A Weighty Issue (Again)

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I just saw in the tabloids that Kirstie Alley, former spokesperson and celebrity “loser” for Jenny Craig, has gained her weight back and then some. She’s not trying to hide it: she posed for pictures for People magazine and appeared on “Oprah” to come clean about her weight gain. She claims to be on a new diet, one she is devising herself, which she will go public with after she loses her weight again. (So far she has lost 20 pounds in four weeks.)

As soon as I saw her story on the cover of People magazine, I flipped to it: I wanted to see what she looked like now that she’s fat again. I admit it. As a fatty myself, I have an obsession with looking at other people who are heavy, to compare how I look in comparison. Sometimes it makes me feel better, sometimes worse. But what hit me when I saw Kirstie was that she looks good! Her hair was long, blonde and styled and looks great on her. I liked the way she was dressed, her makeup, everything. I saw her weight of course–she can’t gain 75 pounds and expect to hide it–but it didn’t seem to matter. And then it hit me: why should it being fat disqualify a person from being considered attractive?

I’m not talking about morbid obesity–although there’s no reason why even that should mean that a person is ugly. But that’s the point: we do see fat as ugly. We recoil from it, especially on our own bodies.We spend untold amounts of money attempting to erase it: training gyms, diet plans, liposuction, creams (which don’t work). But the problem is, we can hardly stand to look at ourselves while we’re still fat, no matter what we’re doing to lighten up.

And that’s my point: we need to let up on ourselves. We have to stop hiding, in our houses, in “fat” clothes (which only make us look fatter), even in our personalities (which can range from being withdrawn to being the clown). One thing feminism has not addressed adequately is the issue of how we look, especially when we don’t fit into society’s ideal of what is attractive.

Many Second Wave feminists are grappling with this issue. They are all in their fifties and up and that usually means weight gain, wrinkles and sagging muscles. A few have managed to hold off the inevitable for the time being. But it will catch up with all of us eventually. And I don’t think it’s a coincidence that many Second Wave feminists have faded into the background. It’s not that they don’t have anything to say; it’s that they are in hiding. Because one of the side effects of aging, like that of weight gain, can be a reluctance to be seen out in the world.

About 20 pounds ago, I crossed over from being chubby or pleasingly plump into just plain fat. I don’t like knowing that when someone describes me they probably say that I’m older and overweight (okay, fat). One of my greatest fears is that I’m going to stay fat for the rest of my life. I shudder at the thought of being fat when I’m lying in my coffin. (Can you imagine being on a diet just so you can die skinny?) The thing is, I may very well lose weight when I’m really old. My mother and grandmother were both overweight most of their lives, but lost a lot of weight before they died. My own father (this syndrome affects men, too, I should add) said when he found out he had cancer: “Well, at least I’m finally losing weight.”

Like Kirstie Alley, like Oprah, and millions of other women (and men), I still hold onto the hope that I’ll get thin some day. But what if I don’t? Am I condemned to hate myself forever? We need to find a way to love ourselves–ALL of ourselves–no matter what we look like. And we need to keep on putting ourselves out there, being who we’re meant to be. If other people have a problem with that, it’s their problem, not ours.

Maybe I’ll even believe that someday.

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Ellen Keim

Ellen is a freelance writer, essayist and copy editor, living with three cats and a husband in Columbus, OH.

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