The Other F Word

17 May

To those of you whom I may have convinced that I am a person of at least modest depth, I have this to confess: if I could only care about one thing on a Desert Island it would be MY WEIGHT. I will endure almost any torture if I know that when it is over my cheekbones will arise  and my abdomen will sink like geological formations. Anything to avoid the three-letter F Word known as FAT.

Case in point: India, 1989, when I was stricken by a deadly virus that spiked my temperature way over 100, dehydrated my body and sent me into a delirium. During those hazy Jaipur days under the slowly turning ceiling fan and the damp, twisted sheets, I was kept alive by one thought: If I make it, I will be a SIZE FOUR. And I did and I was, and I bought all sorts of clothes that today would not fit my medium-sized dog.

Nothing offends my vanity more than allowing myself to lapse into the slightest fattitude. When I am even the least bit overweight, I become so ashamed and neurotic about it that I refuse to go to any doctor who will put me on a scale.

Last week, however, I could avoid the dreaded clanking of the sliding weights no longer. Two different medical emergencies (asthma and a staph infection) sent me to the hospital and then my internist’s office.

It started off promisingly as the hospital triage nurse took my blood pressure and temperature, and told me both were excellent. Then came the question: “How much do you weigh?” I tossed off a number that sounded reasonable without being embarrassing, and the woman looked at me with narrowed eyes. “I don’t THINK SO,” she said, “that’s WHAT I WEIGH and  YOU are BIGGER than ME.”

It was official. I was Jabba the Hut and not Princess Leia, I thought glumly to myself as various health professionals treated and then discharged me from the emergency room.

Two days later at my internist’s office, I faced the actual scale itself, with about as much enthusiasm as I would a sentencing judge. The news was even worse than what the triage nurse had estimated. I was Overweight by Double Digits!

I had not shed a tear over my shortness of breath, nor when my leg turned a menacing shade of scarlet–but I was wailing now. Overweight by FIFTY POUNDS? Oh the shame of it. Where was a black cloak big enough to drape myself in?

Once I had finished tearing my hair, renting my garments and soaking the examining table with my bitter tears, I tried to get some perspective on my situation. I considered, for instance, that it is very difficult to navigate the 50s without some challenges to one’s personal appearance. Many people, for instance, get wrinkly and their skin resembles primitive writing paper. Others, including some women, lose their hair. Still others become so gaunt and skeletal that they are frightening. Other middle-aged scourges include the dreaded skin speckles, crinkly cleavage, shoulder hunch, sagging and bagging and God knows what all.

As I reviewed the dismal fate of my age group, I was happy to note that I am not particularly wrinkly, crinkly, humped nor spotted. My appendages are not sagging alarmingly. Nor am I morbidly obese. Just plain plump.

Moreover, I recalled that even in the dating world I had not been a complete loser.  A few fellas had been quite smitten with my zaftig physique. Perhaps I should no longer look down my nose at “chubby chasers” but thank God for men who actually find upholstered women more attractive than the angular birds whose limbs jut and jab during lovemaking.

Of course, living in the urban East, where thin is still in,  it feels shameful to be a size large or extra large, especially if one, as I did, spent decades as a small or medium. Excess weight can also conjure legitimate fears of diabetes, heart trouble and other health woes.

At the same time, I realized that if I don’t embrace and accept where I am, I will never stop obsessing long enough to actually focus on losing weight. Being joyful and OK in the present is essential, since the present, if you will pardon the far-fetched metaphor, is the base camp in which one readies oneself to climb into the future.

So here is what I did: I put myself on a diet, of course, vowed to give up one of my regular medications that tends to pack on pounds, started walking more regularly. All of that felt extremely virtuous but something was missing. I still couldn’t shake that Jabba the Hut feeling.

I needed to feel pretty and witty and bright (if not light). So I decided to go and find myself a big beautiful dress. I grabbed my gorgeous skinny son and said “We’re going to go shopping downtown.”

As I walked to the department store, linking arms with my billboard-handsome child, things suddenly fell into perspective and I experienced a wave of contentment. I thought to myself: “Hey, I’m a middle aged Mom. It’s appropriate for my child to be the eye candy in this picture. So what if I have a few extra pounds? I can still walk without waddling, I am still shaped more like an hourglass than a refrigerator, and I have a healthy head of hair.”

Buoyed by these thoughts, I strolled into the dress shop with a new sense of optimism. Before too long, I found a blue chiffon gown that revealed that my shoulders and waistline were still appealing. If there was more of me around the middle, it was not so immense that I couldn’t carry off a silky dress that evoked summer and lightness and youth. Emerging from the dressing room to examine myself in the mirror, I said to my son and the sales clerk:

“You know, I look pretty darn good for a FAT lady.”

Suddenly, I felt a flood of relief. That was it. The final piece. All I needed to do was say the F word, face it down and survive, and I could find the blessed state of acceptance.

Of course I could be a chubby Princess! After all, Fergie had been a spokeswoman for Weight Watchers. Even gorgeous Princess Grace had packed on a few pounds at middle age.

“You look great,” my son said.

I did look pretty darned great for a Mom in a prom dress. I felt great, too.


One response to “The Other F Word

  1. emmet

    May 19, 2010 at 7:39 pm

    Dear Mary-Ellin,

    You are not the only one out there fighting the shame of the scales. I have managed not to step on one for a few years. And that middle blubber around my waist has been clinging on there since Samuel’s birth and I avoid shopping for clothes all together. But the good news is that the French Elle magazine a few weeks ago featured on their cover a gorgeous plump model and did their fashion issue featuring beautiful rubenesque models. And it made feel a bit better. So I enjoyed your piece very much. It has uplifted my spirits and perhaps when I get out of the study grind, I shall go shopping for a nice breezy chiffon dress as well!

    I send you all my love


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