This weekend I had an interesting conversation with a friend who had just lost 14 pounds, so of course I'm going to tell you about it in this penultimate Fat-Wah column.
My friend--let's call her "Mighty" because she's that high-energy type who is always wrestling a bear to the ground or something, making the rest of us feel gormless--is not a fat person but she had been putting on a few pounds recently and wasn't happy about it. While she was mulling over what to do about it she noticed a funny pattern in a couple of her friends.
One was a man who, though he had a full-time job with lots of overtime, and made a very good income, could never afford even the basics of life because he was so deep in debt. Still, he blew $20 or $30 a week playing the lottery. He explained his reasoning: If he hit the jackpot, his troubles were over. If not, compared to the ocean of money he already owed, the amount he wasted on scratch-offs and numbers games was just "a drop in the bucket."
Mighty's other friend was a young woman who had been well-upholstered since she'd known her but who lately had been getting larger and larger. She had the vague idea it wasn't healthy but meanwhile she was always making decadent dips and desserts because, she figured, at her level the extra calories were just a "drop in the bucket."
Mighty had the sense not to tell her friends this but she thought both of them were ignoring the reality that drops in buckets add up to bucketfuls. She determined to test her hypothesis in the other direction.
Every day while she cooked supper she was in the habit of having a mixed drink, maybe another after the meal. She figured the drinks were "drop-in-the-bucket" calories, but empty ones she could do without. Her work weeks were so busy anyway she didn't think she'd have time to miss them. So she gave up her drinks except on weekends. Then she started taking an exercise class twice a week. Bingo! Though she didn't diet, she had taken enough drops out of the bucket that the 14 pounds came off within a few months.
Mighty is a good bit younger than I am, and a different type. She's a woman of action whereas I, by trade as well as temperament, mostly sit around and bitch. And I have already detailed in this column my frustration with the "small changes" weight loss method.
Still, I can prove her drop-in-the-bucket hypothesis in the negative sense. When I stopped smoking in 2009, coffee started tasting odd to me black, and that drop of half-and-half I began pouring into the morning joe eventually added something like 30 pounds to my bucket. That, and probably other little things like that.
Again, I maintain steadfastly that at least for me, at least at my age, reversing those changes does not solve the problem. I switched to skim milk years ago now and I've still got a pretty big-ass bucket. I have to struggle for every pound I lose.
But I keep struggling! What I tell myself is that if things are getting better only with excruciating, geologic slowness, at least they're not getting any worse. And given the size bucket I've got, that's something.
I used to know a drop-in-the-bucket arguer, too, who went even further along that line of reasoning. She had given up dieting altogether, pointing out that with all the agony and effort women put into losing weight, most of them were unsuccessful and kept starting the quest over and over again. Imagine, she said, what they could accomplish if they'd focus all that energy and determination into something more productive.
At the time, I thought she was right. But from a distance of time and years I can't see she's accomplished much more than I have, except that her bucket's bigger. Being on a diet doesn't prevent you from bringing peace to the Middle East, or finding a cure for cancer. (I may get around to those any day.)
Anyway, whether or not I ever succeed in pulling off a miracle of international diplomacy, I have enough residual vanity that I do not wish to be recognized by the United Nations as a sovereign state myself. I will continue taking drops out of, rather than adding drops into, that metaphorical bucket.
I am resigned that it will take me longer than it did my friend Mighty to lose any appreciable amount of weight. But maybe, if I keep fighting the good fight, I can still get into my skinny jeans before I kick the bucket ...
And because that was a short column, and because it ends with a reference to pants, here at no additional cost is a January Fat Pants article I wrote a couple of years ago. Read it if you feel you haven't killed enough time on the Fat-Wah this gray gloomy Monday!
Kiss My Homonym, Skinny Fat-Pants Abuser!
This is the time of year when you can’t crack a magazine without seeing a Before-Jeans photograph.
They’re usually on inside-page ads, but sometimes the lower-end women’s mags, the ones you see at the grocery store checkout, will run one on the cover. They can feature male models but typically the image is of a slender young woman, smiling and holding up an obscenely large pair of jeans.
You see (explains the copy below), this sylph was once so obese, she changed weather patterns by blotting out the sun, lowering temperatures wherever she went, making the earth tremble at every step. Then she tackled the featured diet, bought the featured pill, enrolled in the featured gym, or underwent the featured surgery. It worked, and now she stands there in her itty-bitty size ones, offering up these discarded elephant skins in triumph.
What a terrible thing to do to your jeans!
Who am I to say so? I am the Great American Fat Girl, the national conflict between gluttony and unrealistic body-image made flesh. Lots of it. I am a Weight Watchers recidivist who could yo-yo diet for the Olympics, a veteran of South Beach, Atkins, Scarsdale and Stillman. I am, in short, the Before Jeans ad’s target audience. Frugal enough to fight produce clerks over the price of a grapefruit, I have squandered unthinkable sums on Skechers, green coffee bean extract, unpronounceable South American herbs, treadmills – any ally in my Holy Fat-Wah.
Not that it’s really a religious struggle, more a simple choice between receding into my natural boundaries or moving into orbit. I call it “fatwah” because of the pun on “fat” and “war,” “holy” because it’s eternal, and mostly futile. I’ve wrestled with my weight since teenhood and gotten smacked to the mat every time. (Though I do think if I didn’t fight back, the metaphor we’d be using here is sumo.)
Still, whatever Before-Jeans ads are selling, I ain’t buyin’. If I can’t be thin I can at least be loyal, and in the perennial struggle against planethood a girl never had a truer friend than her blue jeans.
Sweatpants sit idly by as your butt invades Poland but jeans alert you the minute you exceed your ZIP code. My Levis may get a size larger every year but as long as I have one pair that will go around me I know I am by God still in the fight. “If they zip they fit” is the Fat Girl Creed, and how many of my denim allies have died to uphold it?
(I am thinking with sadness of a particularly beloved pair of faded blues that saw me through, but did not survive, my struggle to stop smoking. I came bursting out of all the seams at once when I stretched over to dust something, like a can of Vienna sausages with botulism.)
And jeans are not just the means of waging holy fat-wah; they are also the prize. The short-term goal is to squeeze back into the next size down but the ultimate reward, the whole point, is to strut victorious from the battlefield wearing the Skinny Jeans that make a girl feel all hot and dangerous. In the words of the great Conway Twitty, “Partner, there’s a tiger in these tight-fittin’ jeans.”
Here’s a saying from a VW repair manual I bought in the 1970s: “Be
kind to thy Ass for it bears thee.” Should we not also be kind to our pants, for they cover our Ass?
The saying refers to the beast of burden, not to its anatomical homonym; but when a person humiliates her pants, what she is really insulting is the burden bearer zipped therein. That’s my real problem with Before Jeans: I’m all about a new beautiful me but I don’t want anybody flagellating my old fat homonym.
I had a vague idea that the Ass saying was from the Bible, but Googling it what I found was Aesop’s Fables. The Ass figures in a lot of those. He does stupid things, people beat crap out of him, and the moral boils down to: “Don’t be an Ass.” But I identified with the poor beast every time!
Especially the one where the Ass, jealous of the Lapdog, breaks into the house and cavorts there playfully, breaking up all the furniture, then tries to climb into the master’s lap. I keep seeing my butt in the same situation, wiggling coquettishly in its tight Levis while everyone stares in horror and finally drives it away with sticks.
Right now, my jeans have Before written all over them. You look at them and think, “They make ‘em that size?” I hope one day to win the fat-wah and put them out to pasture.
But they’ve been staunch comrades and I’m damned if I’ll hold their billowing yardage up for strangers to laugh at. Suppose I needed them again? They’d have every right to tell me to kiss their –