they don’t have the energy for a quarter-mile hike from the outer reaches of the parking lot. After a while, I will simply start to assume — and with justification — that if I’m going someplace with someone who is overweight or obese, I should make allowances to keep them from being completely out of breath.

    So it just makes me wonder what “lazy” even means. “I’m not lazy, but but constantly out of breath, exhausted, have low energy levels, and have to sit out many marginally demanding activities … but I’m not lazy.” It seems like “I’m not lazy” in this context just means, “I have no energy but I’m not happy about it.” “Lazy” apparently means, “I wouldn’t get off the couch even if I had the energy.”

    And it gets even more complicated for the people around to make sense of it in a sensitive way when the person in question is signaling that they have no energy and hate the fact, at the same time that they are insisting that they don’t mind being fat, which is often the case. The people in my car who acted as if I were parking in Outer Mongolia just because I was at the margins of the parking lot were the exact same people who would insist they were “fit and fat” and that their weight didn’t impact their lives negatively, and that they were totally healthy. It’s really impossible for others to reconcile all that sometimes, even if we really want to.

  16. Yes, there is the thought the overweight people are a lot of things – lazy, slobs, stupid, smelly, etc. I experienced that a lot and I could do a lot of things physically at 250 pounds. I do them much better now than I did when I was that heavy – but I wasn’t lazy. It’s funny how if a skinny person were to lay on the couch, they would be said to be relaxing. An overweight person is said to be lazy.
    Lori recently posted…52 miles for cupcakesMy Profile

  17. I used to be 220lbs, and I’m down to 190 and working on more. My husband sometimes would think I’m “lazy” or “low energy”. At the time I would object, but I think I get what he was saying now. I was like many overweight people I think, we wouldn’t call our selves lazy per say, when it came to getting a job done we’d be up for it. When it came to having fun (a bike ride, a hike, walking the dog), I’d go along. BUT I’d otherwise do as little as possible. I’d park as close as possible; I’d get everything I need from up stairs, so I wouldn’t have to climb the stairs all day; I’d just try to be efficient in my use of energy. I didn’t want to have to make several trips back and forth to the car for the groceries, so I’d overload my self with bags. I would just think of little shortcuts all the time. I’m still overweight but I don’t think like that so much anymore. I try to be more active!

  18. I used to think that way about overweight people too. And I’ll be honest, sometimes one of those thoughts will still enter my mind when I see someone severely overweight but I quickly chase it out! I know that I was not always lazy when I was over 200, but I did tend to stay away from things like hiking and camping. I did those activities sometimes, but not often and it was my idea! I don’t think I would say I was actually lazy though.

    Thanks for the comments too!
    Rachelle recently posted…Moving forward in my storyMy Profile

  19. Here is an emphatic YES to your question. The perception is there. When I weighed about 220 lbs I would do whatever possible to avoid having to expend extra energy. I felt tired and lethargic all the time – from the moment I got out of bed until the moment I fell into bed. Things are different now as I am no longer ‘lazy’. The biggest disappointment I have is I now consider my obese husband as the only who is ‘lazy’ between the two of us. He is working hard with his diet and exercise plan and I feel horrible getting angry when his ‘laziness’ is apparent. Now this I need to work on because he is really trying hard and I can tell things are still a huge struggle for him.

  20. I can honestly say I was never lazy…I was a hard worker…I am a hard worker.

    I was however tired more so to some that may translate lazy…but nt to me.
    Trish @I_am_Succeeding recently posted…6 Week Post Op Video Check-inMy Profile

  21. I think that sometimes it is the way we carry ourselves when over weight that leads to that perception. When over weight I felt bad about myself and didn’t smile as much, make as much eye contact when out in public and perhaps sent a negative vibe out because I was judging myself and therefore felt that others were judging me too.
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  22. Good rule of thumb: don’t judge people based on their outward appearance. I was lazy when it came to doing workouts when I was overweight but I was a hard worker with everything else. I think a lot of overweight people try to take care of everyone else but not himself/herself. The value to take of one’s self may not be there.
    Elizabeth recently posted…Back to WorkMy Profile

  23. I do think there is a perception of that, but it isn’t often true. Of course, some overweight people are lazy, but so are some normal weight people. People may think that because they imagine the overweight person being averse to exercise. However, you become overweight by eating too much not so much because of not exercising as much. Basically, all a person can tell about me because I’m overweight is that I eat too much. That’s a fair assumption. Laziness – not a fair assumption at all! I do work hard and am not lazy.
    Laura Jane recently posted…That First DominoMy Profile

  24. Hi Diane. I just read your post (one day late) and I was saddened by how you felt about being passed over for various church assignments that you felt was because of your weight. Maybe it was, but that would be terrible to experience. Those kind of experiences can sour a person on organized religions. Well it’s good that God loves us all, no matter what size we are.
    Marc recently posted…Fun weekend with visiting familyMy Profile

  25. I had an eye opening experience when I lost 70 pounds in my late 20′s. All of a sudden I was asked to head committees and take on all kinds of responsibilities. It made me think that people may not think that an overweight person is lazy, but it did seem as though losing weight made others think that I was more capable. I do think that overweight people are targets of discrimination.
    E. Jane recently posted…Getting Back into the Swing of ThingsMy Profile

  26. I am really late to the party on this one, but just had to respond. I definitely think there is a perception out there that people who are overweight, are also lazy (and a whole host of other “undesirable” traits), but I daresay that it is often because people who are overweight feel those things about themselves. I have experienced the same sorts of reactions from others after having lost weight but I truly believe it’s mostly because of how I VIEW myself, not how they view me. Even today, if I am having a “low energy” day or if I am feeling insecure and “playing small” I am less likely to get positive attention from others.
    KCLAnderson (Karen) recently posted…Self-Acceptance & Weight Loss: A Call For QuestionsMy Profile

  27. I know this is not exactly what you meant, but your post made me remember a short story about “The Most Successful Man in the World.” (or something like that) The point of the story was that this lazy guy would always find better and more efficient ways of doing things because he was so lazy! In the end he was the most successful man in the world. I suppose he would have found a better way to lose weight too if he needed that
    Dr. J recently posted…The Richmond, California Great Soda Tax BattleMy Profile

  28. I understand the point you’re trying to make with this post– and I’m not saying that people do not draw negative conclusions about overweight people– but I think you’ve underestimated how much your successful weight-loss journey has changed you as a person not just on the outside but the inside. I think that people respond to our inner selves more than we realize.

  29. It’s more to do with wrong information that’s out there. People don’t like change and they feel comfortable listening to main stream medias advise on losing weight even through it didn’t work. Even if they lost weight they would probably do it in a unhealthy way and gain tons more health problems.