November 24, 2003


In the waiting room at occupational therapy today, Damian decided he was thirsty. So when his OT came up, he was chug-a-lugging my sports bottle. He kept drinking while she and I chatted. When he finally came up for air, he explained that he needs water before he exercises. Which necessitated my explanation that I’ve been exercising a lot recently, which is no doubt where he picked that idea up. She said “I can see you have. That explains why you look so…” and she paused. “Skinny.”

It was a compliment but it didn’t sound like one. It sounded, in fact, like it was a little difficult for her to say. More difficult was knowing how to answer it. She’s a heavy woman. I’m guessing at least 250 pounds. I like her. I respect her. Her weight is such a non-issue it’s not in the same room as being an issue. But here it was for the first time, and it made both of us squirm.

Something about this weight loss adventure I’m on, this trek toward a 22 BMI, has made me lose that self-consciousness about talking about weight. I’ve clicked on enough before and after pictures of women at all sizes, read enough accounts in weight loss blogs and forums, listened to women and men talking at Weight Watchers meetings, talked and thought enough myself about the myriad emotional and practical issues that come up along the way that, just like bowel movements and projectile vomiting lose their eww factor shortly after you become a new parent, this subject has lost the sting of taboo for me. But I know it hasn’t for other people.

What I wanted to say to her when she complimented me in that dead tone was: “It’s been a long time coming. It’s an amazing feeling. (It is.) It’s easy. (It’s not.) It makes me feel giddy. (It does.) I know you’re a strong, smart woman. Take the jump! Come on in, the water’s fine!” (Well, a little chilly sometimes, sometimes overwarm, but overall, feels good.) “But only if you want to, of course, only if you’re ready.”

But I can’t. I know she’d take it as an insult, a criticism, a judgment on her body and by extension her theoretical lack of willpower. It wouldn’t be. It’s been hard getting even 22 lbs off and the twenty or so more to go feels daunting and so far away. I can imagine what it would feel like to face 100 or 150 lbs. I can imagine wincing, shrugging, saying “Fuck it, too hard.” But there’s a man in my Weight Watchers group. He’s lost 90-odd pounds. He's probably past the halfway mark on his journey. I admire the hell out of him. He’s there every week, he’s working hard at it. He’s going to make it to his goal and when he does, I’m going to stand up and salute him because he will have done one of the hardest things anyone can do. Hell, to come this far without falling off the wagon is impressive enough. It’s got to be amazing for him to experience his body that differently. Every week I think about telling him some of this, about saying “You impress me,” but I worry that he’d take it wrong. I worry that I’d sound patronizing because I have less to lose even though that’s precisely why I admire him so much. Because he has and does and will and it’s such a huge mountain he’s got to climb and my little foothill seemed so enormously impossible at first to me. And so I haven’t said anything, not yet.

I wish weight wasn’t such a fraught issue, that it wasn’t ringed around with so many superficial judgments about who and what it makes you to be overweight. I know that’s a ridiculously naive wish, but I’m willing to bet that if we could all drop the embarrassment and denial, if we could each acknowledge the elephant in the room and say “Yeah, it’s there, and yeah, I can do something about it if and when I’m ready to but not until and unless that happens,” if we could all do that, if we could speak frankly about how it feels to be in our bodies and if we could flush away the stigma that’s attached to that – well, I don’t know what because that’s so far from here and now I can’t even imagine it. But it would be better.

If that exchange today was instead: “Hey, wow, you wrote a book,” I could say “Yeah, want to read it?” And she might say “I always wanted to write one,” and I could say “I’d be happy to share a few tips if you’re ever interested.” But in this case? Not going to happen. She’s not going to say “I wish I could” and I can’t say “You can if you want to but you’re a cool lady either way.” We can’t go there because of the stigma of even saying the words aloud. It makes me sad.

Posted by Tamar at November 24, 2003 09:59 PM


You did right by keeping your mouth shut. Appropriate response is just to smile and say thank you.

Speaking as a fat person, I'm sure that diet and exercise is not alien to this woman. She might have lost weight in the past and gained it back. She might not be at all interested in getting skinny. You have no idea.

So giving her a pep talk could be totally inappropriate not knowing where she's coming from. It's not like the writing analogy -- it would have been more like if someone said that your kid was so cute, and you started telling them that they should have one.

Personal, private territory.

If in the future she wants to do it, wants to know how you did it, she'll ask.

Posted by: Allison at November 25, 2003 03:23 AM

I know you're right, Allison. I think what got me was the sadness in her eyes and the stilted way she spoke. Like this is a painful subject; she's clearly not comfortable with her weight. And that made me wish we could just talk frankly about it.

I also do know that just about everyone who's overweight has flirted with dieting and exercise at least once, probably several times. I did, a good half dozen times (at least). I'm still not sure why it stuck this time.

Posted by: Tamar at November 25, 2003 08:45 AM


You are right, weight is such a sensitive issue. Being overweight myself (morbidly obese, if you go by what the doctors say), I get backhanded compliments a lot. For instance, working out at the gym (which I do 45 minutes every day),people will often express amazment at my stamina. I get comments like: Good for you coming here, keep at it, it's good for you. What they don't know is that I have always been active and have exercised, whether it was at the gym or at the pool, for years.

I don't take offense, usually, because I know they are trying to be kind. However, their preconceived notions exist: Fat equals lazy.

Congrats on your weight loss - just remember that the "keeping it off" part is the hardest.

Posted by: Renate at November 25, 2003 10:38 AM

Just because someone is really fat now, doesn't mean that they only "flirted" with dieting in the past. People lose dramatic amounts of weight and exercise regularly and then something throws them off track.

The statistics are really tough on keeping weight off -- the trick isn't doing what you did, it's staying the way you are in the next several years....

Posted by: Allison at November 25, 2003 10:40 PM

Honestly? When I said flirting, I was thinking of myself. I was just talking to someone today about this (not about this entry but about weight loss and gain). She said she bounces like a yo-yo, she's lost all her excess weight a few times and gained it back again. Me, I've gained slowly but surely over the course of years, and when I've tried to lose, I've never lost more than five or ten pounds before hitting a wall and going splat. So for me flirting was absolutely the operative word. Since this is such a taboo subject, I don't think I knew how many people lose a lot and then gain it back.

But yes, I keep hearing about how tough it is to maintain. I'm scared of that part. Easy to say you'll never let yourself slip, but exercise especially is hard to keep up as an ongoing discipline. Will I? Stay tuned. I'm not nearly at my goal yet, though.

If I've put my foot in it in this entry, I apologize. It's very hard to talk about this stuff. Which is what I was trying to say. It's relatively easy to talk about how I feel about myself but extending that... it's more complicated. I do keep my mouth shut but sometimes I wish there was a graceful way to say "Want to talk about it?" There obviously isn't. I can't even address it gracefully in my blog.

Renate, I apologize on behalf of well meaning idiots everywhere. I do not even remotely equate fat and lazy, but I have in my life said equally stupid things. I know better now. I hope.

Posted by: Tamar at November 25, 2003 11:40 PM

Don't apologize. This is what blogs are all about, n'est pas?

Posted by: Allison at November 26, 2003 10:16 PM