Archive for fat

When your mother says she’s fat
…a cross post by Kasey Edwards

Originally appeared on The Daily Life and republished here with permission.

*

Dear Mum,

I was seven when I discovered that you were fat, ugly and horrible. Up until that point I had believed that you were beautiful – in every sense of the word. I remember flicking through old photo albums and staring at pictures of you standing on the deck of a boat. Your white strapless bathing suit looked so glamorous, just like a movie star. Whenever I had the chance I’d pull out that wondrous white bathing suit hidden in your bottom drawer and imagine a time when I’d be big enough to wear it; when I’d be like you.

But all of that changed when, one night, we were dressed up for a party and you said to me, ‘‘Look at you, so thin, beautiful and lovely. And look at me, fat, ugly and horrible.’’
At first I didn’t understand what you meant.

‘‘You’re not fat,’’ I said earnestly and innocently, and you replied, ‘‘Yes I am, darling. I’ve always been fat; even as a child.’’

In the days that followed I had some painful revelations that have shaped my whole life. I learned that:

1. You must be fat because mothers don’t lie.
2. Fat is ugly and horrible.
3. When I grow up I’ll look like you and therefore I will be fat, ugly and horrible too.

Years later, I looked back on this conversation and the hundreds that followed and cursed you for feeling so unattractive, insecure and unworthy. Because, as my first and most influential role model, you taught me to believe the same thing about myself.

With every grimace at your reflection in the mirror, every new wonder diet that was going to change your life, and every guilty spoon of ‘‘Oh-I-really-shouldn’t’’, I learned that women must be thin to be valid and worthy. Girls must go without because their greatest contribution to the world is their physical beauty.

Just like you, I have spent my whole life feeling fat. When did fat become a feeling anyway? And because I believed I was fat, I knew I was no good.

But now that I am older, and a mother myself, I know that blaming you for my body hatred is unhelpful and unfair. I now understand that you too are a product of a long and rich lineage of women who were taught to loathe themselves.

Look at the example Nanna set for you. Despite being what could only be described as famine-victim chic, she dieted every day of her life until the day she died at 79 years of age. She used to put on make-up to walk to the letterbox for fear that somebody might see her unpainted face.

I remember her ‘‘compassionate’’ response when you announced that Dad had left you for another woman. Her first comment was, ‘‘I don’t understand why he’d leave you. You look after yourself, you wear lipstick. You’re overweight – but not that much.’’

Before Dad left, he provided no balm for your body-image torment either.

‘‘Jesus, Jan,’’ I overheard him say to you. ‘‘It’s not that hard. Energy in versus energy out. If you want to lose weight you just have to eat less.’’

That night at dinner I watched you implement Dad’s ‘‘Energy In, Energy Out: Jesus, Jan, Just Eat Less’’ weight-loss cure. You served up chow mein for dinner. (Remember how in 1980s Australian suburbia, a combination of mince, cabbage, and soy sauce was considered the height of exotic gourmet?) Everyone else’s food was on a dinner plate except yours. You served your chow mein on a tiny bread-and-butter plate.

As you sat in front of that pathetic scoop of mince, silent tears streamed down your face. I said nothing. Not even when your shoulders started heaving from your distress. We all ate our dinner in silence. Nobody comforted you. Nobody told you to stop being ridiculous and get a proper plate. Nobody told you that you were already loved and already good enough. Your achievements and your worth – as a teacher of children with special needs and a devoted mother of three of your own – paled into insignificance when compared with the centimetres you couldn’t lose from your waist.

It broke my heart to witness your despair and I’m sorry that I didn’t rush to your defence. I’d already learned that it was your fault that you were fat. I’d even heard Dad describe losing weight as a ‘‘simple’’ process – yet one that you still couldn’t come to grips with. The lesson: you didn’t deserve any food and you certainly didn’t deserve any sympathy.

But I was wrong, Mum. Now I understand what it’s like to grow up in a society that tells women that their beauty matters most, and at the same time defines a standard of beauty that is perpetually out of our reach. I also know the pain of internalising these messages. We have become our own jailors and we inflict our own punishments for failing to measure up. No one is crueller to us than we are to ourselves.

But this madness has to stop, Mum. It stops with you, it stops with me and it stops now. We deserve better – better than to have our days brought to ruin by bad body thoughts, wishing we were otherwise.

And it’s not just about you and me any more. It’s also about Violet. Your granddaughter is only 3 and I do not want body hatred to take root inside her and strangle her happiness, her confidence and her potential. I don’t want Violet to believe that her beauty is her most important asset; that it will define her worth in the world. When Violet looks to us to learn how to be a woman, we need to be the best role models we can. We need to show her with our words and our actions that women are good enough just the way they are. And for her to believe us, we need to believe it ourselves.

The older we get, the more loved ones we lose to accidents and illness. Their passing is always tragic and far too soon. I sometimes think about what these friends – and the people who love them – wouldn’t give for more time in a body that was healthy. A body that would allow them to live just a little longer. The size of that body’s thighs or the lines on its face wouldn’t matter. It would be alive and therefore it would be perfect.

Your body is perfect too. It allows you to disarm a room with your smile and infect everyone with your laugh. It gives you arms to wrap around Violet and squeeze her until she giggles. Every moment we spend worrying about our physical ‘‘flaws’’ is a moment wasted, a precious slice of life that we will never get back.

Let us honour and respect our bodies for what they do instead of despising them for how they appear. Focus on living healthy and active lives, let our weight fall where it may, and consign our body hatred in the past where it belongs. When I looked at that photo of you in the white bathing suit all those years ago, my innocent young eyes saw the truth. I saw unconditional love, beauty and wisdom. I saw my Mum.

Love, Kasey xx

This is an excerpt from Dear Mum: a collection of letters from Australian sporting stars, musicians, models, cooks and authors revealing what they would like to say to their mothers before it’s too late, or would have said if only they’d had the chance. All royalties go to the National Breast Cancer Foundation. (Published by Random House and available now.)

 

Kasey Edwards is a writer based in Australia and author of four books including 30-Something and Over It, 30-Something and the Clock is Ticking, and OMG! That’s Not My Husband/Child. You can visit her website at kaseyedwards.com and follow her on Twitter here.

Fat and happy? Or thin and sick? You make the choice.

As I mentioned last Tuesday, my father-in-law, Herb Bell, died about ten days ago.

Though it may sound strange to talk about the positive aspects of losing someone you love, I have to admit that one of the most heartwarming aspects of the experience was looking at all the old pictures—pictures of my father-in-law, my husband, and the entire family. Over the years, I’ve seen numerous photos of my husband and his parents from his childhood, but last week I think I saw every single photo taken during his childhood—and his parents’ childhoods before him.

It was fascinating on many levels.

Some of things that fascinated me were obvious—how different my father-in-law looked as a child and young man. In one picture, from around the time he was twenty, he is leaning against a brick wall, his knee folded against the wall in an pretty close replica of the famous James Dean photo. I saw that photo, and a man who always looked like a grandfather to me actually appeared hot.

Yes, I said it.

Back in the day, my father-in-law was smoking hot.

But the most interesting part of looking at these photos was that we were all searching for a picture in which Herb looked . . . well . . . I guess the only way to say it is heavy.

Why heavy? Because that’s the way we all remember him—with big glasses, a cigar in house mouth, and a bit of a belly. Like Santa Claus without the hair.

So even though we were tickled to find Herb’s James Dean photo and formal Air Force portrait, we were even happier when we put our hands on a picture of Herb the way we remember him—before he was sick, before he weighed 119 pounds as he did in the days leading up to his death. We desperately wanted to remember him as the happy and healthy man we all loved.

And the whole time we were searching for evidence of his healthier, happier self, I kept thinking about how ironic it was—after Herb got sick, he was initially thrilled by his weight loss and would often brag about how many pounds he’d lost. But at some point, the novelty of being thin wore off, and we were all left with the fact that no matter how svelte and dapper the new Herb looked, we all wanted the old one back. In the end, we longed for the healthy and plump Herb and broke down at the sight of sick, gaunt Herb.

It made me wonder why we are all so obsessed with thinness when, for some of us, being plump means we’re healthy. I even had to ask myself, what would you rather be? Thin and sick or healthy and overweight? Of course, we all would choose the latter, but if that’s the case, then why is it so difficult to accept ourselves the way we are? Imperfect, yes, but still wonderfully, vitally alive.

If I had a wish for all of us, it would be this: I wish that we would all be able to truly believe this—believe that we are better the way we are—long before old age and disease makes waifs out of us, and it is finally—and regrettably—too late.

Time for the fattists to shut it

The Oscar nominations came out this morning, and I am thrilled because my favorite movie of the year—Winter’s Bone—was nominated for best picture. If you haven’t seen this film yet and can stand a movie that is pretty gritty and dark, rent it ASAP. It will kick your ass. (On top of that it’s also a movie by and about real women.)


Now that the Oscar noms are out, I guess I should finally wrap up the Golden Globe coverage. And I want to do that by shaking my finger at Time magazine for posing an article called “5 Stars Who Looked Fat and 5 Stars Who Looked Fit” after the Globes.

Yes, as a friend pointed out, “it’s not bad enough, fashion-wise, to be overweight, but now it’s a fashion faux pas to look an ounce larger than you really are.

I couldn’t agree more. What the hell is wrong with people—I’m talking to you, Charla Krupp—that makes them think it’s acceptable to call people fat? Guess what, Krupp? It hasn’t been okay to call someone fat since fifth grade. Time to grow up.

What’s crazy is that this salacious headline promises more bite than it delivers. If you read the article, you’ll see that Krupp calls Christina Aguilera “buxom” and “hippy,” describes JLo as having an “ample derriere” (see picture above), and says Jennifer Love Hewitt’s “top half is voluminous.”

Buxom? Hippy? Ample? Voluminous?

I don’t know about you, but I would have no problem having JLo’s ample derriere, Hewitt’s volumnious top half, or Aguilera’s buxom and hippy. And I certainly know it would make my husband happy.

Oddly, Krupp included Heidi Klum in this list of “stars who looked fat,” which doesn’t even make sense. If Heidi Klum looks fat, then my next birthday wish will be to be as fat as Klum.

And I think that the fact that Krupp doesn’t get this proves that she’s out of sync with so many of us—those of us who want to accept our bodies the way they are and don’t feel a need to cleave to some ridiculous model of perfection.

What’s worse is that this article ran on the Time magazine website. Really, Time magazine? Really? You think it looks good to talk about how “fat” someone looks? It’s not like this is some tabloid we’d find in the checkout line. I expect more of a “news” magazine. I expect integrity. So let’s see it.

This is your body. This is your body on exercise.

198 pounds

As you may remember, I started the summer in a frenzy of activity—walking, running, biking, playing tennis—but a few weeks ago, I went back to my normal routine of exercising just once a day: my one-hour walk every day with Dave.

Don’t get me wrong—walking an hour a day is amazing, and I’m proud that I’ve done it for so many years. And I also know that it’s the reason my doctors love me. But it isn’t enough to lose weight. It’s enough to maintain, but not to lose.

And I want to lose.

So yesterday I decided it was time to get back to two- and three-a-days. And I’m not screwing around this time or not fully committing. I walked for an hour in the morning, ran and jumped rope for 30 minutes in the evening, and ended the day by lifting weights and doing sit-ups for all thirty minutes of The Daily Show—the latter of which I plan to do from here on out. When Jon Stewart is on the television, I’ll be on the floor doing leg lifts and crunches and curls.

All that exercise is great, but what’s makes me even happier is how good I felt at the end of the day. I mean, I felt amaaaaaaaaaazing. Truly amazing.

And that feeling didn’t stop last night. It lasted through the majority of my day today, fueling me to meet my three-a-day goal yet again. And after I finished playing a brief but rewarding fifteen minutes of basketball tonight, it hit me how quickly you can turn things around and start feeling good again.

During the weeks that I’d only been walking an hour a day, I had been starting to feel sluggish and—God forbid—fat. But thirty-six hours after re-dedicating myself to more frequent exercise throughout the day, I feel fit and energized and—my God, I know it’s a cliche but—like I could do anything.

My brother-in-law always says that he feels sick if he doesn’t exercise every day—an excuse, from my way of thinking, for allowing himself daily trips to the gym that my sister doesn’t usually get. But the more time goes on, the more I think he’s on to something.

I’ve known for a long time that we all feel better—or less sick, as brother-in-law says—if we work out every day, but now that I’m immersing myself so fully in exercise, I am reminded how much of a drug it is.

The more we do it, the more we want to do it, the more we need it.

I’m starting to crave biking as much as I crave cheeseburgers. I’ve given up planning dinner for planning my next bike route. And when I’ve finished my jog, I can’t help but want a little more, to go a little bit further.

And this is the kind of addiction we should all want.

Two days ago I was having trouble getting motivated to do anything but the minimum sixty minutes on the walking trail. Now I’m like a junkie—jonesing for my next fix.

What a difference a day makes.

Fat camp champ: why adolescence never leaves us

199 pounds
If you feel like ANY of the things you have ever done to lose weight—or to feel better about your body—are at all messed up, then you have simply got to read Stephanie Klein‘s Moose. I just finished it a few weeks ago, and I’m not exaggerating when I say it it might be one of the best books I’ve ever read.
It’s definitely one of the most important.
Moose is a memoir about Klein’s experience growing up “fat” and being shipped off to fat camp by her somewhat unsympathetic parents.
I put the word “fat” in quotation marks because, as I mentioned in my “Fat is off the list” post, I don’t think that word is productive, but also because Klein was never really fat.
Chubby, yes. But not fat.
If you don’t believe me, here are some pictures to prove it:
The image on the left shows Klein as a plump teen around the time the book takes place, and the picture on the right is the one that appears on the back of her book: the author as a successful, gorgeous, and obviously thin adult woman.
Though the book doesn’t exactly chronicle how Klein finally kicks the fat habit, it does beautifully narrate her horrific experiences trying to lose weight any way she could while growing up in a world that does not accept people who struggle with weight. Ironically, when Klein goes to fat camp, she is one of the thinnest people there, and as a result, becomes popular and sought-after. As it turns out, even at fat camp, skinny wins.
But what’s so moving about this book is that Klein goes through what we all—fat or not—went through when we were young: feeling unattractive, struggling to fit in, and just wanting to be normal.
Sadly, Klein’s parents offer little understanding of her situation. At one point, the whole family goes to a “pay what you weigh” dinner, and when Klein refuses to get on the scale, rather than empathize, they tell her that the whole world is prejudiced against fat people and that she’ll be much happier if she loses weight.
Ouch.
It’s to Klein’s credit that she doesn’t shy away from painting her mother and father as imperfect—if ultimately loving—parents.
As a result, it’s hard not to be completely moved by how challenging it is for Klein to experience adolescence with an extra thirty pounds to lug around and parents who are pushing her to eat lighter fare while scooping out the scalloped potatoes for themselves. And this is why you can’t help but walk away from the book with a better understanding of the fact that your own adolescence—no matter how awkward—wasn’t that bad by comparison. This is because when young Stephanie suffers from the taunts of her peers or—worse yet—her parents and teachers (one of whom insists she admit she’s “gorda”—or fat—in Spanish class), so do you, and the book is obviously better for it.
This is a must-read for any woman who has ever struggled with weight or body issues.
In other words, it’s a must-read for all of us.

The fattists attack!

192 pounds
I’m a big fan of The Huffington Post, which you might know since I feature Arianna Huffington in my “Gallery of Gorgeous Women” to the right. But this week I was frustrated to read an article by Vicki Lovine on HuffPost that claimed we needed to stop staying away from the word “fat.”

As you may know from my “Fat is off the List” post, I firmly believe that we should not use the word because it’s almost always used in a hurtful and derogatory way, but this article argued that the politically correct desire to not call people fat is making us fatter.
I don’t buy it.
And here’s why I disagree: I don’t buy into the idea that the obesity epidemic in our country is related to people being nicer to each other. In other words, I don’t think our collective girth is growing bigger because people think twice about calling someone “fat.”
Instead, I believe that America is getting bigger for three* simple reasons:
1) Because we don’t exercise nearly as much as we used to. From my way of thinking, this is especially true of children—a major contributing factor to the shocking increase in childhood obesity—and you can read why I think that in the second of my posts on that subject.
2) Because we eat far too many processed foods and don’t cook enough at home. One of the big reasons this is more of a problem than ever before is because processed foods have become incredibly cheap to buy as well as available on almost every corner in America. In fact, in my “Processed Foods and Little Pink Houses” post, I argue that’s the reason why working class people are the segment of our society that are gaining weight faster than any other group.
3) Finally, I believe that our country’s obsession with dieting makes us actually eat more. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: when we tell people that they need to look like Angelina Jolie to be beautiful, it makes it very easy for them to give up trying to be healthy and grab another box of Mac ‘n Cheese. I truly believe that as long as we hold women to standards that are unattainable for regular people, we will have an obesity problem in our country.
And that’s why I completely disagree with Vicki Lovine. She believes that if we start using the word “fat,” we can start shaming people into being healthier. Sounds like a lot of mumbo jumbo to me because if there is one thing I know it’s that making people feel bad about themselves does NOT help them. In fact, the first step to being healthy is feeling good about yourself. And I stand by my belief that until we accept ourselves the way we are, we will never lose weight.
I’ll even take it a step further and argue that promoting the use of the word “fat” is, in fact, fattist.
Can you imagine if we proposed using another derogatory word to make a different group of people change their behavior? What will Lovine propose next? Using the word “retarded” more so people act smarter? I hope that the recent debate about that word proves why taking digs at those who are struggling with any issue doesn’t work.
Lovine says that we need to start calling people like me fat, but despite my strong desire to do so, I will maturely refrain from calling Lovine the “R” word.

*There is also evidence that the chemicals that are now so ubiquitous in our country are making us fatter as I mentioned in my post on that subject.

All I want for Christmas . . .

190 pounds

A few days after my “These Kids Today” post, I followed up on my promise to talk to my nieces about body image after my older niece made some slightly inappropriate comments about my body.
I waited until we had a few moments alone—when the girls were changing into their pajamas on Christmas Eve—and then told them that even though I was bigger than their mommy that didn’t mean I wasn’t pretty.
(It was easy for me to say these words to them at this point in my life, but when I said them, I was still well aware how far I’ve come from the person I used to be, the person who couldn’t see herself as remotely attractive, much less pretty, especially when compared to my super fit and adorable blonde sister.)
Immediately, the girls jumped in.
“You are SO pretty,” they said, repeating themselves over and over in case I didn’t believe them: “You are! You are!”
But I did believe them.
Not just because I have more self-esteem than I’ve ever had, but because the two of them routinely compliment the way I look. Yes, they had made some inappropriate comments about my size a few days before, but those comments were the exception rather than the rule, which was another reason I wanted to use those remarks to start a larger discussion about women’s bodies while I had the chance—for all I knew, they would never say anything like that to me again.
“But I want you to understand that size doesn’t have anything to do with beauty,” I explained. “Bigger woman can be just as beautiful as smaller women.”
“Of course, they can!” the girls both agreed without hesitation.
I could see that this was going to be an easy sell, so I decided to go further, explaining to them in detail how genes work and how our body size is determined more by our parents than by our eating and exercise habits. Of course, little kids never miss an opportunity to use any new situation or experience as a way to get even more information, and it wasn’t long before they were asking me if I thought their genes would give them big breasts. I stepped around that minefield as carefully as I could and told them they’d probably look just like their mommy when they grew up, and that seemed to satisfy them.
I also took the opportunity to tell them what I thought of the word “fat”—that it’s a word that is normally used in a mean way, so they shouldn’t use it. They were nodding and seemed to understand, but I wasn’t entirely sure they were still with me.
If I had any doubts about the effectiveness of our talk, they were erased the next day—which just happened to be Christmas—when someone used the word “fat,” and my older niece jumped up from her chair and said, “That’s a bad word! You shouldn’t say that.”
I can honestly say that it was one of the best Christmas presents I have ever received.

Processed foods and little pink houses:
why we can’t eat in a small town

194 pounds

It’s been a while since I’ve addressed the question of how I can lose weight without dieting, and I need to start getting back to that question. I’ve already talked about the importance of indulging and making exercise a fun and frequent part of our lives (meaning more than once a day), and I’d like to get through several more tenets of my non-dieting approach over the next few months. The one I want to start talking about first is processed foods—and I say start because this post is only going to talk about why processed foods are more of a problem in our society than I think most people realize.

One of the many problems in our society is what we eat. Many of us know that the quality of what we put in our mouths is as important as the quantity. In his bestselling book In Defense of Food, Michael Pollan talks about how bad processed foods are for us—they’re high in sodium, high in calories, high in trans fats, and have little or no nutritional value. Pollan suggests avoiding these problem foods by shopping only in the outlying areas of the grocery store—the produce section, the meat section, the dairy section—and skipping the middle aisles—where boxed Mac ‘n Cheese and canned soup rule. I think we all know that these foods should be avoided, but if we all know this, then why is it that people are still buying these foods? And not just buying them, but buying them en masse?

The answer to this question is more complicated than the fact that these foods taste good or they’re easy to make, though those are clearly excuses that many of us make when we buy processed foods. But these aren’t the only reasons our country is in the middle of a huge obesity epidemic.

I recently had the privilege of living in a small rural town in North Carolina called Laurinburg for two years of my adult life. Despite the inherent challenges of living in such a remote area, I believe that living there was a privilege for two reasons:

1) As anyone who works in academia knows, it is extremely difficult to get a full-time job teaching college English, and I recognize how lucky I was to get one—even if it was in the middle of nowhere, North Carolina. (Also, I worked with a number of amazing people, many of whom I hope to be friends with for years to come and who made my life in N.C. richer than one would imagine when looking up Laurinburg on a map.)

2) I also consider it a privilege to have lived in Laurinburg, North Carolina, because, during those two years, I believe I was able to learn more about how regular Americans live than I did in the eleven long years I lived in big cities like Washington, D.C. or Cincinnati.

For instance, I learned that movies don’t become blockbusters because moviegoers want to see them. They become blockbusters because of the theatre owners who book them. Because if you live in a town with as little to do as Laurinburg and it’s a thirty-minute drive to the closest multiplex, you’re more than likely willing to see ANY movie that comes to the run-down two-screen cinema in your town. (What was equally interesting was that while I was living in North Carolina, I always knew what movie would win the weekend box office because it was always the same movie that opened at the theatre in our town that weekend.)

But I also learned a lot about how the average American eats.

When I moved to North Carolina, I had the false sense that we would have access to all kinds of fresh, local food because we’d be living in such a rural area. But if you know anything about the Sandhills of North Carolina, you know that they don’t grow food there. They grow tobacco and cotton.

Still, it was a small town, people didn’t make a lot of money, almost everything was cheap (housing, movie tickets, tuition), so I figured that food would be affordable too.

In some ways this was true. A huge Wal-Mart Super Center was so centrally located in Laurinburg that almost anyone who lived in the city limits could walk there if need be (and it wasn’t unusual to see people doing so). There were a handful of other options for grocery shopping in town: two of them were pretty small and rundown and the third—Harris Teeter—was gorgeous and well stocked but too expensive for us and for most of the people we knew. Of course, if it was too expensive for us—two full-time college professors—it was obviously too expensive for most of the people who lived in Laurinburg. As a result, almost everybody did their grocery shopping at Wal-Mart, and initially we were no exception.

In the beginning, I did my best to focus on Wal-Mart’s positive aspects: so many things were affordable (everything from picture frames to DVDs), and you could buy almost anything you needed in one place. But pretty soon I realized that there was one thing I could almost never buy at Wal-Mart without breaking my bank: produce.

Because, though the Mac ‘n Cheese and the Ramen Noodles and the Ranch salad dressing were the cheapest I’d ever come across in my life, the grapes and the lettuce and the broccoli were outrageously overpriced. I remember one time I wanted to buy grapes for a get-together we were having at our house, and the regular-sized bag I picked up ended up costing eight dollars. Eight dollars! For grapes!

It was this experience that got me thinking about and paying more attention to the produce prices at Wal-Mart, and once I started really looking at them, I realized that—except for the few items that were on sale each week—the Wal-Mart in Laurinburg, North Carolina was price gouging its produce.*

Of course, I immediately understood that the consequence of this was that people in Laurinburg—especially people who couldn’t afford or didn’t have time to supplement their Wal-Mart shopping trips with stops at other grocery stores—probably weren’t buying or eating as much produce as people in other parts of the country.

When I lived in Cincinnati, I eventually bought almost all of our produce and meat downtown at Findlay Market every Sunday, and I could do so for thirty bucks a week. I would come home with three huge paper bags stuffed full of fruits and vegetables (and half a bag of fish, chicken, and beef) and be shocked by how far our money would go there. But if I wanted to buy three bags of produce at Wal-Mart in rural North Carolina, I’d probably spend about four times as much doing so.

Not long after I figured out that Wal-Mart was making up for what they lost on frozen pizza by charging more for apples and oranges, I attended a Fourth of July celebration in nearby Maxton, North Carolina.

If I had thought Laurinburg was small, Maxton soon proved me wrong. In fact, it wasn’t unusual for people from Maxton to drive the five miles to Laurinburg for an evening of cheap movies and fast food.

One of the things that I immediately noticed at the Maxton Fourth of July celebration was that it felt as if almost everyone there was obese.

Obese and poor.

As I had become used to seeing (even in a fancy grocery store like Harris Teeter), children were running around without their shoes on and many of them were in need of a bath and wearing old and ripped clothing. No, not everyone there fit this description, but most did, and in my Gap jeans and espadrilles, I stood out almost as much as Paris Hilton at a church revival. And I also noticed that, unlike other town festivals I’d been to, there were no rides or games, no Scrambler or Ring Toss. There was only one pathetic looking inflatable bouncing machine, the kind you see gracing suburban backyards for the birthday parties of kids who’ve never heard of, much less seen, places like Maxton.

Like many Americans, I immediately wondered how it was that people who appeared to be so poor were also so obese. How people who were clearly not rolling in money were spending so much of what they did have on food.

Then it it all came together for me: these people were not spending a lot of money on food. They were just spending it the wrong way. They weren’t obese because they were pigging out at every meal; they were obese because every meal was high in sodium and calories and trans fats. They were overweight because they could afford as much Mac ‘n Cheese as their hearts desired, but grapes were not in the budget.

Nevertheless, I knew that Wal-Mart was not alone in making the people of Maxton obese.

McDonalds—which was the only place open 24 hours a day in Laurinburg and which frequently had a drive-through line that extended into the street—and Burger King and Wendy’s and Park Grill and Taco Bell and KFC and all of the twenty or so fast food restaurants in Laurinburg were complicit as well. Because in Laurinburg, not only couldn’t you buy foods rich in iron like spinach and blueberries without spending five dollars, you also couldn’t buy a healthy meal in a restaurant unless you went to the only fancy sit-down restaurant in town, a place where a salmon dinner costs around twenty dollars, a price far too high for most of the people who live there. But you could go to one of many fast food restaurants and get a 1000-calorie value meal for around three bucks and maybe even feed a family of three for the same price as that bag of grapes.

The eight-dollar grapes weren’t the only reason I stopped going to Wal-Mart (a documentary called The High Cost of Low Prices also played a big role in that decision), but it was basically the final straw. And my goal here isn’t to convince people to stop going to Wal-Mart (though that would be a nice side effect of this blog). My real goal is to point out how many people in this country—the people who live in places where Slumdog Millionaire and The Hurt Locker will never play—don’t have very many choices about what they eat. Essentially, they eat what they’re given, and the result is that many, many, many of them are obese.

I used to be surprised by how many more people in this country are now considered obese—especially by the increase in childhood obesity—and I used to believe that these people were just lazy and undisciplined. But after living two years in the middle of nowhere, the numbers don’t surprise me anymore. It’s not that these people—adults and kids alike—want to eat food that is so bad for them. It’s that, sadly, they don’t have much of a choice.

*I have not done an exhaustive study of the produce prices at Wal-Marts across America, but I do believe that one of the biggest contributors to obesity in this country is that fresh produce costs more than processed foods.

Why we should all see AWAY WE GO

196 pounds

Tonight I had the privilege of seeing Away We Go, the new dramedy about a confused young pregnant couple played by Maya Rudolph and John Krasinski. It was a film I’ve wanted to see as long as I’ve known about it but one I’d been D Y I N G to see ever since I saw a gorgeous but very womanly picture of Maya Rudolph splashed across two pages of Entertainment Weekly with an article they wrote about the movie last month. In the picture, Rudolph’s skirt was creeping up her thighs to reveal wonderfully fleshy legs, and I immediately admired the hell out of Rudolph for that photo—not only for showing off her regular-sized body, but for doing so in such a sexy manner.

What’s even better is that Rudolph was pregnant at the time the picture was taken. Sure, we’ve seen pregnant woman knocking our eyes out on the cover of magazines before (Demi Moore on the cover of Vanity Fair comes to mind), but this photo was different. Rudolph didn’t look like she had something to prove. She looked like she was merely comfortable with herself—womanly thighs and all.

In a recent post, I talked about my wish that more magazines would feature women who are a happy medium between the severely underweight and the severely overweight, and Maya Rudolph is a great example of someone who personifies that happy medium—both in terms of her body and her non-traditional beauty.

Because of this photo, I was hoping that Rudolph would look just as real in the film, and it did not disappoint. Both she and Krasinski go from average to stunning to disheveled at various points throughout the movie.

But what I really want to talk about is a comment made by Rudolph’s character, Verona, in the movie. Without giving anything away, I can say that the comment occurs when she and her boyfriend Burt are discussing their future and their unborn daughter. Verona asks Burt to “promise me that you won’t care if our daughter is fat or skinny, and that she won’t even be the kind of girl who worries about her weight in a cliched kind of way.” (I’m sure I’m getting the words all out of order, but the sentiment is what’s important here.)

Verona makes this request during a very moving part of the film, and it was this line that put me over the top. I wanted to stand up in my chair, throw down my tub of popcorn and oversized soda, and shout, “Yes, yes, yes! Please teach your daughter not to worry about her weight! Please teach us all to do that!”

Of course, I didn’t stand up and shout like that because I was afraid of getting thrown out of the theatre and really wanted to see the end of the movie.

But I did start to cry.

And I’m not sure I really stopped until the credits had finished rolling.

I guess what I’m saying is that this, more than anything, was a movie that really got me, that really understood what’s important to me. (If such a thing is even possible.) And I’d like to take it a step further and say this is a movie that gets all of us.

These two characters were simultaneously the kind of lost souls we all feel like sometimes and the generous, thoughtful people we all aspire to be at other times—whether it be their take on their unborn daughter’s weight, the way they both embraced Rudolph’s pregnant body, or their stubborn refusal to accept the rejection of strollers. No matter how you look at it, these characters were the real thing.

So I’ll add it to my list of Movies Every Woman Should See, but do yourself a favor and see this one on the big screen before it leaves the theatre.

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