Thursday, July 30, 2009

How It Happens

(orignally posted here)

I’d like to send a special shout out to all the first time visitors (and kisses to my returning visitors, too!) who breezed by my little patch of the web yesterday. I’m not sure how it happened, but July 29, 2009 was a banner day here at with over 300 unique users clicking in. I started this website because I was tired of the silence surrounding obesity, and I was hoping that that there were other people out there who were too—and I haven’t been disappointed! Breaking my silence and starting a conversation about the fat and everything that comes with it and what it takes to fight it has been one of the most liberating experiences of my life, and I am so glad to have found you all and to still be here and still be talking.

It’s an uncomfortable dialog for most of us, because it turns out that living with obesity and talking about obesity are two completely separate endeavors. When we go out into the world, we wear our condition not just on our sleeves, but stuffed tightly into them. Our obesity is the most immediately visible, identifiable thing about us…and yet we’d rather just not talk about it thankyouverymuch. I sometimes think that because we cannot hide the fat from the world that we compensate for that by clinging fiercely to our intellectual and emotional privacy on the subject.

But I believe that the enemy of change is silence, and the world isn’t waiting for us to get comfortable, they’re starting to talk about it now—and I figure that those of us who are intimately familiar with the subject should probably enter the conversation. Case in point:

On the front page of the Omaha World Herald this morning is a story about the efforts of local fire & rescue officials to purchase emergency equipment to accommodate the increasing number of severely obese people they are called upon to help. The article (you can read it here) discusses possible plans for adding a special ambulance to the fleet that has an integrated winch, a larger compartment and a reinforced floor to accommodate larger passengers. They also talked about newly available stretchers with higher weight limits and hydraulic lifts, as well as detailing several creative ways that fire & rescue crews have been forced to transport obese patients. Plans to acquire both a forklift and a construction crane that would be ready in an on-call capacity were also mentioned.

I am getting better at reading articles like this without my insult-o-meter rising immediately to stack-blowing status and having smoke shoot out my ears. I accept that obesity is not exclusively a personal matter, but a medical issue worthy of scrutiny and a societal issue that must be addressed. The article in question deals with the subject matter in a dignified and fair fashion, I think, and the questions of how to deal with a growing severely morbidly obese population need to be answered. It is estimated that that there are currently over two million people in this country who weigh 550 pounds or more and the inevitability of the need for medical attention for them requires us to do some planning. I read the article with interest and empathy, all the while knowing that many people would see it and feel much differently about what they read.

The hosts of my favorite morning radio show read the article too, and their reaction was what I expected it would be. Some shock, some horror, a little bit of snide joking, a smattering of serious head bobbing, and a nearly total lack of understanding of obesity in general. This doesn’t surprise me, because the truth is that the most of the world doesn’t understand much about obesity either. Even those of us who live with it don’t know much about it beyond the idea that fat people eat too much. Medical science is just beginning to do some real research into the condition, but still has yet to elevate obesity above the status of a mere character flaw and lend credibility to the idea that there might be more complicated causal factors involved than “too much pie”. The radio personalities commented on the major themes of the article, pontificated broadly about the “obesity epidemic” in this country, and then settled on the real question that was weighing on their minds:

How, they wondered, could someone let themselves get so big?

I understand why they don’t know how that could happen. Part of being able to blame someone’s weight problem exclusively on their own slovenly nature and inability to control oneself with food is believing that morbid obesity could happen to anyone. That way, they can point out that they know how to stop themselves form eating too much on a regular basis, so we can all assume that everyone else should be able to do the same.

But the truth is that not everyone has the natural potential in them to be morbidly obese. Many, many people on this earth are blessed with bodies that don’t long for food the way that mine does, with brains that don’t spend their days and nights consumed by the thought of it. Most people aren’t even physically capable of eating enough food on a regular basis to gain an extra 100 pounds (or 200, or 300, or 500) without making a concerted, directed (and kuh-RAY-zee, I might add) effort to do so. To them, the idea of ever letting your weight spiral out of control the way that so many of us have is, literally, unthinkable.

But I do understand how it could happen, because I know how it happened to me. I’ve been overweight for the majority of my life. When I look back at my progression from normal sized little girl to morbidly obese adult, it is interesting to me to see just how fat I wasn’t, comparatively. I’ve joked that if you stacked up a portrait of me for every year between the ages 6 and 36 and used the edge of your thumb to reveal them in quick succession you’d have a flip-book that could be titled “Girl gets lips stuck on bicycle pump”. What started out as a minor weight problem grew incrementally with the passage of time. Later in my life, as I crossed each line I drew in the sand of the weight I said I’d definitely never go higher than, I drew a new one a few pounds higher. And when I crossed that one, I drew another, and another, and another, until one day I was so scared to see whether I’d crossed that line…that I stopped looking all together. And that’s how I imagine that it happens for many people who weigh so much that they’re no longer able to leave their homes. I think they woke up one day and realized that the unthinkable had become the status quo…so they just stop looking. I can see how it could happen to them. I can see how it could have happened to me.

More importantly, I can see how it still could.

So there you have it, Big Party Morning Show on-air personalities. That's how it could happen. Any other questions?

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

I'm Fat as Hell, and I'm Not Going To Take it Anymore...

Last night as I rounded the last corner before the homestretch at the end of my evening walk, I found myself in possession of that enviable post-workout energy spurt, the feeling that even though I’ve just purposely taxed my muscles and cardiovascular system with heavy footfalls over hilly terrain for 3 miles, I actually feel better than I did when I started. It doesn’t always happen that way for me, I admit. Most days I find that the first 15 minutes of my walk are spent trying to quell the internal bitching that runs on a constant loop in my brain, a steady stream of various versions of “This sucks!” that I have to work to silence, reminding myself that they’ll pass soon enough once I find my rhythm and the audio book du jour sucks me into the story it’s telling. Most of the time my post workout moments are spent in equal appreciation of the fact that I did what I set out to do, and that it’s done with for the day.

But last night I felt downright buoyant, sucked into a great story being broadcast from my ear buds (you can have my iPod when you pry it out of my cold, dead fingers!), and decided to take advantage of that feeling and stay out for a bit longer and enjoy it. I eyed the flower beds and deftly pulled the weeds that were sprouting out from under the mulch, I added some river rock to the strip below the downspout in the front yard to facilitate drainage, and I unrolled the hose off of it’s reel and set about positioning the sprinkler to give the front yard a good soaking as the sun went down. As I worked to make sure that the arc of the spray was exactly where I wanted it, I bent down to adjust the stops.

As I fiddled with the sprinkler head, I saw a car as it came to the corner of our street and turned in the direction of my house. The aging Honda’s windows were down, and as it turned up the street toward me, the car slowed. I looked toward it and saw the three young men in the car glancing at each other, and then at me. As they passed by, the driver leaned out the window, and gave an exaggerated wolf whistle and the two other men in the car began to laugh and one yelled out “Work it, Fat Bitch!” before they all three burst into giggles and sped away.

Acting instinctually, I responded by raising my arm and displaying the second finger on my right hand in a prominent way to them as they drove off (classy, no?), while watching their car disappear over the hill. When they were out of sight, it took a few moments before I realized that I was still flipping the bird to the empty road. It occurred to me that I’d better check to make sure that none of my neighbors were standing upwind of me right now, lest they mistake my rude gesture as meant for them. Thankfully, I found myself the lone figure standing outside. I would like to tell you how little the events of the previous minute or two affected me, how I shook my head at the silly little boys and their childish insults, and then set back about the business enjoying the post-workout high that I’d earned that night. I’d like to, but I can’t. I was too busy standing in my front yard trying not to cry.

This is not exactly my first experience with this kind of unsolicited vocalization. In my 38 years on this earth, I have had countless encounters of a similar nature with the peanut gallery. I’ve been the victim of drive by moo-ings, had diet advice directed loudly in my direction (helpful things like “Why don’t you lose some weight, fat ass!” as my 12 year old self rode by on my ten speed), and heard perfect strangers mutter unkind things about me under their breath (or at the top of their lungs). I’ve been passed notes that expressed their displeasure about my physique, and even received strange hand written notes about new weight loss products in the mail. People have been able to convey to me just how offensive the very presence of my fat body was to them without them having to say a word, and I’ve been judged and derided in public with more arched eyebrows and disgusted smirks than most averaged sized people will ever seen in a lifetime. The unapologetic hatred that obesity unleashes in so many people is such a common phenomenon that you’d think that I’d be used to it by now, that I could laugh it off as societal ignorance and go on about my merry way. You’d think.

A few weeks ago, on the recommendation of fellow weight loss blogger Diana, I added the movie “Disfigured” to our Blockbuster Online queue. Just last week, it showed up in the mailbox and I popped it in the DVD player and sat down to watch. It’s a charming little indie flick about the unlikely friendship between two women, one obese and the other anorexic, who meet at a fat acceptance group meeting (While not a cinematic tour de force, it was certainly a worthwhile use of 2 hours of my time and I think it would be an excellent conversation starter, check it out).

In several scenes during the film, while the obese woman is out for her regular walk near the beach a homeless man taunts her with jokes about her weight, berating her and even calling for others standing by to call the coast guard, because “we got a beached whale” up here. And each day, she bites her tongue choosing to walk on by despite his continued taunts. Finally, one day she can stand no more and asks him what his problem is. He tells her that he’s simply exercising his first amendment right of free speech, and she screams back at him “Oh really? Well, you live in a cardboard box, you’re just a smelly, broken down, homeless, drug addicted, alcoholic, stinky, scabby human disaster area!”

He looks back at her and responds, “Maybe. But at least I’m not fat.”

And if that just doesn’t say it all, then I don’t know what does. I believe that my obesity scares the crap out of people, makes them confront their own worst fears about what it might be like to lose the tenuous control they have on their own bodies and lives. Hating me is easy, it helps them believe that no matter what disappointments their own life has handed them or how grievous their own failings are, that it could always be worse. There are so many loathsome, horrid things that a human being can be. A terrorist. A serial killer. A pedophile. A wife-beater, a child-killer, an ex-NFL player serving time for running a dog-fighting ring.* A liar, an adulterer, a crazy communist dictator who oppresses his people. You can be stupid, or cruel, or insane, or a drug addicted homeless man, or even a twenty something, inbred, 1996 Honda driving fool with a talent for whistling and a loud mouth…but count your blessings because it could be worse: You could be FAT.

As I stood there last night and stared up at the now deserted street, it occurred to me that the quality of what I was feeling wasn't as familiar to me as the situation that prompted it was. I wasn't standing in my yard with my shoulders slumped and holding back tears of shame. I was standing with my shoulders back, my chin held high, and the tears that threatened to fall down my cheeks were tears of rage, of anger over a lifetime spent believing that every good thing about me was mitigated by the fat on my body. I'm not willing to believe that anymore. So I stood there for a moment longer, my arm still oustretched in a one finger salute--not at the car of buffoons that was long gone by now, but at the whole damn world.

*special thanks to my friend Bill for correcting my sports association faux pas.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Sometimes You're the Donut, Sometimes You're the Hole...

Approximately 30 feet away from my desk is a gigantic cardboard box full of deep fried dough, powdered sugar, icing & glaze in various shapes and configurations. I'm not sure how I offended my higher power today that made him toss this little test of will into my life but whatever it was I'M SORRY ALREADY, OK? Can't I just rattle off a couple of novenas or do three good deeds so we can call it even? Did you have to go all old testament on me and put some obstacle in my path that I've got to hurdle to prove that I'm steadfast in my quest? If so, then did it have to be donuts? I've got a perfectly good 14 year old boy at home that you could have asked me to take up to a mountain top and sacrifice as a test of my obedience, and I thought that the pimple on my left cheekbone might already qualify as a mild plague of boils, but NOOOooooOOOOooo--you had to pull out the big guns and send deep fried breakfast pastries my way. Thanks for that.

The irony here is that I don't really care too much about donuts. It's not one of those foods that I'd knock over a 4 year old to get to if we were both reaching for the last one (but if that kid was eyeing the last Wheatfield’s caramel pecan roll or Nathan's hot dog, then he'd better be wearing a cup and a helmet). Donuts don't generally tempt me to distraction, with three exceptions:

1. A cream-filled, chocolate iced donut from Krispy Kreme. And before you ask—no, bavarian cream won't do--just the fluffy stuff. I have standards.

2. A raised cherry blossom donut from Pettit's. So yummy, and I maintain that their pinkish tinge and hint of cherry flavoring allows me to count them as a fruit.

3. A chocolate iced "Old-Fashioned" from Winchell's. Sometimes I like to kick it old-school and have been known to purchase and eat two* of these in a sitting.

But despite my lack of (general) affinity for donuts, the box of them on the coffee bar is consuming my every thought. After actively avoiding them for the first half hour of their existence in my world, I finally strolled back just to take a look at them. And maybe have a little sniff. Or two. Or seven. I looked over the offerings and was pleased to see that there wasn't anything there that made me feel like I needed to drop my face directly into the box and go bobbin-for-pastries. There were a few melted-looking glazed donuts, a cinnamon twist or two, a couple of fruit filled rounds with white icing, some cake donuts with sprinkles (have I ever mentioned that I loathe sprinkles? I like the idea of them, and I love that you can match your dessert item to your decor with just a flick of the wrist, but chewing on those waxy little pellets is about as appealing to me as grating a votive candle over a stack of hot pancakes. Even the most perfect cookie ever made, the Eileen's Frosted Sugar Cookie, can be rendered inedible by the addition of a handful of sprinkles smashed into their heavenly, light-as-a-feather-creamy-as-a-dream almond flavored icing. So sad.) and one pathetic looking smashed cherry danish. I closed the box lid and walked back to my desk not feeling as though I was depriving myself of anything notable.

And yet, here I sit, writing about the donuts that I'm not eating. What's up with that?

I suppose that it's not so much that there are donuts back there that I'm not eating that's bothering me--it's that there's food of ANY kind in the room that I'm not eating that's got me all distracted and fidgety. I bet that if I was a recovering crack addict, I probably wouldn't be able to happily ignore a big pile of cocaine on the coffee table just because I'd rather smoke my rock than snort it. Sometimes I can't even handle the idea that there are kit-kat bars in a closed cabinet in the far corner of the room, or that there is ice cream in the freezer in the garage, or that there's a fiber one bar in my bottom desk drawer that I'm saving for later because if those things are where they are then they're not in my mouth which, as far as I'm concerned, is where anything edible should be.

This feeling will pass, and the truth is that just putting fingers to keyboard has helped to quell the rising panic that close proximity to uneaten food often causes me. There is also truth in the idea that not eating what I could eat if I wanted to can send my personal-power meter up a tick or two higher than my self-loathing meter thus tipping the scales toward the whole experience spurring me further on toward my goals. All those fringe religious groups who tout self-torture as a growth tool would nod along with me when I assert that sometimes victory is sweeter when you don't emerge from battle unscathed, and you get to point to your bloody lip and say "yeah, but you should see the OTHER guy!". I'm a little bruised but, for today anyway, I win.

Sara: 1 Donuts: 0

*read: four

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Wanna read more?

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