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Walk a mile in my shoes. Saturday July 22, 2017

Can you really understand me after walking a 1.60 kilometres (one mile) in my shoes?

When I was a child my parents said you shouldn't judge someone until you have walked a mile in their shoes. This prompted questions, what if they don't have shoes, what if their shoes are too big or too small for me. I used to look at people's shoes and wonder what it would to wear big clown shoes or dainty ballerina shoes.

AS I grew older I understood the metaphor but have wondered how much understanding and empathy we get when walk in another's shoes.

Lately there have been reality TV shows and fundraising challenges that involve trying to understand another's plight. There is a television show where rich people spend ten days living like a homeless person. I think while these programs give people a chance to see how other people experience life do people really know what being homeless is like after one night spent outside or 7 days on the street. Reality programs rarely have anything to do with reality. For a rich person to spend 7 days roughing it, when they know they will soon be home in their mansion with indoor heating a heated pool and housekeepers.

These experiences may give us some insights but that is all.

People have said to me they know all about bipolar because a close relative/ friend has bipolar.

There was a week challenge for fundraising where people had to eat the rations given to united nations refugees for one week. A woman told me she now knew what is what like to feel hunger and she understood what the refugees experience. In one week is it possible to know what a person living on this ration really feels and experience.

I am now rethinking how useful is the statement walk a mile in my shoes.

Is it arrogant or even patronising to think we can know what another person's experiences in a short time?

Do you think that is possible to walk a mile in someone's shoes to understand them?

Or does it take much more than a mile or a realty tv show to really empathise with another human?

A Moodscope member.

Thoughts on the above? Please feel free to post a comment below.

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Molly Sat, Jul 22nd 2017 @ 1:29am

Good blog and good thinking Leah. Perhaps it should be 'walk a hundred miles' but maybe even then it is impossible to understand another's life and I dislike it when people try to think they know what someone else is experiencing because they have 'been there' or know someone who has been through similar. I believe everyone is different and every experience is different and true empathy towards another is not about oneself but totally about the other person. Whilst we can share our stories and possibly have some insight into certain situations/illnesses we never truly know how someone else feels. So I suggest we all forget the shoes and go bare footed. Just some need to be careful not to tread on any sharp stones. Molly xx

Leah Sat, Jul 22nd 2017 @ 3:01am

Thanks Molly. I always like seeing the first comment and I smile when I see your name as I know you will have read my blog carefully and written an insightful comment. I agree that 'true empathy towards another is not about oneself but totally about the other person'. I suppose sometimes in my enthusiasm to connect with another and let them know they are not alone I do share too much. I am aware of it and now try to listen really listen to the other person. I am writing barefoot. Leah xx

Molly Sat, Jul 22nd 2017 @ 4:11am

:-) Thank you for your kind words Leah. I think it is good to speak out about our own experiences as it is often very helpful and like you say it makes people feel they are not alone. I just don't like it when people say "I know how you feel" because they don't! Glad you have joined the bare foot brigade :-) xx

ACH UK Sat, Jul 22nd 2017 @ 6:25am

Walking a mile in my shoes would be mighty uncomfortable.
But I would welcome someone to try.
One small step is a beginning.

Leah Sat, Jul 22nd 2017 @ 8:13am

Thanks ach uk, for your comment. One step is indeed a small beginning.

The Gardener Sat, Jul 22nd 2017 @ 1:46pm

Ach, uncomfortable because of the life lived in them, or 6 inch heels??

ACH UK Sat, Jul 22nd 2017 @ 5:41pm

"One step is a beginning" Yes indeed.

ACH UK Sat, Jul 22nd 2017 @ 5:45pm

?As I believe the hominy to mean: the life lived in them. Thank you , Gardener.

Leah Sat, Jul 22nd 2017 @ 10:35pm

Thanks Ach and Gardener the life live int the shoes would be very uncomfortable for the old wearer and perhaps the new wearer too.

David Sat, Jul 22nd 2017 @ 6:25am

Never wear another person's shoes your feet will suffer and walk your own path in life and GOD may carry you in times of strife.

Leah Sat, Jul 22nd 2017 @ 8:15am

David thanks for your reply. I think walk your own path is good advice.

Anonymous Sat, Jul 22nd 2017 @ 6:41am

Leah, what an insightful post. I have often thought people should walk a mile in my shoes, after some very judgmental comments. Your post made me think and I completely agree that a short experience of someone's situation could never show another the reality of living that person's life. I will never watch a reality program without remembering your post. Of course our biggest critics are ourselves and sometimes I think we have to remind ourselves what we have been through and put ourselves back in those shoes we wore in the past to understand ourselves today.

Leah Sat, Jul 22nd 2017 @ 8:18am

Anon Thanks for your thoughtful post. I like the idea of getting to know ourselves better.

Anonymous Sun, Jul 23rd 2017 @ 10:18am

By knowing ourselves we can learn to be kinder to ourselves.

Leah Sun, Jul 23rd 2017 @ 11:46am

Anon it is a good plan to get to know ourselves better so we can be kinder to ourselves.

Orangeblossom Sat, Jul 22nd 2017 @ 6:48am

Hi Leah thanks for the blog. Perhaps the metaphor and reality tv shoes are aimed to shake the very comfortable & affluent and stir them from complacency. I reckon it may be easy to become compact that if you don't have to struggle for material things. If it stirs and creates space for empathy to develop, that can only be a good outcome.

Leah Sat, Jul 22nd 2017 @ 8:25am

Orangeblossom thanks for your post and your insight, You make a good point about affluent people however I fell many just go back to their old ways once the program is over;

Orangeblossom Sat, Jul 22nd 2017 @ 6:58am

It should read that it may become easy to become complacent if a person doesn't have to struggle for the material things in life. Developing another person approach to difficulties will help to reach out to the other and allow them space to be, to share or be silent. I reckon that we are accompanying each other for a short while on a shared journey but we are not the other. We can't possibly know what they feel or think.

Leah Sat, Jul 22nd 2017 @ 8:27am

Thanks for your thoughtful post. Orangeblossom I agree we can't possibly know what they feel or think.

Sally Sat, Jul 22nd 2017 @ 7:04am

Walk a Mile in my Shoes is a good beginning to understanding another person, and developing empathy, I think. I wouldn't have thought the tv reality shows would be sufficient, but as has been said above, it might well shake an affluent member of society out of complacency, which is something. Anything that furthers empathy between human beings is a positive, I think. I have always liked the expression, as it makes you stop and think. It's true that other people's lives are unimaginably hard, and hard to visualise, and often I am grateful that, despite troubles, I don't live other people's lives. In fact, there is nobody whose life I envy if I reallly think about it.
I work on the basis that if you can't empathise, at least be kind.
Thank you for stirring my brain cells this morning, Leah.

Leah Sat, Jul 22nd 2017 @ 9:02am

Sally Thanks for your post. I like your idea that' if you can't empathise at least be kind. That sounds like a good idea.

Fiona Sat, Jul 22nd 2017 @ 7:18am

I enjoyed your blog Leah , As someone who works daily with people who have lived through trauma and suffer from debilitating conditions I totally agree with your words .I can empathise with these people but no way can I ever know how they feel , just like I could not expect people to know what I am feeling and what I have suffered . Empathy is totally different, being beside somebody while they are suffering will do a lot more good than getting in the hole with them !!!!

Leah Sat, Jul 22nd 2017 @ 8:30am

Fiona . I agree about sitting beside one while they are suffering is better than getting in the hole with them,

Molly Sat, Jul 22nd 2017 @ 7:22pm

Hi Fiona, how very true. If we get into the hole with them, we are not much use at all. I am certainly going to remember your comment xx

Leah Sat, Jul 22nd 2017 @ 10:36pm

Molly and Fiona, That is why I never wanted to be a nurse as I would want to be sick with them and would be no use.

S Sun, Aug 27th 2017 @ 11:32am

Very interesting poiint Molly, you bring to mind a regretful night I was at one of my earliest lows and someone was beside me, not down with me, though their presence was a huge support, though the look on their face as they screamed at me never to try to leave them like that again, ever, haunts me in my dreams to this day. I don't think I'd ever seen such anguish anywhere but my own mirror before.

Mary Wednesday Sat, Jul 22nd 2017 @ 7:19am

I rather like the flippant saying, "If you dislike someone, try walking a mile in their shoes. At the end of it, you may not understand them, but at least you'll be a mile away - and you will have their shoes!"

Eva Sat, Jul 22nd 2017 @ 7:42am

I like that too ;)

Leah Sat, Jul 22nd 2017 @ 8:33am

Mary W, , yes I know that saying but decided not to use it but glad you did.

Molly Sat, Jul 22nd 2017 @ 7:23pm

Love this comment Mary :-) Lol !

Mary Wednesday Sat, Jul 22nd 2017 @ 7:44am

But to be serious, before I was on this medication, I might have wished that others could spend a week or a month, preferably a year as me, so they could know what it was like. But now, experiencing stability for the first time ever, I could never be that cruel.

I also understand how others could *think* they understand. Every morning now (nearly every morning) I score 73 on the test. Because all the red cards are 2 and all the blue cards are 0. But - oh - what a wide range that 2 and that zero cover! If I had always been "normal" and stable, then I would probably think that this range was all there was and use the 3s for the red cards sometimes, or the 3s for the blue.

I could never wish for anyone to experience the terrifying heights of the mania ( and mine wasn't even the full on mania; it was "hypomania"), and I certainly couldn't ask them to enter the dark, numbing hopelessness of depression.

My mother said yesterday to me, "I'm sorry. I cut myself off from you and pretended it wasn't as bad as it obviously was, because I couldn't bear it." I'm glad she did so; I wouldn't have wanted her to understand. I wouldn't have wanted her to know how often and how hard the struggle against suicide has been. She went through it with my father; I wouldn't have wanted her to have had another 50 years of pain and anxiety.

But then, I'm lucky: I can write. I can write from the top of the mountain; I can write with one hand while the other maintains a deathgrip on the sharp side of the abyss. I hope my words may help others understand. That's why I wrote that series of dark blogs a little while ago.

But my shoes stay on my feet. And I will not presume to know anything about the way your shoes fit. If I have empathy, I will look at your face, I will notice how you walk. I may put an arm round you to comfort you, or help you mend those shoes or find new ones. But your shoes are always yours, as mine can never be other than mine.

Leah Sat, Jul 22nd 2017 @ 8:42am

Mary , Thanks for your detailed response. I like the words 'your shoes are always yours, as mine can never be other than mine.'

Jane SG Sat, Jul 22nd 2017 @ 9:10am

Hi Mary, what your Mother said to you really touched me.

Leah Sat, Jul 22nd 2017 @ 9:19am

I agree what with Mary's mother said was very moving. My parents never had that insight at all. My poor mother blamed herself and was consumed with guilt.

Mary Wednesday Sat, Jul 22nd 2017 @ 7:46am

And, apologies Leah - that was very nearly another blog in itself. I forgot to say thank you for an extremely thought-provoking and, for me, emotional - provoking post.

Leah Sat, Jul 22nd 2017 @ 8:46am

Mary, your post was very interesting. . Don't apologise it will add to the discussion.

Eva Sat, Jul 22nd 2017 @ 8:01am

Hi Leah, I agree with Orange blossom that the reality TV shows are probably aimed at raising awareness rather than creating a truly authentic experience, but not just for the wealthy taking part but also the audience. Maybe they will all question and consider another person's plight a bit more and refrain from judging harshly, and that would be a good outcome.

When I was a teenager I struggled with empathy in the sense that I deeply felt for my friends and family and acquaintances in their troubles and I felt a lot of pain and anguish, it wasn't based on understanding their response, it was based on my reaction to their situation. I kept it private, I didn't impose on the real subject of a situation, I struggled for quite a while with the amount of pain in the world. It was a phase in my life, I still empathise and sympathise with my people but I have a bit of space around it now so I am not as deeply affected.

Is the difference between empathy and sympathy feeling the hurt alongside the sufferer? I don't know that you need to exactly feel their pain, maybe your pain is enough?

Leah Sat, Jul 22nd 2017 @ 8:55am

Eva I supposeI have a more sceptical view of reality shows as it is all about ratings and not changing behaviour. Thats just my opinion and you mayb be right. I can relate to your struggle with others pain. Thanks for your post.

Molly Sat, Jul 22nd 2017 @ 7:37pm

Hi Eva, your comment made so much sense to me. I too have been so affected by other people's problems, I am trying to be more 'selfish' and create that space that you describe. It does not help anyone if we are really feeling their pain along with our own existing pain. Really good point you make there xx Leah, I agree about reality shows, they are for pure entertainment and for ratings (remembering they actually also get paid for doing it) and I am sure some can create crocodile tears (very cynical of me but they probably see it as a job) rather than actually learn anything from it. How much goes on behind the scenes to tell them how to act in a certain way? I hope they do raise awareness, at least for the viewer! But some are totally misleading.... Molly xx

Leah Sat, Jul 22nd 2017 @ 10:44pm

Molly Thanks for your analysis of Eva's comments.As you say it is necessary to put a distance between others pain and at the same time not to feel that is selfish but it is about self care. There are different types of reality shows. There was one which I would cal a documentary about a group of people who were dying and they stayed in a house together and talked about their life. It was sad and fascinating so maybe more a documentary but it was interesting how they approached the end of their lives in a different way.

Molly Sat, Jul 22nd 2017 @ 11:09pm

I appreciate that, but I am also mindful that anything we watch on tv has actually been permitted and if I was dying, I wouldn't really say "come and film me and watch me die".

Leah Sat, Jul 22nd 2017 @ 11:31pm

Molly I agree, neither would I . It surprises me there are people who have had their own last months filmed as a documentary so it takes all kinds. I can't understand why people would let a film crew in on an intimate and very painful part of their lives but people do.

Marmaladegirl Sat, Jul 22nd 2017 @ 8:07am

Great blog Leah. Can anyone ever really understand what it is like to be someone else? I used to really want other people, particularly my family, to "understand". But now I think I have been hoping for the impossible and I accept that. I am happy if someone takes an interest and shows any amount of empathy. I therefore think that although "walking a mile in my shoes" is not going to give the full picture, I am more than happy that someone do that - "walking a mile in my shoes" is better than doing nothing at all! MG xx

Leah Sat, Jul 22nd 2017 @ 8:58am

Marmalade girl Thanks for your comment. I suppose walking a mile in my shoes is better than nothing unless people think they know you after a mile.

S Sun, Aug 27th 2017 @ 12:13pm

I guess ironically DMT could do just that. I read that one part of the ego death it causes allows you to experience every life in the universe. So you could walk *every* mile in someone's shoes. :P

Jane SG Sat, Jul 22nd 2017 @ 9:12am

Great blog Leah xx
I find it difficult to reach out when walking in my shoes feels tough because I know that everyone goes though, and can be going through, difficult times. Sometimes I feel it's indulgent to reach out. I really care for others when they are going through a difficult time but I always say to them that I can't know what it feels like to be them

Leah Sat, Jul 22nd 2017 @ 9:15am

Jane Thanks for you comment. It is hard to know what others are going through but we can be there and be compassionate

Sarah yellow rose Sat, Jul 22nd 2017 @ 9:15am

Hi Leah, thank you for your thought provoking blog. To support a family member I've been reading lots of books about adoption. One point that came up was empathy, the author said to really empathise you have to actually feel the emotional pain of the other person yourself as only then can you understand. Therefore just a physical awareness by walking in their shoes or acting out the situation is not enough. Often children who have experienced neglect are unable to understand their own feelings much like a baby, so need the same patience a baby needs which can be challenging to the carer. I have learnt so much. When my own children were young I had to teach myself!

Leah Sat, Jul 22nd 2017 @ 9:17am

Sarah yellowrose What a fascinating post. My brother and my partner are adopted so I found your comments thoughtful

Daisy Sat, Jul 22nd 2017 @ 9:15am

This week I made a comment about being judged. My good looking friend shared her experience of being judged often as she has a disabled boyfriend. Strangers commented in her hearing that she must be a prostitute - why else would she be with him? Discrimination at work they don't like her being seen with him, when he is a customer, but they are happy to take his money. The friend/boyfriend are soulmates and the commentators are tooo blind to see.

Leah Sat, Jul 22nd 2017 @ 9:22am

Daisy Thanks for your comment. It was very touching but also so sad that people can be so superficial, I am glad your friend takes no toice of others.

Molly Sat, Jul 22nd 2017 @ 7:48pm

Hi Daisy, this is a classic and all too familiar scenario. I think we are all slightly guilty of this kind of thinking unfortunately. I always try to think outside of the box. I can think of many examples that I won't go into but at the end of the day we have to have the mindset "who cares what other people think, it is their problem and not mine". Hard to do though! It frustrates me immensely! Molly xx

Leah Sat, Jul 22nd 2017 @ 10:47pm

Molly I agree I am sure I have been guilty of being judgmental when it has had nothing to do with me. I do try to pick myself up on this . Thanks for pointing this out.

Valerie Sat, Jul 22nd 2017 @ 9:42am

I once said to a woman who had lost her husband " I know what you're going through" I have never so far been widowed,but I have been divorced and suffered various hardships and despair.She was quite an abrasive woman,and she snapped angrily "No you don't know what I'm going through,you've not been in my position,I had no idea what it would be like,so how can you?"
She was quite right of course.I had not meant to cause offence,my words were well-meant.Now I would be more likely to start my condolences with "I can't begin to think what you must be going through...."

I would suppose that another person with bi-polar would not necessarily fully relate to what you go through when the illness strikes.You are an individual,not a list of symptoms.I think some of the T.V.programmes you mention are just entertainment dressed up as social conscience.They bring to mind the words of "Common People" by Pulp.Speaking of which,I can highly recommend William Shatners version of the song! xx

Leah Sat, Jul 22nd 2017 @ 10:23am

Valerie Thanks for your comment and your insight into what you said that woman. I think if someone says something with good intentionI would just smile and not attack them as they were only trying. I like William Shatner so I will check out that song.

Molly Sat, Jul 22nd 2017 @ 8:06pm

Very good points Valerie. It reminds me of a time when a woman who had also lost her husband said to me "you know how it feels don't you" and I said "no I don't". I was unsure if this was an offensive reply but I honestly didn't know and I wasn't going to pretend that I did. But as Leah says, we all try and say the right thing and sometimes fail as there probably is no right or wrong in such situations. I always think it is better to say something, than nothing at all. I will also listen to that song. Molly xx

Leah Sat, Jul 22nd 2017 @ 10:50pm

Molly, Thanks again for a great comment.AS we are all different there is never a right answer as you have shown us. Sometimes people want us to say I know how you feel and others do not want that at all. So it is tricky. I always hope if people know I have good intentions they will forgive me if I say something inappropriate in their eyes,

David Sat, Jul 22nd 2017 @ 11:14am

I always buy the best shoes I can buy as we all have one pair of feet and it is our duty to look after them. I also do a lot of STOMPING IN war zones so I require excellent feet to run and exit trouble zones.

Leah Sat, Jul 22nd 2017 @ 10:52pm

David Your comments fascinate me.

Jane Sat, Jul 22nd 2017 @ 1:49pm

Hi and thanks for the blog. I am fascinated by these reality programmes where people live in another's"shoes". Why does it always seem to be a week. Enough for a taste, but not enough to cause the participants lasting damage or upset? What I ve noticed is that, of course, it depends on the psychological makeup of those taking part. Those who have empathy may, irrespective of their level of privilege"get it" enough in this short period for it to impact upon their thoughts. Others wedded to certain beliefs - often along the lines of "you make your own luck" or that you can work one's way out of trouble or poverty might need the calamities of Job before they could. Maybe it's down to emotional intelligence, imagination to see beyond the surface and the empathy gene ... I would also comment that I know quite a number of mental health sufferers who themselves can only see their own issues and fail to appreciate / recognize those of others who may even be suffering more.

Leah Sat, Jul 22nd 2017 @ 10:57pm

Jane THanks for your thoughtful reply. I think the people on reality shows are chosen so there is a mix of personality types. And so we as viewers get a contrast. It would be interesting. Year later to see if anyone has changed their thoughts or behaviour after the show. I agree that just because someone suffers they will know how others suffer. I have had people say I was depressed or I have bipolar b ut I never did such and such, .

The Gardener Sat, Jul 22nd 2017 @ 1:55pm

Hello Leah, interesting as ever. Another saying is 'I would not be in YOUR shoes' get a lot of that sort of thing. Something off the point is 'whose shoes WOULD you like to occupy for the day. People like writer of 'Down and out in London and Paris' have proved how little you can live on, but that sort of thing gets a lot of 'stick' because anybody who HAS to live like that does not want to. In countries which have suffered awful food lacks, you instinctively hate what you were forced to - like in France using flour made of chestnuts during the war. All the people who say to me 'You must have a life' I refrain from saying 'well, live in my shoes for 2 hours, 1 night, 1 week' and see how fast they run

Leah Sat, Jul 22nd 2017 @ 11:01pm

Gardener Thanks for your reply. You make many interesting points . It is so true that people who have to live on very little usually dont want to. Your shoes would have many a tale to tell but not sure people would ever understand what you go through. Take care

Cat Sat, Jul 22nd 2017 @ 2:36pm

Hi Leah,I think it is good that people try but for most things they don't understand the extent of the problem as they can't see what is going on inside my head. Most people are coming from a place of really wanting to help though,and I suppose it is the thought that counts. Cat x

Leah Sat, Jul 22nd 2017 @ 11:02pm

Cat thanks for your reply. That is true most people want to help but are not sure how. I don't even know what goes on in my head so will have no chance of knowing wat goes on in others.

Molly Sat, Jul 22nd 2017 @ 8:22pm

I felt I wanted to keep commenting on all of these comments, but what a great discussion. Well done Leah for initiating it (without being patronising there) everyone seemed to relate in some way and it really does make me feel less alone when I read what fellow Moodscopers have to say. As always Leah, I think you 'cut to the chase' and reach out to people. Molly xx

Leah Sat, Jul 22nd 2017 @ 11:06pm

Molly Thank you so much for your caring and insightful comments on my blog, it really adds to the discussion. Thanks for your kind words but it it realise moodscopers like you who take time to reply and make my blog into a living discussion Leah xx

Molly Sat, Jul 22nd 2017 @ 11:31pm

But it was only because of your blog that it got everyone talking ! You are far too modest ! If I can relate to a blog and then relate to the comments, it really does play a good part into my day - thank you xx

Leah Sat, Jul 22nd 2017 @ 11:34pm

I will accept your kind comment with grace. Thank you xx

Leah Sat, Jul 22nd 2017 @ 11:09pm

I want to thank everyone who has contributed, read or thinking about replying to my blog. The comments have been detailed and provoked much thought and feeling. It is never too late to reply and now with the new notification system I will know hen someone replies and I can read and comment. THanks again moodscopers.

Ruth Sat, Jul 22nd 2017 @ 11:50pm

I used to teach 'To a Mockingbird'. In that the lawyer Atticus Finch suggests firmly that his children should walk in someone else's shoes. I thought that that was correct. I don't know now. We need to discover for ourselves. What would I gain twitching around with anxiety by walking in someone else's shoes.? Actually company would be great. Thanks. Great blog.

Leah Sun, Jul 23rd 2017 @ 2:10am

Ruth thanks for your comment. Another quote from Atticus which is similar to walk a mile in someone's else shoes but goes further is -"You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view--until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it." (Atticus Finch, Chapter 3) I wonder would going inside someone's skin and walking around it help you to understand someone or would you just be taking your own prejudices and thoughts with you. Thanks for reminding of that great book.

Jul Mon, Jul 24th 2017 @ 9:00am

I've thought a lot about your blog Leah and couldn't reply on the day as we were traveling back from France. In any case it's taken me a while to think how to reply as you raised many issues. Amongst others,reality TV shows and being able to really understand how another person feels deep down. I have come to hate the way TV delves into the minutiae of everyday lives. I wouldn't be surprised if there is a documentary about how a family washes up or clears away the dinner plates. It's as if we should be fascinated by what someone says about every aspect of their daily life. Of course we sometimes are. I often wonder if even I could appear on one of these programmes and come across as serious and fascinating if I talked about how I get up in the morning, draw back the curtains, go downstairs and get the toaster out after pouring myself a coffee. Big Brother has a lot to answer for!! My response to the walking a mile in someone else's shoes is something I heard once that you never know what goes on behind closed doors. One of my pet hates is assumptions about other people. I think that's how racism. sexism and all the isms happen. Once we meet the individual usually we like them but we assume such negative things about people en masse whom we have never met. Thank you for making me think about this! Jul xx

Leah Mon, Jul 24th 2017 @ 9:31am

Jul THanks for your thoughtful comment. I agree about assumptions as that leads to stereotypes, we are all different. AS Molly wrote yesterday people make assumptions about thin people . I think we need to look at people as individuals not as labels. Behind closed doors is a good saying but now the doors are open but we still don't have a clue. Leah xx

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