Thursday, November 24, 2011

Isn't gluttony a deadly sin?

Why is everyone so goddamn FAT?

I have a question. Call it the question of the day.

Why is everyone so goddamn fat?

I’ve been wondering about this for a long time now. Everyone’s read the statistics, though as you may realize, I hate statistics and seldom quote them. But they do reflect a certain trend.

People are getting huge. I mean, HUGE. Sometimes I wonder where it’s all coming from. In the past ten or twelve years, the population has ballooned to the point where half of us are too damn fat, and a third of us are way WAY too fat.

If it’s only in the last ten years or so, what happened? As far as I can remember, back then everybody was obsessed with their weight. Everybody wanted to be thinner. There was diet book, after diet book, after diet book coming out and hitting the top of the best-seller list.

I had to ask myself: why keep buying these things, when you obviously can’t follow them? Why the endless search for the Holy Grail of diets, the one that will take weight off and keep it off forever and evermore?

Meanwhile, in the midst of this best-sellerism – which still goes on today, only in a more scientific, theory-oriented way (can’t eat carbs with protein, have to follow your blood type, primordial cave man diet, What would Jesus Do diet – presumably, consisting of loaves and fishes) – we’re getting so damn fat, it’s shooting past the upper limits  of the scale.

You see this reflected in all those weight-oriented TV shows like Biggest Loser and whatever-the-rest-of-them-are (I don’t watch them much, too painful). Shows that are seemingly unrelated, like Hoarders, give us examples of impoverished men and women who are somehow enormous, their bodies no longer in any kind of recognizable shape. Usually it comes out that they can’t cook anything because there’s no electricity – the rats have gnawed through the cables or something – so they live on McDonalds and throw the leftovers and wrappers all over the floor (which is nice for the rats).

I shouldn’t have watched this show at all, I’m ashamed to admit it, but it was like a circus side show: once I fell into it, I couldn’t get out. It was called Taboo and it explored the weird, weird, weird, weird things people do (including having sex with the Berlin Wall), always with some expert coming on to say “their behaviour falls within the realm of normal activity”. One of these “normal” guys, somewhere in his 30s and living on disability, was probably close to 400 pounds. His “thing” was to dress up and act like an infant, goo-gooing, sucking things, toddling around in enormous fuzzy sleepers and being fed glop.

Being fed? His “caregiver”, whom at first I thought was his mother, was probably at least 200 pounds heavier than the guy. Her body was just not in a human shape, at all. It was like a misshapen cookie that had melted in the oven, everything all over the place. When she stood, which was difficult for her, her stomach touched the floor, and her breasts reached past her knees. This was supermorbid obesity at its most shocking.

The woman had no upper teeth, and maybe that’s a separate post because an awful lot of people on reality TV have no teeth. It’s a related issue, maybe. Toothlessness may explain why this guy  lives on baby food, but what about the adult diapers? Does she change them, and – no, we won’t go there. It’s just too horrific.

But let’s turn to the more mundane examples of hugeness that we see every day. I just don’t remember seeing this level of obesity in the past. I don’t remember someone lumbering on the bus who weighs maybe 400 pounds, I mean a young guy in his twenties. And I can’t help but think how on earth he’s going to get to 40, or even 30.

There are theories. The weirdest one I saw involved wheat: there’s a scientist out there who says the new strains of wheat are designed to make you fat. Supposedly, if you give up wheat, i.e. go gluten-free like many people do anyway, the excess tonnage will just drop off and stay off.

                              (Original McDonalds hamburger)


There are portion sizes: yes, my-oh-my! My husband and I like to go to Denny’s, mainly because it’s relatively cheap and they know how to cook an omelette. But every time we go to Denny’s, we seem to see a family who are all of them huge: most heartbreakingly, even the small children who are encased in soft, puffy fat.

Look at the menu, and you’ll see why. The Grand Slam has been replaced by a sort of grotesque Grand-Grand-Grand slam with four eggs and six sausages and God knows how many pancakes. Reminds me a bit of their bacon extravaganza, in which they offered such greasy delights as a bacon sundae.

If you’re still hungry after being slammed, you can order deep-fried hush puppies (presumably, not the shoes) with ice cream and syrup for dipping. And Denny’s is hardly alone. McDonalds Quarter Pounder is now a Third Pounder. Most people who go to McDonalds can’t do math, so maybe they don’t realize how much larger it is. Wendy’s had a three-patty bacon cheeseburger which gave me chest pains just looking at the menu board.

Meantime, in spite of all the emphasis on fitness and going to the gym, people just don’t, for the most part: they park as close to the mall as possible to avoid walking for two minutes. I wish I could find the cartoon, one of the best ones I’ve seen, in which a couple in a department store has the following conversation:

“Now let’s see, where’s that treadmill they have on sale?”

”It’s way over on the other side of the store.”

“Oh to hell with it then, let’s forget it.”

Never once seeing the irony.

We save steps. I’m a walker – it’s the only consistent exercise I’ve ever done, but I’ve been at it for more than 20 years – and people are constantly trying to give me rides, even complete strangers. Needless to say, I tell them no. But there’s something about walking. It’s stigmatized. It’s just not done. Even cycling is better, but still seen as something of a fruitcake activity around here, something they do in Stanley Park, not the suburbs where a car is the only way of getting around.

I get mowed down regularly, which says something about the car-oriented society that I believe has evolved around malls. I have learned to look obsessively over my left shoulder to avoid that dreaded, heedless right turn. They don’t see me, so I have to see them to avoid ending up one inch thick on the pavement.

I get despairing sometimes, I really do. For the statistics aren’t good. Fatness is still escalating. This makes me wonder: where have all the fat people come from? They must have been much thinner than this a decade ago.

God didn’t just pull out a whole lot of enormous balloons and blow them up and launch them out there. Surely people have done this to themselves.

If the statistics have changed this alarmingly, it means that people who used to be normal weight are now increasingly overweight, or even obese. Women’s clothing reflects this change. It seems everything I try on is stretchy – not just a little stretchy, but stretchy like chewing gum, so that it doesn’t snap back and ends up like an exhausted rubber band

Not only that: sizes have changed. I’ve been fighting weight swings all my life, and in high school I often wore a Size 14 or 16.

Now I am sure I am fatter than I was then, and can wear a 10 or 12.

So what has happened? Can you guess? This is called “vanity sizing” , and it has been done to keep women from committing suicide over their appearance.

It was long ago that Oprah, having skinnied down alarmingly on some kind of powdered protein, suddenly proclaimed, “Diets don’t work!”. She seesawed up and down after that, then kind of settled where she is now, probably a good 200 pounds. She spent one show sitting in a chair and addressing her viewers about her weight. No narcissism there! Her personal trainer came on and said she had “unresolved issues”, but Oprah has always maintained that having people like Dr. Phil on her show was just as good as therapy.

Be that as it may.

I have no doubt that the massively obese have “issues” beyond just  trying to fit behind the wheel of a car. There is a strong connection between obesity and sexual abuse (as there is with any addictive behaviour). It’s burying yourself, really.  Not to mention lugging a huge burden around. The symbolism is very potent, and hands a clear victory to the abuser.

I’ve seen people come on talk shows who represent the Fat Acceptance Movement, and in every case they round up an expert (there must be a TV-related agency called Rent-an-Expert) who says obesity has no significant negative effect on health. Just as easily, one can find experts who tell us exactly the opposite. I’m sick of experts, myself.

I’m frightened of the escalation, because it hasn’t topped out yet, and I wonder when it will. Obesity is fast becoming normalized, and we’ve learned to accept it as never before.

When I was a kid, we had a neighbour named Ruth. My mother didn’t have friends so much as caseloads, so she befriended this woman along with the blind lady, the woman who was “barren” and could not have kids, and the lady with the hydrocephalic daughter. At my estimate, Ruth weighed somewhere between 250 and 300 pounds, but no more than that. She was considered huge, enormously obese, to the point that she seldom left the house. On the rare times when she did, people disapproved. They didn’t really think she should be showing herself, and if she insisted on it, why didn’t she wear a corset or something? For that was the age when even the thinnest women wore iron girdles to shape their bodies and keep things from moving.

Doesn’t happen any more. We don’t wear girdles, except for those awful Spanx things that cover you from neck to ankles and are supposedly “comfortable”. And even though they claim “anyone” can wear them, “anyone” does not include a woman who weighs 400 pounds.

Will we ALL be obese in twenty years? Will people start exploding from the internal pressure (I have actually heard stories of skin splitting: and what happens when someone who has had a massive tummy-tuck gets fat again)? Will gastric bypasses, which often backfire (look at Carnie Wilson) become as routine as tonsillectomies used to be? Will we require significant mutilation and the risk of death to try to regain some semblance of a recognizable human shape?