I remember the day my ass fell. It was my birthday-April 13, 2005-and it was the beginning of the end.
After getting through the shock, and then the depression, and then several bottles of wine, I got angry. How had this happened to me? I've been obsessed with my weight since I first recognized myself in the mirror. How could I, all of a sudden, be cruising the double-digit section in ladies wear? Maybe my gym membership had lapsed, and maybe the white carbs had snuck their way back into my diet (it was a tough winter)-but to have this happen? Someone was to blame, and it most certainly wasn't me.
Looking back, I realized that I had been sucker-punched by society's newfound worship of heavy girls. By the time Carrie Otis reappeared on the media scene as a "full-figured, beautiful woman" at size 10 or 12 (depending on what you read) I was already vulnerable. Surrounded by plus-size models like Sophie Dahl and Mia Tyler, and inundated with books like The Fat Girl's Guide to Life and Good in Bed, what was I to do? Anna Nicole and Kirstie Alley (of Cheers and Veronica's Closet fame) were getting their own shows! Confused by good carbs and bad carbs, reminiscing about the Phen/Fen days, I contemplated the advantages of being an Emme-after all, letting yourself go certainly seemed to have advantages. Just look at Marilyn Monroe.
Slowly, I had been inoculated against a lifetime of disappointment with my body: I had stopped exercising and was eating the Cape Cod chips again. I was nearly brought to tears by Dove's campaign for "Real Beauty", which assured me that good looks could no longer be squeezed into a mere size 6. I embraced the "powerful, strong, beautiful woman" inside me. Rosie O'Donnell became my best pal, and I was falling for Hurley on the television show Lost. Freedom Paradise, the plus-size beach club whose motto is "Live Large, Live Free," sparkled on the horizon. I was okay with my body. Fat was the new thin.
But no sooner had I embraced the beauty of being guitar-shaped-just as the Gap and JCrew began selling larger sizes online, and Ford's 12+ Division in Toronto began to gain steam-when researchers suddenly became more vocal about the hazards of being more than forty pounds overweight.
The tide had turned-and it happened just as fast as my ass fell. Fat wasn't fit. Yoga replaced yo-yo dieting and I was left holding the Krispy Kreme. H&M's Big is Beautiful line and Jennifer Lopez's Sweet Face Fashion discontinued their plus-size lines in the US; Sophie Dahl became "sadly diminished" (she got thin); Kirstie Alley woke up one morning and realized, a few weeks before her show Fat Actress premiered, that she was overweight and confessed to the world that she was unhappy about it. (now her Jenny Craig weight-loss blog is updated on a regular basis); and even Oprah, who was 237 pounds in 1992, got svelte after suffering from heart palpitations and high blood pressure. I had believed! I had converted! But I was duped-and had nothing but stretch marks to show for it.
In the end, the fat trend was just bluster. Perhaps the perfect illustration of it was Alley's sitcom Fat Actress. Wildly anticipated in the tabloid press, the run-up to its premiere seemed to suggest that it would take its star's girth in stride, that it would portray fatness as just another fact of life. But no-Fat Actress is the story of a 200-ish pound woman who is plainly unhappy about her weight. Each episode was filled with negative body-image stereotypes and examples of unhealthy eating.
Kim Gandy, president of the National Organization for Women said of Fat Actress: "A show that seems to be set up to make fun of fat people or to describe how miserable their lives are, is not sending a good message." But if the show is sending the wrong message, what is the rightmessage? Should we just get used to fat? Or are we too accepting of corpulence in general?
It's a tough call; one made tougher by the fact that we live in a fat world. In Canada, more than six million people between the ages of twenty and sixty-four are overweight. Another 2.8 million are obese. In fact, the proportion of Canadian adults who are obese has nearly tripled in the last fifteen years, from 5.6 percent in 1985 to 14.9 percent in 2000. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States published that over nine million Americans aged six to nineteen are considered overweight or obese. An article in the Journal of the American Medical Association stated that the second leading cause of death in the year 2000 was poor diet and lack of physical activity. In an age where child obesity is a potentially life-threatening problem, are we encouraging obesity when retailers like Torrid sell midriff-baring tops and low-riders for sizes 14+?
Cool, plus-size clothing can do wonders for teens' body images and if those overweight teens are physically healthy, these clothes might help them become more comfortable with their body. But if those teenagers are overweight due to a lack of exercise or physical activity, combined with disordered eating, then perhaps this clothing is reinforcing the notion that they do not have to care about their physical health. Are movies like Fat Albert negligent when obesity is trending toward an epidemic? Some researchers believe that in the near future parents will be on the same waiting lists as their children for heart surgeries. And I haven't even touched on the strain obesity has put on our health-care system.
When it comes to fatophobia, there are a lot of crazies out there. I mean, who writes a website about hating fat people, or starts an online petition to make fat people lose weight? But on the flipside, can "fat acceptance" activists really expect us to believe that there is nothing wrong with one hundred pounds of excess weight? Radical feminists protest that women are oppressed by patriarchal ideas of beauty and thinness, and that "fat lib" equals "women's lib," but I can't see anything liberating about obesity. Eating our way to heart disease, diabetes, arthritis and some cancers, is not freedom. Being overweight means a hike in blood pressure and cholesterol, which in turn raises the risk of heart disease. Consult the Canadian obesity trends and guidelines for body weight classification in adults, putting hypothyroidism aside. Even Dr. Katherine Flegal's new study, claiming that excess weight causes significantly fewer deaths than the CDC had originally published, has now been called into question by Michael Fumento of the Hudson Institute and author of the 1997 book, The Fat of the Land : The Obesity Epidemic and How Overweight Americans Can Help Themselves.
But who, exactly, is going to show us how to avoid turning into a society of enormous Teletubbies in Lane Bryant mumus and matching smocks? We can trim down sedentary activities like television viewing, beef up regular physical activity, walk to work and eat more fruit and vegetables. We can go on plastic surgery honeymoons. We can continue to make documentaries like Super Size Me. But at the end of the day, the most obvious answer is the right one. We need to get a grip.
Most people would like to say that they are okay with their body, and really believe it-but who are they kidding? Standing on my bed, clenching and unclenching my butt cheeks in my poor excuse for a full-length mirror, I know there is no shortcut to thinness. For me, the next step is probably some cobbled-together version of Suzanne Somers and Atkins, and an alarm set for six-thirty a.m. so that I can go for that jog I keep promising myself. For now, I have chosen lunges over lethargy, lasagne and liposuction. But watch this space-there's a bridesmaid's dress (two sizes too small, naturally) hanging in my closet that, if I don't do something drastic and immediate, I may have to be sewn into come the end of September. Now that's what I call "incentive."