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Health and weight (young people)

Friends, relationships and weight

All of the young people we spoke to wanted to have friends, go out and enjoy themselves. Some had positive experiences to share but it wasn’t always that easy. Most lacked the self-confidence to join in and many were scared of being disliked because of their weight.
 

Vicki hates feeling judged by people because she’s overweight.

Vicki hates feeling judged by people because she’s overweight.

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Me and my cousin look very similar, apart from that I’m fat and she’s thin. And people when we were younger, I was never particularly big, ‘cos I was always quite tall, but then all my friends grew up around me, and I just sort of stayed shorter but carried on getting wider, whereas my cousin, I was always taller than my cousin, so I didn’t look that big, because I was quite, like stretched out, and she was slim anyway. But as we got older like she’d be quite nasty and be like, “Oh you’re right fat.” You know and it’s just like, that was her argument, that was our, if we were to have an argument, she’d go, “Yeah, well you’re well fat,” or something, and I was just like, “Oh and you’re really clever.” Like is that the best you can do, like pick on someone about the way they look? It’s just the most pathetic thing in the world.
 
Like if I was to get into an argument with someone, I would never ever, ever, ever, ever like use against them how they look, because it’s just so pathetic and unfair and uncalled for and there’s just no point because it just... I don’t even know, I don’t understand why people sort of go, “Something, something, something, well yeah, you’re really ugly.” Or, “You’re, you’re really fat,” and it’s just like, but they are or no they’re not, but why would you put someone else down like that? There’s just absolutely no need. If you’re arguing with somebody because you don’t agree with what they’ve done, or they don’t agree with what you’ve done, you wouldn’t just turn around to them and go, “Well yeah but, you’re just fat,” or, “You’re just ugly.” Because it’s just really mean. Really mean.
 

Huw says that being attractive depends on your confidence and mental attitude.

Huw says that being attractive depends on your confidence and mental attitude.

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When you don’t see yourself as attractive it’s kind of hard, because if you don’t see yourself as attractive they won’t see you as attractive, which is why it’s called the self confidence kind of thing, ‘cos if you’ve got self confidence and you’re just sort of like, “Wow I look really good tonight” then I’ll get that kind of message out to everyone else, and so there’s bound to be someone. And so it’s quite important - I wish it wasn’t - but it’s important to young people because it’s so commercialised and it’s so in your face really, ‘cos it’s everywhere you see people but there’s, it gives you hope in some ways, ‘cos you think so well there’s bound to be someone. But it’s just the fact that you see people who you classify as attractive going through boyfriends or girlfriends at a rate of like knots, so that’s quite depressing, because when you can’t even get one, and they’re going, and they’re like, if their relationship lasts a week, you’re just like, “Wow, oh my goodness you’re a Lord.” Oh, a couple of my friends are like that.
 
So do you think that you can be a bigger size and still be beautiful or attractive?
 
Yeah.You can. I think it’s all down to like your mental, your mental picture of yourself really because, again, going back to this friend who has an awful lot going on in her life, but she prides herself on looking - she cakes herself with make up - but it makes her feel beautiful. And if you feel beautiful, people will see you as beautiful, and she wears the most outrageous clothes and she’s so bubbly and it’s lovely, and that’s so, that’s such an attractive thing to have. But it’s when you’re like, “Oh I feel so bad and ugly today.” That, that’s when you become really bad, and so size isn’t the thing, it’s more the mental, mental, what you, what you, it’s the way you act, if you act like all closed and in a corner and not socialising, then I mean attractive is someone who is the life and soul of the party, dancing in the middle, having a good laugh, and so it, yeah it does all come down to mental, ‘cos I mean you can lose weight as much as you want, but no matter how much weight you lose you will still have that mental, mental image of you being bigger than everyone else, no matter how much you lose, even if you’re the same size as them, if you’ve been bigger than them, you know how it feels and it’s so hard to like shed that mental image. 
Friends 
Friendships were often difficult for the young people we spoke to. Some felt that they were seen as ‘the shoulder to cry on’. They got angry and hurt when their friends were insensitive and moaned about how they had put on tiny amounts of weight. Some girls said that their female friends didn’t want to be seen in public with them or left them out once boys were around.
 

Gemma thinks people are ashamed to be seen with her.

Gemma thinks people are ashamed to be seen with her.

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You said just then that even prior to that you didn’t have many friends. Why, why do you think that was? What was going on then for you?
 
I don’t think people really wanted to be seen with someone like me really, because I’ve always kept myself to myself, and, like I did use to have friends but then because of my lying I just decided that I should keep myself in, so I always used to just stay in the house ‘cos I was scared that, only time I would basically leave were to go to school and to go up to my Gran’s. And that’d be it. I wouldn’t go out anywhere else, just come in and lock myself in my room and that’d be it. So that’s basically why I didn’t have any. But I mean, I made one good friend in High School and then once I’d left I haven’t heard from her ever since. So to me they weren’t really a good friend, they just let me down, I were just there for the taking really.
 
You said ‘people like me’ - What did you mean by that? They don’t want to know people like you? Or be seen with people like you?
 
Some people can be ashamed of me, like they have admitted it to me before, even if, like even if I were a good person, they don’t want to be seen with me because of my outside. Like because really nowadays people don’t really care about the person on the inside, they want to see people who are thin, you know? Like to be seen with me, they’d be ashamed, and that’s basically what they admitted to me before. So, it’s not my point of view because I mean everybody’s an individual, and everybody has the right to be here, so it’s just their opinion really.
 

Becca thinks other girls didn'’t want to know her because she didn'’t look like them.

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Becca thinks other girls didn'’t want to know her because she didn'’t look like them.

Age at interview: 17
Sex: Female
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From the moment I walked into the school, you know, people, mostly I was friends with the quieter people that were shy and you know, so I think that was mostly because although they would have made a judgement on me at the time they were just the shy little people who couldn’t do anything else, you know, and I became that because, that’s not my personality that’s just what I became because I didn’t kind of get anywhere else.
 
So yeah I mean, like people just look at you and like I’ve, I’ve later become friends with some of them [sorry] and but at the time they think… and they just make that judgement like that, and then just think - and again I don’t think it would be anything about my personality or what I am like as a person - it is just quite literally what I looked like and how different I looked and that was it. That was how they made their assessment of me and that, you know, that’s how it was so…
 
So what do you think they were thinking on that basis then?
 
Just, I think, ‘look at how different she is’. If I was to be friends with them it would kind of bring them down with it as well, because walking round with me in school… you have got that many people saying things that it must take over them as well. And I don’t think it was, it was always in a negative harsh way. I mean some, a lot of it was, but some of it was just… they were people that were scared to get involved with me because of what was happening. Other people just you know like, I could call them shallow now, but that is again just making a judgement of them but they, there was a group of people that they were all friends with each other because they share the same make-up and, you know, and they share the same kind of values, that if I look like this I will get attention, and I obviously wasn’t like that because the only attention that I would get is negative. So yeah I think that was the kind of judgement they made on me is ‘she’s not pretty, she doesn’t look like this, I don’t want to know her’ kind of thing that was it, that was just all it comes down to so.
Life could be ‘unbearable’ especially when they were being bullied at school as well. (See Bullying and Low moods & depression). A few became so unhappy and lonely that they stayed in all the time or told their parents that they were meeting their friends when really they were going out alone.

Those who had eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia had totally different issues with friends. Friends sometimes got impatient with them if they thought they were being secretive about food and eating. Some friends had been supportive and encouraged them to see a doctor. For more information see Eating Disorders: Friends and Relationships.
 
Relationships
Most girls thought that boys only wanted to be seen with thin girls so they didn’t stand a chance. Several girls had had relationships with boys who liked the way they looked, but that it wasn’t always a good thing because it could stop people from addressing their weight problem. Others said that it was usually boys who were similarly overweight who showed interest in them.
 

Rachael thinks that her size means that female friends and ‘overweight males’ don’t see as her a ‘threat’.

Rachael thinks that her size means that female friends and ‘overweight males’ don’t see as her a ‘threat’.

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It's kind of weird being eighteen and never having a serious relationship because, you know, you do think, “Is that normal? Is that not normal? Am I, where do I belong in this?” you know. Is it normal for a fat person to have already had a boyfriend? Is it, compare it to a thin person who’s always getting male attention and, yeah, you get jealous about people getting male attention all the time. People seem to be, you know, cause I do have, all my friends, my friends are a very attractive bunch to be quite honest but, you know, and they’re always, there's always some love interest going on or, you know, there's always something happening and then there’s kind of like me that just floats around and it’s like nothing.
 
You know, and you do feel a bit put out and you do kind of think, “Still left on a shelf.” I'm only eighteen and it still feels like that, you know. But it's a case of you have to, you have to realise and you have to understand that, you know, some blokes just aren't going to want to go out with you when you're this size. And it does hurt and you do kind of think, you know, that kind of sucks because you don't want to think it but you know it's true.
 
The only vague, very vague male attention I've had is from other overweight males because, you know, I'm not that much of a threat. I mean, that's another thing that I always think of is that girls are quite good friends with me because they know I'm not a threat to them, you know, in like a relationship sense. You know, like a lot of my friends are in couples and the girls never ever see me as a threat if I'm like joking around with their boyfriend and being, you know, just like really matey with them because they know that deep down their boyfriend isn’t want to go out with a fatty [laughs]. It sounds harsh but it's true, you know, and so...
 
Have they said that to you then?
 
No, they’ve never said it to me but you can, you just kind of sense it sometimes. You know, you can sense that, you know, I'm not a threat to them because I am bigger than them and their boyfriends aren't going to want to go out with someone who’s physically less attractive, I suppose you could say, you know. But it is a case of I'm there and I'm never seen as a relationship threat, you know. I'm never seen as someone that could ruin someone's relationship, you know, because I'm just not seen that way. And I think that, that is partially due to my size because they don't think that, you know, a fat person’s going to steal away their man, you know what I mean.
 

Holly's male friends told her they'd rather go out with skinny girls.

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Holly's male friends told her they'd rather go out with skinny girls.

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On the topic of friends, what about boyfriends? And things like that?
 
Again it’s the way... the boys always like the skinnier girls and the size 8s and things. So the two boyfriends that I have had, one of them turned out to be gay which was interesting, I was a testing ground on that one, and so that doesn’t really help with the confidence, but people like, that’s the same as going to parties with friends, they would all attract various people and they would go off and I would be the one that was left on their own, which is one of the reasons why I never went. So yeah, all but one of my friends have partners at the moment, including myself, well I don’t have one but yeah. And they’ve just broken up with someone, so it is a case of yeah people don’t like larger people. You know, boys like the curves, and I’m sure they’d like someone with bigger breasts but you don’t get that in proportion to smaller size people, and so they go for the smaller size.
 
Is this something that you’ve sort of put two and two together kind of thing and worked this out for yourself, or have you sort of had a conversation with boys that that?
 
A bit of both. I have some male friends that I’ve said, you know, which would you rather; if there was, when we’ve been people watching would you rather go out with this person, or this person? And one of them… you know, her hair’s straightened, and highly covered in make-up, and very skinny and in latest fashions and someone’s what I will consider a normal figured person, and then they will choose the skinny one straight away. So yeah. So it’s a bit of both - bit of me just watching how it all works and me asking as well. 
Most of the people we spoke to said that they felt embarrassed and self-conscious about their bodies. Some couldn’t imagine letting a boyfriend see them naked or having sex.
 

Vicki is scared of getting rejected by guys because of her weight.

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Vicki is scared of getting rejected by guys because of her weight.

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And there was this one guy who me and my friend were both interested in, and so it was a bit like, and I just took, took the back line and I was like, fine, you know he would go for you anyway because you’re slimmer than I am, and you’re prettier than I am, like go for it. And I think that’s part of my problem as well is like I don’t really put myself out there much, like I’ve never had a serious relationship, I always like freak out and I’m like, and I don’t want to do anything with guys either because I’m just worried like I’m so, like paranoid they’ll be like, “Oh my God, you’re so fat.” Like so I just, I just keep myself to myself really.
 
And like I hate, I remember I was seeing like this guy in the summer and he stayed round a few times. I just didn’t want to like do anything because I felt so self-conscious, and I’ve known him for ages as well, and it’s like he’s probably seen me get changed into my pyjamas before, but it was just the fact like intimacy really scares me because I’m overweight, and I think if I wasn’t overweight I’d be fine like. And cuddling as well, like going to sleep, I didn’t like it, I lay flat on my back and hold my stomach in until he fell asleep, I’d be like... and then I could go, finally go to sleep myself, and then like make sure I wake up before him so I’d be like, hold myself in and stuff.
Building confidence
Those who lost weight, even small amounts, said they felt happier in themselves and more confident which helped them make friends. The SHINE programme (Self Help Independence, Nutrition and Exercise) had helped some, others were encouraged by a mentor/ team leader at school. Being more active and getting out and doing more generally helped with weight loss and feeling more confident.
 

Ella enjoys getting compliments when she'’s lost weight.

Ella enjoys getting compliments when she'’s lost weight.

Age at interview: 17
Sex: Female
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Well they’ve been really, really nice, and it was always nice to sort of, because I’ve sort of been, at first I lost weight, quite suddenly I lost 5lbs in the first week for instance, which was a lot to lose, it was nearly half a stone, you know, so obviously I got loads of really nice comments from my friends, but also, gradually losing weight, and I’m, and because it sort of plateau'd out and I’m only losing a bit here and there, and I’d get quite down about it, and think God I’m not losing anything, and sometimes when you feel like that you’re more tempted to say, oh well it doesn’t matter, I’ll you know I’ll , I’ll you know, sometimes you’re getting quite tempted to give up, not that I would ever, but it’s always nice when you haven’t seen your friends in a while and you come in and they’re, “You’re looking so skinny!” and that’s really, really nice. ‘Cos, yeah, they’ve all been really, really supportive, they’ve been lovely.
 
And you mentioned you were in a relationship? Are you still in that?
 
No, I’m in a different one. Yeah, and it’s very different now to how it was with the other person I was in a relationship with. Because before you know, I was always told it wouldn’t matter how big I was and things like that, which although it’s nice, you know, it’s probably very supportive, it’s also not, not I guess the right response because it just made me feel like I didn’t have to worry about it, and that I didn’t, that even though I was still unhappy about it, it made me feel as though I didn’t have to do anything about it which was probably when I put on the most weight. And now although my boyfriend is really supportive and says that he’ll, he’ll you know, he thinks I’m fine the way I am, he’s also really, really supportive of me losing weight. And you know at times when I’m a bit tempted to have something I probably shouldn’t, he’s quite helpful with that. And he does it in a nice way as well so, yeah it’s much better now I think that my boyfriend before was probably trying to say what he thought I wanted him to say, but I don’t think that’s particularly helpful to me. 
 

Since she lost some weight, Chelsea says that boys no longer call her names.

Since she lost some weight, Chelsea says that boys no longer call her names.

Age at interview: 17
Sex: Female
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Well when I first started the programme… before I started the programme it was hard to find a boyfriend. Because they were … because of my weight problem nobody wanted to be with me. They were all ashamed to walk the streets with me. I had a lot of friends that were boys but it was just like none of … they all were ashamed to like walking, hold hands with me in street. They were all ashamed to kiss me in the street and things like that. And then when I started SHINE (Self Help Independence, Nutrition and Exercise), I go with a lad I’d called [name]. He were in the same position as me, the same boat. We’re both same age, and we’ve both lost the same amount of weight.
 
Oh right.
 
But it, but we split up now. We’ve both gone our separate ways.
 
How long were you with him?
 
I was with him for two years. And but now I’ve lost my weight it is a bit easier to find a boyfriend. I mean before I lost my weight I used to walk past lads that were nice looking and they used to say, “Move now you fat git.” “Fatty”. And call me ‘Tubsy’ and everything. But now I walk past the lads in the street that are nice and they don’t call me that, they just smile at me.
 

Alex explains how the weight management programme SHINE has helped her confidence. (Animated clip).

Alex explains how the weight management programme SHINE has helped her confidence. (Animated clip).

Age at interview: 14
Sex: Female
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Like before I never used to like get involved with any like drama things or anything like that at school. But since SHINE (Self Help Independence, Nutrition and Exercise) I’ve like tried to like get myself involved more and go to more things like musicals and things like that. And just like going to parties with my friends has become easier because, just things to wear. And I’m not like as self-conscious when, like if I wore a vest top or a dress or something I’d think…and like it’s helped a lot with my friends saying, “Oh, you look nice” and things like that. Whereas before I’d just think, if they said it I just thought, it just went in one ear and come out the other and I just thought, “They’re just making it up.” But now I actually think, “Yes, I can look nice.” And I don’t, I don’t have to put a downer on myself all the time.
 
And before what was difficult about going to parties?
 
It were just like, if it were a sleepover you just thought oh, I don’t want to get changed in front of them and they might laugh at me. But it’s something to do with friends as well, because you think if they are, they’re not really your true friends, because they should like you for who you are and not what you look like and things like that.
 
And like holidays, and if you’re on holiday you’re thinking, I don’t want to wear a bikini, or things like that. But like we go with my family quite a lot, so I’m not right fussed any more. And it’s helped me to lose weight. And like swimming, I used to think oh I don’t want to go swimming because… and like I don’t want to wear a costume and I want to wear my shorts, and things like that. But being with SHINE it’s made me think well if I can do it, it’s building my confidence and it’s just making me a better person.
 
And how do you think, because a lot of people have said that SHINE has helped them feel more confident, how do you think they do that?
 
I don’t know. It’s just because, I think it’s because when, like before I come to SHINE I were like shy and wouldn’t make new friends because of what I thought they might think of me, and just things like that. But now I just think, ‘No I’m all right. I can make friends and I’m happy.’ And I just think I can do things. I believe in myself more now.
Last reviewed July 2017.
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