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Celebreight Yourself now has a Youtube channel!

You can also find more of my writing at three great websites: Large in Charge magazine, Fierce, Freethinking Fatties, and More of Me to Love. Links are below.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Sidewalk Sages

Have you ever met a sidewalk sage? I tried to think of a phrase that would sum up these people, and that’s what I came up with. “Sidewalk” (because you cross paths with them in public -- it doesn’t have to be on a sidewalk, it could be in a mall, a store, a park – various public places), and “Sage” (because they obviously feel they have great wisdom to share).

A sidewalk sage is a total stranger who feels the need to come up to you and start giving you advice about how to lose weight, tell you what diet worked for them, or make some comment relating to your weight. I think it’s safe to say that all of us have met a few of them, and depending on the person, it can be offensive, infuriating, insulting, and sometimes just plain funny or bemusing.

I think we've all been through a scenario like this: You’re standing on the street waiting for someone. You become aware that someone close by is staring at you, so you turn around and look at them. Very often, it’s a sweet-looking old lady. She’ll be standing there looking at you really intently. You’ll look at her, thinking What the hell, and the eye contact will give her the impetus she needs to come up to you and deliver her sage advice. She’ll walk toward you and say something like: “You know what really worked for me? The grapefruit diet. I tried it a few years ago and lost 50 pounds!” And you stand there, thinking, What the fuck.

These people never cease to amaze me. What makes them do it? Why do they feel the need to go up to a TOTAL STRANGER and editorialize about their appearance? Didn't their parents teach them any manners?

I would never go up to an ugly person and say: You know, there`s a really good plastic surgeon down the street. You ought to go and see if he can fix your face, I hear he's really good.

Or, after one of these people finishes giving you their sage advice, I could easily say to them (but usually never do, because this behaviour floors me every time and I`m usually struck mute with shock): You know, it's really inappropriate to go up to a total stranger and start talking to them about something as intimate as their appearance. I know where you can go to brush up on your social skills and learn how to act like a human being, let me give you the address.

One time, I was browsing at an Old Navy store, looking for some sweats for my daughter Emily. Emily was standing beside me. This young woman comes walking up with a small boy beside her (her son, I assume) and, with a big smile on her face, hands me a little piece of paper. I looked at it and it was a brochure for a weight loss and exercise program. I was shocked and pissed off at the same time. I was – as usual – struck dumb at the gall of this woman. She started talking about how she worked for this place and it was really great and it worked and wouldn`t I like to join? I swear I felt like punching her in the face ... but because Emily was with me, I managed a sick smile. "No thanks!" I simply said and walked away, but I was kicking myself. Emily was tugging my arm, asking me, "Mommy, what did she say?" (even though she`d been standing right there and heard everything). I told her and Emily shook her head. "That was so rude!" she said. I just grimaced and said, Yes it was, and just hurried up doing what we had to do and got out of there.

I always think of the best things to say afterward. When we were in line paying for Emily's sweats, I thought I should have asked that bitch, "How`s the program working for you, any success?" It wasn't lost on me, either, that she was teaching her child how to treat people – that it's perfectly okay to go up to a large person and judge them, as long as you "act nice" about it. And that's exactly what these people do, act nice. As if they want to help you, but in reality, they don't know you, have no idea what your lifestyle or health history is, and most mind-boggling of all, they assume you haven`t given your size any thought at all yourself and this is why they`re kind enough to think about it for you and offer you some tips! You realize you have just been judged, assessed, criticized, and categorized.

So what do we do about sidewalk sages? Just smile and nod, say thank you very much, I'll take that into consideration, I really appreciate your looking out for me like this … Or do we say, Bitch, start walking in the other direction before my knuckles meet your face!

Well, since jail is not a good place to be, the latter isn`t a good option. Smiling and nodding and letting them get off scot-free isn`t an option either. I'm for the happy medium: The next time some presumptuous, rude asshole comes up to you and makes a comment about your weight, or tells you about a diet that worked for them, tell them about the plastic surgeon who can fix their face or the therapist who can teach them some social skills … or maybe even both! Then watch them go mute with indignation and probably think to themselves: "Did you hear what that fat bitch said to me!!!"

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Me and Dr. B

Dr. Stanley K. Bernstein at work.

The diet industry is one of the most profitable and exploitative businesses in the world. It's comprised of many different branches, such as diet food and beverage manufacturers, publishing (diet books and diet-related magazines), and diet centers like Jenny Craig, NutriSystem, etc. It's this branch in particular I'd like to focus on, because in my opinion, they are truly a malignancy, fostering poor health while feeding off the trust and desperation of the very people they purport to help.

I have firsthand experience with one of these very profitable diet centers, and I'd like to share my experience with you, in the hope that I can save you time, suffering, and money.

In 2001, I decided I was finally going to lose my weight once and for all. I'd been seeing commercials on TV for the Dr. Bernstein Diet Clinics here in Canada. What sold me on it was that the very sincere-looking Dr. Bernstein was indeed a medical doctor, and that the diet was touted as being "medically supervised". Also, the fact that it boasted quick results sucked me in too. So after giving it some thought, I signed up.
Everyone was very nice and welcoming at first. "We're here to help you", they said. "Any problems, just let us know, that's what we're here for". I did my first weigh-in, told them what my goal was, and they gave me a little booklet outlining the program, the instructions, etc.

The Dr. Bernstein diet is extremely expensive. It's not covered by OHIP, so unless you have private insurance, you're paying out of your own pocket. I was covered under my husband's insurance so I was lucky in that sense. At the time I joined the program, it was (if memory serves me correctly) $120 per week. So that would've been $480 per month, over $5,000 a year. I think I was on the program for about 2 years, so that's at least $10,000 of hard-earned money that I ended up wasting on this program. I had a well-paying job at the time, and as I said, I was covered by my husband's insurance. At that time in my life, it was worth any price to lose the weight.

10 years later, I don't know the current cost of the program, but you can bet it's higher than it was in 2001.This fee includes 3 weekly weigh-ins and vitamin shots, which I was told was a fat-burning cocktail of Vitamin B12 and some other ingredients I didn't really bother checking into. Whenever I asked them about it, if it was harmful, they clucked dismissively and said it was perfectly safe, just a concoction of vitamins that proved effective in weight loss. It crossed my mind that there might be unknown long-term effects, but as I said, the weight loss was more important so I didn't give it much thought. I happily waltzed in there and let them stick their needles in my ass 3 times a week.

The diet was absolute hell. Total starvation. No bread to speak of (unless you call two thin flatbread crackers bread), no rice, no pasta, no butter, no sugar other than fruit (even the fruit was restricted). In order to supplement your body with the nutrients it needed from the food it wasn't getting, we patients were taking vitamin supplements.

I might have seen Dr. Bernstein at the clinic once. I recognized him from the commercials. The clinics are manned by a team of "nurses" and a handful of other "doctors" who counsel you once a month on your progress, or lack of. I put the words in quotation marks because I have my reservations about their professional qualifications. From what I saw, the nurses were merely women in white coats who were very adept at handling needles and checking piss.

That was another thing. You know the urine sample bottles they give you when you go to the doctor for a physical? We were supposed to bring in urine samples 3 times a week so they could check it for sugar content, which let them know whether we were sticking to the diet or not. I always dreaded those piss-checks, no matter how good I'd been. I was always afraid there wouldn't be enough ketones (fat burners) in it. And believe me, if you went over your daily allotment of food (which was peanuts, pardon the pun), even so much as eating an extra apple, your piss would give you away and you'd be questioned about it.

The diet worked like a charm at first, simply because I was very determined. For 6 months, I stuck to the diet religiously, no matter how hellish and torturous it was, and lost over 100 pounds. That's right. I worked downtown at the time too, right in the midst of every type of food temptation you can imagine. Worst of all was this amazing cookie place in my building. The cookies were the size of frickin pie plates, soft and chewy, and came in all these incredible flavours. No matter how the fresh-baked smell of them threatened to lure me every day while my stomach growled in agony, I stalwartly passed them by and opted for black coffee instead.

Inevitably, the day came when I couldn't fight it anymore and cheated for the first time. That was the beginning of the end, when I fell off the wagon and started going on a rollercoaster of yo-yoing that lasted the remaining year or so.

3 times a week, I'd go in there for my piss checks and half the time I'd be questioned about not sticking to the diet. I told them that once I'd gotten off the initial program, it was extremely difficult to get back on and stay on. It was like once you'd introduced sugar or fat into your diet again, there was no going back. Your body fought like hell to get more, thus the cravings, thus the constant failure. I'd be able to be "good" again for maybe a week or two, but then inevitably I'd get the urge for sugar or fat or whatever it was my body needed so badly.

Once a month, I'd go in for my consultation with the clinic doctor (not Bernstein, one of his underlings). I'd explain to him the awful cravings I had, the inability to withstand them, and they constantly said the same thing: "Oh well, don't be so hard on yourself. You'll get back on track. Don't beat yourself up about it, it happens to all of us. Just resolve to do better from now on." When I suggested to one doctor that it would be helpful if there were some counselling about the emotional aspect of eating, he merely chuckled. I asked him if it was possible to talk to Dr. Bernstein about implementing some kind of treatment about that side of it. He just smiled and averted his eyes and said, Well, I can suggest it, but I don't think it's likely to happen. Dr. Bernstein is more about just the physical side of the weight loss.

This went on for months. Finally, one day I was simply told that since I didn't seem able to stick to the diet consistently any longer (no matter how hard I tried), the doctor had instructed his staff to dismiss me from the program. What am I supposed to do now? I asked them. I was desperate. I felt totally abandoned. This guy was supposedly a reputable doctor. What kind of doctor refuses to treat a patient? I asked. The nurse shrugged at me. That's what the doctor ordered. I realized the reason I was probably kicked out of the program was because the effectiveness rate of the program would go down if Dr. Bernstein kept "unsuccessful" patients on his roster.

I was so furious that I filed a complaint with the medical board, but I was told that my complaint couldn't go anywhere. Dr. Bernstein knows the system, what his legal obligations as a so-called medical care provider are (turns out they're pretty lax), and patients have very few rights. I was fucked.

So here I am, about 10 years later, with a lot of the weight back on. My body has been changed forever. My metabolism has been totally fucked up, and I feel cold a lot. Even in summer, sometimes I feel so chilled I have to get under a blanket when I'm watching TV at home.

Even when I was still at his clinic, the enterprising Dr. Bernstein introduced a range of diet products to his operation. A whole range of Dr. Bernstein food products came out: protein bars, diet drinks, teas, oatmeal, etc. The protein bars tasted just like chocolate bars to me which was why I loved them. It's also why I binged on them and kept going off the diet.

It's madness. Please don't do it. If you really want to lose the weight, then do it sensibly. Go to a nutritionist and get advice about what kinds of foods to eat and the amounts you need. Exercise, not crazily, but regular, moderate exercise. Don't fall for any of these "lose weight fast" schemes and programs. It's all bullshit, all they want is your money, they don't give a fuck about you. Believe me.

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Built-In Bullshit Detector

There is a negative and a positive to everything … and I mean, EVERYTHING. If you’re born rich, you have the advantage of wealth, but you also have a lot of pressures that poor people know nothing about. If you’re born beautiful, you have the advantage of being chased by scores of people who want to love you, but there is always the danger of being used simply as a trophy.

Being large has a lot of negatives, but it also has some positives that may surprise you. Most notably, we large people have built-in bullshit detectors. We’re so used to being disrespected, undermined, and criticized, that we have a highly developed ability to spot that propensity in whoever we meet. We can spot superficiality a mile off. We can smell a fool at a hundred paces.

Have you ever met someone who gave you the creeps right off the bat? They might have smiled at you and said all the right things, but you had the undeniable sense that underneath that welcoming grin was a whole host of judgments and criticisms.

Or how about going out on a first date with someone? Did you ever just know, the instant that you were in the presence of the guy or girl, that something was off? Something inexplicable told you that it just wasn’t going to work, and it didn’t.

I remember going out on a date with a guy many years ago. This guy was actually my next-door neighbour. We were roughly around the same age; he was a little older. Very athletic, nice-looking face. He was pretty hot. But although we eyed each other across the fence several times, he never really spoke to me. A male relative of his, an uncle I think, visited several times, and he was very friendly and chatted with me quite often. One day, he asked me, “Why don’t you two go out together?” He must have spoken to him, because either that day or the next, this guy actually asked me if I wanted to go out with him. I had my reservations at his sudden interest, but I said okay. I have to admit one of the main reasons I wanted to go out with him was that I couldn’t wait to tell one of my girlfriends about it. We’d ogled him and shared speculations about him several times. Anyway, we drove to some bar nearby for a drink. My reservations increased when our conversation during the ride wasn’t exactly stellar; he seemed kind of boring and didn’t have much to say. Didn’t ask much about me. He definitely didn’t seem interested. I started wondering why he’d asked me out in the first place. The real tip-off came when we got to the bar. He walked in front of me, opened the door, and let it close in my face. I stood there for a second going, What the hell? I felt like saying ‘Fuck this’ and leaving, but thought, ‘Oh well, I’m here’ (plus I needed a ride home) … so I went in and had a drink with him. Conversation was, once again, extremely boring and non-existent. We had nothing in common. He seemed preoccupied. I knew it was going nowhere. And I couldn’t wait to leave. I avoided him after that. Whenever I saw him next door in his backyard, I’d avoid going outside so I wouldn’t have to talk to him. Sure enough, one day he caught me and said, “Where have you been? How come you’ve been avoiding me?” I denied that I was, but of course we both knew it was bullshit. But I was wondering … he’s acting like he cares. Why? Shortly after that, he hit on my friend right in front of me, and that’s when I totally cut him off. I ended up kicking myself in the ass for agreeing to go out with him in the first place, because that first instinct of mine had been right all along.

I also remember a job I had some years ago. I was working as a proofreader for a legal publisher. The morning I started there, my supervisor – a young woman – came out to get me in the lobby area where I was waiting. She smiled and shook my hand when she met me, like any other normal co-worker would, but right off the bat I sensed an iciness about her, an instant dislike, and I knew we would never get along. I was right. I worked alongside her for about five years, and although we were generally civil to each other (because we had to be), we barely exchanged ten words of personal conversation. I avoided contact with her whenever possible because she totally creeped me out. I could never understand why she was so stuffy and snobby to me, and I soon found out, from other co-workers, that she was pretty much like that with every woman who worked under her. She was a very jealous person, very uptight, but whenever a higher-up in the company crossed her path, she was as sweet as pie. She was so fake and phony. I couldn’t stand her. I knew my tenure there would end badly because of her, and I was right. It was as if from the first moment she met me, she’d decided to get rid of me, and it took her five years to do it, but she accomplished her goal.  

That’s what I mean. I knew this woman was trouble as soon as I set eyes on her, and I was right. Likewise, in my school days when I was growing up, I could always sense who was a genuinely good prospect as a friend, and who to avoid like the plague. I could never stand the really popular, cheerleader types because they were usually full of themselves and snobby as hell. I gravitated toward the more “regular” girls as friends, girls who I knew were genuinely nice and fun-loving, rather than the social-climbing ego-maniacs everyone fought to be around. I was also able to spot the boys who were genuinely sweet and admiring underneath the artifice of bravado they demonstrated around their friends, and which guys were truly repulsive in character. I could easily spot the ones who went along with their friends in teasing someone, but genuinely felt bad about it. I knew who the secret fat lovers were, although it saddened me at times that they never blew their cover.

We big girls have a highly developed sense of instinct and character reading. We should use it to our advantage at all times, and never, ever disregard it. It is always right.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Fat Blindness

Sometimes I think about some pretty weird stuff. The other day I was thinking: What would this world be like if everyone was born blind? What if our visual sense was non-existent and we were forced to assess everyone based on other factors?

I know one thing … life would be a hell of a lot different for us fat girls. We wouldn’t automatically be judged or dismissed within the space of about two seconds. People would actually pay attention to what we had to say, and decide whether or not they liked us based on what came out of our mouths and hearts.

You know how blind people use touch to “feel” what a person looks like? We would be touched so much more … people would actually get to feel the soft, springy feel of our skin, and they wouldn’t be disgusted by it … it would simply be one more way of discovering who we actually are.

By the same token, people who look socially acceptable or desirable would no longer get ahead in life simply because of their looks. They would be judged on their characters, not their dress or bikini size. They wouldn’t necessarily get the perks or the promotions that some of them take for granted, simply because they look the part. They would genuinely have to earn whatever status they acquire.

We wouldn’t automatically be discriminated against. We could walk into a job interview or social event, and we would be everyone’s equal. Men would approach us much more, because they like the sound of our voices, or what we say, or how we make them feel.

Imagine what worldwide blindness would do to the advertising industry. Marketing would have to focus more on the actual benefits of a product, as opposed to simply the “vanity” benefits. There would be no more need for designer clothes or makeup. The fashion industry would crumble.

We all know the famous phrase “love is blind”. That may be true for a fortunate few, but in our ultra-superficial world, love has become pathologically visual. I dream of a day when people of all sizes are on an equal playing field, when we are all given the same opportunities for success and happiness.

It’s pretty sad to consider that it’s only possible if one of our basic senses is simply no longer there.