Fat Like Me

Summer is officially here, and you know what that means: time to peel off the layers and take a good look at what’s getting squeezed into shorts and bathing suits this year.

If you haven’t been shopping yet, let me tell you — 2013 summer fashion meters are set to scant. My muffin top went full-on soufflé when I tried on a pair of this year’s über low-slung, crotch hugging shorts. After scouring a half dozen stores, I realized the only option for somewhat decent coverage was “boyfriend shorts,” which is a nice way of saying if your physique is not up for short-shorts with quarter- inch zippers, then you’re a man.

Feeling dejected and ready for a snack, I ran to the comfort of my own home to kick back with People magazine, only to find that beneath its virtuous wrapper (“New Details: Brad’s Devotion – The Inside Story”) lurked a 36-page section devoted to “Most Talked About Bodies 2013.” Aside from the usual age-defying suspects (JLo, Gwenyth, Madonna, Satan), I found myself now privy to around 30 different diets that would supposedly clean my gut, reset my body, detox me, integrate my nutrition, open me up to “miracle carbs,” give me “body confidence,” shred me, kick up my metabolism, and drown me in juices and supplements.

That there wasn’t a Kardashian in sight was telling: big bodies, pregnant or otherwise, in the world of People aren’t worth talking about. (Apparently People magazine is too high-brow for articles like, “Who Wore it Better: Kim Kardashian or Shamu?” ) As I flipped through the pages, I realized that there wasn’t one happy, healthy role model in sight. But there were plenty of sad reminders of the high cost of dieting — from monetary to the glorification of body dysmorphic and eating disorders.

In the midst of the fat section on being skinny was a lone article about the stars of the 1980s sitcom classic, The Facts of Life — Lisa Whelchel (“Blair”) and Mindy Cohn (“Natalie”). “Our Weight was a Constant Battle,” recalled the insensitive (read: disgusting and traumatic) treatment of two then teenagers who were repeatedly told to lose weight, or keep it on, in Mindy’s case. She played the stereotypical “funny fat girl” that actually didn’t realize that fat was a part of her role — she thought she was there just to be funny. The creators of the show at one point told her to put back on 40 pounds after she lost some weight in a growth spurt. Lucky for Mindy, she had a smart mother who was outraged. Less lucky for Mindy, the psychological damage was done in a ton of other ways, up to and including being called, “The Fats of Life,” by Joan Rivers.

While I have always had a relatively healthy relationship with my body, like nearly everyone else I know, there have been phases of self-loathing, stupid diets, and obsession over a stretch mark or two (this very recently). And I will be very honest and admit I live in somewhat constant fear of carbs. Perhaps you can relate — as one of my BBFs always says, “first world problems.”

When you consider that 13% of the world’s population is starving, with an even bigger percentage suffering from non-self-inflicted malnutrition, it really puts things in perspective.

But this “first world problem” has its own terrible consequences. I have watched close friends struggle with eating issues and full-blown disorders, and I have seen firsthand how the climate we live in can be devastating to self-esteem.

This brings me to part two of my recent shopping trip. I’m not the only one in my household who needs summer clothes — I have a tween daughter whom I took shopping after my own failed attempt, with the hopes that we could find her something cute, comfortable, and not crotch baring.

I heard her squeal with delight from her dressing room at Forever 21 (aka, Forever Tiny One), when she found a pair of shorts she loved. I rushed in for the fashion show, only to find that they didn’t zip all the way, nor were they at all flattering. I told her to take them off, as they were too tight.

“You’re calling me fat,” she screamed. “You think I’m fat… I’m fat!”

The barrage knocked the wind out of me. I am one of those PC parents — the word “fat” is off limits in my house. We do talk about healthy eating, which is in and of itself a landmine — because it’s not so simple to encourage healthy eating to a tween or a teen without insulting them somehow. Actually, it’s hard to talk to them about pretty much anything without pissing them off, but that’s a blog topic for another day.

My knee-jerk reaction was to scream back, “I am not calling you fat!” and storm out of the dressing room.

Friends who haven’t developed as quickly as my daughter have carelessly and thoughtlessly tossed the f-word in her direction over the years. A wise preschool teacher once told me all we can do is bolster self-esteem, so that has always been my tactic. And it’s always worked.

So I took a step back, got real about Forever Tiny One, and took my daughter and my business to another store that actually had plenty of cute, good fitting, well-made clothing for her and me both. (Which was not, by the way, Abercrombie & Fitch — and if you are unaware of the A&F backlash of late, you should read what Jes Baker of the Militant Baker has to say about A&F and its CEO Mike Jeffries’ sizeism and gross corporate strategy.)

As we tried on clothes and looked in the mirror, I asked my daughter if she thought I was fat. She answered emphatically NO, which gave me the perfect opening to explain that she’s fat like me — a size and a shape that our genetics dictate.

My message to her and to everyone is to be healthy, be grateful, and go to where the love is. Anyone who calls you fat is not your friend — it’s a comedienne, a bully, and a person who will eventually pay money to have someone shoot fat into their lips and face to keep them theoretically looking young.

Me, I like to grow my own fat to maintain my youthful glow. So if you see me powering down a bowl of spaghetti and meatballs and polishing it off with an ice cream sundae, just know you shouldn’t bother looking for my diet on the pages of People magazine. You’ll find me here in the real world, doing my best to be healthy, and praying that someday our society will lose the real weight that bogs us all down: the unhealthy premium placed on being thin at any cost.

Abercrombie & Fitcheating disordersfatmotherhoodparentingPop Culturethin