Robert (gurdonark) wrote,
Robert
gurdonark

More, More, Mars

I watched most of the inaugural episode of "Biggest Loser", the new reality show based on competitive weight loss. I am not a big reality show guy, except that I do sample "The Apprentice" from time to time. But as an overweight person, I felt that I might enjoy seeing other overweight people face their fears.

Let's skip over the fact that whereas "Survivor" and "Apprentice" appear to recruit Gilligan's Islanders by choosing competitive, difficult, intelligent and preternaturally curious-acting people, "Biggest Loser" aimed for nurturing teddy bears who measure up to every stereotype from "big man in the house" through "you have a really cute face" to "I may be the life of th party, but inside I'm crying". Let's skip over the fact that they chose as one trainer an attractive woman who is a hard-driver, and as the other trainer an attractive man who is a soft encourager. Let's even skip over the fact that the show's running challenge is to set out bad foods for the overweight people to stare at and "suffer".

For that matter, let's even skip over "I'm gonna win" interviews, the "I hope they don't throw me off the show, even though I lost 13 pounds and the other people only lost 5" mellerdrammer, and the
fact that nobody explained how the first week's dramatic weight loss might involve less than a fully satisfying permanent weight loss plan. Indeed, the term "water loss" did not even arise. Let's also skip over the fact that the show was consistently watchable, but incredibly superficial.

When the competition between the teams was over, they had the group weigh-in. One team lost. One team won. Then, it was time for the losing team to kick someone off the show. I looked at my watch. It was 8:20. I was missing my show. I changed the channel immediately, before anyone got voted off.

You know, the Hardy Boys always had Chet, that overweight guy who preferred a jelly doughnut to fighting crime. Nancy Drew had that woman whose name escapes me (perhaps it was Bess), and who I am too unintrepid to google up, who preferred not only food but also any manner of stereotypical endeavors to assisting Nancy Drew. Those sidekicks served as loyal friends, reluctant accomplices in the fight against evil, and sometimes targets of potential misfortune, narrowly averted. I think that it's a culture commentary that none of the "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" Scooby gang were obese, as we live in a time when more of us are, and yet it is far less acceptable for anyone hip on screen to be overweight.

In a matter of a few short weeks, I've become a strong fan of "Veronica Mars", which has enough doses of other shows commingled with its own jelly belly kaleidoscope of ideas to qualify as a fun show. Veronica Mars' sidekick, for the record, is thin. The bad guys and girls are also thin, except that sometimes they are football-player burly.

I do not wish to introduce spoilers, as not everyone has clued into Veronica, and those in the remote regions of our world may not even get to see her for a year or more. But as Veronica fought the college geniuses tonight, I was, informed by bad reality television, aware that nobody on "Veronica Mars" looks obese.

I'm not saying that we don't have overweight people on television, because we do have overweight people on television. We've had hit shows in the last decade or so with overweight folks, some, like Camryn Manheim, who showed you can be cool even if you are obese on an otherwise humdrum show. So I'm not really worried about big issues like "Can the Media Face the Scales?". I'm much more concerned with voter trends in New Hampshire than I am with who is the Biggest Loser on television.

I'm also not inclined to do the "fast food culture" story, and discuss how we live in McDonald's Nation, or make Michael Moore jokes, or tell you of my vegetarian weeks in younger days. I'm not even inclined to discuss things I find uncomfortable and fascinating, like people who advocate perpetuation of eating disorders and the death toll from heart disease and the dramatic increase in type II diabetes, whose onset accelerates dramatically for those who overeat.

I will tell you the personal detail about my doctor's appointment last week, when he said that my blood pressure medicine does its job, and now I must do my job to the tune of thirty five pounds of weight loss. I can tell you by simple statement that from Halloween day 1995 to July 2000, I lived on a healthy eating regime which had me fairly trim and with stunningly good blood work. The return to Texas brought with it many satisfactions, but also a return to days of enchiladas and cookies, and a weight gain which erased all prior progress, and then some. I've managed to avoid blood sugar and cholesterol problems, but now my blood pressure requires medication.

You see, I want to hire this Veronica Mars. I want her to probe a mystery. She's bright, and she hurts inside, and she's cute, and she knows all those tactical things about figuring things out. She'll know what to do. We can do flashbacks, just like her show does of her life, but instead of flashing on her teen traumas (so much soap for one so blonde), we can flash on how happy I was when I dramatically cut back on processed sugar and began to taste the natural sugar in foods again. We can show me carefully an strategically being able to order good food at almost any restaurant, and eating full and vigorous meals.
We can show how good it felt to wear a suit which did not show a bulge of weight gain, and how I made better eating second nature. Then she can explain to me, with all that teen detective lingo, why it is that I now weigh more than at any time in my life.

That fellow St. Paul puzzles me. He's always writing things in his letters which I find difficult, like injunctions for women to cover their head in church, or suggestions that all sorts of things are evil that I suspect are largely genetic. He says a lot of cool things, too, though, and a lot of things that resonate with me. One is the bit when he says "I do what I would not do".

You don't have to believe in floodlights on the Damascus Tollway to see the paradoxical power of being overtaken by desire. But here I don't mean the biological desire to engage in mating rituals. Instead, I mean the sheer desire to seek solace in food.

Comfort food. That's a redundancy if there ever was one. Call out the Surgeon General--we need cautions about eating. The problem is that it's not romantic enough. Everyone dreams of nuclear fallout. Nobody dreams of the heart attacks and strokes awaiting obese children someday.

Let's do confront "body image" for a moment, as well. As our culture sells more and more unwholesome food, we also manage to simultaneously "spread the news" that overweight folks, particularly women, need not apply to march in what the Genesis song called the grand parade of lifeless packaging. It's as if increased health risk and personal lack of discipline is not enough. We have to also tell people that gluttony is a sin worse than all of the other seven. It's a sin that keeps you home on Friday night.

People come in all shapes and sizes. Some people at a healthy weight for them still do not look particularly thin. Some fewer people who look thin are not at a healthy weight for their make-up--they look thin but are underweight. Despite the "big beautiful" movement, people still judge people by how they measure up to an ideal most folks are not going to meet.

I've looked at life from that song-place, "both sides now". I've been thin. I've been overweight. I don't think that being thin ever got me a date when I was single, though I suspect being less than thin may have cost me a date or two. But I want that clever girl detective Veronica Mars to help me understand. I don't really care whether I "look" fat or thin. When I am thin, I do not look all that "thin", as a matter of body build. When I am overweight, I don't feel like an unattractive man.
But there's no real reason to risk my health as if eating bad foods was a salvation rather than a downfall.

I don't doubt that Veronica could pull out a notepad and find things in my childhood we could latch onto. Was there a three year old trauma that makes me prone to gingerbread? I can must imagine that big scene when Veronica tells me "It's really about metabolism! You keep thinking that you should be able to eat what you want. You think, 'other people eat more, and they're not fat'. But your metabolism is different from theirs. You can speed it up with frequent meals and exercise, but you may not reach the point when you can eat coconut cream pie even in modest moderation. You may be on broccoli patrol for life".

After Veronica gives me the news, I know I'll suddenly see it all so clear. I'll wish that instead of a 17 year old girl detective, she were, let's say, Holly Hunter, so that I could give her a big hug without worrying about potential propriety ramifications.

But in the mean time, I'll have to leave it to reality shows that have fat people pull race cars in teams down the Irwindale Speedway, only to weigh people to see if they weigh as much as geese.
I'll notice that even Zander's paunch is unremarkable. I'll wonder at LJ posts like that woman who got hundreds upon hundreds of comments with a post that more or less said "I'm fat. Deal with it".
I'll think of girlfriends and wives and boyfriends and husbands who get put down because they eat more than their metabolism burns. I'll think of friends I have who hit their 40s and 50s and learned that
poor eating habits don't pay. I'll even smirk, a little, when I think of over-exercised self-help book writers who die of heart attacks when they are 40, but I'll carefully balance that with an image of Jack LaLane, charming, 80 or 90something, and wheat-germ-adoring.

I'll have to accept, somehow, that I don't really have Charles Atlas moments. Mac never becomes a thin man, but only a man who might eat a bit healthier and eschew sand in the face. Frank and Joe Hardy are off solving the Airport Mystery, but Chet still reclines in the hammock. Veronica Mars looks sleek and attractive, and all her crises are within.

George Harrison wrote that lyric "we were talking about the space between our souls", but I don't think he meant twinkie filling. I wish that all this food and weight and health and appearance thing weren't tied up to toxically with so many things in our culture. Then one might not feel defensive or experience self-loathing because one has made poor choices. One might not encounter job discrimination based on one's weight. People might choose to date people based on personality not poundage. But it's all too complicated, for a would-be but failed simple man like me. It's a subject that makes people feel badly, when bad feelings don't help.

So I need that Veronica Mars to get out her Sherlock Holmes magnifier. Have her tell me why I eat badly when I like to eat healthily. Tell me why I do what I would not do. Also, ask her why even smokers get more slack then overweight people, sometimes.

Self-discipline. Self-acceptance. Self-sacrifice. Self-realization. Self-abnegation. Self-awareness.
Self-brocolli.

So many selfs to achieve, and then I'll get to work on something productive.
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