Wednesday, March 27, 2013

I Don’t Care How Fat I Get

“I like to eat. I don’t care if I get fat, I want to eat.” Meeting my new crop of freshmen for the first time, one of my students, Violet, thus introduced herself.

Upon meeting new minds, for our first session, among other things we always do introductions: Chinese name, English name (if they have one) and something ‘I like/don’t like’. Usually I will start out: my English name is _________, my Chinese name is Gao Le Si 高乐思. I don’t like to get up early!” Each student then follows that format.

Back to Violet. She likes to eat and doesn’t care if she gets fat. She proclaimed that with full eye contact, full defiance and more than full determination. Now, 2 years later I see Violet around campus. She may well be pursuing her passion for eating but she is certainly not getting fat.

She is an exception. The Chinese are starting to wear their passion for food around their waistline. More and more I’m seeing corpulent people, as reported in “Now They Really Are Fat” posting dated August 2012. Some of my current students could now be sized Extra Large. There is even one, Gina who rivals me for size, both girth and height.

Chinese culture prizes its culinary uniqueness. For all that the food is some of the healthiest in the world, the Western incursions - McDonalds’, KFC and others, along with a more sedentary lifestyle afforded by modern conveniences such as computers, televisions and personal vehicles have put the Chinese about 30 years behind America in personal growth. So much so that it has become a national concern.

With people getting bigger and fatter, all manner of things must be revisited. All those frustrations that I experience as a tall, reasonably girthed Waiguoren are now on the horizon for mainstream China. Bus seats are no longer accommodating to all Chinese. Train berths are getting too narrow and too short. Store aisles, designed for the average 100Lbs, 5’2” person are now too constricted. Entrance gates to monuments and entrance turnstiles at public offices, train stations and subway accesses are too narrow. Civil engineers are having to rethink a lot of what, for years had been sufficient.

America has already dealt with the question of what to do when the population, person by person, expands. Already their cars, store aisles, public transportation seats and even small commodities like wheelchairs and clothing have been super sized. Furniture is built of sturdy stock and is of hearty size. Which leads me to ponder: have these engineering forethoughts led to the overall acceptance of a ‘fat America’, or has America’s fatter population driven the need for larger design?

Whichever one led the other, the end result is a fatter America, now of great concern for health and economic reasons. The need to produce more and different food, a facet of this phenomenon is currently driving the search for healthy engineered, yet satisfying foods. While the FDA, food producers and labs all over America race toward this goal, the medical community is combating the immediate fallout of food fashion: obesity.

My own daughter, having been morbidly obese for most of her adult life has caused me much disquiet. Aside from the fear of her succumbing to any of the fatal conditions such a size could bring, I worried about the quality of her life, the possibility of her seeing her children through to graduation and her living long enough to enjoy grandmotherhood.

And then there’s the fact that people who are fat are seen in society with a decidedly prejudiced eye. Marjorie, my friend and paragon of humanity confided this sentiment after her lifelong battle with weight, finally vanquished by her faithful adherence to Weight Watchers’. Now a size 12, she recalls her days as a plus-sized matron: “I knew people were thinking bad thoughts of me… and now I feel a whole different type of reception when people see me.”  

I have to disclose: the one prejudice I hold is against people who are fat. I simply cannot fathom how one could let him/herself get to that extreme, nor can I comprehend how anyone can live, bearing all that extra weight. I am ashamed of this prejudice and, for my daughter and others in my life who, at one time or another have been more than large, I have worked hard to combat my bias.

That doesn’t stop me from resenting my own weight gain of twenty something pounds over the last year. Try as I might to ascribe it to whatever other handy reason I can find - having reached the half-century mark, where, by scientists’ claim metabolism will slow down; stomach problems, even my malaise of this past year leading to mostly sitting around - I simply cannot absolve myself of blame. I’m fat because I’ve not been responsible enough to eat right and stay in shape. Cream puff, anyone? (See Cream Puff Junkie entry, December 2012).

While the Chinese approve of my fathood not just as a sign of well-being and prosperity but as symbolic to foreigners everywhere, I loathe having to wear my lounging pants with stretch waistband everywhere I go. My students constantly proclaim my loveliness and snap countless pictures of me while all I can focus on is how difficult it is for me to tie my own shoes so I can even get to class. I worry about the end of winter, when I will not be able to hide my girth under countless layers of clothes.

I might be just a bit obsessed…

I’ve started exercising. Gentle moves, stretches and the like. I enjoy the burn of muscles, long disused and creaking into function again. After 2 weeks I’m at a point where I can touch my toes with only minimum discomfort. I am almost to the point where my arms will meet behind my back. The release of endorphins feels wonderful, prompting me to even greater physical feats.

My daughter inspired me to this change. While visiting her she uttered the phrase ‘body dismorphic disorder’. That is another potentially dangerous aspect to being oversized: eating disorders. Some, like me get it in their head that everyone in the world is mocking them for their huge… in my case, gut. Others flagellate themselves over their food intake and descend into the hellish depths of bulimia or anorexia. Recovering from a psychological ill brought on by body issues is maybe one of the more difficult aspects of excess weight a person can go through. Such a debilitating obsession is sometimes never cured, only ever managed. If not stopped, it can lead to death: Karen Carpenter, she of song (Close to You, Top of the World) succumbed to it barely into her 30’s.

The subject came up when Jenn dropped the bombshell during our visit: she was scheduled for a Gastric Bypass. After doing everything possible over the years to vanquish her weight she opted for surgery. I’m not sure what led her to choose this accelerated means of weight loss when, in the past she fought valiantly against her own tendency to indulge in unhealthy lifestyle practices. I applaud her decision and courage to see it through. Her surgery was last Wednesday. Nail-biting time for me, being on the other side of the world instead of being with her during this life altering process. I’m glad to report that everything went very well. 

Jenn did a lot of research prior to committing to surgery. Among other things she found – or, more exactly did not find much in the way of personal experience recounting. Why? It seems people who have undergone this process have not blogged about it, written about it, formed a support group or anything else. She had nowhere to turn to when looking for personal reflections or commentary on the subject.

She has picked up the ball. She is writing a blog about her experiences. It will serve both as a diary for her and a methodical, personal recounting of every aspect of this process. Not just the surgical process or the clinical approach to losing weight but the impact it will have on her life as, for the first time she will be ‘normal sized’. How are people going to look at her and treat her? Now that she will be able to shop for clothes where others do, will shopping be as satisfying as when she was overly large and found something to wear? (There is not much available to people of her former size). What about eating out? There are a bevy of considerations and changes someone who goes through this process has to make, usually turning their formerly quarter-sized life around on a dime.

But don’t let me tell you about it second hand. You can read it all, in her words and as she experiences them, at

As for Violet, and all these other Chinese who are getting bigger and bigger… what is there to say? Just like the industrialization with resultant pollution, the burgeoning capitalism with its inherent selfishness and fledgling democracy with its roll call of Judases, China will have to deal with this aspect of modern living, the more modern living grips this most ancient society.                         

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