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Observations on Obesity by Robert L. Seltman

This article originally appeared in the December 1997 issue of Kansai Time Out Magazine, Japan and republished in 2005.

I have seen a snap shot of myself on holiday to a Mexican boarder town, standing next to a donkey, at 12 years old . . . my stomach extending from a frail freckled skinned frame, a tiny boy with a pot belly, a sweet comical match to the donkey in his sombrero though I'm not laughing. I don't believe I was malnourished living in the American 50's. My mother did eventually die of kidney and obesity related ailments, after years of war with her own body, and my dad, though still alive at 76, finds his massive gut detrimental to both health and happiness. I wasn't malnourished, I was just beginning a life long obsession, learning a lifestyle as a cultural stigma . . . a life at war, a win less war, with my own body.

Fat people are always reminded, though we seldom need to be, of our condition. Reminded how others are offended, amused, disgusted, insulted, nauseated, empathetic, et al. with our obscene condition and how we should be ashamed, repentant, and perpetually embarrassed, as our condition is easily remedied if we simply showed some personal discipline, common sense, and a little initiative. We get angry occasionally, feel sad usually, and absorb the pain into our system as we do the fat and poisons of the food we drown ourselves in afterwards. We are pathetic, yet resent pity. We are common in our symptom but usually alone in our sadness and despair.

We represent all that is wrong with society, a vulnerability to consumer manipulation and stationary leisure, snack devouring couch potatoes, computer nerds who prefer elevators to stairs and pastry to matzo. Too rich for our own good, too poor to do anything about it, we are addictive personalities being breast fed by a system that needs our addiction. Reluctant martyrs, social-malignant monsters, or laughable losers, we know the roles offered us to play by society. In Asia we are corny cartoon characterizations of decadent imperialists or cuddly teddy-bear sugar daddies with Epicurean obsession. In the West we are the silent majority weighing down the nation with our always growing medical expenses and an embarrassing international image.

All fat people know, fat ain't ever going to be fashionable, no matter how much we try and try we do. The best we can hope for is the label 'lovable', something we can be, when we aren't in one of our many 'moods'. Fat ain't pretty, and we fatties know it better than the pretty people who leer from afar.

No one needs to sell us on the merits of being thin. We have all been there, for a short while, between obsessive dieting and obscene overeating. We are often experts on the recent popular diet and pill, both legal and illegal, their use and misuse, and how the mood swings they create will change a lovable chubby into a skinny sardonic and back again, doing God-knows how much damage to our already overtaxed internal organs.

Sports spell embarrassment and failure, or represent a successful period in our lives prior to tell tale knee trouble and lower back pain. Sex is an antecedent or preamble to a mattress stuffed with psychological symptoms, a virtual powder keg of pointless obsessions designed to disguise our inadequacies or highlight our hidden qualities. Hollywood loves our romantic buffoonery to contrast with that which is truly beautiful. Any marriage counselor can easily side with a partner forced to cohabit with a wad of lard.

We are silly when we dance, ask Disney and his ballerina elephants. Silly when we sing, "ain't over till the fat lady waddles on stage," or when we make the normal hilarious by just being ourselves. We are funny while sliding inside airline seats or from a taxi, or out of pools, or into our swim trunks, or around town on bicycles. When we stand up to speak, our bellies cascading over our belts are the true focus of attention. When we hike our rears become the final insult after we take-up far too much of the trail as we grunt and sweat on by. Even when we sleep, the rise and fall of our bellies is often accompanied with sonic snoring, amusing the children and scaring the cat. Paradise for comic writers yet a living hell for those who have to live it.

A hell we sometimes forget we are living, until some well meaning friend or doctor says, with a well meaning grin, some well meaning phrase like, "Well you know, you better lose some weight if you want to live pass 60." Hell, I know that… and dieting, why I'm an expert! Exercise machines, would you like to see my collection? Scheduled reduction, radical fasting, special camps, bulimia and bohemian solutions, been there, done that. Pills, pink, green, and what happens between, I'm a candidate for a doctorate in under-ground pharmaceuticals. Hypnosis, cult-cures, therapy, sensual distraction, sensual submergence, sensual denial, weight-watchers, Mayo Clinic, Fat Free, fancy free and careless, what more can anyone suggest, demand, or prescribe?

Yet after all is said and done, I still want to weigh what I did when I was happier than I am today… otherwise death at 60 might just be the only cure for obesity. It worked for Mom, dying was the way she won the war with her body. I don't like saying that, but I'm bored with the struggle, bored with the way obesity takes its toll in the later years, bored with being told what I know already. I am fat.

Copyright 1997 RL Seltman. All rights reserved.

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