Friday, August 3, 2012

Who's the Fat Guy Wearing My Hat?

I have no doubt that obese people know that they are obese. When one is obese, one finds it hard to breathe or to put on one’s own shoes. One doesn’t fit into roller-coaster seats – that sort of thing. But, sometimes, I look at chubby people and I wonder if they know they are chubby.

The reason I wonder this is because I know I have a pretty inaccurate concept of how I look, at times. Apparently, I have a lean mind. In my head, I look a particular way. But, sometimes, I will catch a glimpse of myself in a convenience store video monitor or I will see my reflection in a display case and I will wonder, for a moment, when the hell I put on those extra pounds. Who’s the fat guy wearing my hat?

I am in the socially fortunate but medically unfortunate position of being perceived favorably when I gain weight. People routinely ask me if I have been lifting weights when I put on a few. So, you can see how I sort of get lead into a leaner perception of myself than is, strictly speaking, accurate.

From "Wackiki Wabbit," Warner Bros, 1943
Even when I am at my thinnest, I’m always fighting a battle. I keep myself under control, but my “fightin’ weight” is about twenty pounds below where I am now. So, I empathize with those struggling with their blubberosity; I’ve been doing it for years.

But, the other day, I was in a store and I saw a chubby guy. He was decked-out stylishly. He carried himself with a swagger. His hair, not unlike some werewolves in London, was perfect. For some reason, I almost asked him if he knows he is chubby. I resisted, ever the consummate gentledude.

Lord knows, a loose T-shirt and an unconscious tummy suck-in at dressing-up-time is something many of us employ as a witchy little glamour now and again . We all stand at a flattering angle in full-length mirrors. (Oh, shut up. Yes you do.)

But people like my chubby chum at the store are in one of two places: they either have deluded themselves, with attention toward fashion and swagger, to believe they are not chubby or they are accepting their chub and they're “being who they are.”

I know there has been a movement in pop-philosophy to embrace what we are: “big and beautiful” – that sort of thing. I get the spirit of that: we’re not all Brad and Angelina, physically, so we shouldn’t pressure ourselves to look that way; we shouldn’t feel insufficient for not looking like them. But, is Chubby McSmoothster in the store doing himself any favors?

I know, I know – he could be in the midst of a life change. He might have once weighed 400 pounds. This is more of a “what if.”

Well, I have been on some substantial hikes in the wilderness and I know what it is like to carry a forty or fifty pound pack on my back. It is brutal on your body. If we are forty or fifty pounds overweight, we carry that pack through our lives and we know that carrying extra weight is going to shorten our time on Earth… or, maybe worse, it might lead to us finishing our time on Earth as immobile and sad lads and lasses.

I’m not being judgmental about my fellow chub-fighters.  I just want people who are overweight to be honest with themselves – to try to see the real image in the mirror. Blowing off fatness is unwise; not seeing or forgetting it is easy; doing something about it is derned difficult, but, given the choice between less time alive (during which I think I’m Johnny Chickmagnet) and more time alive (during which I limit the burgers and increase the sweat-time as a result of a daily dead-on look in the mirror) I’ll take the latter.


  1. I think that the "big is beautiful" stuff is aimed mostly at young women, who may hope to achieve that starved fashion-model look. I have known a number who have done themselves no particular good with the obsession, and at least one who may have impaired her health.

    When I ran a lot, I found that I ran much better when I weighed less than 170 pounds on about a 6 foot frame. These days, I'd like to stay around 180 consistently, but find it difficult. But except for the running, I don't think about it that much.

    Weight loss is not easy, especially sustained weight loss--Calvin Trillin said that it was as rare a phenomenon in American medicine as an impoverished dermatologist. My father had difficulties with his weight from his mid-30s on. Eventually, the weight made exercise less enjoyable, and the want of exercise made it easier to put the weight on.

    1. The mind and the body are, indeed, a perplexing puzzle, George -- especially when gluttony is part of the equation. You also point out one heck of a paradox: "the weight made exercise less enjoyable, and the want of exercise made it easier to put the weight on."