SALT LAKE CITY — Years ago I watched a character on a primetime television sitcom give a speech regarding how she felt about having gained weight.
“Drugs, alcohol, cancer, whatever your problems, people are sympathetic — unless you’re fat, and then you’re supposed to be ashamed,” said Suzanne Sugarbaker in a 1989 episode of Designing Women.
Ms. Sugarbaker struck a nerve in a good way. The actress was nominated for several awards and won a few of them. It was a landmark episode, a huge success. Later that year she was fired, allegedly for (among other things), being fat. I haven’t heard much about that actress since.
Weight, as a social issue, has been characteristically up and down, hard to traverse, usually passed-over for other, more fashionable causes.
My wife feels that she has been bombarded since her college days with "thin equals pretty, equals well liked, equals thin" — the other side to the body-issue coin.
Regardless, to those thin and not so thin, being overweight is often equated with being slovenly, lazy or, even worse, laughable. These are they who have not mastered their will and are not in control. For my wife, being heavy has always been equal to being ugly. To this day no one can convince her otherwise.
Did I mention that she is heavy? Oh, sorry. Let me use the terms we are comfortable with. Chubby. Plump. Hefty. Fluffy (my sons word.) Thick, stout, plus-sized, ample, portly, obese … And then there is the F-word: fat (I can practically hear my editor shuddering).
What I find remarkable is that, as a people, we are becoming wider en masse, and yet we have such a hard time saying fat. Americans are, on average, 23 pounds larger than their individual ideal body weight, and 20 percent heavier than they were 20 years ago. Fat, fat, fat.
Beauty pageants — the primer of the pretty — award very little prize money to the girl that is “The Spirit of…,” or “Miss Congeniality,“ or to the one in a borrowed, plus-sized dress who has sold the most tickets.
If anything, those size-12-and-overs receive a gift certificate for Surf ’n Turf Wednesday at Buds Big & Bigger Burger to go with a copy of a printout of a letter of appreciation from the Chamber of Commerce — a bit bizarre for a country of people who are of greater stature than any in recorded history.
If less is more, then why is our collective waistband expanding exponentially? And if more is more, why aren’t there more plus-sized models with tiaras? If a chub (softens it a bit, huh?) were to win a pageant, it would be for something she has developed within herself that trumped the lovely gift-wrapping.
But, what do I know? I am just a latent dad with husband-ish tendencies resorting to a hole on my belt I thought I would never have to acknowledge, let alone use.
My wife does not fit into the same size swimsuit as her favorite female character on “Bones.” When my wife is at the pool, she is not there to pose on a chase lounge and work on her tan. She is in a lined suit that may be double stitched, and she is busy playing with the kids.
She spent her bikini money on Sponge Bob floaters for the kid who can’t swim so well. She spent her workout/aerobic time hot gluing a tee-pee, or on girls camp notebooks for her church calling.
If she had more time to workout or take a spinning class, she would probably skip class to take the kids to the park. That’s the kind of woman she is. I suppose my job is to help her with the time she needs to be healthy so she has even more time to be with the people she loves.
And the next time she tells me that fat is ugly, I am going to hand her a picture of her happy kids at the pool.
If I could say something to my wife, waiting until she was out of range (which would be something because she is quite a pitcher), it would be this:
You are currently overweight, and it‘s OK. Own it, but don’t let being overweight own you. Don’t define yourself by your current weight. If you constantly compare yourself with others, especially those in the media, we all will come up short. If you can love me with my chins, my somewhat saggy intellect and my incredible ego, I can love you and your plus-size, one-piece swimwear.
We will hike this mountain together — with a few more stops for catching our breath than most.
Maybe, after all these years, it was best summed up by Suzanne Sugarbaker’s sister, Julia, when she said:
“… Most everyone is floating along on phony public relations. People who say being beautiful, or rich, or thin, makes them happy. People who are trying to make their marriages and their children seem better than they actually are — and for what? Appearances. Appearances don’t count for diddly! In the end, all that really matters is what was true, and truly said, and how we treated one another.”
I agree. And so do all the kids at the pool.
<span style="font-size: 12px;">Main image: Weight as a social issue has been characteristically up and down, hard to traverse, usually passed-over for other, more fashionable causes. (Photo: Shutterstock)</span>