Monday, September 24, 2007

Fat Chance

The skirt was pretty. A deep purple, in a loose jersey fabric that won’t wrinkle. Two of my sisters are getting married and I’ll be traveling quite a lot for the weddings and related whatnots. The skirt would stand up to a suitcase. I held it against my body. I’ve just lost 18 pounds, and though certain parts are lifting and tightening a bit, I’m not there quite yet. But the skirt was something to think about in the event I get there soon. I hung it back up.

“I don’t know about this one,” I heard a woman say. She was leafing through tops in the rack behind me. She held up a ruffled green concoction.

“That’s cute,” said her friend.

Ignoring her friend, the first woman returned the green blouse to the rack.

I fingered a black cotton skirt and immediately rejected it. I wear too much black. My new sartorial rule for my changing body is to embrace color. Embrace the newness.

I wasn’t shopping to buy. Since getting weighed recently at a doctor’s appointment (I asked to be weighed — something I’ve never done, something maybe no woman has ever done), I’ve been saying that I’ve never lost 18 of anything before except for minutes and dollars. When someone who has been heavy her whole life loses some weight, as thrilled as she is for that loss, heavy is what she knows, so she too often gains it back. The weight is loathed, but familiar. And while I’ve never been morbidly obese, I’ve always been, at the very least, bigger than I should be. I’ve always been, basically, fat — which I don’t think is the dirty word everybody thinks it is; it shocks people when I use it freely and without regret or apology or discomfort. It's just a term that describes my body; it doesn’t prey on who I am as a person; it doesn’t quantify my character nor does it dictate my beauty (however you or I may see it). I was always fat, but I always had friends, I always kissed boys with abandon, I always thought I was more pretty than not. Even so, I’ve never been satisfied with my body — name one woman who is — and I’m hell-bent on keeping this weight off because I feel healthier and cleaner and better than I have in years. So I thought that if I browsed some stores, it would help me familiarize myself with how it feels to shop 18 pounds lighter, remember how it feels to shop in a store that carries sizes smaller than 14, and fly over the traps and land intact on the other side. This whole experience has been monumental, so I’m letting myself look for skirts even if I’m not quite there yet. I brought along my friend Margot, an enthusiastic, one-woman cheering section.

The purses were hanging next to the fitting rooms, and I never leave a store without considering the purses. (Purses always fit.) As I poked through them, the first woman from the blouse rack came out of a fitting room, fussing over a pair of dark-wash jeans.

“I don’t know if they fit right,” she said.

“You can get them shortened,” said her friend.

“No, I mean, the butt. Do they sag in my butt?” She turned her body to examine her ass in the three-way mirror. The jeans fit so tight I didn’t think she could get a credit card into the back pocket. She looked to be about 30. I would have killed for that ass at 30. And I’m 33.

“No, I don’t think they sag. You look so skinny,” said the friend.


“Yeah. So skinny.”

The woman was flattered but still unsure. “I don’t know.” Then she looked at me. “Excuse me?”

I looked up. “Yes?”

“Can I ask your honest opinion?”


“Do these jeans sag in the back?”

I asked her to turn around and stand in the stronger light. “I think the butt fits great.”

“They look nice,” Margot said.

The woman glanced quickly at Margot and then held her gaze on me. “You think? I still don’t know.”

“I think they’re fine,” I said. “They’re a little long.”

She turned back to the mirror and lifted a foot. “How long do I want them to be?”

I deferred to Margot, who is a terrific seamstress and has a flawless eye for cut. She crouched at the woman’s feet and said, “Here, let me help.”

The woman abruptly kicked her feet away from Margot’s able hands. “I’m fine. I’ll just take them to the tailor.” Stunned, Margot backed off.

The woman looked at me, imploringly. “Something’s off,” she said.

I was taken aback by her aggression, but I examined the fit again. “The waist hits you in an odd spot. Are you comfortable in the waist?”

She ran her fingers underneath the waistband. “I think so. I mean, what do you mean?”

“Can you sit in them?”

She looked for a chair, and ended up going back into her fitting room to try out the bench. She called out for her friend to join her. Margot and I gave each other the I’m-ready-to-leave look, and then heard whispering coming from inside the dressing room. They hadn’t closed the door, and I could see the friend’s back, which was blocking the entry.

Friend: Why didn’t you let that girl help you?
Woman: I didn’t ask her.
Friend: But you asked the other one.
Woman: It’s okay. She’s — you know.
Friend: [holds arms out away from her sides, loosely hanging down, the universal unspoken description for Fat Person]

In the space of about one millisecond, my mouth dropped open, Margot said, “Let’s go,” and we fled.

First, these women were my age. I haven’t had to deal with this kind of high-school bullshit since, well, high school. In high school, I dealt with it plenty — mostly from boys, come to think of it.

Second, am I out of touch, or do women really still feel this way? That the fat girl is the one whose opinion you want because she’s not threatening? Or that, because she’s fat, she can relate to your issues better than a thin woman can because a thin woman appears to not have struggled? (And yes, Margot is thin and beautiful. But you know what? I’m short, I’m round, but I’m not an ogre. I’m not that fat. Especially right now. So.)

I’m not posting this story for sympathy. As I said, I don’t view myself as an offensive gigantress, and I think I’m attractive. My husband looks at me like I’m dessert. I don’t need sympathy, and I would probably receive it as an insult anyway, no matter how well intentioned, because that kind of sympathy reads that the person offering it feels I need it. (And it more often says more about the person giving it, about how they feel uneasy when someone calls attention to flaws in a blunt, self-possessed manner.) But I am posting this story because I’m just so baffled: A complete stranger begged for my advice and ignored my more-qualified friend because she was more comfortable hearing from the person she deemed a Fatty McLardasspants. I’m irked and disgusted.

The thing is: It does happen, but I internalize it. Or maybe I’m seeing things because I’m sensitive about the subject. For instance, two years ago, Sarah gave me a really great shirt. It’s backless, so I needed something form-fitting to wear underneath it. Josh and I went into an Urban Outfitters and I started holding satiny camisoles up against my body to see if they’d even remotely fit. (I was bigger then.) As I did so, two girls (late teens, early twenties, probably) repeatedly whispered to each other and shot me looks, like I didn’t belong there. Or was I just imagining it? For all I know, they were checking out Josh. Perhaps I was the one who felt I didn’t belong. But I kept thinking, They think there’s no way I’ll fit into anything, so why bother even coming in? When that happens, say, when I’m shopping with thinner friends — and it does happen — I go look at the accessories. Earrings fit. And I love earrings.

All of this is to say, yes, we all judge people on their appearance. I’ve played the New Yorker’s game where you guess where a tourist comes from based on her outfit. (Seriously. It’s fun. Especially when scrunchies are involved.) But to ask somebody’s opinion just based on their body type? Are you fucking kidding me?

I’ll take it a step further: Is this a reflection of how we gauge who we approach for help in other areas of our lives? Is this how we choose our sounding boards when we’ve steeled ourselves enough to confess our missteps or insecurities or fears? Are we yearning for the encouragement of those we feel are physically weaker than we are?

We’re putting ourselves in positions of unmasking our most sacred secrets, hoping for a pure response from a human being, but our compromised solicitations are inviting compromised opinions, compromised advice, because we’re not always addressing the right people for the right reasons. And we’ve gained nothing.

So really, who loses? And who ends up carrying the extra weight?

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Sunday, September 23, 2007

Enough with the corn, already!

Please enjoy this scientific conversation — with not a single correct scientific fact or observation — that was had en route to Josh's parents' house for Yom Kippur:

JOSH: I was watching CNN, and Dr. Sanjay Gupta said the human body is about 60 percent corn.
ME: Corn?
JOSH: Yeah.
ME: There's no way that's even possible.
JOSH: Well, I saw it on TV, so it must be true.
ME: But isn't the human body, like, 75 percent water?
JOSH: I didn't say Dr. Sanjay Gupta could add.
ME: Corn.
JOSH: You know, not just from corn corn, but high-fructose corn syrup, that kind of thing. It's in everything we eat.
ME: Well, if that's true, then I'm 83 percent fudge.

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Wednesday, September 19, 2007

What about corn purée?

On Monday, I got the following e-mail from my sister Stephanie:


After reading Bon Appetit last night, I decided the following word combos are anything but appetizing-sounding:

nut crust (not “nutty” crust)
whipped topping

I feel that they’re pretty comparable to moist loaf.


And to that I say, EWWW, moist loaf.

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Tuesday, September 11, 2007

So does this mean that if I don't have a Simon Le Bon Pool on my bedroom floor, I'm not a real fan?

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Mmm, carnage.

My friend Sarah is in town from England. There are a great many fabulous things about Sarah — she's one of those people who changes the vibe of a room when she enters it and, sadly, when she leaves it — and one of the great many fabulous things about Sarah is how she words things.

This morning, I got a twofer.

She was telling me a story about how her boyfriend, Ben, is extremely adept at fixing things. He's very handy around the house. So she had a shelf in her bedroom that had sort of fallen off the wall, and she replaced it herself right before she went on vacation. When she returned, she walked into her room to find that one side of the shelf had given way again, swung down and then, with great force, swung back up again, and then back down.

"There was carnage all over my room," she said.

Excellent use of the word carnage.

Then she was talking about the renovations Ben was making to his own apartment. He decided to take a two-day plastering course and planned to strip part of some such thing and do something or other and some other handy bits. I have no idea what any of this means; when I renovated my bathroom myself (which was more of a pathetic paint job than an actual renovation), I looked at a small pot of something and said, "So that's spackle, eh?" In any case, the translation is that he was planning on doing some extensive work, but she thought his enthusiasm and architectural vision carried him way further than what was required of the project. So she looked all concerned and said, "I told him, 'Lovey, that's like taking a sledgehammer to a walnut.' "

I may use that phrase in everyday conversation. I invite you to do the same.

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