Letting Men Off the Hook

Melissa NelsonThree years ago, when Melissa Nelson was 33, she was fired by her boss because he felt that her beauty would tempt him to have an affair with her. (Apparently his wife agreed.) Ms. Nelson sued but her case was dismissed. The court ruled that being fired for being a threat to her boss’s marriage was within the law.

Excuse me? Where does it say that the law exists to protect men from their own sexual impulses? If that were the case, rapists might as well go free because, after all, they can’t help it. Especially if a woman dresses “provocatively” (a value judgment if I ever heard one). Why not expand that to “especially if she’s beautiful”?

I’m sick of the excuse that men are at the mercy of their “innate” natures. Girls are told that they have to be the ones to make sure that sex doesn’t happen between them and their dates or boyfriends, because “boys will be boys; they will always go as far as you let them.”

[This is insulting on two counts: it assumes that men can’t control themselves, and that women can (in other words, that they never want to have sex that badly). Both sexes are defined by their supposed normal sexual behaviors.]

I take issue with the attitude that it is the woman’s responsibility to keep men from temptation. If it was all right for Melissa Nelson’s boss to fire her because of the temptation factor, then every male boss could make a case for not hiring women at all.

Because, you know, men would behave themselves perfectly if women weren’t around.


The Amazing Adventures of Dietgirl

At the age of twenty-three, Shauna Reid weighed 351 pounds. That shocked her so much, she made a fateful decision. She would do everything possible to lose weight and she would blog about her experience as a way to keep herself in line. Her blog, “The Amazing Adventures of Dietgirl,” is still online. And the book of the same name covers the first 250 weeks of her journey.

What I love about the book (and the blog) is Shauna’s honesty and humor. I also really enjoyed going through her experience with her as it unfolded. The reader is there with her when she didn’t know whether she would be successful or not and follows all her ups and downs through the next five years of her life. (Don’t worry; the book is a quick read.)  She doesn’t try to gloss over the hard parts (there really were no easy parts) and makes it clear that losing that much weight requires a complete overhaul of one’s lifestyle and attitudes.

One thing that was interesting was that Shauna kept her blogging identity secret until for most of those five years. And she was very private about her accomplishment even with her friends. When she emigrated to Scotland after having lost a lot of her weight, she never told anyone how big she used to be. Now, however, the cat’s out of the bag, and she’s proud to acknowledge what she went through and to share the details of how she did it.

Now thirty-three, Shauna is characteristically honest about the fact that she has gained back 50 pounds. But she obviously hasn’t given up the fight. She isn’t the same person she was ten years ago, and the best part of the book is reading about her evolution from timid and insecure to a young woman who isn’t afraid to live life to its fullest.

Shauna writes this in the epilogue:

And that’s when I knew I’d found my Perfect Ending. I actually found it a long time ago, but it’s taken me a while to see it. I always thought I needed that number on the scale to prove that I’d earned this happiness, but from the moment I looked in the mirror and began to appreciate the view, I was already winning the prize.

I don’t know where the scale will end up, but after 333 weeks and a lifetime of angst, I’m not going to waste another minute worrying about it. My journey was never about what I weighed or the size of my jeans. The true reward is finding peace and acceptance and embracing my own skin, with all its quirks and charms.

My Big Fat Story

"Ellie the Elephant" (far right)

The word to describe me these days is obsessed. But then I’ve always been obsessed about my weight. Ever since I was in the third grade and some of my so-called friends called me “Ellie the Elephant.” (Yes, kids can be cruel.) I was definitely chubby, but not obese. And I slimmed way down by the sixth grade, partly by my own efforts (I distinctly remember refusing to eat desserts) and partly because I outgrew my baby fat.

As soon as I became a teenager however, I started to get fat again. At least that’s what I called it. What was really happening was that I was developing a figure. I looked at my flat-chested, skinny classmates and felt like a cow next to them. Because, except for that brief period between elementary and middle school, one thing I never could be called was skinny.

I managed to stay around the same weight all through my adulthood. Which to me meant that I was continually fat. Kim Brittingham in Read My Hips (see previous post) talks about finding a picture of herself as a teenager and being dumbfounded. All her life she had thought of it as her “fat picture.” And here it turned out, she wasn’t really fat in it at all.

That’s what I experience when I look back at all the pictures of myself as I passed through my twenties, thirties and forties. At the time I was convinced that I was gross and disgusting. The few times that I dipped below 120 just served to convince me that the rest of the time I was pathetically overweight. And to make matters worse, I was obsessed with food. I couldn’t go anywhere without thinking about food: what I’d eat, what I shouldn’t eat, how I was going to sneak all the food I wanted to eat without anyone realizing what I was doing. Because I was convinced that people would judge me for eating anything when I was obviously already losing the battle with food.

If only I’d been able to accept myself as I was! But at least it’s a comfort to know that I probably wasn’t making people vomit when they saw me. My secret obsession with weight and food was safe with me.

Until … dum da da dum … I started to go through menopause. At first the weight gain was incremental and I settled into a niche about ten pounds higher than I had been when I was younger. My parents died around this time and I went through a debilitating period of anxiety and depression. I began to take meds that made me gain weight. And when I had to quit working, I gained even more weight from not being as active.

Once menopause was complete I had a terrible time taking and keeping the weight off, but I did have small successes here and there. I was “only” 20-25 pounds overweight for several years. But in the last three years my weight has steadily risen even though I haven’t changed my habits. I now weigh close to 200 pounds and I’m only 5’3″.

I hate being thought of as that “fat” lady. I hate fitting the stereotype of the middle-aged woman who gets “matronly.” And I hate the thought that I might be fat in my coffin. But the fact is, I am fat and I have no choice but to deal with that reality.



The Problem With Fat People

There’s been a lot of talk in the media lately about recent instances of gay teens who committed suicide after being bullied by their peers. But gay teens are not the only ones who are being bullied to the point of suicide (although they are the most at risk for it: four times as likely as straight teens to commit suicide). Salon.com recently printed Rebecca Golden’s account of the bullying she received as a fat child, of her thoughts of suicide by the age of 12 and the continuing cruelty she has had to endure into her adulthood.

The thing is, I know some people are going to read that first paragraph and think, “Big deal! How does that compare to what gay teens go through? And besides, being gay is not a choice but being fat is.” And that attitude makes me crazy. People are fat for a variety of reasons, most of them complex and, without outside help, out of their control. The jury is out on whether or not fat people are more likely to commit suicide than normal weight people. Some studies have even suggested that they are less likely to do so. I’ve even heard it said that fat people have trouble committing suicide because of their weight. (Ponder that for a moment.)

But if the link between obesity and suicide is tenuous, the link between obesity and depression is not, at least not in our society. Fat people know what “normal” people think of them and that knowledge contributes to their depression. Maura Kelly, a blogger for Marie Claire magazine, only came right out and said what most people think when she wrote:

I think I’d be grossed out if I had to watch two characters with rolls and rolls of fat kissing each other … because I’d be grossed out if I had to watch them doing anything. To be brutally honest, even in real life, I find it aesthetically displeasing to watch a very, very fat person simply walk across a room — just like I’d find it distressing if I saw a very drunk person stumbling across a bar or a heroine addict slumping in a chair.

Kelly caught a lot of flak for her comments and she later apologized in an update. But it was too late: the cat had been let out of the bag. When fat people read her words, they knew that she was speaking for most of the (non-fat) people in America. And it hurt.

It always hurts, no matter how thick your skin. Even when people are well-meaning, their remarks can cut deep. “You can do it. All you have to do is eat a healthy diet and get more exercise.” If it was that easy, there simply wouldn’t be that many fat people. Fast food and hours in front of the television or computer don’t completely explain why people are fat. It’s not that simple. But slim people don’t believe that. And the media merely reflects what most people think.

Continue reading “The Problem With Fat People”