(By Marsha Carlson, LISW, MSW)
BEAUTY AND THE BEAST
Genie invited me to write a blog, which I have never done
before.  She told me I can write about
anything I choose.  When she said that, my
mind went blank even though once I start talking you can’t shut me up.
Here’s a topic. Genie brought it up.  Let’s talk about beauty and being grotesque.
Perhaps I have a unique experience or at least an unusual one.  In my life I have been both beautiful and
grotesque. 
My father used to say that I could win the Miss American
contest. I’ve been called gorgeous many times in my life, though now as I grow
older it is only my childhood friends who say it.  An odd thing about growing older is that
people who have known you for a long time continue to see you the way you were
(gratefully). Most of the time I do too. The other day I looked at myself in
the mirror as if the person reflected was a stranger, a very Zen experience. As
I did I began to see the wrinkles and droops, jowls and age spots. That’s not
me!!  Who is she?  No matter how beautiful we are in our youth,
we blend in as we age.  I think it is a
good thing.  Age is the great equalizer.  In the words of Woody Allen, “Beauty
fades”.  Yes it does. Tick-tick. Of
course there are those of us believe that there are people who get more
beautiful as they age. My mother was truly, gently gorgeous until she died at
87.  Everyone agrees. And Genie? A real
beauty. But I digress.
In my life I have been the tall lithe blonde with flowing
curls, high cheekbones,, glowing skin, perfect teeth (genetic)
and big green eyes. I’ve had blind dates gasp when I walked in the room, for
real.  I have also had the opportunity to
weigh 325 pounds.  I understand how it
feels to be seen as grotesque in other people’s eyes. I have had several stints
being fat*, a result of a binge eating disorder and a food addiction that is thankfully
resolved – at least for today.
Let me tell you about being fat.  Fat people are invisible if not
despised.  They (we) are certainly
misunderstood. It begins when we are children being teased by our peers. 
”Fatso”, “thunder thighs”, “2-ton”, and for me, “Baby Huey”.  These were the names I wore on my name tag
when I was in elementary school.  It is a
strange thing how total strangers feel comfortable commenting on our weight
with complete aplomb, as if a fat person’s body is public property. People
walking down the street, “Man are you fat!” 
Eating in a restaurant, “Should you be eating that?” There are those who
have no hesitation to offer unsolicited advice that is based on mountains of
ignorance. “Just eat moderately” they say. “I know what it feels like, I had the
hardest time losing 10 pounds”. “Go to Weight Watchers, it helped me”. “Cutting
back on your food and exercising is all you need to do”. Duh!! Does anyone
think that “just eat moderately” is a new idea or one we haven’t tried? Don’t
you think we would eat moderately if we could? 
There were times I would finally retort, “You know what I do? When I
wake up in the morning I ask myself, ‘How can I gain more weight today?’” I
have never met a fat person who wanted
to be fat.
Just so you understand, most of us have tried every diet on
the market (making the publishers very rich I might add). We’ve tried the costly
methods advertised on TV. We’ve had our ears stapled, drank liquid diets, been
hypnotized, tried positive thinking, been to therapy and offered the miracle
strategies in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. We’ve experienced the euphoria of
losing weight and gotten all kinds of praise and privileges only to gain it
back in shame. Look at Liz Taylor or Oprah. Or, Kirstie Alley, poor thing spread
all over the tabloids in disgust. Is she grotesque?
Fat people are the last frontier. Gratefully it is not
tolerated to tell racist jokes any more, nor jokes that malign any minority. But
fat jokes?  Fair game. David Letterman is
one of the worst. No one says a thing about it.
The other freebie prejudice is how we are portrayed in TV shows
and movies. Watch any sit com and eventually you’ll see someone aghast at a
“grotesque” person who is overweight. It’s okay to make fun of them. It’s still
frequent that in a TV show you will see a fat person who is a bully or stupid
(a child in particular).  How often have
you seen a fat person in a movie gobbling down food, stuffing their mouth in a
fury while goop dribbles all over their face? 
They wipe their lips with the back of their hand only to stuff more in.  Now that’s funny! Have you ever seen that in real life? No.
Instead, most of us watch ourselves overeat with profound self hatred. We cry because
we can’t stop. We want to. We try.  Then we
succumb again. We hide. We lock the door, pull the curtains and turn off the
phone when we are indulging. We hold our breaths when someone knocks so they
won’t see us. We deprive ourselves of life’s pleasures like swimming in public,
dancing, saying “no”, or having sex. 
I rejoice for all of us that the media is finally shifting
in spurts.  People are beginning to
recognize the dignity of people who do not fit the thinness norm or even the
normal norm. The academy awards have demonstrated this. Bigger children are
starting to be seen as intelligent and witty on TV as well.  I am grateful for cultures where being ample
sized is recognized as beautiful.  These
cultures include individuals who were my heroes when I was growing up.  They saved my life.
I’m not saying we are alone in how we are viewed by
others.  There are many people who go through similar types of discrimination and loathing:
people of color, gays, the disabled and other disenfranchised groups. But fat
crosses all social barriers.
It’s important to acknowledge that here is an epidemic of
obesity in America.  It is dangerous, not to mention
internationally embarrassing in the face of so much hunger in the world. Obesity
absolutely needs to be examined and addressed. Changing the sedentary lives of
our youth (and adults) is vitally important. Screaming at the top of our lungs about
those sugary, fatty, empty calorie junk foods and junk sodas….man! how crucial
is that?  I stand up and applaud the
attention given to changing America’s
food habits. I listen carefully to the doctors and therapists.  For some people their strategies will work (yay!).  Yet,
for others they won’t, because most doctors and therapists do not understand the
nature of food addiction and binge eating disorders and prescribe unhelpful
strategies.  That get’s my gall.
Let’s see, my mother only had healthy food in the house when
I was a kid. Didn’t work. We didn’t even own a TV until Kennedy was shot (I was
8). I rode my bike everywhere. Didn’t work. 
They talked about eating moderately with me.  They also made hurtful comments.  They meant well. When overeating is reduced
to a matter of will power it becomes a moral issue. With this emotional burden many
people fail.  They could be helped. But some
will end up living a life of shame and despair and eventually turn on
themselves. Who wins then?
When I weighed 325 pounds I told my therapist who specialized in eating disorders that
when I reached 400 I would kill myself. 
I think that she finally gave up on the Cognitive Behavioral method that
wasn’t working for me at that point and said the most important words ever
spoken to me in my life. She said, “Marsha you are an addict and you need to do
what addicts do”. Clueless.  What is
that? Find a program for addicts that
works. Gratefully I did and it has.               
Now let me tell you about being beautiful. I remember the
day I walked into a grocery store and asked an employee where an item was.  He eagerly dropped what he was doing and
walked me there. IN A GROCERY STORE!! Never happened before. (This was before
they started doing this regularly.  At
least I think they do it regularly). Men open doors for me, they still take
second looks.  They ask me on dates (well
it’s been a while, tick tick). Jobs I wouldn’t have gotten when I was fat I got
once I was thin. People listen to me. Customer service representatives are more
eager to help. People excuse themselves when they bump into me.  Walking down the street is a pleasure.
Privileges are available to me that never were before. I have much more
confidence of course. I have more power. It’s fun too. Once I became thin I
began to surf. I started to ride my bike again. I dance several times a week. I
have sex (well I did, tick tick). And, people rarely comment on my body, except
for the occasional, “You look so much better” (ugh). However, I am the same
person don’t you know. Sometimes I feel like one of those Star Trek entities
living in a host’s body.  If they only
knew.
I’m not writing this to rant, though it is cathartic. My
purpose to is give people who think we are grotesque a peek into our world. Don’t
worry it’s not contagious. We don’t want your pity, just don’t make us the butt
of your jokes.  Shut up with the advice.  Remember, our bodies belong to us. Have
compassion. Look for our beauty. Respect us. 
Pray for us. Thank you.
Eat hearty, be healthy,
Marsha Carlson, LISW, MSW
Communication Consultant, I.D.E.A
*I own the word “fat”. Gays own “queer”. Lesbians own “dyke”.  It’s the same thing. Thin people haven’t
earned the right to use “fat” any more than White people have the right to use
the N-word. It empowers some of us to own our “fat”.
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