Jerry Seinfeld early in his career had a bit about Bob Hughes, who at one time held the Guinness record for heaviest man alive.
“Have you ever seen that guy who has the record for fattest man in the world?” the bit goes. “Bob Hughes, the fattest man in the world … 1,400 pounds. Ladies and gentlemen, the man has let himself go.”
It continues by pointing out someone else could weigh 1,000 pounds but still feel good about themselves in comparison to Hughes. “That’s a man with a serious weight problem,” Seinfeld says.
The truth is Hughes, who died in 1958, never got to be quite that large. His heaviest confirmed weight tilted the scales at 1,041 pounds, or a little more than a half-ton.
Hughes nowadays would be the second person in Seinfeld’s joke, the smaller one, because a lot of people around the world have seriously let themselves go.
Juan Pedro Franco Salas of the central Mexican city of Aguascalientes is the most recent man to earn the distinction of heaviest man alive, weighing 1,311 pounds in November 2016. He had not left his bedroom in seven years before medical issues forced him into a hospital, where he lost almost 374 pounds in six months.
The heaviest man ever, according to Guinness, was Jon Brower Minnoch, who doctors estimated exceeded 1,400 pounds when he arrived for treatment of congestive heart failure at Seattle hospital in March 1978. A strict diet would get him down to 476 pounds, but at the time of his death in 1981, he had gotten back up to almost 800 pounds.
All of these people, undoubtedly, elicited stares when they would venture into public. People would whisper behind their backs, and since most morbidly obese adults were obscenely overweight as children, they grew up as objects of ridicule.
In America, cruel judgment is in our DNA.
Several years back, a Freeport woman was featured on an episode of the TLC program “My 600 lb. Life,” which follows morbidly obese people as they seek to save their lives by losing weight with the help of renowned Houston bariatric surgeon Dr. Younan Nowzaradan. The patients come from around the country to get into Dr. Now’s last-resort program.
All express the shame they feel when others look at them with disgust. Many talk about what led to their weight problems, which often is rooted in being abused as a child. Food is their comfort, just as alcohol is for a problem drinker.
Most of the stories have positive endings. After stumbling early on, failing to adhere to strict diets or deal with the emotional causes of their addiction, the patients have their moment of awakening and soon are on their way to a slimmer, healthier life. They start feeling better about themselves, which fuels their motivation to continue on their weight-loss journey.
That is what happened to the patient from Freeport, who appeared last week in a “Where are they now” update episode of the show. Bedridden when we first met her three years ago, she now is able to get out and about, including heading to a Lake Jackson eatery with her godson for lunch.
The lesson of the show is not only delivered to the patients, though. It also has a message for viewers to consider how we judge people by how they look without thinking about the pain that created their circumstances and the difficulties that must be overcome to change.
Poor Americans cannot instantly obtain better jobs or sign up for college classes to improve their lives. Drug addicts cannot just put down a crack pipe and get on the straight and narrow. Abuse victims cannot just get over it.
Whether it is weight, prejudice or addiction, the journey to overcome our self-inflicted burdens is a long one, and jeering bystanders should consider the ugliness in their own lives before casting judgment on others.