It happened again the other day. Someone referred to me as “Big Guy” in the most affectionate of ways.
But even so, a part of me dies every time it happens.
I’ve been trying to figure out a way to explain how it feels. Here’s the best I can do.
It would be like referring to the woman who lost all her hair from chemo as “Baldy,” or to the veteran who lost his leg in battle as “Gimpy,” or to the plain looking person as “Beautiful,” or think about your biggest insecurity and then think about how it would feel to have someone refer to it in place of your name.
A select few from these groups would actually welcome such nicknames as a comedic coping mechanism, but I suspect the majority would wince, at least internally, like I do.
I’ve been overweight my entire life, and I am reminded about my size by people at every turn, as if I didn’t know. Some are overt with their reminders, some are covert.
Once, I walked into a public restroom and a guy who was combing his hair while staring at himself in the mirror apparently felt the need to say something to me. “Dang, I didn’t know they made shirts that big.”
“Well, now you know.”
A couple of years ago, I was inside a minor league clubhouse waiting to interview a player and two of his teammates pointed in my direction and snickered. They could have been laughing at the way I dress, or any number of other things, I guess, but I had my doubts. Instead, I envisioned them sharing a laugh about the clichéd overweight sportswriter who was standing in the corner.
Hypersensitive? Probably. But when you’ve experienced enough snickers, it’s hard not to develop a complex.
Another time, I went on a dinner train ride with a singles group from church. Part of the evening entertainment included a murder mystery in which passengers get involved, trying to solve the clues. A member of the cast took one look at me and began referring to me as “Big Beefy Guy.” That was eighteen or twenty years ago, and I still remember it.
I rarely say anything to the people uttering such comments or nicknames because most of the time, I trust that their intentions are honorable, or, at the very least, that they are oblivious. But be mindful of the words you use to address others. They cut and slash and wound in ways you never see.
Lee Warren is a freelance writer and editor who has written twelve non-fiction books, one novella and hundreds of articles for various newspapers and magazines as well as edited more than 50 books that currently appear in print. He's a fan of NASCAR, baseball, tennis, books, movies and coffee shops.