Big Business

What the obesity police don’t understand

These are interesting times for fat people.

Not that I personally would know anything about it. It just seems, to a casual observer such as myself, that the heat is on; in everything one reads or sees in the news, the lack of thinness is identified as the root of all evil, responsible for higher health-care costs, global warming, Communism, and the Academy Awards’ lackluster television ratings.

Not that I personally would know anything about it, of course.

Oh, who am I trying to kid? I am a size 18. There. I said it.

I would, however, like to point out that I was fat before it was popular. Now everyone’s doing it. I shopped in the “Chubbies” department of Montgomery Ward when I was a kid; I hit Weight Watchers meetings when I was a young teenager. In my college years, I signed up with a weight-loss company for a 500-calorie-a-day diet. One day I was doing laundry, and as I was pouring out detergent, my mouth started watering. The viscous blue liquid was tempting.

On the other hand, I found that six or seven doughnuts first thing in the morning really curbed my appetite. Until breakfast, at least.

I always thought that if I didn’t say anything about my size, no one would notice. I thought if I laughed at fat jokes and chimed in with disdain toward the large of body, I could trick people into thinking I was thin—or at least thin-ish.

I thought that if I dressed in black or navy blue or didn’t wear horizontal stripes, everyone would think I was just like them. I suppose people must have suspected. I even wore my hair long in accordance with the myriad tips in women’s magazines on how to appear thinner. But, alas, people got wise that I indeed had a big butt. And imagine my surprise when complete strangers sought me out in a store or on the street to offer me weight-loss solutions.

But you can’t quit food cold turkey. Unlike the more glamorous vices of smoking, drinking, or drugs, people have to eat. (And doubly frustrating, one can often get a best-selling memoir out of other evil-doings. The best I can hope for is a bullet-point story in Glamour trumping the immorality of being larger than I ought to be.)

Studies show that more than 65 percent of the American population is overweight or obese, and BMI standards have been adjusted so that more of us fit into the overweight category. (You can run but you cannot hide.) Ominous information is disseminated endlessly, leading one to believe that the sky really is falling (and that overweight people have no heads, judging by all the newsreels of anonymous jiggling torsos). But there are a lot of people who have the audacity to suggest that the end of the world is not nigh. Check out Paul Campos’s The Obesity Myth. All anyone knows for sure is that it is much more complicated than calories consumed versus calories expended.

So I eat. There. I said it. Sometimes I eat more than I should. What is not evident is that I usually eat less than I should. I also exercise daily and have normal blood pressure. But one finds herself at an interesting—no, maddening—intersection of misinformation and hard-won realizations: that diets do not work; that the normal aging process takes its toll; that you simply can’t do much about a family history of big butts. Contrary to simplistic aphorisms, inside this fat person there might not be a thin person trying to get out. Nay, I suspect that inside this size-18 body, there might be a somewhat indifferent size 16 who’ll come out if it can figure out how to do it.

All of which has made me a little nervous these days. I imagine a future in which restaurants will establish non-eating sections, where, by law, the large of size must sit. Then we’ll be forced to eat outside, shoulder to shoulder with the smokers. Then food will be illegal for those with a certain BMI, and we’ll have to buy large suburban houses where we can grow our own food clandestinely under grow lights that yield exorbitant electric bills.

Nevertheless, for now, I am trying to live my life, and I’m letting the potato chips fall where they might. I work, I pay my bills, I pay my taxes, I vote in every election, I love my husband, I love my family and they love me—all just like a normal person. My headstone, however, might well read, “Finally, a size 6”!