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Seasons Eatings and fears over body image

Between Halloween and New Year's Day is what I call the year's danger zone. It's not Season's Greetings as much as Season's Eatings. Yummy, fattening food is everywhere, hard to avoid, and who would want to anyway?

To help me through it this year is a funny, confessional blog by Catherine Ford, a retired national columnist at the Calgary Herald and a personal friend, who has challenged herself in a very public manner to get fit in one year.

"On at least four separate occasions in my lifetime, I've lost an average of 50 pounds. Even the innumerate can add that up to represent a 200-pound man," Catherine writes with her typical aplomb. She turned 65 in October and decided to write (caford.wordpress.com) about her lifelong struggles with her weight, her efforts to get in shape and why it matters, for women especially.

Why does it matter? Because it does. As Chapter 15 of Catherine's blog says, to be fat in modern culture is to suffer relentless public opprobrium. You are instantly and unfairly judged as someone who is probably of lower socioeconomic status and not bright enough to exert self-control.

Sadly, my sisters, this harsh judgment is not from men alone. Women are as culpable, if not more so — equally victim and victimizer in this endless and tiresome game of Looks Rule.

If one needs disheartening proof just read Ruth Reichl's memoir Garlic and Sapphires about her time as a food critic for the New York Times. Reichl had to disguise herself at restaurants so as not to be given preferential treatment. This offered a rich sociological experiment as a little extra something to chew on with her meal.

When Reichl would dress as the chic, glamor girl with a bevy of attractive dining partners she was shown solicitous service and led to the best tables. When she wore matronly clothes and was joined by someone equally frumpy, social slights followed. She was presumed by restaurant staff to be out of her element.

The book was a great read but depressing too, in a way that women intuitively understand.

Catherine is one of those women who is attractive at any size. I say that sincerely. I watched her once hold court at the bar of the Foreign Correspondent's Club in Hong Kong, having just stepped through the door for the first time. She was liquid charisma.

But it doesn't matter how accomplished or how magnetic a woman is, those virtues are too often drowned out by those very loud numbers on the bathroom scale.

Just like so many other women Catherine has tried multiple diets and succeeded in losing weight on most. She's taken doctor-prescribed drugs, replaced meals with diet shakes and spent weeks eating only meat and drinking eight glasses of water a day. She said this one worked because she had to cancel every social plan that did "not include immediate access to indoor plumbing."

So if every diet works, she asks, "why is dieting still a billion-dollar industry?" Because the weight returns as dependably as the swallows, the prodigal son and Rocky Balboa. It happened to Catherine every time, even after she made her goal weight at Weight Watchers.

But that was before. Catherine is down that 50 pounds again and has kept it off this time for a few years. Her vigilance is constant, weighing herself every morning. "I don't want to wake up two weeks from now and be 60 pounds heavier."

Catherine says this yearlong challenge to lose another 10 pounds and get fit is not about trying to be 30 years old again. She's not a "senior cougar" competing for men. She's got a wonderful retired-doctor husband, Ted, who has "husband eyesight," which means, as Catherine explains, that he holds a mental image of who you were when he fell in love with you, and that's all he sees. He loves her for what's on the inside.

But the wrapping to all that inner beauty still matters to her. It still matters to society. So if you need a little extra willpower over the next two months, check out the blog. If nothing else it will exercise your funny bone.

Seasons Eatings and fears over body image 11/09/09 [Last modified: Monday, November 9, 2009 10:52am]
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