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They worry about how they look, that people will make fun of them, that they'll break the next chair they sit in. Missing from most of those reports are the voices of the obese -- real people who weigh 50 or 60 or 200 pounds more than they should. "When you enter the world of obesity," says Joseph Silvestro, a 325-pound man from Parma Heights, "you enter into a world of invisibility. When you're heavy, Stein says, you never know when the next insult's coming -- or who's going to hurl it. "And that was from somebody who wasn't trying to hurt me, he actually thought he was giving me a compliment." She laughs at the story now.
"I'll tell you a story that came up when I was a teenager," she says, "A very nice, very popular guy in my class came up to me. But the pain buried in it is bigger than she ever was.He put his arm around me and he said, 'You know, you're the only girl I could spend the whole night with naked and not have sex with.' "Gee, thanks," she says. It's a hurt other seriously overweight people know well.Before 15-year-old Salena Williams lost 50 pounds -- enough of a drop to no longer be considered obese -- kids at her school called her "Salami." "It was a little joke," says Salena, a ninth-grader at Euclid High School. You know kids are mean." So are adults, even smart ones who ought to know better.Stein remembers a day in her medical residency, back before she lost so much weight, when a professor began to humiliate her about her size in front of her fellow residents."He just went on and on until one of my friends in residency said, 'I feel like she's getting raped.' "And that's what it felt like.It was like somebody just ripping your guts open and saying, 'You are a worthless piece of whatever,' because of the way you look.
"I want to tell people, 'I don't look the way I look because I want to look this way. Being ignored and being dismissed has really hurt my feelings -- a lot.
I'm sorry if I'm offending your eyes.' "I live with this. It hurts emotionally, it hurts physically, it's painful, and I try to do what all of you out there tell me I ought to be doing, and it's not working. It's stolen my personality away." Video: Comedian Mark Mazzocco talks seriously about obesity and his health.
It's not working for me, and it's not working for any of the other millions of obese people in society." Coping with meanness, pressure from family It's not just friends and colleagues. "The worst I've gotten has been from my family," says Jonetta Reed, a graduate student at Cleveland State University who's trying, again, to lose 50 pounds. Family and friends put other kinds of pressure on those who are overweight.
When she was growing up, one close relative in particular -- an adult -- would yell at her about her size. "Many times people will pull me aside and say 'Hey, Mark, you know what?
"I can remember so many Christmases my dad holding me because she talked about me and how fat I was to the point that I cried. We want you to be around,' " says Mark Mazzocco, who weighs about 400 pounds, works in comedy-club promotions and does stand-up comedy in his spare time.
"And when you're fat, at least in my family, you're not cute or you're not beautiful. That you can be beautiful and glamorous and -- oh, yes, God, even sexy -- without being small." Those experiences are soul-stealing, Silvestro says. "That really tugs at your heartstrings because there's enough stress in the world today with the economy and everything that's going on.