July 1, 2008

Health & Beauty

The Flat Tummy Gospel, Part 3

by Kristina Marie Darling

Although gaining weight back isn’t necessarily a bad thing, dating remains completely different before and after a successful diet. This aspect of being overweight became the most depressing one for me, and until I made a conscious decision to focus on the English degree I’d taken out a $30,000 loan for, the dating world made me want to stop eating anything that tasted good.

It’s not just the absolute dearth of men who want to date an overweight woman that made finding a boyfriend difficult. As a skinny girl in a miniskirt, some women say that they get no respect, but I found that people are much more humane and considerate to an attractive woman than they would be to a girl who is physically unattractive. Walking through the Delmar Loop one day in daisy dukes after reaching my goal weight on a crash diet, a man stopped me and said, “You look very French. I mean that as a compliment.” This was not an isolated incident. Guys told me I looked nice on a fairly regular basis. When I gained it all back, however, I wasn’t prepared for men to change completely.

When I was still happily packing on the pounds, I was downright astonished when a guy from my writing class asked me to have coffee with him. I’d had my eye on him all semester, primarily because he seemed like the tortured artist type. He had black hair, wore rumpled sweaters, and carried around a copy of Gravity’s Rainbow. (Most people don’t know this, but I pretty much only date brooding short story writers and sulking dark haired men who paint when they’re not too depressed.) When he asked me out, I remember thinking, Someone must have changed the laws of the universe just for me.

He picked me up from the school library on the night of our date in his brand new Mitsubishi and told me when I reached for the door handle, “My car’s kind of… uh… messed up. I had a food fight with my ex-girlfriend in the back seat and when I called the cops on her, all my stuff got even more messed up.” He smiled at me and raised one eyebrow, as though this explanation was the sexiest thing I’d heard all day.

Although he had made some attempt to clean the interior of his car, splotches of grease and flecks of cheese still glistened on the seats and dashboard. I was wearing a four hundred dollar, full-length, black Jones New York coat and tried my best to get in the car without getting nacho toppings and fajita residue on my lovely attire.

At this point, I thought that as an overweight girl I most likely would have to put up with some grief to get a guy, and figured that it could be worse. I asked him, “What kind of music do you like? I love the Smashing Pumpkins, even though it’s not the 90’s anymore.” I smiled and fixed my hair, hoping that I could somehow salvage this date. He ignored me, and droned on about his ex-girlfriend.

I knew that if I had somehow lost the weight before he asked me out, this incident would have never happened. He would have at least shown me a shred of respect and asked if he could reschedule, mainly because he would have been sure that I had other options. But unfortunately, that night, he knew I didn’t. I thought back to happier days of being a size four, when guys would hold the door for me when I walked into Borders and all I had to do was wear a halter top to the St. Louis Bread Company if I wanted a free soda. Not only was I catered to as a thin person, but even basic polite gestures, like guys picking me up for a coffee date after stopping at the car wash, were completely absent from my life when I gained the weight back.

I noticed that my date had pulled out his cell phone, and it wasn’t long before he said, “Uh… my ex-girlfriend left her student I.D. at my house, and I need to call my mom and make sure she picked it up.”

As he dialed, I asked him, “Is this the food fight girl? The one you called the cops on? You mean you’re actually going to give her stuff back?” As I furrowed my brow and tried to figure this out, he kept shushing me and telling me to be quiet.

When he was done with the call, he said, “Sorry. My ex, Susan, is kind of still in love with me. I hang out with her a lot because I feel bad for her. And she always gets pissed off when I won’t make out with her.” He told me this as though every guy has a crazy ex named Susan with whom he occasionally has nacho fights. Then he asked me, “Do you mind if we drive around for awhile instead of getting coffee? I’m kind of traumatized by that food fight, and don’t really feel like going in a coffee shop. And since you live way out in the suburbs, that ride can just be our driving around experience.” At this point, I found myself feeling pretty traumatized as well, so I didn’t object. He made a U-turn and pulled into the Starbucks drive-through, bought me the cheapest coffee on the menu, then began the drive to my house.

Apparently this guy was trying to get out of going on a date with me, and had very thoroughly insulted my intelligence in the process. I went home and ordered cheese bread from Papa John’s, feeling as though I’d sunk to a new low in my mission to find a decent guy. The respect I received from men as a thin person as opposed to an overweight girl remained as different as a canister of Betty Crocker cream cheese frosting and a Weight Watcher’s dinner, eaten alone on a Friday night.

*

I lost the weight and gained it back again in college, too, this time using the ability to get a decent date as an incentive. The day I decided to diet, I realized I also had to choose a diet, which proved more complicated than I’d anticipated. When I Googled “South Beach Diet,” I found that it came with charts of “good carbohydrates” and “bad carbohydrates,” and overall it appeared too difficult to figure out. I remember thinking that if I ever went to a restaurant, I’d look like a loser flipping through my complicated chart to see what I could order. Atkins sounded effective from what I heard from friends and family, but I was still incredulous. I didn’t think I’d survive a diet of nothing but meat and cheese, considering the fact that I’m practically a vegetarian. Besides, I couldn't understand how I could lose weight eating nothing but fat anyway. The fashion model diet (in other words, champagne and cigarettes) seemed glamorous and more fun than what was out there, but I thought it would be hard to keep my grades up if I was partially inebriated all the time and kept taking cigarette breaks. Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig sounded doable, but were too expensive for a college student to afford. The advertised seven dollars a week to be a member at some of these places often didn’t include food, weight loss pills, shakes, and metabolism boosters. I’d heard it could cost hundreds of dollars to finally drop the pounds at one of these places. Even the slacker’s answer to losing weight, those diet pills advertised on late night television, were extremely expensive too, retailing for forty to fifty dollars for a one-month supply.

I opted to reduce my intake of food, which seemed simple but proved difficult. On campus, temptation lurked everywhere: the coffee places in the library and at the student center, the cookies next to the cash registers, the vending machines, even the Godiva display in campus store. At times I felt like walking around campus with my eyes closed. The coffee shop near campus proved to be my worst enemy for awhile, and although I had to walk a couple of blocks to get there, I was never disappointed. When I opened the heavy wooden doors and saw the glistening glass case of chocolate chip scones, raspberry sammies, crumb cake, and blueberry muffins on neat little plates, I usually decided it was okay to cheat just this once.

I took the path that snacks tread, and sinned against miniskirts and meal replacement bars, but did not repent. After gaining, losing, and gaining my flabby stomach and thunder thighs, I sat in the coffee shop one afternoon and thought about the whole idea of dieting. It was like I was cursed, because no matter what I tried, I kept gaining it all back. I also thought about the fitness trainers at my mom's health club and how enthusiastic they are about exercising. For me, it was torture. Those perky little women at the gym always said that eating plain granola and plain celery made them feel good, because, after all, you are what you eat. I had never felt that way – for me, chocolate and whipped cream and pizza make me feel better than wheat bread any day. And I knew why I had never been able to keep the pounds off: I genuinely loved food.

After class, I went home and ordered a pizza. I felt as though I’d finally been freed from a health food store.

*

After giving in to key lime cheesecake and the little vanilla cupcakes that they sell at Starbuck’s, I eventually began to perceive myself and the people around me differently. First of all, I knew that the glory of the Flat Tummy Gospel that these fitness trainers preach is nothing compared to the stellar diet deviations I’ve had so much experience with. Also, I knew that most people want to change their bodies, and often spend a lot of time and money trying to get to a thong-worthy weight. Even though it’s tempting to buy thigh shapers and diet pills, I’ve started to realize that a hot body is never, by any means, permanent. I’ve always been a good listener, Bush joke teller, and pasta cooker, and although these things don’t change with cupcakes or age, they’re easy to forget when there are so many swimsuit calendars around. This time, I’m not going to forget. Like Donna Stonecipher writes in The Reservoir, “Inside the body it’s dark. But maybe the bones glow.” And there’s nothing like a candy bar to light you up inside.






Kristina Marie Darling is a graduate of Washington University in St. Louis. She is the author of four chapbooks, which include Fevers and Clocks (March Street Press, 2006) and The Traffic in Women (Dancing Girl Press, 2006). A Pushcart Prize nominee in 2006, her poems, reviews, and essays have appeared or are forthcoming in many journals, which include Janus Head, Rattle, The Mid-America Poetry Review, Rain Taxi, The Adirondack Review, CutBank, The Mid-American Review, Jacket, Redactions: Poetry and Poetics, and others. Recent awards include residencies from the Centrum Foundation and the Mary Anderson Center for the Arts.