Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Living up to the "I Wonder" portion of this blog's title .....

Been wondering when I'd get around to incorporating something into this blog that would explain at least a portion of its name.  Thought the time should be now. 

This is not new; I wrote it about 4 years ago.  It was the first in a series of "I Wonder" ramblings.  It belongs in this blog.

I wonder what it’s like to be thin.

I can’t even look back to a time and recall it.  I’ve always had to wonder about it.

As a 12 year old, shopping at the horrifically named "Chubby Club" in NYC, I was already over 5’8" snd topping the scales at 200+.

Early pictures, up to about the age of 8, show a perfectly normal sized, adorable ("the world will be mine!") munchkin. After than it begins to go wrong. Would it be too obvious, I wonder, to mention here that it was just about that time my parents divorced and we moved to the country, leaving my beloved father snd grandparents behind in New York City?

There were summer camps from which I’d come home 20, 30, 40 pounds lighter in August, only to have gained it all back (plus some) by November.

I wonder if being heavy would have been easier if I had not also been so tall.

By my early teens I had already reached my 5’11" height.  I think the enormity of me must have been overwhelming. Massive from side to side, and from top to bottom.

At 5'4", however, which is what I somehow determined as being the perfect height, the weight would have been worse. At just under 6’, I could somehow "carry" it, whereas at 5'4", my friends could have just rolled me down the street like a one-of-a-kind beach ball.  However, being told I "carried" my weight well was about the worst thing people could say to me.  It kind of made it awful, but okay.

So I guess tall was good, but it just added to the enormity that has always been me. (One reason I kept my hair long for many years, even though I could never effectively manage it, was that I dreaded the "excuse me, sir" comments from people coming up from behind. In the 60’s, even the long hair didn’t serve the purpose any more as many men wore there hair even longer than mine.)

Being large puts stresses on a child that I don’t think many are aware of.  Authority figures seem to think largeness equals maturity. "Marianne, you’re the biggest, I’m putting you in charge while I’m out of the classroom," said many a grammar school teacher.  Did I know how to be in charge? Absolutely not. I was too busy simply trying to fit in, to hide myself. Being singled out for the one thing which I was constantly trying to run from only heightened the anxiety, the ridicule and the retreat into immaturity.

"Fat people are always so jolly." Well, we have to be. We can’t go around crying all the time. When one feels that other people are poking fun and making jokes, survival mechanism sets in.

It’s easier to feel included, less outside of things, if we make the jokes first, if we ridicule ourselves before someone else has a chance to do it. I think we also think that by making fun of ourselves, we are saying, "See, I don’t care that I’m fat. It’s fun." Well, it’s not.

And, again, the total largeness of me – height and width. I don’t know if the experiences of a short fat girl are different from mine, but I tend to think they might have been. At age 11, I had to bring a birth certificate with me to the local movie theatre to prove to them that I could still purchase the "under 12" tickets. I look at pictures of me at that age and understand why the proprietor thought I was trying to get away with something. At 12, I looked at least 18 or 20, unless you look carefully at my face. And when you present the image I did, the face is rarely what gets scrutinized.

You cease in some respects being a human being. And you definitely cease having a femininity, any fragility.

You’re treated much like boys are when they are told they are too big to cry.I recall a high school bowling outing.
At one point, when I had my hand in the return slot waiting for my ball to come back to me, two balls came in quick succession, pinning my finger between them with some force. It hurt. No one seemed to give the pain much credence, so I shrugged it off and continued to bowl, getting a strike. ("See, I told you she wasn’t really hurt.  She's tough; She can take it.")

A short while later, my friend Judy, 5'2", size 6, blond hair in a perky pony tail, bent a nail while tossing her ball down the gutter. Not only did our game come to an abrupt halt while Judy’s finger was examined, caressed, blown on and kissed, but half the folks in the bowling alley came to Judy’s aid. Some 35 minutes later she bravely faced the pain and threw another ball. The cheers were deafening when poor injured Judy knocked down the 10 pin. I kept my finger, which was beginning to swell and turn an amazing shade of blue, carefully hidden from view.

There is a shame in being fat, which somehow turns into a shame at being needy, of requiring comforting and solace. I’ve never quite understood the correlation but there is one. Perhaps it stems from all those years of being told "you’re the biggest, behave," or "I can’t believe a little thing like that really hurt a big girl like you."

Perhaps it arises out of the acknowledgement that there is no one you can lean on, literally. How does someone twice the size of everyone around her get folded into someone’s comforting arms? How does she put her head on the shoulder of someone half a foot shorter? My attempting to lean on someone for solace would only have scared that poor person to death. So, you learn not to need, to be self-sufficient. You don’t learn how to comfort yourself, however. The comfort is withheld both externally and internally.

Would it have been different had I had my father around all the time? On those rare and all too short occasions when I was with him, I was allowed to fully be the way I generally on felt inside - small and fragile. A child.
His 6'6", handsome 300+ pound frame was just what I needed. He is the only man I’ve ever danced with that made dancing a pleasurable experience. He knew, also, exactly what I needed to feel feminine and loved. He cosseted me. That’s a word I’ve never used, but it is the exact word for how he treated me. Cosset: to make a pet of; to pamper.

I don’t have any statistics, but I would imagine that most fat girls become promiscuous. This fat girl did. It had very little to do with sex, and everything to do with being held and being (or at least believing myself to be) for the time involved, feminine. It took me decades to learn not to fall in love with every man who was nice to me, who "patted me on the head," or who seemed to appreciate the me who was inside. Years to learn that what most appreciated was the easiness of me – not much more.

On the rare occasions I found myself in an appropriate relationship, it was doomed from the day it began because I couldn’t believe in anyone sincerely caring for me. How could they? I didn’t.

To this day, I have to be careful. A wink from a man makes me weak in the knees and ready to follow him into the bowels of hell. My mind interprets a wink as something that a man offers a small child (small woman?) to let her know that he understands, that there is a special communication and that there is love.

On an easier to comprehend level, I wonder what it’s like to be thin on an airplane. I traveled once with my treasured size 4 niece and was soon looking for an exit from which to eject her from the plane. As my knees pressed painfully against the seat in front of me, and the pressure against my hips from the armrests slowly turned to pain, she curled her legs up under her on the seat and napped peacefully.

Rather than ask for a seat belt extender for each flight, I have over the years robbed various airlines of theirs. My pre-flight checklist now includes passport, ticket, license, seat belt extender, etc. It’s a bit less embarrassing not to have to ask.

Recently, however, I was removed from the exit row – with the luxurious extra legroom offered – because of the extender. The flight attendant explained to me that the extra length could become a hazard were access to the exit row become necessary. (I might have been able to make the seat belt work without the extender – with serious, ungraceful tugging and huffing and puffing, but it was a five hour flight - too long to be that tightly constricted.)

I wonder what it’s like to look forward to warm weather. While I hate being cold, I do love the cold-weather oversized sweaters, the long sleeves, the long pants – in other words, the clothing that covers me from head to toe.

I long for the sun and for the warmth, but hate the clothing. I do not greet 90 degree days with sleeveless shirts and shorts. I’m always just a bit overdressed for the warm seasons. And bathing suits! Do I even have to really go into that trauma? I look at pictures of women frolicking on the beach at the turn of the century and envy them their bathing suits that cover them from shoulder to knee.

Again, I have no statistics, but I am willing to bet that most fat people love the water, love swimming.

I become a 90 pound sylph in the water. I’m buoyant, energetic and can outswim most people. I adore being in the water. But it requires being in a bathing suit. You will always find me (covered by a large towel) in the lounge chair nearest the pool entry steps or at the very edge of the ocean....shortening the length of time necessary to make it to the sweet cover of water.

There is agony in going to the beach with friends because one of them will inevitably convince the group to "park our stuff over there where we’re far away from the water and everything else." And the trips to the bathroom or to the refreshment stand for something cold to drink. Nightmare time. Surrounded by bikinis, Speedos, frisbee tossers and volleyball exhibitionists, I imagine myself invisible, treading the hot sand fully covered in a muu muu or similar cover up.

Shame, thankfully, rarely keeps me from enjoying my love of water, although I must admit to never having been to a water park. I wonder if they are as much fun as they appear to be in the commercials.

I wish there was a way to gauge the attention I draw to myself fully dressed at the beach in August versus going with the flow and parading myself around in a bathing suit. I think my concern is more for those who would be forced to view me than it is for my own embarrassment.

I mourn both the end and the beginning of summer, complaining all winter about hating the cold. I guess that’s one way to make a year pass.

An interesting observation. One rarely sees fat people hanging out together as a group. Thin people hang out together, but I doubt that has anything to do with a choice; it has more to do with the fact that most people are thin (or complaining about those pesky five pounds they have to shed by June or the upcoming reunion). Fat folk, I think, make a conscious effort not to group themselves together.

Do we think we become smaller by pairing up with a 5’4", 120 pound counter-part? Do we think that by being associated with the more acceptable portion of humanity our shameful sin is somehow mitigated? Are our choices of who we become friends with limited by the gene pool which seems to favor those not challenged by obesity? It’s a little of all those things, but I have a confession to make. Fat people don’t like other fat people.

I’m not certain as to all of the specifics for why that is, but I believe it to be true. We who so desperately want to be seen for who we are and not how we look, are just as judgmental as those who we are tormented by.

Were an obese man to call me and ask me out, I am fairly certain that unless it was clear that there was never going to be an intimacy issue, I would kindly decline. Would I then hang up the phone feeling his pain at having been denied solely because of his weight, or would I wonder why in god’s name he thought I’d ever go out with him? It’s never happened so I don’t have to wonder, but I don’t think I’d like the answer I’d be forced to give should the scenario arise.

As for fat girlfriends, first, as I mentioned, there aren’t that many out there to select as friends, or at least not in my world.

As an aside, I spent a summer in a mid-west state that will remain nameless and overall found myself to be one of the smallest women I encountered, all seemingly having chosen the smallest men possible to marry. Was it mandatory to be fat in that state? I did consider moving their, but the reason didn’t seem rationale enough to uproot myself.

Back to why we "full-figured gals" (if that term were to go away this second, my life would instantly improve, just on general principles) tend not to gather in flocks. I think one reason is that we tend to not want to see ourselves mirrored in others. I for one would much prefer to mirror my image in my small perfect friends. (I wonder what that says about why they have chosen to be my friend ... but that’s for another "I Wonder" chapter.)

I think the main reason for our not being together, is that when you are one of a kind in a group it is easier to block out reality, to convince yourself (and perhaps the world) that this is a temporary thing, a fixable thing, a "thing" that can at any time go away. By putting yourself in the midst of others with the same thing, you are almost saying this is an OK thing. Look at us – we’ve decided to be this way; it’s a choice and we’re flaunting it.

I wonder if anyone of normal size can understand the pathology, the psychology, the lexicology, the escapism (yes, we do escape behind our bulk – quite successfully, as a matter of fact) and the sheer logistics of being fat.

Ah, the logistics. We can scan a room in seconds to determine which chairs are too delicate for us to attempt, which are too small for us to fit into, which will give us enormous trouble (thereby drawing attention) to get out of. Walking into a diner, we can quickly determine if we "prefer" the counter by sizing up the booth space. If asked by a group of four to join them for a drive, a quick once over of the size of the vehicle will help cement the decision as to whether to join them, or to suddenly recall the important appointment forgotten until that moment.

I wonder why anorexia and bulimia are accepted as illnesses while obesity is simply seen as a choice some people have made. Believe me, this is not a choice I have made. Nor is it simply a simple case of not applying will power.
I have an amazing power of will when it comes to certain things, a strength of character. But not in this one area.

I wonder what thin people worry about on a daily basis, what their fixations and insecurities are. I wonder if I would be a different human being if I were thin. I wonder what richness being fat has brought to my life.

I know what areas of poverty it has presented.

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