WRITING SHORT: 41/50

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[Come summer heat, much of my blogging momentum melts away. Hence an experiment until Labor Day: fifty minimalist posts about whatever.]

There aren’t many fat people in Princeton – upscale home to Whole Foods, Whole Earth, innumerable gyms and physical trainers. You don’t see many in New York, either. People tend to walk more there. (And maybe food is more expensive.) Elsewhere in the United States, it’s often different. I was in Philadelphia last week to have some genetic testing done at the U. Penn hospital and arrived early. The waiting room had a glass wall overlooking a large atrium inside the front entrance. One expects, in a hospital, to see wheelchairs, walkers, canes. I didn’t expect to see so many still on their own two feet but visibly crippled in their slow, awkward movements by sometimes massive accumulations of fat.

Summer clothes emphasized the epidemic proportions of this affliction. It was hard to spot a man not part of the medical staff and also not preceded by a round heavy burden of solid fat beneath his clinging tee shirt. For the women — most of whom looked as if they wished they were anywhere else, but as that wasn’t possible, were at least invisible — I had particular sympathy. I remember what it was like during the couple of summers in the miserable nadir of my life when I carried nearly fifty extra pounds around with me and had to show up at work each day in business suit, blouse, and pantyhose.

I tried to make the fifty pounds less unsightly under high-priced size l6Ws from Saks. However, Saks didn’t keep my heavy upper thighs from sweating and rubbing together as I walked from the subway to the air-conditioned office. There I was able to somewhat hold my legs apart under the aproned desk. But going home, sweat and friction invariably tore holes in the pantyhose; the frayed nylon edges then rubbed the skin beneath them raw. Every step massaged salty sweat into open flesh. Once home, I would tear off my damp clothes and lie naked on the bed hating myself – with bloody inner thighs spread wide, so they might heal a little before tomorrow.

In time I managed to pull myself together, lose the extra pounds. But that Philadelphia trip brought back the memory. So many of us in America seem doomed to sink in misery under our own weight.

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13 thoughts on “WRITING SHORT: 41/50

  1. I see it too. Our portions are too big. Or perhaps we medicate ourselves with food. In my home area, jobs used to be very physical and demanding. People could eat whatever they wanted and be very lean. Today jobs are different, most are sedentary. So many reasons.

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    • Yes, so many many reasons. But at bottom, perhaps, it’s that so many lives are so profoundly unsatisfying that the only pleasure left — if you can’t or won’t drink yourself to death — is food. (That’s the “medicate ourselves with food” part of your comment.) Once one gets above some critical amount of excess poundage though, pulling oneself together is too hard a battle, takes too long, and one really is — metaphorically if not actually — on death row.

      [I should note that I posted this too early, by accident. It was supposed to not appear till just after midnight, so that I could make good on “fifty daily” posts until Labor Day. Oh, well. There will still be fifty. To err is human, to forgive would be nice. 🙂 ]

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    • I would rephrase that somewhat, Gerard. “Eating is now the only way to feel alive for many people.” And the fatter they get, the fewer other pleasures remain. They lose sexual attractiveness; sports are too difficult; they become diffident, develop low self-esteem. There may be problems at work, or in finding work. (Don’t believe all that “Big is beautiful” baloney; I don’t think anyone really Big believes it either.) But your sarcasm is cruel. I bet nine out of ten people “masticating” at food malls are unhappy, and would much rather be able to enjoy themselves doing something else if they weren’t so immured in fat.

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      • Something has to happen. Free choice will not work against the might of the fast food and take away industries. The cost of obesity will finally force governments to legislate and pass laws restricting killer foods.

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      • We are focussed on different issues, Gerard. It is possible to eat yourself to death, if you want to, without “killer” foods. This post was about personal unhappiness and blighted lives, not societal costs. That’s a good topic too. Just not this one.

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  2. Judith

    Nina, I am sorry for that “miserable nadir” of your life, even though I’ve only seen you as a svelte younger woman from those beach photos and now as a handsome specimen of an older woman, one I’d be lucky to resemble in another twenty years or so. Of course you’ve said enough of your sorrows and pains through childhood and two failed marriages for any of us your followers to know that there are layers aplenty beneath the surface appearance.

    I do have a lifelong close friendship with a woman soon to turn sixty who’s struggled mightily with morbid obesity and will be undergoing that most final of solutions, bariatric surgery, this fall. It happens that after decades of debilitating depression—never really helped by talk therapy and antidepressants—she has just, through traumatic circumstances, been diagnosed with bi-polar disorder. I have another dear friend, at the far end of the bi-polar spectrum, also obese, who was luckier. She got diagnosed when she was thirty-eight, and by a confluence of benificient circumstances has settled into a regimen that works well for her. She’s alive, which was never a given, a brilliant, empathetic, funny, wise person. And still overweight.

    Thank you for extending compassion toward those persons lugging heavy bodies through life, Nina. It’s their heavier lives, isn’t it, that’s really the worst of it?

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    • And thank you, Judith, for another of your thoughtful and empathetic replies. They come infrequently, but I do appreciate reading them when they appear. I have only two observations to add.

      The first derives from your calling your second friend “funny.” If you say so, then I believe she is. However, many people are deceived in thinking of the overweight as jocose: “Jolly fat lady” is almost a cliche. I too was aways upbeat in public — lady Pagliacci, laughing away life’s misfortunes, always cheering everyone up with a quip or a giggle. I don’t know about your friend, but for me that was only one side of the coin. Alone, I felt neither empathetic, funny nor wise — and after work rushed to dull with food whatever brilliance I might have had when sober. However….

      The “heavier lives” of your last sentence: yes, that’s what it’s really all about, isn’t it? The pounds are just the part that shows. (It’s unfair that only the fat have to wear the results of their weaknesses on their bodies, whereas visible signs of other people’s weaknesses — empty bottles, needles, objects broken during temper tantrums — can be thrown out with the trash.) It’s what the pounds do to the lives of the people who are buried inside them that’s the real tragedy — physically, professionally, emotionally. Who really loves the very fat? How can one live without love? By putting one’s faith in Twinkies? When choking more of them down the throat, even the eaters know that’s not the answer.

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  3. I’ve never been seriously overweight but my sister has, and says now that she always despaired of losing the many many pounds she needed to – thought in fact she would end up with heart disease or diabetes terrifying her into it. She (a lifelong non-joiner of things) signed up with Slimming World purely in order to help a good friend who was more obese than she, and going together gave them the initial motivation to start. 2 years on and she is svelte, strong, healthier and transformed into the happy confident person she should (and could) always have been. (Her friend, too). She carries on going to meetings simply because she loves the way the group works and has made new friends. It’s been an adventure and a new beginning into mental and physical wellbeing, and it works for so many who give it a go. My point being – to try to tackle being obese on your own is a monumental challenge and more than most people could ever manage, but with others who understand and are working through it and will support you and care about you – there’s hope, there really is.

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    • I’m really glad for your sister and her friend, Dapplegrey. That’s how the plot line ought to go. Sadly, for many more it doesn’t. I also suspect, as I mentioned in a response to another comment , there’s a bright line between “seriously overweight” and “morbidly obese;” once over the line, the likelihood of accepting understanding and support may perhaps become impossible.

      Not to rain on her parade, but I do hope your sister continues to attend meetings, whatever she now thinks her motivation is, because longtime habits of binge eating (or whatever put the pounds on her) don’t really die; they wait in their subterranean pockets of the mind for a likely opportunity to rise again. Even the svelte, strong and healthy who have transformed themselves should be aware that in most cases like theirs, it will be a lifetime undertaking. It’s been a long long time since I daily yearned to drug myself with sweet things until the arrival of blessed sleep, but there are still difficult times to get through when I may think, “What if I ran out and bought just two or three muffins or a couple of slices of pound cake?” And there’s the first step onto a slippery slope.

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  4. I missed this one, Nina, but when I did get to see it, your honest use of the word “fat” inspired me to write my post today and address some family issues with weight and body image. My daughter, mentioned in the post, was home here from NYC recently and commented about all the overweight people that she now notices when she leaves the city where everyone walks. My own body issues growing up were quite the opposite, and that was no easy road either. More to come. Thanks for the inspiration. ❤️

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    • Always glad to be helpful, Van. 🙂 (I get ideas for posts from other people’s blogs quite often.)

      But don’t compliment me for using the word “fat” in connection with what I saw walking around that hospital atrium. I don’t see the sense of euphemisms. Big? Round? Rubenseque? We’re not talking here about ten or twenty extra pounds on a 5’7″ frame. What other word can one use (other than “morbidly obese”) to identify visible bags of flesh obscuring the normal shape of the human body? At its extreme, I mean upper arm fat hanging down in profile over the elbow, stomach fat hanging over the crotch and top of the thighs; legs so massively fat the feet at the ends of them have to stand far apart. It goes far beyond “body image.” These people are imprisoned in solitary, probably for life, within their fortresses of fat. When I imagine what it must be like to have to live like that, I want to cry.

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      • It’s hard to imagine how they maneuver through life..it must be like a prison, for sure. I always wonder how and when they gave up. The hardest part for me to see is how many young kids are seemingly headed that way. Thanks, Nina.

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