Shortly after we were married and, worse, following a round of marital lovemaking, I was slipping out of bed when my new husband casually observed that I could afford to lose a few. Pounds that is. Looking back, I forgive him for being a newlywed unaccustomed to the powerful punch sex, body image and weight can pack for women. If he wasn't aware of his folly then, he certainly was aware of it after my tears and questions, the cries and recriminations that I unleashed.
Hell hath no fury like a woman called fat.
With the privilege of seventeen years of hindsight (not to pun), I understand where he was coming from. Charlie's fit. Always has been, always will be. For him weight loss is a simple game he learned to play as a championship wrestler sweating out pounds in the sauna, starving for two days before hopping on the scale and qualifying for a lower weight class. I can distinctly recall his confusion at my outrage. So, I needed to drop a few pounds. What was the big deal?
Men deal with their weight without emotion, why can't women? Why was I so upset?
For that answer, one need look no further than yesterday's New York Times and the article on BMI (body mass index) "report cards" dozens of schools across the country are sending home to parents. Go. Read the piece. I'll wait until you come back.
Back yet? Okay. Here's the question: What is the notable thread that runs through this article on how kids and their parents have reacted to the BMI report cards?
Answer: The only students interviewed or profiled are - girls.
That's right. Not one boy in the article. So striking was the absence of how boys felt about being labeled overweight that I had to reread the clip to see if only all girls schools were sending home BMI report cards. Nope. Public schools. Boys and girls. Ha, ha. I guess there were no overweight boys. Right? Right?
Of course there were overweight boys. Probably tons of them. I know because I am embarrassed to say that when I'm burnt out on writing, I like to hang out at EB Games trying the latest version of Guitar Hero. There I've met my share of fluffy adolescent males (and their fathers). Trust me, we do not have a shortage of pudgy boys.
Now, I happen to be from Pennsylvania where most of the reporting for this article was done. Yes, parts of Pennsylvania have lousy, and I mean lousy, eating habits. Funnel cake (as mentioned in the article), smorgasbords, fries, pretzels with cheese - this is the food I grew up with. So when the reporter Jodi Kantor noted that 60 percent of the 8th grade class in a Central Pennsylvania town scored in the 85th percentile or higher for weight (including a fully quarter in the 95th) I know she wasn't talking only girls.
Yet, one paragraph later and the reference is to the "size 20" homecoming queen. Skip down some more to a nearby town and: "On a recent school trip to New York, the girls felt like visitors from a different, chubbier planet, they said."
Really? How did the boys feel? Did anyone even think to ask?
They were fine, I assume. I imagine that after their New York trip they returned home to their PS2s, helped themselves to another fistful of Doritos giving nary a thought to their hipper, thinner more urban counterparts.
This reminds me of television shows and movies where the dorky fat guy with LOTS of personality (Jack Black, Jim Belushi, John Belushi, John Candy) somehow ends up with the lithe gorgeous girl. Yet play it in reverse? Nope. Not gonna happen.
I see this male I'm-fat-so-what mindset everywhere, especially the mall. Overweight guy adopts the uniform - loose T-shirt, baggy shorts - shaves his head, grows a goatee or a soul patch, slips on some shades and suddenly he's supposed to be ---- hot?
When is this going to end? When are we going to stop assuming that overweight = overweight girls, that it's more of an attractiveness issue than a health issue?
If we could subtract the emotionally laden subtext embedded in our culture that overweight women are unattractive, unsexy, unstylish possibly under educated and just plain stupid, we might be able to get a handle on this obesity epidemic without bringing women to tears.
When I wrote The Cinderella Pact, my best selling book to date, about women coming to terms with weight loss, the letters I received by the truckload were mostly variations of the same point - thanks for pointing out that weight is just that, weight. Extra pounds. Unburned stored fuel. It has nothing to do with who we are as people. We women need to accept this simple mathematical fact and move on to our goals.
Not so easy to do when the New York Times implies to millions of readers that, really, it's just a girl thing.
Sarah - trying to cool off!
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