Friday, May 18, 2007

Dicky Moe

When I was a kid, we watched Tom and Jerry cartoons only when there were no other cartoons to be had. Even those terrible, mass-produced super hero cartoons, obviously (even to a 9-year-old) designed to sell products, were better than the tedious antics of the cartoon cat and mouse. There was one Tom and Jerry cartoon, however, that stands out from the rest like a cupcake on slag heap, and that's "Dicky Moe."

"Dicky Moe" is the Tom and Jerry version of Herman Melville's classic novel about the wages of life-long obsession, "Moby Dick." I was about to launch into a rant about the decline of culture that has made low-brow, literature-based humor a thing of the past, but then I remembered that I never actually read "Moby Dick" and, really, all the information I have about the novel came from "Dicky Moe."

"Dicky Moe" was funny to me at that age not because of the literary reference but because Dicky Moe was such an goofy name for a giant, cheesed-off whale - and because it was funny to hear this grim, white-faced sea captain tearing around the deck of his ship growling "Dicky Moe! Dicky Moe!" Of course, it is because of "Dicky Moe" that I found out about "Moby Dick" (which I still haven't read), so that I could then recognize other people's references to "Moby Dick," and "Moby Dick," frankly, makes one hell of a metaphor, so I'm glad of that.

Anyway, "Moby Dick" (and, consequently, "Dicky Moe") is about Captain Ahab and the white whale, Moby Dick, who has eluded capture by him again and again - at one point (if the cartoon version is to be trusted), taking one of Captain Ahab's legs with him. Captain Ahab's life narrows down to single, focused point: Dicky Moe...Dicky, I mean Moby Dick! Moby Dick! Eventually, he loses his life in pursuit of the white whale, not that there was much to say for his life by then, and he STILL never caught the damn thing.

That's the kind of wanting it takes, if you want to drop over 100 pounds. I know this because I did it, and as I sit here, thinking about trying to drop the 70 I've regained, I find myself very, very reluctant to go there again. People forget, when they tell you that all you need to do to lose weight is eat less and exercise more, that it takes more than simple will power to do that. Along with all the considerations this would-be helpful person probably recognizes ("it's hard!" "food GOOD!") there's another one - the biggest one of all, as far as I'm concerned: you have to keep wanting it. Will power's worth nothing unless you keep believing the thing you're supposed to be applying it to is worth all that effort. Not only do you have to keep wanting it, you have to keep wanting it every day for years.

Inevitably, the Choice will come up - do I have this baby, or do I keep losing weight? Do I go to med school, where I won't have time to exercise four hours a day anymore and vending machines may be the only source of food sometimes, or do I keep losing weight? It's not that anyone ever really puts it to themselves this way, but the fact of the matter is, as a person struggling against the tide of lifelong fatness, a choice to have a baby or go to med school probably means a choice to stop losing, and inevitably, gain weight. Bravo for us! It's way cooler to go to med school or have a baby than to be thin.

Healthy lifestyle/weight maintenance is one thing - I think that may be doable without unrelenting obsession (though I don't know for sure, because I've never managed it myself). Losing a half or a third of your body weight is another thing entirely. Committing yourself to starve for a couple of years while simultaneously upping the demands on your body's resources by maintaining a rigorous exercise regimen takes a lot of time and mental energy that could be put toward other, family, LIFE. My point is that this energy is, in fact, finite. Time is finite. In order to lose 100 pounds, losing that 100 pounds has to be your number one priority for as long as it takes to get the job done. That's the reason the weight loss didn't take with me, and I'm pretty sure that's why it doesn't usually take with anyone - which is reassuring in a way. It's good to know that, for most people, there are, ultimately, more important things in life than being thin.

Over at BFD today, there is a good discussion going on about the thinning down of former loud and proud celebrity fat girls, like Oprah and Sara Rue, and how it becomes hard for their former, fat/normal constituencies to relate to them after that. I don't begrudge anyone their weight loss - being thinner makes life a LOT easier, especially if you are in the public eye - but for a lot of women who loved seeing someone bodily normal (fat, per Hollywood standards) like Sara Rue on television, it is always a blow, and I don't think it's just because we are jealous, or feel judged because Hollywood judges these women so much more acceptable when they toe the line. I think at least part of it is that we loved seeing a woman who was clearly not thinking about it. Watch her sit down to a meal and she'll probably just be eating something - not carefully tweezing up three granules of sugar for her coffee or chewing her celery with more vigor than she might naturally want to because word on the street is that it's possible to burn enough calories chewing celery to end up with a negative intake from eating it. On her birthday, she probably eats a slice of her own cake.

Even though the conventional wisdom points in the other direction, dieting is a huge rejection of life, and much of what it has to offer. Not just because you don't get to eat your own birthday cake, but because of how much energy weight obsession bleeds from you - how it changes your outlook, and possibly what you see first and focus on in other people. If you're pouring most of your energy into getting or staying thin, that's what your life gets to be about. That's what my life got to be about, when I was a weight loss 'success.' The only thing I miss from that time is the athletic shape I was in. Getting into shape to do long hill rides on my bike was totally worth it, and being lighter in the saddle helped.

Ultimately, I think - I HOPE I'll find some happy medium. I'm not back up to my normal rate of exercise after this difficult 6 months. Once I am, I think some of the weight I gained will fall off, my stress-based eating pattern will abate (I need my fat and sugar when my life is shaken by its foundations, man) and I will feel, bodily, much better. I don't think I'll ever be as thin again as I was at the end of that weight loss journey, though, and I think that's probably a good thing. I think.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Don't see me

Yesterday, May 15, it was 86 degrees - totally wrong for Portland at this time of the year, and an awful reminder of what is coming (just in case anyone from Texas or Maryland is reading this, yes, I know I am a complete wimp). I spent most of the day in an air conditioned office, so I didn't really cotton to what was going on until I left at around 5:30. I was dressed in a long velvet skirt, a long-sleeved, black-knit top with one of those little sweater 'camisole' type things over it and knee-high leather boots. I felt certain that I was going to die.

I picked a sucky year to gain 70 pounds - the Crusade Against Obesity seems to be approaching some kind of orgiastic climax, for I don't remember feeling so many judgmental gazes before, even when I weighed 50 pounds more - either that, or I just got used to not being conspicuous for my size and now I am more sensitive about it.

It's such a luxury not to be conspicuous. Tonight, I went to the movies with a group of thin friends. One of them wanted the aisle seat, so with a sense of great dread, I sat down next to her, hemmed in on the other side by another friend, who shifted her tiny frame over into the side of the seat closest to me and leaned her head on her hand, elbow on the arm rest nearest my seat, for most of the duration of the 2-1/2 hour film.

I guess that means my efforts succeeded. I fit into the seat like a cork. Crossing my arms, mummiform, over my body, I was able to avoid getting into anyone else's space. I didn't feel entitled to 'spill over' onto the arm rests. I felt both terribly bodily uncomfortable and terribly ashamed. I don't think for a second that my friends would have begrudged me the space if I had made it clear I needed it, and a year ago, 70 pounds smaller, I wouldn't have questioned my right to use those arm rests - because it was clear that I didn't have to use them. The thing that feels shameful (and I know there's no reason it should be shameful, any more than it should be shameful for a very tall person to need more leg space when he/she sits anywhere) is the necessity.

My friend J. got really angry one time when she heard a fat friend of ours make the standard joke about having 'plenty of padding' if she fell. J. said that it's exactly the opposite. Fat isn't numb, external padding; it's YOU. If you are fat, there is more of you to hurt. If you're fat, your flesh is more obvious, its movement is more visible. It jiggles - it rolls. It takes up space and gets in people's way. It keeps you from neatly dealing with your limbs when you sit down - no leg crossing, no arm crossing. You just have to sit there with all of it out there, spilling over the edge of the seat, vulnerable and unprotected.

When you walk, the fat doesn't stay compactly knit to your musculature; it swings from side to side - it ripples. If your shirt hits right at your waist or just below, watch out when you reach up or bend over for something! - your fat might ripple coyly out from under, and instead of slipping neatly back into place, as it does when there are no rolls to get caught on, the shirt might just stay there, the fat peeking out for the world to see and to scorn. So you perpetually tug at the hem to make sure it stays down - a stock fat girl gesture - another thing to see and scorn. Fat can make you feel like you are wading through waist-deep water in a long, heavy, cotton dress. The sheer drag factor of the stuff is astonishing.

After I lost the 120 pounds in 2005, I bought and attired myself entirely in those sausage casings that pass for 'normal'-sized American women's fashions. Everything I wore showed my body, and I wanted it to. I wanted credit for what I'd done - I wanted the big payoff for becoming acceptable. I wanted people to see me, and to have the pleasure of not being instantly categorized, at first glance, as beneath notice. Now, 70 pounds heavier, I am wishing I could find something, ANYTHING, that is both beautiful and completely concealing.

I looked around at all the plus size sites, and every one of the dresses I saw was a tradeoff - disguise the fact that you are concealing the belly by revealing the arms - - disguise the fact that you are concealing the arms by revealing the legs. If I could choose my ideal attire right now, I would have a gorgeous, deep blue silk dress with a red muslin underlayer and a rounded ballet neckline - a long dress that flutters in the movement of the air, with 3/4 length sleeves, a skirt that drops at least to my ankles and a loose, flowing shape that my rolls can shift around under without being observed.

The movie I saw tonight, with my slender friends, was partially set in India, and I was thinking how much, with a few modifications, I would LOVE to dress like an Indian woman, or a woman from one of the more progressive Muslim countries. Salwar kameez rock my world - - those loose, flowing pants and long, dress-like tops with their long sleeves and gorgeous fabrics are fan-fricking-tastic.

I remember reading an article once in college, written by an American Muslim woman student, about her decision to wear hijab. I've never been a great advocate of any cumbersome, mandated dress code for women (and yes, I know we have one of the most draconian ones right here in the U.S. - I don't like it either), but I found her arguments compelling. If you don't want your body judged, and to be judged on your body, you cover it up, well and thoroughly. She felt a great sense of freedom in not having her body scrutinized all the time, evaluated primarily for its beauty or lack thereof and admired or scorned. It was nice, she said, to opt out of that. It freed up a lot of mental energy.

I remember, 70 pounds lighter, when I started getting really into my appearance, just how bottomless the task was. There was always something that needed to be 'managed.' The most attractive way to sit - the smoothness of my legs - the neatness and softness of my feet - the prettiness of my toenails - whether or not a little bulge appeared at my waist when I sat - how to sit to conceal it if it did - how well my bra fit - were my nipples showing through? Am I going to be wearing a bathing suit? Better make sure to mow and edge. These shoes make me look so tall and thin, but they are crippling my feet and making me walk funny. Oh god - what's going to happen when this guy sees me without my makeup?

I know, I know, I know that there is no magic form of dress that will free women from the consequences of an almost universally sexist world view. The women who wear hijab in many of the countries where it is either traditional or mandated are often just as relentlessly and compulsively groomed as American women underneath, and in many cases, the grooming is as much a gesture of independence as donning hijab was for the American Muslim woman who wrote that article I read in college. I guess what it boils down to is having a choice, and trying desperately to make the one that will give you the most latitude to be seen as you want to be seen, and not simply shunted into a category and treated accordingly.

It's a vanishingly rare thing for a woman to win this game. If you are sexually attractive, your sexual attractiveness limits how seriously people will take you. If you are not, people may not even so much as SEE you when you walk by, and they certainly won't give a damn what you have to say or offer. For most of my life, like most women, I've run from one side of that equation to the other, always looking for relief, and I've never found it. I want to be invisible again, the way I did when I weighed 311 pounds. Of course I know it won't make me any happier than being thin/visible did, but it will make me a hell of a lot happier than being fat/visible, as I am now. This time, though, I want to be wallpapered in something pretty.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Pretzel Logic

I just started a new job last month, and feel like I've landed in the Bizarroland counterpart of my old office.

Like many food service/hospitality folks, my previous coworkers were smokers (out of a staff of 48, only three did not partake), hard drinkers and sugar fiends. As a group, we were chronically anxious, depressed and ill, totally giving the lie, as far as I'm concerned, to the idea that you have to be fat to be an insurance liability. We went through one of those gigantic bottles of Advil every week. My cubicle was near the cupboard where it was kept, and all day long, I listened to those pills rattling out by the handful.

Every afternoon, the chef would come downstairs with some experimental recipe - fried hushpuppies, dripping with oil, creme brulee, cheese wrapped in meat with melted cheese on top and more cheese (melted) to dip it in. It was generally acknowledged that anyone coming to the UClub from a normal place of work would develop all kinds of bad habits by the end of two months, and put on at least 10 pounds.

My new job is in an office right across the hall from a yoga studio. Every Wednesday at noon, a good-sized group of my non-smoking, bike-commuting coworkers, who all have fruit sitting out on their desks which they actually eat, are released for almost 2 hours to go to a class there. This Wednesday, I went with them, and today, I feel like my muscles are made of shredded beef. Ow, ow ow ow. Ow.

I'm not a complete tyro with yoga - I've been doing hatha yoga on and off for about 10 years. More off than on, though, and I've never gotten to the point with it where it became really life changing.

Yoga is scary. I come from a family of skeptics, so I was pretty scornful at first of the idea that anxiety, anger and other long-held, unexpressed emotions could rise to the surface just because of the way I was twisting and contorting my body. After repeatedly bursting into tears during anything that stretched out my hips, though, I think I'm woman enough to admit that it's probably true.

I am a big control freak. I tend to stuff anything that makes me feel the least bit uncomfortable or out of control, so yoga is both terrifying for me and an incredible release. It's also frickin' HARD. I feel like I should have the body of Mick Jagger already (ever wonder why he looks so great for a 60-year-old dude who mercilessly pounded his body when he was young? Yoga. I want me some o' that. Though I don't really want to look exactly like Mick Jagger, I guess. Maybe Keith Richards).

The last time I did yoga (before yesterday's class) was when I was at my low weight. With 60 extra pounds on me, it was murder on my feet, and my fat kept surprising me by being where I wasn't expecting it to be. Once I started gaining weight in earnest last year, I stopped looking at my body, or thinking about it. I have been remarkably unaware of what's going on with it for the past year. Yoga makes you notice your body. You can't get away with thinking of yourself as just a floating brain, because you'll find yourself twisted around in some weird position and, hey! there's your ass. Wow...look at that. And you hold the pose, and hold it, and hold it, and there's your ass the whole time, looking right back atcha.

You also have to tune into your body more so you don't hurt yourself. You pull on one leg, then reach for the other one, expecting it to be about the same - it never is. Wow? Why not? Why is half of my body wound up like a guitar string and the other half reasonably bendy? And wow...I didn't notice that bruise. Dude, it's HUGE.

As fat women, I think many of us dread being tuned into our bodies. We don't want to be reminded of what all is there. And for those of us like me, we don't want to lose our dignity or our control. Yoga is scary, but whether I end up losing weight or not this time around, I think it can and will transform my life if I stick with it - and probably help me deal with some of the underlying issues that drew me to food for comfort.