When I was growing up there weren't many other fat teenagers. Now I
see fat girls all over. Fat jokes are still OK. Obesity, in popular
culture, seems to be one of the few human conditions that is exempt
from the rules of political correctness. Still while there's lots of
evidence of fat bashing on TV, real life seems more accepting
of the overweight as there are so many more real fat people.
The obesity rate in the U.S. was about 17% in 1962. It's over 35%
now. Fat teens wear the same fashions as thin girls, have boyfriends
and get knocked up even. During high school I yearned for anything
other than the matronly apparel that was available in large sizes and
for a boyfriend. I would have known better however then to get
knocked up. Because nearly 1/3 of teenagers are obese these days
it's sort of Darwinian that sexual proclivities have adjusted to
compensate for the mathematical imperative of lowered standards.
Sadly, my own aesthetic,shaped by a lifetime of self hatred, hasn't
evolved. When I see a fat girl I think exactly the same unkind
thoughts that I always suspected people were thinking about me.
Especially if she's wearing shorts.
The why of skyrocketing obesity is controversial, as is the cause of
obesity in general. I know intellectually that karma is not a factor
but have trouble accepting this on an emotional level. Genetics,
brain chemistry and lifestyle all make good cases. In 1962 however
there were indeed far fewer fast food franchises, portions were
smaller and there were no drive-thrus. I drive home past a big
McDonalds on San Fernando Road. Usually the parking lot isn't very
full but the drive-through line overflows into the street. Gas is
more than four bucks a gallon but people will idle in line for twenty
minutes rather then get out of their friggin' cars. I managed to
get fat without drive-thrus and supersizes but I imagine that these
luxuries would have made me even fatter.
Theoretically, I laud the fat acceptance movement and find much of
their work affirming and comforting. Unfortunately, my own life as a
very fat person has conditioned me to look at a fat person and feel
pity, revulsion and moral superiority. When I see a fat woman at the
supermarket I always sneak a judgmental glance at the contents of her
shopping cart. “Coke! Ben and Jerry's! Milanos! Tsk. Tsk. Tsk. What
a weak and pathetic person you are. I bet that jumbo bag of M&Ms
won't even make it home...” I suspect too that very few advocates
for the Fat Acceptance movement, despite their professions of being
fat and happy, would reject a magic thinness pill.
I have not been thinner in my adult life than I am now. I am about
15 lbs from reaching my Weight Watchers' goal weight. I've been
dicking around with the same five pounds up and down for about three
months though. Weight Watchers encourages you to track what you eat
and ascribes a point system. I am lazy about tracking. I don't eat
anything, except perhaps a taste from someone's plate, blatantly
junky but I sometimes overdo it with “healthful” food. Weight
Watchers has also introduced a sophisticated sort of pedometer called
an Active Link which tracks activity level. The device costs about
$40 and the monitoring service is $5 a month. It's been quite hard
sell. I attend a weekly meeting with a group of girlfriends, all of
whom have had life long struggles with weight. We have all decided,
for different reasons, that we are not interested in purchasing the
Active Link. Meetings however for the past six weeks have revolved
around the product and the minutiae of operating it. I walk for at
least 8 hours every week. I don't want the damn contraption buzzing
at me every five minutes to remind me that I have a weight problem.
I've wasted enough of my life on that already.
I like our Weight Watcher's leader. She is smart and funny but she
toes the party line, an employee but also a sincere and true believer. She reminds us frequently that we can eat as
much fruit as we like. I don't buy this and weight gains on the weeks
when I have overindulged are a testament. I am shot down when I
mention this at a meeting. Our facilitator has lost only 30 lbs.
Chump change. She has no idea how very much fruit a person with a
history of super obesity can consume. I know that the Weight
Watchers Points Plus Plan is based on scientific investigation. I
suspect though that research subjects were overweight but not
morbidly obese. I further antagonize our leader, when after endless
discussions about the Active Link, she asks the group if anyone has
any questions about the device. The room is silent. I gleefully
high five my girlfriend. The leader's peripheral vision is way
better than I'd estimated. My punishment is another twenty minute
spiel about the Active Link.
One might wonder why I pay for my Weight Watchers membership and
slavishly attend the weekly meetings if I don't fully adhere to the
program. I go back and forth on this myself. I admit that breakfast
with the girls after the meeting is one of the major selling points.
I walk a lot. I consume, and enjoy, for the first time in my adult
life, breakfast. I eat what I like and eat frequently. I am not
completely cured but I have made headway with regard to mindless
eating. I may or may not buckle down for a couple of months to reach
the higher end of what Weight Watchers considers my ideal weight
I struggle to straddle the line between being comfortably full vs.
too full. A lifetime of radical dieting makes this really
challenging. I worry sometimes about going completely out of
control and gaining back weight. My current regime is tolerable. I
don't have ESP but it seems realistic for me maintain my current
exercise and diet routine indefinitely. Because it's been a life long
pattern, I'm concerned that an even stricter routine might make me snap.
Maybe if I can keep it together within a five pound range I shouldn't
waste additional physic energy on my weight. So much of what I lost
out on in life was because I was fat and maybe it's OK to accept a
few extra pounds and get on with it.
The editor revising a manuscript advises me to downplay the family
saga and focus on the degradation I was subjected to as a fat person.
I tell him that I hate writing about this which convinces me that he
is right. Tapping out this current piece makes me uncomfortable.
Before my enrollment in Weight Watchers I ate a protein bar
mid-morning, in lieu of breakfast. The Think Thin is reputedly
developed by a bariatric surgeon. The bar is very low in calories
but loaded with enough protein power to produce a feeling of almost
uncomfortable fullness. The bar is filled with a coarse powdery
substance that tastes like glue and carob and coated with an
emollient intended to resemble chocolate only in appearance. I forced one of these down
every morning. I figured out pretty early on
that that filled me but didn't satisfy me and that as soon as the
fullness wore off I'd do some serious damage. Unfortunately they were
purchased at Costco so I had to choke down the whole big box before
swearing off the disgusting things. I see a mom, and her teenage
daughter who appears dangerously anorectic, at the protein bar
section of Fresh and Easy. The teen points her spindly arm at
the Think Thin bars. “Those are absolutely fantastic.” Anorexia
was never my problem but I used to wish it were. I have no worries
about becoming too thin. I do relate however to all of the girls and
women who undergo surgery, starve, binge, purge or exercise
themselves into a coma because they hate their bodies.
I've lived most of my life knowing that the first thing about me
people would register is “fat.” Now I am only about fifteen
pounds overweight so this is probably not the case. Of course, now
for the first time in my life when the quick read on me isn't “fat,”
it's “old”. This makes the quandary, about if staying thin will
seize as great a hold on my life as being fat did, even more
poignant. Obesity, I try to tell myself is not a due to a deficit in
character but a disease. But will being a slave to managing the
symptoms guarantee the best outcome? Will I really live longer if I
start tracking my food meticulously and hang a device that measures
my activity around my neck? Or will it just seem longer?