I am currently in Uganda. While I’m gone, the Villager is rerunning some of my early favorites. The following column was first published on February 6, 2003.

Someone called me “Tiny” the other day. Which was a whole lot nicer than Sleepy, Sneezy, Grumpy or Dopey.

We were at Curves, and were right next to each other on the exercise equipment. She looked at me the way you look at someone you recognize, but can’t quite place.

“Do you work for the city of Chanhassen?” she finally asked.

“No, but I write a column for the Villager,” I replied, trying to be helpful.

“That’s it!” she said. “I knew you looked familiar. But you’re so tiny. Your picture in the paper makes you look – well – bigger.”

I’ve heard that before. And I’ve noticed it about other people, too. Sometimes, when I’ve attended a speech or presentation by an author or someone else whose picture – usually a head shot – has appeared on book jackets or in their promotional literature, I’m amazed by how much smaller they look in real life than in their photos.

Maybe part of it is psychological, since people whose pictures are on book jackets strike me as larger than life. There’s also the conventional wisdom about the camera adding ten pounds, but I always thought that was only for models and movie stars.

Then again, maybe I’m ignoring the obvious. This happened at Curves, after all, which is a fitness center I’ve been going to for a while now. The full name of the facility is “Curves for Women,” and in my opinion, it lives up to its name. A few weeks after I started going there I found the waistline I had misplaced years ago. Shortly after that, some of my friends started asking me if I had lost weight. This was even before I got my star up on the wall, which happens as soon as you lose a total of five pounds and/or inches.

Still, “tiny” is not a word I would have used to describe myself, either then or now. But I have to admit that it felt pretty good. And it’s helping me stay motivated to keep on exercising.

It’s also helping  to remind me how much and how easily we can be influenced – for better or worse – by the words of others. And how easily we can influence others by our words. It’s something to think about, especially when we’re tempted to use labels like “stupid” or “lazy” to describe others. Or ourselves.

As a rule, I try never to use derogatory words like that. But maybe I need to make more of an effort to use complimentary ones. Words that acknowledge something new or different or special about others, and that may end up helping them feel pretty good about themselves. It’s such a small thing, but it can have a really big impact.

And if you don’t believe me, just ask Tiny.

The column “Find Your Buried Treasure” appears weekly in the Chanhassen (MN) Villager. This column was published on August 14, 2014.

(c) Betty Liedtke, 2014

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