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My Big Fat Life


I’m a little uncomfortable with the new darling of the media and literary world, the fat girl. I don’t like that she is being “exposed,” changing the cardinal rule of fatdom: maintain a low profile.
Now fat girls are everywhere are speaking out, bemoaning the culture that labels them ugly, dredging up childhoods of pain and embarrassment and proclaiming themselves free of dieting, depression or capitulation. What’s next? I’m waiting for fat girl bars to open or someone to organize a Obese Rights march on the capital.
Let me just say up front that I am and have always been a fat girl. I was fat before fat became interesting and profitable; back when our clothing was relegated to a tiny rack of hideous flowered tents in the back of the store under a big sign that said “Chubbies;” back when it made sense to a pediatrician to place an 8-year-old on a 400-calorie-a-day diet and send a 13-year-old to school on what was, basically, speed; back before “tolerance” was a buzzword we use to point out someone’s differences.
I suspect all this attention started when statistics showed up saying that more than half of the adults in the U.S. are overweight or obese. Naturally, the response was a lot of people making money offering diet and exercise programs and books, but very little actual weight loss going on.
No one wants to talk seriously about what is causing this “obesity epidemic.” They want to talk about what they can sell to its victims (oh, that word) and how they make can make money off the trend.
For any health care people reading this, let me, a long-time “sufferer,” make this very clear: It’s. Not. The. Food.

The eating is a symptom. The lack of exercise is a symptom. Until everyone gets that through their heads, the statistics will remain the same and the success rate of what is being touted as a solution will continue to be in the lower single digits.
So fat is apparently here to stay and therefore subject to further exploitation . . . er . . . exploration by other markets.
Hence we have the fat girl expose’ (Why no men?). From Judith Moore’s painfully frank Fat Girl to Kirstie Allie’s self-serving Fat Actress, the media is anxious to let over 50 percent of Americans know they are not alone.
But I suspect something a little more sinister behind this illusion of sympathy coming from the other half. Oh, political correctness has alleviated some of the animosity our culture holds for fat girls (Why not men?). But it inevitably pops out, sometimes with “well-meaning” platitudes (“I’m just concerned for your health, dear.”) and sometimes, as a young teenager I know found out when she had the nerve to think her new sundress made her look pretty (it did, as a matter of fact), with a direct verbal assault.
But do I detect a certain amount of relief from “normal people” upon learning the amount of emotional trauma that accompanies every bite of every morsel of every meal or snack the slim have jealously watched a fat person imbibe, as though we were “getting away with something” by not following the rules of nutrition? Now you know that at least we have the decency to beat ourselves up about it.
“Imagine that all across America, diet-conscious men and women are watching you jiggle down the block,” suggests Wendy Shanker in The Fat Girl’s Guide to Life. “Now imagine that they are thinking, ‘I bet that fat lady eats all the Ben & Jerry’s New York Super Fudge Chunk she wants. I wish I could eat Ben & Jerry’s New York Super Fudge Chunk but I can’t…This is so frustrating. I have to take out my frustration somewhere. . . How ‘bout I take it our on that fatty who can’t stop stuffing her face the way I’d like to stuff mine.’”
So pardon me if I don’t rejoice in this sudden interest on behalf of the publishing community. I know that any validation or support that comes my way will have a sting to it because among the people it’s okay to hate, like smokers, rich people and land developers, are the fat girls.
I’ve listened to all kinds of excuses why it’s okay to hate fat people. We take up room on airplanes (no one is quite as militant about complaining to airlines for trying to squeeze in more seats than even an average-sized person is comfortable in) or we cause the cost of health care to rise (not the tanning-obsessive courting skin cancer or the nation of hypochondriacs we’ve become because we’re just plain tired, just fat girls). Even bulimics get more respect though, in addition to the same unhealthy eating habits fat girls have, they add the further insult of purging. But they maintain the illusion of being slim and aren’t in your face with their vulnerability. They “pass.”
Yet the issues that threw our diets into a tail spin are probably the very same ones that cause someone else to, say, obsessively wash their hands.
You can’t see others’ dysfunctions because a string of failed marriages or unexplained panic attacks don’t show as you’re walking down the street. It gets harder and harder to hide an expanding waistline, but you can veil your racism in politically correct condescension.
I know very few people who have escaped some sort of damage as a result of the people or circumstances of their lives. I chose food to sooth my soul. What did you choose? A case of beer every weekend? A pack a day habit? A recreational drug of choice? Catty criticism of anyone different, more talented or vulnerable?
So thanks just the same, Camryn Manheim, for offering up your Emmy for all us fat girls, but I don’t even know you and, frankly, it’s hardly the banner I want to march beneath.

Share  Posted by Jeanne Jackson at 5:17 PM | Permalink

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